The Hearts Beneath

by DameRuth [Reviews - 4]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Series, Slash

Author's Notes:
Written for the Winter Companions "Summer Holidays 2" Doctor/Jack fest over on LJ, reposted now the fest is complete.

Probably the most literal interpretation of "Sturm und Drang" I will ever write. VERY loosely inspired by Longfellow's "Evangeline," to give credit where it's due. Theme song for this piece is Oingo Boingo's “Skin.” Thanks to Aibhinn and WMR/wendymr for beta-ing; I made some changes after they last saw it (as well as willfully resisting a few suggestions), so any remaining errors and/or flaws are mine. Note that while “the Other” has been used within DW canon to refer to a figure in Gallifreyan history, my use of it here is entirely unconnected; try as I might to avoid it, that was the appellation I felt worked best in this story – so I kept it, with this disclaimer.

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?"

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Evangeline"


Jack prowled through the forest, his hands in the pockets of his greatcoat, his footsteps silent on the thick, carpet of green, mossy stuff covering the ground. The light was dim and diffuse, filtered through many lacy layers of vine- and epiphyte-laden canopy, though down at ground level there was little underbrush to contend with. The only colors visible were shades of green, thousands of them, with a few accents of grey and brown; the only sound was the drip of water condensing from the coiling tendrils of fog and falling back to the ground. Not even the rumble of the nearby sea reached this far through the muffling vegetation. Now he knew what to look for, Jack could — barely — pick out faint hints of the ruins smothered beneath the creeping moss.

They'd been traveling under the direction of the TARDIS's randomizing circuit, and had landed by a nameless sea, on the pale sand of a sheltered cove. Jack and the Doctor had hiked inland to see what might be seen, which was mostly the forest: green, pristine, and almost unbelievably lush. Not tropical however; this was a temperate rainforest and there was a chill in the humid air, enough for Jack's exhaled breath to be faintly visible, though the Doctor's was not. Temperature aside, it reminded both of them of Earth's Carboniferous forests, full of fernlike fronds and dichotomous branching schemes.

This world looked young and uninhabited, but the Doctor's sharp eyes had picked out a too-straight line amongst the mossy hummocks. Closer inspection revealed the remnants of long-fallen artificial structures, raising a mystery to be investigated. While the Doctor attacked the green turf with the sharp end of a fallen branch, Jack had gone exploring to find the extent of the ruins.

He still hadn't found the end of them. This wasn't some mere outpost or settlement; this had been a city. Wow, Jack thought, shaking his head. I wonder what happened here? Where did everyone go? The TARDIS scans made it look like there was no sentient life on the planet.

The question was unanswerable, at least with the information Jack had at his disposal. With a shrug, he decided to go back and see what the Doctor had discovered. If anyone was likely to have a possible explanation (or five, or twelve), it was the Doctor. Jack turned on his heel and then froze. He felt something, but couldn't put a name to it. It was just this side of subliminal, like a hint of movement in one's peripheral vision or the faint, niggling sense of having forgotten something important.

Jack's hair-trigger reflexes kicked into overdrive. Adrenaline flooded his body and he examined his surroundings, moving nothing but his head as he scanned the lush greenery around him. Nothing. Just water dripping and fog drifting.

That's it, he thought, that's what's wrong. It's too quiet — any forest like this should support a diverse ecosystem, but there's no sign of animal life. Nothing fluttered, called or scuttled through the rich greenery. He and the Doctor hadn't noticed when they were together, scrambling over roots and fallen tree trunks, talking and speculating, the Doctor buzzing things with his sonic screwdriver. Now, though, the lack was glaringly obvious.

A shiver of gooseflesh ran over Jack's skin. After all he'd seen and done, he wasn't a man to be easily creeped out, but he was getting there now. The sense of something huge and invisible moving just beneath the surface of the silence was too great to be his imagination alone, as was the increasing conviction there was something he needed to remember. Slowly, then with greater speed, he made his way back to the Doctor. He found himself placing his feet carefully, half-afraid to break the silence any further now that he was aware of it. There was an itch between his shoulderblades as if something were rushing up on him from behind, but every time he looked over his shoulder he saw nothing but innocent vegetation. By the time he reached the clearing where he'd left the Doctor, Jack was nearly running.

