Rose sat on the jump seat in the console room, her mind deep in thought, while the Doctor was at the controls of the TARDIS, ready to enter the coordinates for their next destination. He stood waiting, however, because Rose didn’t seem to be able to make up her mind about where she wanted to go. That wasn’t really it, though. Rose knew exactly where she wanted to go; she just wasn’t sure if the Doctor would agree with her idea.
The Doctor knew that particular look she had on her face. It meant that whatever Rose was about to suggest, he probably wasn’t going to like it.
After some thought and hesitation, Rose finally made her request. “Can we go see Jack?”
He was right. He didn’t like it.
The Doctor’s jaw tensed. Rose could see he was shutting her out from what he was really thinking. Having now reached the point of having this intensely close, intimate relationship, the Doctor was more open with her than he had ever been, and most of the time Rose could read him like a book; other times, however, he could still be closed off to her. Like now. She didn’t like it — especially when it meant he was keeping something from her.
He turned his eyes down to fiddle with the controls unnecessarily and decided to try a diversionary tactic. It had worked the past few times, anyway. Side-stepping her requested destination, he quickly rattled off a few suggestions of his own as he danced around the console, pressing buttons at random. “Or! I could take you to The Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade, the lightning skies of Cotter Palluni's World, the diamond coral reefs of Kaata Flo Ko...”
Rose saw right through his attempted distraction and was having none of it. Not this time. Even when he was being closed off she could still read his intentions.
Rose stood and came up beside him, stilling his movements and his mouth. “Or…we could go see Jack,” she repeated, not letting it drop.
The Doctor just stared back at her in silence for a minute. Rose crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, out with it. We’re gonna talk about this here and now,” she said firmly.
The Doctor, who could be equally stubborn — if not more so — folded his arms over his chest as well and gave her a defiant look. “We have talked about this, Rose.”
Rose laughed. “No, we haven’t. I’ve talked about going to see Jack, and every time he’s mentioned you bury yourself as far beneath the console as you can get, reply with nothing more than grunts, and basically avoid the topic completely.”
The Doctor broke eye contact and turned back towards the console. “Maybe there’s a reason for that,” he said, his voice low, barely audible.
“Such as?” Rose pressed.
He turned back to her. “Reasons you don’t understand.”
“Of course I don’t understand,” she retorted, “because you won’t tell me! Maybe if you tried actually explaining…”
The Doctor ran a hand down his face as Rose sat herself back down on the jump seat. “Doctor,” she began slowly, “if it weren’t for Jack coming through to find me in that parallel world I never would have gotten back to you. We would have lost each other at Canary Wharf. I think we at least owe him a thank you. Both of us — a proper one.”
That struck a nerve. The Doctor knew she was right. He was also aware that he couldn’t just keep avoiding this. But if Rose wanted to thank Jack for what he did, the Doctor knew Jack wouldn’t even know what she was talking about.
He came back around to stand in front of her, leaning back against the console. “Rose, timelines are very complicated things. It’s difficult to explain, but the Jack who would be current with your timeline wouldn’t even know what had been done. You see, people don’t understand time. It’s not what they think it is.” He paused for a breath, and Rose waited for him to continue his lecture. “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”
Rose cocked an eyebrow and smirked. “Really? ‘Timey-wimey…stuff’. Maybe this explanation made sense in your head, but somehow I think it got lost in translation.”
The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. “It…got away from me, yeah.” He cleared his throat. “What I’m trying to say is, time can change, can be re-written, and that’s exactly what happened with us — thanks to Jack. The Jack Harkness who went to find you in that parallel world and brought you back was from a timeline where you and I had stayed separated — that’s how he knew to go back and change that by bringing you back here, and he re-wrote time by doing so. That was a future, alternate version of Jack who did it. The one we would find now would have no knowledge of that.”
