“You’re a real asshole when you’re drunk, you know that?” Jack stopped walking, hands on his hips as he watched the figure in front of him with a disapproving air.
The sky was quickly fading to indigo, and the constellations of Earth were popping up one by one in the approaching dark. The last rays of the late summer sun shone off the water tower at Roald Dahl Plass. Foot traffic was light and the plaza was quiet, and Jack’s sharp words echoed off the curved building.
The Doctor ignored Jack’s comment, grimly trudging forward into the approaching dusk, weaving slightly with each step. “I am going back to the TARDIS,” he slurred. The Doctor blurrily surveyed the area for his ship, found he was far off course, and corrected his trajectory to lurch onward once more. He made it a few more steps before he paused, as though Jack’s words had just sunk in. He spun about, making a valiant effort to maintain his balance as he did so, with marginal success. With an air of laboured concentration, he smoothed and adjusted his rumpled jacket, drawing himself up to his full height with as much dignity as he could muster.
“Now just one second. For your information, this,” the Doctor said with disgust, waving his hands up and down as though to offer himself as the specimen of an experiment gone wrong, “is not drunk.” He pointed a finger accusingly at Jack. “This, my dear Captain Jack, is poisoned." He snorted, rifling his pockets. "That’s what I get for being a sentimental old fool. I shouldn’t have come back here. This was foolish.” He grunted with satisfaction as he managed to produce the key to the TARDIS, and he was off again in that meandering tipsy gait.
“Look, I’m sorry. We’ve both said we’re sorry several times now! I mean really, how could we have known? It’s not like you ever mentioned it before!” Jack couldn’t bring himself to put much sincerity into the half-hearted apology. It had been a trying evening. Jack had promised Martha that he’d make sure the Doctor got back safe to his ship, but he suspected that travel through time and space under the influence was probably not best left on the agenda for tonight.
The Doctor threw a spectacularly rude gesture over his shoulder, blowing a raspberry.
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. In all the times he’d encountered the Doctor, it had never been quite like this. It had been months since they’d heard from him, since he’d dropped them off after the year that never was. Jack had read the UNIT reports that he’d turned up around Easter, him and a flying bus. Eagerly he’d contacted Martha to see if the Doctor had been in touch, but there had been nothing. They’d shrugged it off, but it hurt a little to have him turn up so near in time and space only to have him bypass them. They had both felt a little empty at the sudden realization that their time with the Doctor might have truly come to an end.
And then out of the blue, he’d shown up. Recharging at the rift, he’d said, but the Doctor had seemed evasive when Jack pressed about how long he would be there. He suspected this was more of an excuse than an actual refueling stop. Never one to refuse a social call, Jack had given Martha a ring. Inside four hours they all found themselves sitting around a pub table in Cardiff, drinks in hand.
The Doctor had reached the TARDIS and was fumbling with the key at the lock, failing spectacularly to achieve any headway. Jack swiftly closed the gap between them and closed a hand over the Doctor’s, swiping away the key.
“Oi!” the Doctor squawked, making a grab for the key from Jack’s upraised arm.
Jack took a step forward, backing the Doctor into the blue door, and with a clear challenge in his voice he spoke slowly and with exaggerated enunciation. “I had no idea about the ginger beer," he said. “Just your bad luck that Time Lord physiology can put up with the alcohol, but not the mix.”
Ginger beer. Of all the ridiculous things for a purported advanced species to have as an Achilles heel. If the Doctor hadn't been so incredibly, unexpectedly hostile in response to the whole ludicrous situation, he would have found it funny.
Standing nose to nose in a mute stare-off that seemed about to devolve into a knock-down drag-out, Jack was finding it hard to laugh.
“Give me my key,” the Doctor said sulkily.
“No,” Jack responded, stuffing it in the pocket of his greatcoat.
“What, seriously?” He waved his hands in irritation. “Am I going to get stopped by a road block in the vortex? Pulled over for time travelling under the influence?” The flippancy of his words did not carry over into his mood. He poked Jack viciously in the chest, leaning forward to further invade his space. ”Just who the hell do you think you are, Jack?”
“A friend.” Jack didn't blink, didn't budge.
The Doctor clearly hadn’t expected the non-confrontational response. His brow crinkled thoughtfully as he regarded Jack, and then he looked away, perusing the square. With a sigh the Doctor slumped backward and let his head fall back against the wooden door of the TARDIS with a soft thunk.
