Steal Me Away

by themonkeycabal [Reviews - 9]

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  • Mixed
  • Angst, Character, Study, Introspection

Author's Notes:
This was a holiday gift for my friend Kerlin, who asked for OT3 -- Doctor/Jack/Rose.

It wouldn't be so bad, if only the rain would stop.

Jack Harkness -- conman, scoundrel, coward -- scrambled up the muddy embankment, and slid gracelessly down the other side. Pausing to regain his footing on the slick ground, he closed his eyes, turning an ear back the way he'd come, waiting.

It started as a dull roar -- a slow distant rumble that built and released with an earth-shaking clap, pushing searing heat and an almighty shockwave in front of it. Jack ducked down into the muddy puddle at his feet, feeling the force of the explosion tug at his damp hair and suck the breath out of his lungs.

Once it passed, he got to his feet and peered over the top of the earthworks, watching, with a sort of weary satisfaction, as flames rose into the dark sky. It really wouldn't be so bad, if the rain would just stop already.

Jack crossed the narrow dirt road, jumped a water-filled ditch, and slipped quietly into the damp forest. He had a motorcycle waiting on the other side, a half-mile or so away. Stumbling through the rain, he really wished he'd brought a car, instead. But, no, he had to go for the bike. Early-21st century "cool". Oh, sure, he'd told the motor-pool it was because the bike was more maneuverable, could go where a car couldn't. What a crock.

Once upon a time, Jack Harkness had been a thief. He liked to tell himself that it was only in response to the crappy hand life dealt him, that he only conned the people who could stand the loss, or the people who'd hurt him the most. He liked to think of it as rebellion. A dashing, suave, ne'er-do-well with a heart of gold. Somewhere along the way, though, that gold tarnished, and the rebel turned jaded. Then it was so easy to be the coward. To walk away when things got hot. To look out for number one, and let the rest of the fools hang themselves.

A rustle in the trees to his right cut off his thoughts. Freezing, he pressed his back against the rough trunk of a tree, and tried to peer through the oppressive gloom of the rain and the mist. His ears strained to pick out a sound above the steady drip of water through the leafy canopy and patter of rain on the damp earth. Jack silently counted to sixty, and when the forest around him remained silent, he pushed off the tree and continued on his way.

At some point he'd started to hate himself just a little bit. He couldn't really pinpoint where it had begun. The cad just got tired of being a cad. An endless chase, an endless game, take a cut out of the Time Agency here, screw a Time Agent there, and at the end of the day, what did it get him? Sentenced to death a couple of times -- that was fun. A few more scars. A laugh or two. But that hole in his memories wasn't any closer to being filled, and the flings were starting to leave him cold.

He might not know just where he started to hate himself -- it had gnawed at him for a long while -- but he knew exactly where he was when he couldn't ignore it anymore. Ah, London. Fine champagne, a pretty girl in his arms, dancing on top of the world, music filling the air above the raining chaos -- such a subtle end to the career of Jack the coward. Never saw it coming.

He laughed softly, the small puff of sound neatly muffled by the rain-soaked hush. That's pretty much what he'd said after he met her, "I never stood a chance". He'd gone for charmingly sardonic, but by the end of the night, it was obvious that it was more amusingly ironic. If only he'd known just how true a statement it had been, he might have run.

He stumbled on a root and came up cursing softly when a drop of icy water slid down the back of his neck. Glaring up at the canopy above him, he tugged ineffectively at his sodden collar. This would be a million times better, if it would just quit raining, for God's sake. Was that really too much to ask? The sky's only answer was a brief gust of wind that blew more water off the leaves, drenching him further. Nice.

He couldn't have run, though. Because, see, the thing was, he really never did stand a chance. It was all so different that night. One of those moments where life just, out of nowhere, smacks you, knocks you down, yanks you away from the path you think you're on. Doesn't even ask, doesn't say please, doesn't excuse itself.

He'd been certain, dead certain, that he wasn't the cause of the strangeness in London that week. It was a con he'd run at least a dozen times before, nothing special, nothing unique. Hell, he'd even been in the Blitz before. Of course, it's not every day you meet a myth.