Somehow, despite his wibbly-wobbly explanation, Rose was able to grasp what he was saying. “Okay, so a Jack from the future changed events of the past, and the Jack we find now won’t know that. I think I get it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still see him and thank him for what his other self did. Or would that…be messing with timelines if he were to know about that?”
The Doctor shook his head. “What was done by that alternate Jack is done. Finished. This Jack won’t have to do anything about it since his alternate self from that other timeline already did, so it wouldn’t change anything for him to know. He’ll simply have knowledge of both occurrences once those timelines meld and converge upon him.”
Rose looked perplexed as she wrinkled her brow. “You’re right,” she muttered. “It’s just a big ball of timey-wimey…stuff.” She regained her train of thought. “But that means we can see Jack and still thank him. Alternate version or no, I think he deserves that. Besides, since the Jack we find would be current with our present timeline, then technically we haven’t seen him since Satellite Five. I’d say a visit is long overdue.”
The Doctor hesitated. “Rose, there are still other things you don’t understand about all this.”
She sighed in exasperation. “Then enlighten me.”
He supposed he’d avoided this long enough. It was time to face it. The Doctor moved to sit beside her on the jump seat and drew a heavy breath. “Rose, what do you remember about Satellite Five?”
Deep in thought, Rose paused before answering. “I remember everything that happened before you sent me away.” Her gaze was distant. “After I looked into the heart of the TARDIS, my memories of that are just sort of…blurred. I have…glimpses of it sometimes — bits and pieces. It’s like…I can see vague flashes of things…the words ‘Bad Wolf.’ But it almost feels like they’re things I wasn’t meant to see and so they’re blotted out…”
“Rose,” he said gently, drawing her eyes back to his, “you had the entire Time Vortex running through your head and you could see the whole of time and space. It gave you power that…you weren’t meant to have — power no one is meant to have. You had the power to control life and death, and that was wrong.”
Rose felt a cold shiver run through her. She knew he always avoided this topic so she never pushed it. What was he keeping from her about this? “What did I do?” she whispered, her eyes wide and slightly fearful.
The Doctor smiled gently, but there was a weight behind his smile. “You saved me. And you saved Jack. Rose, he died. He was killed by the Daleks, but you brought him back to life — forever.”
Rose screwed her face up in confusion and asked hesitantly, “What’d you mean ‘forever’?”
“You made him so he can’t die. He’s a fixed point in time. He’s a fact.” The Doctor’s eyes were penetrating. “And that was wrong.”
Rose felt the strength leave her limbs. “I did this to him?”
Rose lifted her eyes back to his. “And you blame me for creating something ‘wrong’ in the universe.”
The Doctor sighed wearily. “I don’t blame you, Rose. You were trying to save him and you did. Your motives were not wrong. But try to understand what this must be like for Jack. He might blame you. Do you want to face that?”
“Well I can’t just run from it,” she said sharply, then narrowed her gaze. “Which is what you’ve been doing…all this time. This is why you left without him, isn’t it?” she accused. “Right after you regenerated I told you to go back and find Jack to help us, but you told me he was ‘busy re-building the Earth.’ That wasn’t true though, was it? You were running from him.” Her voice rose as she stood. “And why didn’t you ever tell me about all of this? I think this is something I should have known.”
“To protect you.”
“To protect me?”
Rose shook her head. “No. No, you just didn’t want to face it so you ran, just like you always do.” Rose flinched at her own words. She didn’t want to argue with him about this, but she was upset that he’d kept something like this from her and not allowed either of them to face it.
The Doctor stood. “What happened wasn’t my doing, Rose,” he replied back.
“So you do blame me.”
The Doctor raked a hand through his hair. “I don’t blame you. And what’s done is done.”
“You think I should have let him die.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.
He blew out a breath. “I’m not saying that. But it’s not that simple, either.”
“When is it ever?” Rose swallowed hard and paced anxiously for a moment. “Well, I can’t just avoid this — avoid him. And…and he must not have hated me for this,” she thought hopefully, “because when he found me in that parallel world, he said I had once given his life back to him and he wanted to return the favor. I thought he meant that traveling with us had made him a better person than the conman he had been when we met. But he meant that literally.”