“God, I am drunk,” the Doctor murmured. He suddenly looked very tired.
Jack said nothing, not sure what to make of the mercurial mood shift.
The Doctor drew himself up with a sharp intake of breath, scrubbed at his face vigorously, paddling his cheeks crisply in an attempt to restore some sense of alertness. “Nope,” he said, gazing up into the sky at the growing number of stars, an uncharacteristic sight in dreary Cardiff. “Quite numb. Numb numb numb. Going to be numb for a while. Numb and dumb.” He returned his gaze to Jack, who was taking in his aimless babbling impassively. “And probably an arsehole, too, when it comes right down to it.”
Despite himself, a corner of Jack’s mouth quirked upwards. “Lucky me,” he said.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I’m really, very sorry,” the Doctor said, meeting Jack’s gaze with some measure of embarrassment. He clapped a hand on Jack’s shoulder, giving it a tentative but friendly pat. “I shouldn’t have… er, I don’t really think... Well, I mean…” he seemed to run out of steam, looking a bit lost about where this apology had been going.
“Don’t worry about it, Doctor.” Jack took the Doctor’s hand from where it rested on his shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. “Shall we?” He gestured with a nod of his head back towards the entrance to the Torchwood Hub. Martha had likely returned there by now and was bound to be a bit frantic about what had become of them.
The Doctor took his meaning, but looked pained at the idea of returning to the base — possibly at the idea of facing Martha, to whom he’d been no end of rude. “No,” he said uncomfortably, “I don’t want to go back yet. I want to walk a bit, try and metabolise this blasted ginger beer.”
As soon as he pushed off from the comforting sturdiness of the TARDIS, the Doctor swayed precariously. He would have fallen flat on his face had Jack not intervened.
“Perhaps I can be of service?” Jack teased the Doctor gently.
Receiving only a grunt in response, Jack wrapped a supportive arm around the Doctor’s ribcage, slinging a thin arm about his shoulder. They set out toward the boardwalk, travelling in companionable silence. The Doctor leaned on him heavily, but kept his footing as they continued on.
As his mind drifted in the quiet of their evening walk, Jack couldn’t help but notice that this evening marked the longest the Time Lord has spent in his presence without the inevitable flinch. It was that little flinch that happened every time he thought Jack wasn’t looking.
To the give the man credit, it wasn’t more than a flinch these days. Jack supposed he was grateful. But it was still there in the tiniest flash, every time he entered the Doctor’s proximity.
It's not easy, just looking at you, Jack. 'Cause you're wrong.
The Doctor’s words from the end of the universe still echoed in his thoughts. He’d laughed it off, but it had hurt. This man he’d devoted decades — centuries - of his life to hunting down, hoping that he would have an answer for him to this impossible life he was living. And find him he had, only to discover he was literally painful for him to look at. He couldn’t really have imagined what was going to happen when he found the Doctor, but he was sure he had never expected wariness. What kind of reception had he really been hoping for? Open arms? Surely something better than removed chilliness, at the very least.
Jack steered them away from the shore and set them in a large wandering route through town that would wrap them back to where they started. It was well past sunset and though Cardiff could be a little rough at night, the weevils had been quiet lately and he rather thought the Doctor could use the extra long walk to clear his head. He risked a small sidelong glance at the Doctor’s profile, caught the set of his jaw and the outline of his rumpled hair against the streetlights, a sad and thoughtful look on his face. No hint of that guardedness, the disapproval and general distaste that was usually Jack’s reception every time he came into the Doctor’s presence.
Even as he’d said goodbye to the Doctor the last time, just before he’d used the sonic screwdriver to disable the teleport device, Jack had seen it. A little bracing of himself before he grabbed Jack’s arm to get hold of the wrist controls. As though Jack were repulsive. As though he were wrong.
He had to admit that the Doctor had let it go and tried to accept Jack for what he was, despite his admission that Jack’s permanent nature made him physically uncomfortable. And it had made him love the Doctor all the more for trying. And, he supposed, it was all the more reason to grant the Doctor all the leeway he could at whatever was going on with him at the moment.