Jack's stomach muscles clenched in a moment of sick horror because the clearing seemed empty, but that was only because the Doctor was squatting down in a tight, doubled-over position, balancing on the portion of wall he'd uncovered, and he was aiming his sonic screwdriver at the crumbling concrete-like substance between his feet. Relief hit Jack hard and he realized he'd been expecting, for no reason, to find the Doctor gone.

Jack swallowed. The crawling sense of buried memories trying to surface had become an almost physical pain behind his eyes. He didn't even need to wonder what type of memories they were; he knew they were bad, and by now he was pretty sure they weren't his. "Doctor," he said, "something's wrong."

"Yes, it is," the Doctor said absently. The sonic screwdriver made an odd screech and he held it up in front of his face, scowling at it. "Behave!" he ordered the instrument, peeved. He shook it, then thwacked it with the heel of his hand. "I can't get a reading on the age of these ruins. All I'm getting is nonsense . . ."

"No," Jack said, stepping to the Doctor's side. He lowered his voice, the sense of being watched becoming acute. "It's something else. I think there's a psychic vortex forming. Listen."

The Doctor's head went up, every line of his body suddenly wary. He rose to his feet in one smooth, careful motion, tucking the screwdriver into his suit pocket as an afterthought. Jack held his breath, focusing on the Doctor, shoving the unease and déjà vu out of his mind as best he could. He was starting to get a very strong urge to run, back the way they'd come, down to the sea, but that might be the wrong thing to do. That might be what exactly what Something wanted him to do.

The Doctor scanned their surroundings much as Jack had. For a few seconds there was silence, fog coiling at their feet; glittering droplets of water fell from the tips of leaves and branches, their undisturbed vertical trajectories the only visible motion. Jack, watching the Doctor's face closely, saw the Doctor's pupils expand until they almost obscured the gold-shot brown of his irises before contracting abruptly. Then the Doctor, looking sick and pale under his freckles, turned his head to face Jack.

"We shouldn't have come here," the Doctor said, voice low and terribly calm. "We have to get back to the TARDIS immediately. But walk, don't run. If we run, it'll have us."

"What is it?" Jack asked, only years of ingrained control keeping his voice steady. The inside of his head felt stretched and thin, like a membrane being tested to capacity. Whatever was trying to break through was big. Very big.

"Exactly what you thought. A looped psychic vortex," the Doctor said, "a haunting. A powerful one, and it's trying to use us to manifest itself." He took a deep breath and caught Jack's elbow, tugging him in the direction of the TARDIS.

"God, it must be huge," Jack said, matching the Doctor's slow, careful pace as they began to walk. He'd seen hauntings before, in both Torchwood and the Agency: events recorded on the fabric of reality, lying in wait for the right conditions (and sometimes people) to trigger them. "What's it anchored to, the ruins?" If so, the range should be limited. They might just escape before this terrible sense of creeping memory got the better of them.

The Doctor was breathing slowly and deeply, like a man trying hard not to be sick. "Oh, no," he said, still sounding deathly calm, though there was a faint tremor in his voice. "I think it's the planet."

"The whole planet is haunted?" Jack asked, the insane concept shocking enough to clear his head for a moment. "What the hell could possibly make an imprint that big?"

Before the Doctor could reply the air stirred, a puff of breeze disturbing the stillness between the trees. The thin ground-fog shredded and water spattered to the ground as leaves trembled and shed condensation unevenly. Jack caught a whiff of sea air, containing the undefinable something that was always the same on every world and in every time; it went straight to his heart, and that was his undoing.

Time fractured and memory burst its restraints, the past becoming the present. Without another word the Doctor ran, vanishing between the trees ahead. With an anguished cry, Jack followed.

--

Jack ran, stumbling in his haste. He ran through the nameless forest towards the sea, but at the same time he ran through the corridors of the Game Station, and when his foot slipped, sometimes it slipped on wet moss and sometimes on a pile of Dalek dust; sometimes it wasn't his foot but someone else's, someone who wasn't human enough to run on two legs at all. It didn't matter, though, because it was all the same running and underneath it was the same screaming horror and disbelieving grief: No! I'm being left behind, I can't be, he won't . . . .

There was light through the trees ahead, but it was dimmer than it had been and when Jack burst through the edge of the forest and scrabbled down the rim of shingle towards the sand he could see a long, black line on the horizon; half the sky was darkened with high, thin clouds like the trailing anvil-edge of a massive storm front. Less than fifty yards away, the TARDIS stood on the sand; halfway between Jack and the timeship was the Doctor, kneeling on the sand, hands balled into fists at his side, head thrown back and teeth bared in an angry, silent snarl. An ominous wind was picking up strength and speed, blowing in off the water.