As an ex-Time Agent, Jack knew what legends were made of. Legends were men and women with bad teeth, bad manners, lice, dysentery, and acne. They were scrubbed clean by history, made beautiful by it. He wasn't so far gone in cynicism that he forgot they were legends for a reason; some of them were the greatest nobility the soul of humanity could produce. But first and foremost, they were people -- a terminal condition of endless flaws. Those were the legends of mortal beings, bound in time, bound to moments -- moments of greatness or moments of horror. Frequently both at once. Barely a ripple in the sands of time.

For those who travelled in time, there was another legend. A myth unbound by all of time and space. There wasn't a single Time Agent who'd clocked any field time at all, who didn't have a story of his or her encounter with this myth. A moment that shouldn't have been. A day that went right when history said it went so very wrong. A life where there hadn't been one before. Empires that crumbled with the merest breath of this myth. Every Agent whispered the tales around the canteen, swapped moments when they met on some dusty planet on the outer edge of time, or stood breathlessly by as they perceived this mythic hand twisting through time.

Jack had heard it all, and he even thought he'd caught a glimpse of it himself. Once or twice, maybe; in a dark night, in a shadow, in the fading of a sun, a fleeting movement that shouldn't be there, an inexplicable eddy in time.

He knew the truth now, though, and for once, the myth lived up to its legend. Not because the subject of the myth was some paragon of flawless, ideal perfection -- far from it. This was a myth with big ears, a goofy grin, and haunted eyes. The Doctor held the whole of creation in his hands and tore himself apart for every life. He was passion and power and so much bigger than a single moment.

The funniest thing about it, was how long it took Jack to realize just what he'd encountered. You really don't ever expect it. Whispered rumors in the halls can't quite prepare you for reality. Particularly when reality is a prickly mystery in a black leather jacket. And the Doctor was flawed -- sarcastic, and destroyed, and, maybe, just a little bit twisted, a touch insane. Okay, more than a touch. But, it always amazed Jack that one being could have so much power, see so far, know so much, and still be decent. It didn't seem possible. Whatever mental image he'd built over the years of what the Time Lord looked like, he didn't expect him to be so ... mortal. Down in the muck and the mire with the rest of existence.

Breaking free of the tree-line finally, Jack swore when he realized he'd come out down the road from his bike. Starting up the muddy road, he scrubbed his hands through his soaked hair and looked up at the heavy, purple sky. Still raining. Shaking the water from his face, he tucked his hands in his jacket pockets and hunched his shoulders against the chill.

He'd looked in the face of this myth, and, for the first time in years, Jack Harkness had felt ashamed. He hadn't meant to almost destroy humanity. Oops, doesn't quite cover something like that. Though, it certainly would have screwed the Time Agency over pretty thoroughly. Would it have been worth it? No. No, and he was an idiot of prodigious proportions. An idiot of historically epic proportions. An idiot to make all the genocidal freaks humanity could birth look like under-achieving playground bullies. An idiot of such great magnitude, there were no words in his vocabulary to fully express the depth of the idiocy.

So, he'd come within minutes, literally minutes -- he shivered against a damp gust -- of extinguishing, in its infancy, the one race destined to touch every star in the sky. Brilliant. And what cosmic punishment was fitting for such a blunder? The Doctor should have let him eat that bomb. Save the Time Lord, save the girl, save the world, fix his mistake for once, and then, go out in a silent explosion. Except, that would have almost been letting him off easy.

Instead, Jack Harkness would become part of the legend. One of the bare handful of mere mortals who would travel the currents of time with the myth. Destined to fight creatures who never existed, in a war that never was, side-by-side with a man who shouldn't be, and at the end of the day, he would die and live again.

And for an encore? He would try to fix it all.

He'd do it for the bigger reasons, saving humanity wasn't such a bad pastime. But in his soul, it would always, truly, be for the smaller reasons. The girl who held out her hand to him, who trusted him when she really shouldn't have, and the man who'd embraced him, called him friend, when he didn't deserve it.

Maybe he'd earned it, though. Maybe he wasn't such an idiot. Maybe he was just human, and absolution didn't need to come from on high, but rather, from the faith of two extraordinary, and very flawed people. People he'd tried to con.

Shaking his head, he laughed again and trudged onward, through muddy puddles and around slippery ruts.

The man was better than the myth. The man allowed for imperfection, in fact, he seemed to revel in it. The tiny quirks of life. It's not the mistakes, it's what you do after them. Jack used to run. He'd die before he did that now. He did die, in fact. Then he woke, given a second chance, not even a scar -- though, he'd seriously considered a tattoo that said, I was killed by a dalek, ask me how.