Things had been civil, if not exactly merry. They'd sat chatting about nothing, but as the Doctor abruptly realized the effect the drink was having on his system, he'd blown up in an unexpected display of generalized rage. Martha and Jack had been taken aback at the furious outburst from their normally affable friend. Sure, the Doctor was not someone you crossed - but he wasn't someone who also started knocking down chairs if things didn't go his way. Instead of being able to get any answers from him, he had merely left the pub with a flurry of accusations about their intentions.
Jack stifled a sigh, realizing that he was likely to never get the answer. The Doctor was still here at least, which was something. And while he didn’t want to press his advantage on a friend who wasn’t at his best, he figured he could allow himself the luxury of enjoying this unexpected walk and physical contact, even if it had begun with arguments and an unusually sour mood.
He realized they had been walking for nearly an hour and a half, and the Doctor had stopped leaning quite as heavily against him. Still, he hadn't protested the contact or disentangled himself from Jack. His wandering thoughts turned to the Doctor’s physical presence against him, the weight of his arm across his shoulder, the hip that bumped against his with each step they took. Jack’s mind drifted to pleasant, if somewhat graphic, thoughts. He sighed resignedly that his fantasies were bound to be nothing but. Even so, this was nice, just as it was.
As they walked, he let his head tilt and come to rest against the Doctor’s. Matched for height, their temples met, and Jack tried not to react to the contented lurch his heart gave.
The Doctor, however, jolted as though electrified, gasping sharply and painfully. Both men jumped, flinging each other apart. Knocked off balance, the Doctor tumbled backward and landed hard on the ground in a disorderly pile. Jack instinctively spun about looking for trouble, his coat whipping behind him as he drew his Webley in an instant. The street was empty and dark.
“What, Doctor? What is it?” He kept scanning for any sign of, well, anything, but the night was quiet in its repose.
The Doctor stared at him, mouth flapping like a fish out of water. His eyes were boring into Jack’s. Finally, he found his voice, pulling a shaking hand through his ruffled hair.
“Er, the intoxication. Really does one in… I just wasn’t expecting…” he trailed off, blushing furiously. He lifted one hand and wiped it across his face, then scrubbing at his eyes.
Jack frowned at the Doctor, but it slowly turned into an amused grin as the Doctor babbled his way into embarrassed silence. Leave it to him to get in knots over a simple affectionate gesture. He tucked his weapon away quickly and put out a hand to help the Doctor up off the ground.
“Well, what can I say, sorry if I took advantage. Moonlit stroll, attractive company - can really put a boy in the mood,” Jack chuckled good-naturedly. With a firm pull, the Doctor was on his feet and Jack quickly put out both hands to right him before he toppled over again, but the Doctor seemed more steady now than he was before they started their stroll. He grinned and said, “You’re cute when you’re flustered, Doctor.”
They found themselves face-to-face, Jack’s hands still steadying the Doctor on either bicep. Jack braced himself for the barrage of distracted chatter, or a snide dismissal. Or, if the evening should continue it’s downward spiral, a harsh reprimand and more stalking off into the night. He was surprised when nothing came but silence. His heart leapt suddenly as he met the Doctor’s gaze — gentle, inscrutable, searching Jack’s own face as though seeing him for the first time.
He released the Doctor reluctantly, knowing he should back off. The space between them could be easily closed, but he was unwilling to take actual advantage of the situation, not when he knew the Doctor's feelings towards him were not returned. He was about to take a step back, but he froze when he felt two hand gently clutching at the lapels of his jacket, tugging him closer.
He was standing rather close to Jack, and he noted with detached interest that he had done nothing to change that situation.
The walk had been pleasant, as had been the company. As irritating as intoxication was, the warmth of Jack pressed to his side had seemed to seep into his soul, giving the world a bit of a warm glow and numbing pleasantly the hard edge of anger and fear he seemed to carry with him as a constant companion. He had passed it off as some happy buzz, a fortuitous side-effect to otherwise nausea-inducing intoxication due to ginger beer consumption, but when the telepathic link with Jack had burst into full bloom at cranial contact, he realized the feeling was bleeding in from Jack in the first place.
Taking a wander through someone’s mind wasn’t something he took lightly. You couldn’t really forget what you saw in there, and species with no telepathic ability had no concept of filters — it was all there in the glaring light of day, an open platter of infinitely complex though. Even when he was prepared for the wealth of contradictions that was any sentient being’s mind, he found it to be an overwhelming experience. Unprepared and ambushed, mind flapping open like a proverbial unlatched gate in the wind, it had temporarily overwhelmed him. Thoughts and emotions that were not his own were still echoing in his mind and body, leaving him thoroughly disoriented.