Superimposed on that reality was another: a ship, a low-orbit transport, warming its engines in the last few seconds before take-off; every hatch was closed. The line on the horizon was here, too, but it wasn't dark; it was bright, if no less ominous.

The two realities were different enough to jar Jack's thoughts at least partially free of the force that gripped him and he skidded to a halt, trying to make sense of it all. That was then, the transport leaving. There was a War — the transport was scarred and battered -- and a weapon and someone left behind . . . .

"It's no use!" the Doctor cried out, eyes still tightly shut. "You'll never make it in time, listen to me!"

His voice pulled Jack further out of that other, doubled reality, enough for him to find his own voice. "Doctor!" he shouted, starting to run forward again, but his reflexes tangled with the Other's now that they weren't running in perfect tandem and he stumbled. The rising wind tore away the word, but the Doctor still heard him and opened his eyes, looking in Jack's direction.

Across the intervening distance, their gazes met and the ferociously volatile psychic aether took that contact and amplified it, creating a connection that would never ordinarily have formed. Jack wavered, barely keeping his feet as even more thoughts began to fill his head. He recognized the familiar texture of the Doctor's mind, and through him a fourth identity, similar to the Other who sought to manifest itself through Jack.

It's a haunting all right, the dispassionate, analytical part of Jack noted, full-out possession trying to use us to reenact the recorded trauma.

Not just us, the Doctor thought, trying and failing to stand. Jack's reflex was to help him, but his nervous system was too scrambled; it was the best he could do to just stay vertical. It's everything, the whole planet. We're just the sympathetic trigger. The concepts his mind shaped were incredibly precise and clear-edged, as always, but they floated in a matrix of emotion; Jack caught guilt, desperation and fear. A lot of fear.

The other two minds were struggling, trying to re-achieve dominance over Jack and the Doctor, but temporarily failing. Jack had a bad feeling that wouldn't last forever, and from the corner of his eye he could see the black line on the horizon was growing. What do we do? he thought at the Doctor.

We have to break the recorded loop, the Doctor thought, and quickly, that darkness, that's . . . . Subvocalization broke down and the Doctor simply dumped the information straight into Jack's mind.

--

The Time Lords called it the Winnower; the Daleks called it Naq Arak Ta'oth, "That Which Cleanses." Neither side of the Time War ever claimed to have invented it; possibly, given the bizarre vagaries of reality within the War, neither side had and it simply existed in defiance of causality. The Winnower was the ultimate anti-personnel weapon; when triggered within a planet's gravitational field, it sent a wave of targeted temporal distortion sweeping across the entire globe with terrifying speed, seeking out sentient life and selectively speeding up its passage through Time — the practical result being that every intelligent creature caught in the wave dissolved into the dust of centuries in a microsecond. The planet itself, and any ecosystems or structures on its surface, would remain untouched . . . assuming there was anything left after the more conventional weapons of the War had taken their toll.

The Winnower's only flaw was a tendency to create ghosts, sometimes on a massive scale.

Both sides had used it, carelessly; it was considered mere light artillery by the godlike standards of civilizations who fought on the scale of entire galaxies. More often than not, it was employed against subsidiary species, those who — through choice or chance — had ended up on one side or the other in the greater struggle. Clearing a world with the Winnower became a contemptuous gesture, a final slap to put lesser beings in their places; the Time Lords and Daleks both preferred to save the genuinely impressive weapons for use against one another..

Small comfort for those who suffered the effects at ground level. Entire races had been sent to extinction by the Winnower, leaving behind nothing but empty cities to fall into ruins and, sometimes, the imprint of their memories.


--

Jack managed to turn his head enough to look with horror on the approaching storm, air and water attempting to recreate the wave of temporal destruction with their own substance. Mere matter couldn't manage the Winnower's specificity, but it could come close in sheer destructive capacity. Jack knew water, with enough power behind it, could cut stone like a saw. If he and the Doctor couldn't control this situation and were still here struggling with the memories of people long dead, they would be shredded when the Winnower's ghost arrived. The forest would be reduced to splinters. The TARDIS would survive but would be swept away to an unknown resting place, possibly even on the bottom of the sea.

