An alleyway on an alien planet, so ordinary that he almost walked past the parked TARDIS. He’d stopped dead in his tracks, staring, unsure what to do, when the door opened and a youthful face had looked him over with a ready smile.
“Jack! It’s been forever. Come in, let’s catch up.”
It had been a few weeks now, and - although he was a semi-permanent fixture (the Doctor had, somewhat awkwardly, asked if he’d like to stay for a while, and he had just as awkwardly confirmed) - there had been no actual catching up. Which suited Jack just fine. He was in no hurry to share, and this new Doctor with the young face and the old eyes was clearly not in the mood either. He said something about Companions that had gotten married and so he was mostly travelling on his own, and Jack nodded and didn’t pry further.
He was very friendly though, easy chatter and genuine affection a welcome surprise to Jack (ditto the bow tie and tweed), and the TARDIS seemed happy too - golden and beautiful.
Somewhere inside he could feel something unfurl... He knew where he was, and how things were supposed to be. No more difficult compromises, just the safety of the Doctor’s self-assurance and clear morals.
“Let’s try the crystal falls of Trevellis 5,” the Doctor said, flipping a lever, when a sudden shudder seemed to shake the TARDIS, sending both of them crashing into the partitions, grasping for a hold, as the controls apparently moved by themselves and the ancient engines groaned. Moments later they landed and after a moment of looking at each other in bewilderment, the Doctor jumped to his feet and ran down the stairs, Jack - suddenly worried - hot on his heels.
He almost crashed into the Doctor’s back, however, as the Time Lord had frozen on the spot outside the TARDIS door. Taking in the scene Jack felt a cold chill go through him. They were on the execution square of the Trafeng Empire in the 67th Century (infamous enough for any time traveller to be aware of the place), the local dignitary seated in the judge’s seat, soldiers lining the walls and a woman at the block, the executioner lifting his axe.
The blade caught the sunlight as it fell, blinding him for a moment - but then a shot rang out, and the blade tumbled to the ground as the black-hooded soldier fell down dead, blood spilling from a bullet hole in the middle of his head.
Feeling as if the world was unfolding in slow-motion Jack turned, and took in the figure of the Doctor by his side, Jack’s now smoking gun in his hand, arm perfectly still.
Deathly silence had fallen over the scene, broken by a voice Jack knew had to be the Doctor’s as he could see his lips move, yet it was so cold and cut-down he would not have thought him capable of it.
“You move, you die,” he said, carefully covering the soldiers with the gun, before adding: “Jack. Get her in the TARDIS.”
As Jack took a moment to react he added ”Now!” with such vehemence that Jack ran to his task.
The woman, dressed as a noblewoman, although clearly human, her curly hair pulled away from her face, smiled at him as he gave her a hand - her own were shackled behind her back, which made getting to her feet difficult.
“Thank you,” she said, walking past the Doctor and into the TARDIS without a flicker, and the Doctor slowly followed, gun at the ready until he was inside the TARDIS, at which point he raised his other hand, snapped his fingers and - as if by magic - the doors closed and the engines cranked back to life.
Jack, trying to gather his wits, realised that the woman was probably in shock and turned to her, about to ask her how she was, and saw that she was calmly studying the Doctor, who was now lowering the gun, eyes fastening on her face and fury gathering on his brow.
“What the hell was that?” he asked, looking at her with such undiluted anger that Jack froze; but the woman didn’t so much as flinch, and Jack came to the conclusion that they obviously knew each other somehow. Was she a former companion?
“A little raid that... didn’t go quite as planned.”
“Not quite as planned?” the Doctor exploded, incredulous. “You were about to be beheaded! If we’d been two seconds later-”
He caught himself, swallowing, as strong emotions flitted across his face, before the fury settled again, and his voice was quivering with anger when he spoke, voice low and harsh.
“I killed for you.”
Lifting her chin, the woman looked back, meeting his eyes head-on.
“It’s called marriage, honey.”
As his jaw dropped, she tilted her head, eyes narrowing.
“Well, our marriage at any rate.”
The silence following this statement seemed to stretch forever, something Jack was grateful for, as his mind was desperately trying to make the words fit. Marriage? Marriage? This woman was the Doctor’s wife? How - why - how... The questions were too many to be numbered, and his mind was like syrup.
All he could do was watch the silent war of wills play out in front of him, until - to his astonishment - the Doctor abruptly lowered his gaze.
“Yes. Sorry. I didn’t-”
As if coming back to himself, he noticed that he still had Jack’s gun in his hand, and carefully handed it over.
“Thank you. And sorry for helping myself. Didn’t have time to ask.”
“You’re welcome,” Jack replied, placing the gun in its holster, a hundred questions on the tip of his tongue, yet unable to formulate a single one.
Thankfully the woman (the Doctor’s wife?) took the initiative.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us, dear?”
The Doctor blinked, and nodded.
“Of course. River, this is my good and very old friend, the infamous Captain Jack Harkness, as you’ve probably already guessed. Jack this is-”
He stopped, and looked at her, and when she said “Doctor”, he continued:
“Doctor River Song, my wife and the bane of my existence.”
For a moment she glared daggers, then seemed to stomp down on whatever emotions he had awakened and instead tilted her head.
“You going to uncuff me, so I can shake his hand?” she asked, and the Doctor hesitated, then shook his head.
“No. Considering how much you like them, I think it’s time for you to wear them for once.”
A beat, then her whole demeanour changed. Shooting the Doctor a look from under her eyelashes, she replied “As you wish,” with undertones Jack couldn’t have missed if he’d been blind and deaf.
Staggered, his eyes turned to the Doctor, who suddenly seemed to have gone completely tongue-tied.
“...Right,” he eventually said, clearing his throat and not meeting Jack’s eyes. “I need to-”
“Tea sounds like a lovely idea, dear,” River finished, and he nodded absently.
“Yes. Tea. I’ll make us some tea...”
He walked up a staircase and disappeared round a corner, before his head suddenly popped out again, and River answered his unspoken question.
“And yes darling, I’d like a lift back to Stormcage afterwards.”
“Right. Good,” he said, and his head vanished, his footsteps slowly receding.
After a long moment, Jack eventually turned to the impossibility beside him.
“You’re his wife?” he eventually asked, still unable to get anything to fit. “How... And Stormcage? I-”
“Yes, he married me,” she replied. “And I’m in Stormcage for murder.”
“Whose murder?” he asked, although he knew the answer even before she opened her mouth, her manner so arch he felt several kinds of fool, although what she was suggesting was clearly madness.
“Whose do you think?”
And Jack understood that in this one woman his whole house of cards - the simple moral universe he had contructed around the Doctor - wasn’t just falling to pieces, it was turning upside down...
A smile breaking out on his face, he let his eyes trail over the woman in front of him - this time appraising in every way he knew how.
"I'm beginning to see why he never bothered to 'catch up'" he said, as River, eyes glinting, smiled back - and he could feel something that had been dead for a very long time unfurl.
Life was all of a sudden interesting again...