The Doctor gazed intently at Jack, willing the fog still wrapping his brain to dissipate. Not that he was any better at dealing with situations like these at his most sober, but intoxication was doing nothing to help. Yet again he cursed his foolishness for downing the silly drink without giving much though to the ingredients. Just his bad luck they’d been having a Carribbean theme at the pub and decided to mix all the drinks with ginger beer. Damn his arrogance once again, thinking that he could let his guard down anywhere. He reflexively analysed the offensive molecules in his system, noting that they had broken down efficiently over the last two hours, and he really couldn't call himself properly intoxicated anymore.
Ah. Well, that was interesting, wasn't it. Perhaps he had just ... relaxed.
He marveled at the maelstrom of warm feelings that were still rolling about in his chest and clouding his mind from the brief mental contact with Jack. There had been some rather pornographic surface imagery — hardly surprising, the entire human population was positively obsessed with it, and given that this was Jack — but saturating it was a deep affection and devotion, so sincere and sweet that it was painful. It was a wellspring of support and love, given without thought of gaining anything in return, unexpectedly thrust upon him. In the midst of the darkness where he had been dwelling of late, it was agonizing to experience.
Jack let out a tense breath, and the Doctor was close enough to feel it curl past his cheek. A tingle of excitement that he was pretty sure was not his own shot through his body, and he shivered. Whether his own or merely borrowed sensation, he had to admit it felt nice. And after months of travelling alone, so much death, so much heartache, it was wonderful to feel so good. He'd begun to think he incapable of feeling good anymore. He felt the scratchy wool of Jack's coat crumple in his fists. Wait, were his hands on Jack's coat? When had they reached out to pull him near?
Jack's hand was now cupping his cheek, and without even realizing it, his head tilted towards the gentle touch. Jack’s thumb gently moved along the line of his jaw, almost imperceptibly. “Doctor, I'm not sure if you know what you're doing." His voice was rough. "I'm not sure if this is what you want, and I really don't want to take advantage of you."
I want to kiss you. God, you're beautiful.
The Doctor blinked once, twice, before realizing that Jack had not actually spoken the words aloud. He was letting Jack’s thoughts bleed in. When had he lowered his mental shields to the extent that he could hear words, not just vague feelings? It surely wasn't possible that a kind mental touch could shatter him so completely.
But how long had it been since he'd felt the mental touch of a friend, a lover? He'd been travelling with humans too long, locked away in his own head, the skills of mental give and take long grown rusty with disuse. He was weakened, tired, and exhausted from running away from everyone and everything. He had spent his many lives building impenetrable barriers against everything that had been thrown at him. But where a battering ram would fail, a gentle touch could succeed. Killed with kindness, that was him.
He realized dimly that he was mentally leaning into the warmth and affection that was caressing him in a mirror to Jack’s touch. Everything had been so dark and lonely for so very, very long. Block after block was tumbling out of place in his mental wall as he greedily reached out for the glowing warmth of Jack’s mind, unable or unwilling to pull away.
His body followed his mind as he leaned closer to Jack, his hands stealing up unnoticed to cup Jack’s face, fingers tracing up over his jawline and cheekbones as though with a mind of their own. And still he reached just a little further, letting the tingling excitement and anticipation of Jack’s thoughts warm corners of his mind that had long since grown stony and cold. Fingers slipped almost carelessly over those particular nerve endings and contact points, and suddenly Jack’s eyes grew wide in startled comprehension.
“Doctor?” He both heard and felt Jack’s exclamation, followed by a tidal wave of terrified shock.
It struck him like a literal wave of cold water, and the Doctor pulled back as though slapped, gasping and jerking his hands back. Guilt flooded him and washing away everything else, doors and walls slamming into place with a resounding crash. He crossed his arms and stuffed his hands under his armpits as though they had betrayed him, completely mortified. He felt an apology tumble out, couldn't hear his own words but for the roaring of his pulse in his ears.
He was completely out of control. He needed to get away.
He turned and began to run.