The Doctor would die; regeneration could never heal that sort of damage. Jack would return, eventually (and no doubt unpleasantly), only to be stranded, separated from both TARDIS and (most likely) Vortex manipulator with no way of ever being able to locate either. Even the arrival of another ship someday was no guarantee of rescue; if that crew woke the same memories from the planet's past they would be destroyed in turn. Not that Jack, after however many years alone with the alien dead, might be sane enough to care.

That won't happen if you leave, Jack thought, trying to get the words through to the Doctor, gasping at the slim hope the Time Lord could break free and escape. Get out of here, come back and get me afterward . . . The rising pressure of the psychic vortex trying to reassert itself made it difficult to shape the thoughts and stay coherent. Already, Jack's body was feeling unreal and strange. The TARDIS was close, so close, but she might as well have been miles away, as impossible to reach as the door to safety is in a nightmare. Once a haunting took hold, its reality could overpower everything else. This beach was where everything had happened before and would do its damndest to happen again.

No! the Doctor responded, followed by a hoarse, angry vocal shout. "I will not run! I did before and I refuse to do it again!" Jack could feel the Doctor's mind slipping away, losing rationality, becoming immersed in the dream-logic of the psychic recording. If the force was great enough to overpower him, Jack knew with sick certainty that a human mind wouldn't be able to break free, either.

The haunting was a hairsbreadth away from re-engaging with Jack and he knew what it would be like now: it'd be like that flash flood he'd died in once: an irresistible elemental tide that picked him up and stole away any sense of orientation just before it started slamming him into things and breaking every bone in his body. Faced with a situation like that, Jack preferred to take an active role rather than just waiting for the inevitable. Diving in and trying actively to swim to the surface of the flood might not work any better than going limp, but at least he'd have tried to keep the initiative.

Thankful now for the amount of inside-the-head experience he'd been racking up with the Doctor, Jack made himself forget about the wall of physical destruction bearing down on him and turned inward, seeking the invading memory-imprint, trying to grab onto it and engage it. Know your enemy. Who are you? he thought, as hard and clearly as he could.

The echo of that long-lost Other didn't seem to hear him; it grabbed his mind and tried to swamp it again, crying, He left me! He couldn't, he shouldn't . . . . Jack couldn't begin to recognize the language of the words (even the pronouns didn't exactly map onto their humanoid equivalents), but that didn't matter. He understood the cry on the deepest levels of his being. It set up sympathetic resonances that threatened to rip open his own memories and fuse them with the Other's. Once that happened, Jack would lose all sense of himself for the duration and the Winnower's ghost would have them all.

Jack could see the Doctor's body struggling to its feet, the rising wind whipping his long coat like a banner, and the Other screamed, He'll run now! It's happening again!

The Doctor, however, held his ground, and Jack attacked the opening in the Other's thoughts.

"Again" — that means you know this is a repeat, Jack thought, feeling like he was yelling at the top of his lungs into a hurricane. Whatever happened then doesn't have to happen now! They couldn't break free, but sometimes the best way to win a game was to change the rules from the inside.

Memory slammed into him in response, the full impact of the Other's last moments: seeing the transport lift off from the beach, hover a moment, and then make a desperate attempt to accelerate fast enough to escape the onrushing wall of brightness, tall as the atmosphere was deep, coming in off the sea. The attempt failed; there was just enough lag time for the watcher to see the transport engulfed, and to know the full impact of loss and betrayal, before being reached in turn by the Winnower's shockwave. The devouring light ended life, thought and feeling . . . but at the same time wrote their shadows into the fabric of reality like an atomic blast searing the shadows of its victims onto a facing wall.

Jack's vision cleared, and before him he saw the familiar form of the One Who Ran; pain and rage sent him forward, seeking to grab and hold, whatever the cost. You'll stay with me! We will be together as we should have been! Jack and the Other cried out together, before Jack managed to regain his individuality and fight his body to a standstill a few steps away from the Doctor's.

Letting the Other take its revenge would definitely change the script, but Jack didn't think it was what the Doctor had in mind; for one thing, even if everyone dying together broke the loop and ended the haunting, he and the Doctor would still be out of luck.

Concentrating, he thought, It doesn't have to be this way forever. You can fix things, end the loop.

For a moment he thought he was out of luck, but there was a hesitation, a moment of stillness, and then the anguished question, How? The Other was listening.