The Doctor placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “But we don’t know how long it could have taken him to reach that conclusion. The Jack we find might not be so forgiving.”
“Regardless, I have to see him,” she said with resolve. “And maybe…maybe this was always meant to be. You said I was able to see the whole of time and space. Maybe I knew that it was the right thing to do.” Rose was grappling for an answer to all this.
The Doctor frowned, not at all convinced. “That’s a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?”
“No more presumptuous than you deciding it would have been better if he’d died,” she responded. Her voice then became small, not at all like the golden being who had once held the power of the universe. “Deciding over life and death — does anyone have the right to make that decision for another? But whether it was right or whether it was wrong, I have to face it.”
The both looked at each other in silence for several moments.
“Doctor, we need to find him. It’s time.”
Breathing deeply, he slowly nodded and resigned himself. “Okay.” The Doctor walked around to the monitor on the console. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, actually. He has a very…,” his eyes cut up to Rose, “…unique boi-signature. No one else in the universe like him. I’ll scan for his whereabouts within the current timeline.”
Rose stood by for several anxious and breathless moments. Finally, the Doctor spoke up once again.
“Done,” he said simply, straightening up from the monitor.
“You’ve found him?” she asked tentatively.
He nodded. “You could say he’s close to home. Good ol’ Sol 3.” He pulled a face. “Cardiff, actually.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Cardiff?”
The Doctor shrugged. “Well, at least we can kill two birds with one stone. The TARDIS could use a refueling at the rift.”
The Doctor set the coordinates and landed the TARDIS atop Cardiff’s rift. As he grabbed his coat and he and Rose headed for the door, both thought they would now have to go in search for Jack. They didn’t expect him to be waiting for them outside the TARDIS when the door opened. The Doctor stepped through first, and his deep brown eyes were met with the piercing blue ones of the man he had once left behind.
“Doctor,” Jack greeted, almost cautiously.
“Captain,” the Doctor intoned, equally guarded.
Rose soon followed behind the Doctor and greeted Jack without the hesitancy shown by the two men as she rushed forward and threw her arms around his neck in a hug Jack gladly reciprocated.
“Now that’s the kind of hello I was hoping for,” he said with a hearty laugh. They pulled back and Jack gave her a wink. “How about a ‘hello kiss’ to go with it?”
“Stop it,” the Doctor warned.
“What? Can’t I even say a proper hello?” Jack asked with innocence.
Rose couldn’t help but giggle. Same old Jack, she thought. Well, in some ways, at least.
Pecking her on the cheek rather than snogging her senseless and incurring the Doctor’s wrath, he then turned. “Good to see you,” Jack said, addressing the Doctor.
“And you. Same as ever.” The Doctor paused. “Although, have you had work done?”
“You can talk!”
It took the Doctor a minute to catch the meaning. “Oh! Yes, the face! Regeneration. How did you know this was me?”
He smirked. “The police box kind of gives it away.”
Rose turned to Jack. “Why don’t we go inside?” she suggested. “I think we all have a lot of…catching up to do.”
“You can say that again,” Jack muttered. The three made their way into the TARDIS.
The Time Rotor flared and pulsed in an almost alarmed tone as they stepped inside. “Steady on,” the Doctor murmured to the ship. “It’s alright…I know how you feel.”
They gathered around the console and Jack stared the Doctor straight on.
“You abandoned me,” he stated bluntly.
The Doctor held his gaze with an inscrutable expression. “Did I? Busy life. Moving on.”
Rose shot the Doctor a look. “What he means to say is sorry.”
The Doctor cleared his throat as he studied the tops of his trainers. “Yes…well, sorry.”
“Why?” Jack questioned. “Why’d you do it? I mean, there I was, stranded in the year 200,100, ankle-deep in Dalek dust, and you go off without me.”
“It was my fault,” Rose abruptly stated.