Jack shivered as he felt the Doctor’s cool hands trace up his neck and slip onto his face. His heart surged to a heady pace at the intensity of the Doctor’s gaze, and Jack felt pinned down by it. The moment had a glassy unreality to it. Jack felt something tickle uncomfortably at the corners of his senses, but he was too entranced by the man in his arms to pay it mind.
The Doctor had never let his guard down in his presence, and certainly never given any indication of returning his feelings. The thought crossed his mind that for all his big talk, he had never really expected this to amount to more than unrequited love - now that he was here and this was happening, he found himself lost in the moment, unable to do more than let it happen.
The Doctor leaned into him, and Jack slipped his arms around the Doctor's waist, letting his hands flatten against the small of his back, feeling the narrow curve of his waist. He felt his eyes slip closed with contentment at the moment as he felt nearly enveloped with the Doctor's presence. He could smell him, feel his breath against him, his body pressed against his own, feel his fingers trace the lines of his cheeks and hairline, felt him all around him, encompassing his senses. God, he was everywhere and it was so warm and he was so cold and he'd been alone for so very, very long-
With a suddenness that froze his breath in his chest, he realized he was no longer alone in his own head. There was an agonizing second of exquisite, paralysing fear, and he cried out the Doctor's name in confusion.
He felt suddenly released and thrust away, pushed. He was falling away, suddenly alone again, but swamped by the over-stimulation of his mental senses. His brain scrambled to make sense of a deluge of foreign thoughts, images and confusing emotions that were suddenly rolling around in his head. He was dimly aware of mumbled apologies, the Doctor slipping from his numb grasp, the sound of slapping footsteps on asphalt.
Jack shook his head, trying to get his scrambled thoughts in order. The hungry, desperate sense of loneliness and fear was fading, and he was left confused and disoriented.
The Doctor had reached out to Jack with his mind. He had, hadn't he? Was that what passed for intimacy between Time Lords? Maybe that was the same as a kiss, as far as the Doctor was concerned. Jesus, he hadn't been prepared. It had temporarily overwhelmed him, terrified him for a sharp and painful second.
And following that instinctual reaction, he'd been thrust away.
Scrambling to put it all together, Jack shook his head again. Finally, the Doctor had reached out to someone. Finally taken a chance, tried to make contact with someone - maybe not the best move, doing it blind and without warning. And like an idiot, Jack had scared him off. Startled, Jack has reacted in the worst way possible.
Given the way that man could run away from anything that remotely involved his own personal feelings, he'd be lucky if he ever saw the Time Lord again.
And what he'd seen before the contact had been broken - god, the loneliness. He could still feel it washing over him, though the immediateness of it was fading. It was crushing, suffocating, how badly he needed comfort and contact with another being. Jack cursed himself again for not seeing this coming, for his all too human reaction. You'd think he'd never been around the block, never been intimate with other species. He'd been in this backwards century for far too long.
Thoughts still a messy jumble, Jack started to run after the Doctor. If he was going to sort this, he had to do it now, and hopefully when - if - he caught up, he'd have a plan. Otherwise... well, eternity is a long time to try and avoid someone.
The Doctor skidded to a halt in front of the TARDIS, chest heaving. He rooted in his pockets for his key, checking his trousers, then the inside of his jacket, then his coat - only to remember Jack seizing it from him in a fit of well-intended over-protectiveness. Granted, at the time it was probably a good idea, but he wasn't in the mood to hang around and go ask for it back nicely. Once he got inside, he could always make himself another. He just needed in. No problem.
He put a hand on the door and closed his eyes, asking his ship to open the door. She was silent, and he got the impression she was ignoring him. He pressed again, imploring her to open up, but she rebuffed him with a slightly disdainful mental shove. The Doctor tried one last time, and failed again, getting a non-verbal impression of you make your bed, you lie in it. With a roar of frustration, he stepped back and gave the door a good solid kick. The TARDIS gave an irritable grumbling wheeze, but she remained shut fast.
He spun and slumped dejectedly against the door, sliding down until he landed on the ground. He'd always meant to replace the spare key, but hadn't gotten around to it, and here he was. First thing he'd do, just as soon as he'd got in there.
He looked up at a small noise, to see Jack appear from around the side of the TARDIS, cautiously approaching as though not sure what he would find. Well, wasn't that perfect.
"You made good time."