Jack sighed inwardly. He knew this moment, from his con-man days: the moment when the mark took the bait.

Still, though, this next point was going to be a hard sell. Far away, as if in the distance, he could hear, like a countermelody, the argument the Doctor was having with his own ghostly counterpart. The Doctor was a persuasive bastard when he got going. Jack's resolve firmed, knowing someone had his back.

You have to make things right, Jack thought. He was vaguely aware of a growing stillness, like the eye of a storm, falling into place in the physical world and had a mental image of the scene as it must look from the outside: himself and the Doctor, facing each other on the sand with the TARDIS nearby, as perfectly composed as a Renaissance painting, not a breath of air stirring around them despite the raging whitecaps out on the water, everything outlined in the luminous, diffuse light at the leading edge of the approaching storm. With an effort, he shoved it all away. The battle here was, literally, over hearts and minds. External reality would have to wait.

The Other was waiting to hear the rest, radiating such pain and longing Jack's heart ached in sympathy. He'd been there, he understood — and that was what might save them all.

In the background the Doctor's internal voice, airy and storm-dark as an echo of the approaching inferno of air and water, was arguing: I ran, too, once, and I was wrong. Running isn't always the answer . . .

Jack gathered himself. You have to forgive him, he told the Other.

The scream of rage and negation in response was overwhelming. Never!

Look, I know what you're feeling, Jack responded; without giving himself time to think he pulled up his memories of the Game Station, vivid and new again in the grip of the psychic vortex. It hurt, but he'd expected that; you can't turn yourself inside-out and expect it to be pleasant.

Gratifyingly, the Other shut up and listened, feeling the resonance between their experiences.

But I got past that and forgave him, Jack said, and turned his brain inside-out the other way, since showing always beat telling.

The Other recoiled. Why should I? How can I?

Jack opened his eyes and looked up, meeting the Doctor's eyes, black as pitch and carrying more than one awareness behind them.

Because you love him, and that's what love does, Jack said, with all the conviction of someone who has been through Hell and seen the other side.

Right on cue, the Doctor said, in a low voice that carried through the still air as if amplified, “I'm sorry. I was wrong to run, but it was the end of everything. Everyone else was dead, I was dying too, and I was afraid.” No justifications, no weaseling, just confession. Even though his voice was single-toned and human-sounding, there were still multiple levels to the words, like two voices speaking in unison.

“I know,” Jack said aloud, pulling the Other along with him, just as they'd run together to the shore. Sympathetic resonances could run in more than one direction. There was a twinge of resistance, but Jack was alive and real, and, now that the Other's convictions had wavered, the stronger of the two of them. He could force this to an end.

But that wasn't right.

You have to want this, too, Jack said, letting compassion soften the tone of his thoughts. I can make you do it, but then it doesn't mean anything. Please. Trust me, it's the right thing to do. He and the Doctor had the upper hand now; they could end this cycle of the loop, but the haunting would still remain, festering in pain and resentment until the end of Time. Jack was old enough to know there were worse things than death, and if he had his choice he wouldn't leave anyone to suffer such a fate.

The Other thought nothing in return, but when Jack's body stepped forward and reached out a hand it wasn't Jack's doing.

“Yes,” Jack's voice said, in a language that hadn't been heard in waking life for an uncounted span of years. “Yes. I forgive you.”

The Doctor's body stepped forward and took the offered handclasp and pulled Jack and the Other forward, closing the gap between. Four minds moved as one, and Jack's lips touched the Doctor's in a single, perfect gesture of acceptance.

Time stood still for a heartbeat before bluntly reasserting itself. The Others vanished like candle flames in the wind that suddenly screamed around them. Jack and the Doctor broke clumsily apart and turned their heads in unison to take in the wall of wind and water heading in their direction, sending sandpaper-harsh salt spray stinging ahead of itself. That sort of momentum couldn't be stopped easily; the storm might have downgraded to a strictly natural phenomenon, but it was still powerful enough to destroy anything in its path.

Jack and the Doctor, alone in their own bodies again, turned and ran for the TARDIS, hands still clasped in reflex.



From orbit, the storm was damned impressive, covering nearly a quarter of the planet's atmosphere like a white candyfloss whirlpool.

Jack and the Doctor watched it for a long while from geosynchronous orbit, through the TARDIS's open doors. They stood in silence, two tall men in long coats, arms crossed, leaning against opposite sides of the doorway like bookends.