“Rose…,” the Doctor began.
“No. He deserves to know, and the truth of it is…much of what happened was my doing.”
“Well, does someone want to explain it to me? Because I’ve waited a while to hear it. Fortunately for me I had this,” he tapped his Vortex Manipulator. “I thought, 21st century, best place to find the Doctor…except that I got it a little wrong. I arrived in 1869 and this thing burnt out so it was useless.”
“Told you,” the Doctor smirked.
“I had to live through the entire 20th century waiting for a version of you that would coincide with me.”
Rose gaped at Jack. She had no idea so much time had passed for him. “That makes you more than 100 years old.”
He gave her a broad grin. “And lookin’ good, don’t you think?” He then continued. “So I went to the time rift — based myself there because I knew you’d come back to refuel; until finally I get a signal detecting you, and here we are.”
There was silence for a minute. Jack folded his arms across his chest. “So, I believe something was said about explaining things…”
The Doctor stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked at Jack thoughtfully. “I’ll ask you the same thing I recently asked Rose: What exactly do you remember about Satellite Five?”
“Before or after you left me?” Jack asked dryly.
“Before. Specifically, do you remember dying and coming back to life?” he asked pointedly.
Jack grunted. “Not exactly the sort of thing you forget. So how long have you known.”
“Ever since I ran away from you,” the Doctor replied warily, as Rose shifted on her feet and glanced down, a feeling of guilt passing through her. “When did you first realize?”
“Earth 1892. Got in a fight in Ellis Island. A man shot me through the heart. Then I woke up. Thought it was kind of strange. But then it never stopped. Fell off a cliff, trampled by horses, World War I, World War II, poison, strangulation, a stray javelin…” The Doctor and Rose winced. “In the end, I got the message. I’m the man who can never die. And all that time you knew.”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck uneasily, fighting down the sensation that made his hair stand on end. “That’s why I left you behind. It’s not easy even just…just looking at you Jack, because you’re wrong.”
Rose knew she needed to say something, but she didn’t even know where to start. She was just learning of all this herself. The Doctor shrugged. “You are. I can’t help it. I’m a Time Lord. It’s instinct. It’s in my gut. You’re a fixed point in time a space. You’re a fact. That’s never meant to happen.”
There was heavy silence for a moment before Jack spoke up again. He needed to know how this happened. “Last thing I remember back when I was mortal…I was facing three Daleks. Death by extermination. And then I came back to life.” He looked between the Doctor and Rose. “What happened?”
The Doctor and Rose exchanged a glance.
“Me,” Rose answered, her voice strained. “I…I did this to you. But I didn’t even remember or know…until today.”
Jack shook his head slowly. “I thought he sent you back home.”
Rose swallowed thickly. “I came back. I opened the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed the Time Vortex.”
Jack needed more clarity. “What does that mean, exactly?”
The Doctor spoke up. “No one’s ever meant to have that power. If a Time Lord did that, he’d become a god, a vengeful god. But Rose is human.” He looked at Rose, his eyes softening. There was no vengeance or thirst for power in what Rose did. She simply wanted to save a life. “What she did was so human. She brought you back to life but she couldn’t control it. She brought you back forever.” He pondered that a moment. “That’s something, I suppose,” he murmured. “The final act of the Time War was life.”
Jack looked at Rose. “Do you think you could change me back?”
Rose started to speak, but the Doctor interjected. “I took the power out of her.”
The three stood quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry,” Rose finally whispered.
Jack took a step towards her. “For saving my life? Is that really something to be sorry for?”
“But…but what I’ve made you become, it’s…” she trailed off, glancing away.
“Do you want to die, Jack?” the Doctor asked bluntly.
Jack paused, looking at Rose and then the Doctor. “I thought I did. I dunno.” His eyes were wistful. “But the things I’ve seen, people out there, every day, surviving against the odds.” He slowly grinned. “And that’s fantastic.”