"When you live here for over a hundred years, you tend to learn the shortcuts," Jack said nonchalantly. "I wasn't sure if you'd still be here." He hovered a few feet away.
"I wouldn't be," the Doctor responded dryly, "but you seem to have my key."
"Ah, right." Jack pulled the key out of his pocket and tossed it over, and the Doctor caught it with ease, turning the small piece of metal over in his fingers before pocketing it.
"You're feeling better," Jack noted. He squatted down on his heels once he seemed convinced that the Doctor wasn't going to run again.
"If by better you mean sober, yes, I am." He watched a muscle twitch as Jack clenched and unclenched his jaw, and he felt a wash of shame come over him again. He squeezed his eyes shut against it. It was difficult to face Jack after his unspeakable transgression. Unbelievable, him just waltzing into someone's mind like some old pervert, inviting himself in because he felt lonely enough to forget himself - he cringed inward and dropped his head to his knees, squelching the painful train of thought.
He heard Jack clear his throat. "Look, I'm sorry Doctor, I-"
The Doctor cut him off with a disbelieving laugh. "You're sorry? You? Jack, I can't even begin to excuse myself." He lifted his head and opened his eyes, pinning Jack with a harsh glare. "And let's face it, I wouldn't even be here trying if my bloody ship hadn't decided to bar the door like some harpy fishwife!" His voice rose to a shout as he spoke, and he gave another angry growl and thumped his elbow backwards against the door. He winced as the pain hit him. Far more a punishment for himself than for his ship.
Yes, punishment. Probably as good a solution as any. He pushed himself upright to standing, then faced Jack squarely, bracing himself. Jack rose to meet him, looking confused. “Go on, then. I deserve it."
"Deserve what?" Jack frowned.
"I've been punched for less. Certainly earned it this time." He squeezed his eyes shut, tilted his head back, and waited.
After half a minute that contained very little punching, he unscrunched one eye, peeking out.
Jack was staring at him with an inscrutable expression. He would have much preferred angry. Angry he could deal with. Angry made sense, when someone has just violated your mental privacy. Angry was easy.
"I was surprised," Jack said. He took a step closer, then stopped. The Doctor wondered how quickly he could unlock the TARDIS door, if he could get it open and shut before Jack stopped him.
Perhaps the darting of his eyes gave his thoughts away. "I won't stop you if you want to go," Jack said, lifting his chin and gesturing towards the TARDIS. "But I just want you to know that if you want to try that again, next time I'll be prepared."
The Doctor paused, then nodded sharply, dropping his head to let his gaze bore into the pavement at his feet. He got the message, loud and clear. He wouldn't find Jack vulnerable again. Even if he were to lose control of himself again like this - which he wouldn't - and even if he saw Jack again - which he wouldn't - Jack would be prepared for him.
Well, about time his companions started to realize what a monster he was.
He felt a strong hand under his chin, tilt his head up. Jack's gaze was soft, forgiving.
"I hope there will be a next time, Doctor."
Cupping the Doctor's chin, Jack held his gaze, felt the muscles in the Doctor's jaw working as he ground his teeth. There was doubt, shame, guilt, avoidance, all swimming around and battling for supremacy on the Doctor's face. He wasn't saying it right. There weren't really words for what he wanted to say anyway. Maybe talking wasn't the way to do this.
Jack drew a deep breath and looked within, recalling his rusty telepathic communication lessons from ages past. It had been lifetimes since he'd tried to actually reach out, to do more than build walls and keep everything out. Summoning his strongest feelings towards the Doctor, fashioning them into a tool he could use to forge a connection, he crafted his message.
His hand slid to gently cup the Doctor's cheek, bringing his other hand up to do the same on the other side, and felt his eyes slip closed as he concentrated.
I'm here, if you want me. But I can't just let you go. Not alone, not like this.
The words were carried with a tide of images - reflections of the aching loneliness and utter despair Jack had glimpsed at the brief brush with the Doctor's mind, the hungriness he had felt as he scrabbled for the affection and warmth he felt from Jack. He drew on the depth of his feelings for the Doctor to bolster the message, adding reassurance and love and support, all the things he felt he could offer the Doctor and that the Time Lord sorely needed. Everything that he was willing to offer and so much more, you just have to take it, no questions asked, nothing expected in returned, unconditional lo-
He felt a hand gently grasp his wrists, tugging downward, and his concentration faltered. He opened his eyes and looked up. The Doctor was looking at him openly, plainly. The corner of one mouth quirked up in a tiny smile, but it trembled slightly.