Finally, Jack turned away from his private thoughts and towards the Doctor. The Time Lord was contemplating the massive storm below, his profile sharply edged in the reflected light from the planet's surface. His features were blank and still, his eyes dark and hooded. After a second, he seemed to become aware of Jack's regard and his gaze flicked sideways to meet Jack's.

There was no vestige left of the psychic vortex, but Jack had no difficulty reading what lay beneath the Doctor's impassive surface. Sorrow, first and foremost, and guilt, on many levels.

“Is that it, then?” Jack asked. “Did we break the loop?”

“Oh, yes,” the Doctor said, his light, conversational tone at odds with his expression and body language. “Completely.”

Jack exhaled, caught between relief and unhappiness. “So they're . . . gone?”

“Long gone,” the Doctor said, voice and face empty.

Jack looked back at the huge storm-spiral. That green, lush forest was probably splinters by now, the ruins buried under yet another layer of debris. By the time the vegetation had regrown, there would probably be no sign at all of what lay beneath.

It was the best possible outcome, but all the same a part of Jack mourned those lost, unknown Others, their vivid, powerful hearts and the fractured love that had outlived physical reality.

“What side were they on?” Jack asked.

“Don't know,” the Doctor said, turning his profile to Jack once again. “Doesn't matter. By the end . . . nobody cared.”

Jack closed his eyes at the bitter weight of responsibility in the Doctor's voice.

We cared, in the end,” Jack said — small, cold comfort, he knew, but it was also true. “That matters, doesn't it?”

The Doctor sighed through his nose, nostrils flaring. “I'd like to think so,” he said.

For a long while, there was nothing more to say, then Jack asked, “What woke the haunting? Was it just us, or was some of it because you're a Time Lord?”

The Doctor shook his head fractionally. “That might have been part of it. But I think the resonance was more important.”

“Were they the only two . . . people . . . left? Did we just get that 'lucky?'”

Another tiny headshake from the Doctor. “There were more imprints there. We just triggered the two closest to us, and everything followed. It didn't help that we were so close to the beach. There's a bit of an edge effect with these things, where boundaries collide. Shorelines, crossroads, twilight . . . they all intensify the effects of a psychic vortex.”

“As if that one needed any intensifying.”

“Quite,” the Doctor agreed, and they fell silent again.

Jack bowed his head, staring unseeing at his own crossed forearms, memories burning newly bright and fresh in his mind — not just reminders of his abandonment on Satellite Five, but older things: war, loss and betrayal next to the sea . . . that was what had broken his will in the first place. All the rest had just followed along.

Gray. Dad. Mom. It was an ache he'd long since thought had been laid to rest, but traveling with the Doctor he was learning that memory wasn't that tractable, or that abstract.

I've been here before. I've worn all this all down to nothing, thinking about it again and again. I keep deciding I'm over it, but it keeps coming back. I'm tired of it. I don't need to be haunted any longer, from the outside or the inside.

He looked up to find the Doctor studying him. The Doctor, who'd healed his heart, betrayed him and then healed him all over again — more than once, if the tallies were counted properly.

The past couldn't be forgotten but it could be forgiven, as often as necessary. The good news was, it got easier each time.

Justice is overrated — sometimes, anyway. Life trumps death, always. New, green growth to cover the scars of the past . . . . The sense of letting something go was profound. Maybe this time it would stick.

The Doctor quirked one eyebrow upward in a silent question.

“C'mon,” Jack said. “We're done here. Let's go somewhere else. Preferably somewhere with booze, sun and dancing girls.” He held out his hand.

The Doctor blinked, then began to smile. “Just girls?” he asked, taking Jack's hand.

“Girls, boys, hermaphrodites, whatever takes your fancy,” Jack said. “Actually, the only requirements are the booze and the sun. We can take care of the dancing ourselves after that. But we're letting all the heat out, and I'm freezing my butt off.”

That wasn't true, since Jack was nearly as impervious to cold as the Doctor, but it made the Time Lord's eyes crinkle at the corners all the same.

“Can't have that,” the Doctor said. “There are very few perfect backsides in the Universe and I'd hate to ruin one of them.”

“So we're leaving?”

“As you wish.”

“You didn't even try to screw up that quote.”

The Doctor shrugged. “It's only three words and I meant all of them,” he said, pulling Jack away from the door.

Jack followed, grinning.