“You don’t hate me…,” Rose asked, swallowing past a lump in her throat, “for what I’ve done?”
Jack blew out a breath. “How could I hate you, Rose? You saved me. Permanently, yeah. But you saved me.” He shrugged. “And I figure living is better than dying.”
Rose closed the distance between them and embraced him in a tight hug. “Maybe someday I can do something to return the favor,” he said.
Rose pulled back and looked up at him. “You already have. Well, a version of you, anyway. That’s why I first wanted to find you — to thank you.”
Jack furrowed his brow. “What’d you mean?”
The Doctor stepped closer. “I lost Rose at the Battle of Canary Wharf,” he spoke solemnly. “She was trapped in the parallel world were the Cybermen had come through from. And a future, alternate version of you brought her back to me by going back in time and crossing back through before the walls between worlds had closed.”
Jack was still for a moment as he processed this, then let out a laugh. “Oh, I am good, aren’t I? I mean, come on, I am good!”
“No arguments here,” Rose grinned.
“Thank you,” the Doctor said with deep sincerity. “It might not have been this you, and a few laws were broken in the process of doing it; but still, thank you.”
Jack nodded, the two silently coming to terms. He then looked at Rose. “Well, maybe now we’re even, eh?” he said, as he gave her another hug. “I watched over you, you know?” he spoke softly. “I went back to your estate, in the 90s, just once or twice. I watched you growing up. Never said hello, timelines and all that.”
Rose felt tears prick her eyes. “You were there?” she whispered.
He smiled. “Of course I was. You have always been special to me, Rose.”
The heavy moment was lightened as he cleared his throat and looked knowingly between the Doctor and Rose. “And I think I’m not the only one who knows how special you are. Eh, Doc?” He gave him a wink. “I brought her back to you for a reason, didn’t I? I just hope you two are making good use of your time together,” he said cheekily.
Rose suppressed a grin as she curled her toes. “Oh, you have no idea,” she said quietly.
Jack lifted his brows. “Do tell! And while we’re on the subject…if you two ever decide you’d like…”
“Stop it,” the Doctor once again warned as Rose chuckled.
“You don’t even know what I was going to say,” Jack defended.
“Yes, I do. And you can stop right there.”
Jack shrugged, then grinned. “Fine. But you don’t know what you’re missing.”
The Doctor looked at Rose with a gaze that made her flush hotly. “There is no possible way that I’m missing anything at all.”
Jack cut his eyes over to Rose and made her blush further. “Well, I think I’d have to agree with you there.”
The three spent the next few hours catching up and laughing over old times, the tension having abated. Rose wished it could last, but something in Jack’s eyes told her he’d made his own place for himself in the world now. He had moved on. Still, that didn’t keep Rose from wanting to make the offer when the time came. She had gone to the kitchen to make tea and the Doctor briefly slipped in to help her. She asked him then what he thought of having Jack travel with them again. The Doctor agreed to at least ask. As much as he had been dreading seeing Jack at first, he found he really didn’t mind the idea. He enjoyed having their old friend around again — especially after what Jack had done for them.
“Well, it’s been fun, you two. But never let it be said that Jack Harkness overstays his welcome,” Jack said at last.
“You could never do that,” Rose insisted. She looked at the Doctor and he nodded. “You know you could always…come with us. Travel with us again,” she said with a hopeful smile.
Jack looked at the Doctor. “I really don’t mind,” the Doctor confirmed. “Come with us.”
Jack paused. “It’s a tempting offer, and I’d like to. I really would. But, um…since we’ve been telling stories…there’s something I haven’t told you.” The Doctor and Rose waited for him to continue. “I’ve made a place for myself here now — a place where I’m needed. I have this…well…team. And you could say we keep an eye on things here.”
The Doctor lifted a curious brow. “So what’s this organization of yours called, then? The Captain and his Crew,” he chuckled, as Rose rolled her eyes and nudged him in the side.
Jack’s expression was sober. “It’s called Torchwood.”