"Blimey, Jack, you don't need to shout."
"Been a long time since I've tried that. Wanted to make sure the message got through." The effort of extending himself mentally having knocked down a few of his own defenses along the way. He scrounged for some flippant comment to inject levity into the situation, but found nothing came to him. He swallowed down his nervousness, unsure of how this gamble would play out.
The Doctor gently appraised him, almost seeming to look through him. "Yeah, it did. But I'm fine, really. Absolutely fine. You really don't need to worry about me." He dropped Jack's arms and took a step back, closing down and boxing up any sincere emotion in favour of the aloof facade that was his perpetual standby.
Jack closed his eyes, pained. "That's a complete lie, and we both know it."
The Doctor unpocketed the TARDIS key and looked at it, then back at his ship. "I should be going."
"Doctor, please. Stay. Just for a little while." It was a useless gesture, and he knew it. Even though he was here, he was already gone.
The Time Lord tossed the key in the air and caught it, and as it landed in his hand he seemed to drop into his flippant, jovial mask. "Sorry Jack, really must be off. You know how it is - things to do, people to see, timelines to preserve." He inserted the key in the lock and turned it, refusing to look at Jack any more.
Jack tried to ignore the sinking sense of disappointment, knowing it had been bound to end this way. He supposed at least he'd tried. He tried not to think about the fact that this would probably be the last he'd ever see of the Time Lord. But really, forever was a long time. Maybe in some future incarnation, the Doctor would have forgiven him. Or himself.
He watched the door creak open, and the Doctor enter, but he paused half in and half out. A hand on the door frame, he seemed suddenly indecisive. He turned partially, leaning on the door that was still closed. He still refused to look at Jack.
The Doctor looked as though he would say something, but nothing came out. He cleared his throat, then tried again.
"But you could - that is to say, if you want to - you could. Come with me. If you want."
Jack blinked. A second offer. Ok, didn't see that coming either. And here he was thinking nothing could surprise him anymore.
Could he go? He wouldn't visibly age, he could be back before his team even noticed he was gone, have the Doctor drop him off just after he'd left. No harm done. But he would know - he'd know he'd been gone, and he had a responsibility to these people, this world and time he'd become a part of. He wasn't the sort of man who could just sail off, as though he had no cares in the world.
But who was he, what kind of man was he to offer what he'd offered the Doctor, then take it away as soon as the Doctor looked interested? And there was something here, something to this night and what had happened. The Doctor had let his hand slip, just a little bit, and damn him if he didn't feel compelled to see if something could come of it.
The Doctor gave a small sigh, clearly taking Jack's silence as refusal. He straightened, went inside. The door started to close.
Jack leapt forward, putting a hand out to block it from swinging shut. "Yes," he blurted, the word leaping out before he even realized he'd truly made a decision.
It was only open a crack, but the door didn't shut any further. He waited, awkwardly, but it neither opened nor closed against his palm. There was no reply.
Curious, he finally pushed at the door, swinging it open to look inside. The Doctor was already at the console, pushing buttons and turning dials. "Well, what are you waiting for? Come on."
Jack stepped inside and secured the door. As he did so, he could already hear the familiar grinding of the TARDIS as she slipped into the vortex. As the ship rattled and bucked, he made his way to the console and stood on the other side of it, the time rotor grinding away between them. The ship's rattling calmed, and the Doctor ceased his ministrations, stepping back, then falling still.
The Doctor stared up at the column, shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. "Yes. Well, that's good. I mean, good to have you on board." He glanced quickly at Jack, then away again. He made a vague gesture over his shoulder towards the doors that led to the rest of the ship. "I've got to - I've got..." He trailed off. As though he couldn't be bothered to finish the rest of his excuse, he pivoted and strode out of the control room.
Without saying a word, Jack slipped off his coat and tossed it over a nearby coral strut, then unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. One cagey, lonely Time Lord, one slightly worse-for-wear immortal, one looming uncomfortable personal issue. In a rattly old TARDIS, off to explore time and space. He sighed into the empty space of the control room, smiling tiredly to himself.
"Yeah, Doc. This is going to be fun."