The Doctor instantly stiffened as an icy chill ran down his spine. “You work for Torchwood?” he growled.
Jack held up his hands. “I swear to you, it’s different. It’s changed. There’s only half a dozen of us now.”
This did nothing to placate the Doctor. “Everything Torchwood did and you’re a part of it!”
“Yes, and it was Jack, or at least a future version of him, who helped get me back after everything Torchwood did,” Rose cut in. “He wasn’t a part of that Torchwood,” she reminded him. “The Torchwood in the other universe was different, too, so give him a chance to explain.”
“The old regime was destroyed at Canary Wharf,” Jack said. “I rebuilt it, I changed it. And when I did that, I did it for you, in your honor.” He drew a long breath. “Do you really think I would be with an organization that was the same?”
The Doctor deflated and let his shoulders relax as Jack continued. “You aren’t always here, Doctor. You can’t always do everything yourself. Sometimes others are needed to fight the fight and help defend the Earth.”
The Doctor held his gaze for a long moment before finally replying. “Defending the Earth…I suppose I can’t argue with that,” he consented.
Jack smiled. “Yeah. And now I suppose it’s time to get back to work. It’s a never ending task, as you know.”
He shook the Doctor’s hand and hugged Rose one last time. The three then walked down the ramp and stepped out of the TARDIS together.
Jack paused. He knew Rose couldn’t change him back, but he still wondered if there was something else that could be done. He honestly wasn’t sure if he would want to give up immortality just yet, but he wanted to know where he stood.
“What about me?” he asked, turning back to the Doctor. “Can you fix that? Will I ever be able to die?”
The Doctor shook his head. “Nothing I can do. You're an impossible thing, Jack.”
He laughed. “Been called that before.” He gave the Doctor a salute. “Sir,” then winked at Rose, “Ma’am.”
He turned to go, but then stopped, turning back around again. “But I keep wondering…what about aging? Because I can't die, but I keep getting older. The odd little gray hair, you know? What happens if I live for a million years?”
The Doctor smiled slightly. It wasn’t often he was stumped, but in this case he didn’t have a clue. “I really don't know.”
Jack chuckled. “Okay, vanity. Sorry. Yeah, can't help it. I used to be a poster boy when I was a kid back on the Boeshane Peninsula. Tiny little place. I was the first one ever to be signed up for the Time Agency. They were so proud of me.” Jack paused in thought and smiled. “The Face of Boe, they called me.”
The Doctor and Rose stared at each other, stunned. “I'll see you,” Jack called out, before jogging away.
Rose slowly shook her head. “Can't be.”
For a minute the Doctor was speechless. “No, definitely not. No.”
The both laughed in disbelief.
The Doctor’s thoughts immediately went back to a trip he and Rose had taken just a few months before. He brought her back to New Earth, thinking it would be somewhat of a romantic gesture to return, only to have the trip quickly turn sour, as their trips seem to have a tendency to do. It was there they encountered The Face of Boe one last time, and in the end, he helped save them all with the last of his strength. Before dying, he spoke four words to the Doctor: You are not alone. The Doctor knew he wasn’t alone for now, because he had Rose. But what about the day when he would inevitably lose her? How was it possible for him not to be alone in the end?
And yet, there was the tiniest echo of a timeline the Doctor would sometimes catch glimpses of when he was near to Rose — a timeline that spoke of things which could not possibly be true; a timeline where Rose was with him far longer than either could have imagined.
The Doctor looked once more at Jack’s parting form as he drew further away, then back over at Rose standing at his side, and it was almost as if he could see a missing piece of a puzzle he so desperately wanted to fit fall into place.
As he and Rose walked back into the TARDIS hand-in-hand, the Doctor had to remind himself that what he was thinking was impossible. But then, so was the man who’d just given him this glimmer of hope. Whatever the future held for them, time would tell the tale. In the meantime, a little voice in the back of the Doctor’s mind reminded him that he always did like impossible.