Sighing, he rubbed at the phantom ache in his chest where the dalek had shot him, killed him. It always seemed to twinge, an itch under the skin that seldom really eased, and never a mark to show for it.

He spied the dark shadow of the motorcycle a few dozen yards in front of him. Damn, it was going to be a cold ride back. That's what you get, Jack. You might have countered your cosmic idiocy, but in the small ways? Miles to go, pal.

Life was short; maybe he had fewer days in front of him than he did behind him, but he'd died in that battle, and all his days were done. Finished. Yet, here he was, walking in this green world again. The thick, peaty smell of damp earth filled his nostrils, the cold seeped through his waterlogged clothing, and the wind ran fingers through his hair. And he was so very alive.

He paused in the road and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, drawing in the world around him -- the smell of ozone on the air, the faint tang of salt from the ocean, the sweet hint of freshly mown hay. He felt the smile tug at his lips again; he was getting as soppy as the Doctor.

A few short paces from the bike, just as he was drawing his keys from his pocket, a figure broke away from the forest shadows and approached him. Jack shrugged his jacket back, clearing a grab for the sonic blaster (new battery. Thank you very much, Dessidra Market Seventeen), and circled around to the other side of the bike.

This was a little used road, far, far into the country, in the middle of a storm, hours before dawn. Nobody in their right mind would be out tonight. Let alone a man in a -- Jack squinted at the figure in the murky light -- a suit.

"Should have figured it would be you," the man said, walking slowly, but confidently forward. "Heard there was a bit of trouble with a little alien incursion, but what do I find when I get there? Ashes. Well, a lot of flames first, I'm just assuming the ashes. I could come back in the daylight and check, but there's no point, really. Nice work. Thorough."

"Thanks," Jack said, frantically scanning his memory, and, for roughly the eight millionth time, cursing the great, gaping hole there. "I take pride in a job well done."

The man reached the front of the bike and stopped. He shook the water from his topcoat, and brushed his hands through the lank, dripping hair clinging to his forehead. "Miserable night."

"I don't know. It's starting to look up," Jack replied, low and flirtatious. He smiled at the man and calculated the odds of getting onto the bike and the hell out of there before the guy could react. Unfortunately, the mud was going to make that tough, and he'd sworn off shooting people unless, and until, they really deserved it.

"What's next? You going to ask what a nice bloke like me is doing in a place like this?" the man asked, laughter in his voice.

"I hope my pick-up lines are better than that."

"That's not how I remember it."

Alright, that was enough of that. He felt his jaw tightening, but he tried for light and friendly. "Hey, maybe you'd clue me in. See, I've got this little blank spot where a couple of years used to be, and--" The man's smile broadened into a grin, and Jack's words died on his lips. Oh, God, he knew that grin.

"I ..." Jack stared dumbly, ankle deep in mud, feeling oddly numb.

When the Doctor laughed, loud and clear, and pulled him into a rough embrace, all Jack could do was hold on. Hands that didn't feel like his own, fisted themselves in the back of the Doctor's coat, cold fingers protesting the fierceness of the grip.

They stood back after a moment, and Jack wiped the rain from his face again. He'd swear, on pain of death, that it was rain. Though, given that he'd been dead already, pain of death wasn't much of a threat to him anymore. But, rain it was.

The Doctor, still grinning, shoved his fingers through his hair again, brushing it away from his eyes, and held out his arms. "What do you think? Rose reckons the hair's been an improvement. Ears are better, too, if you ask me. And I've been quite taken with the nose -- best one in at least four, maybe five, regenerations."

Jack chuckled weakly, still half in shock. "Well, you look kinda like a drowned rat at the moment. The, uh, look might take some getting used to, but, oh, man, are you a sight for sore eyes."

And he just couldn't stop himself, he raised a hand and tentatively brushed his fingertips across the Doctor's cheek, half-afraid he'd be an illusion, some surreal dream. This man couldn't possibly be his friend, and yet, he knew that smile so well, he knew it, could feel it. The Doctor's didn't move away from Jack's touch, nor did he disappear, he just smiled, and the wild grin faded into something softer, fonder.

"We've missed you."

Jack stared silently at the Doctor, watched his fingers move against the man's rough jaw. He could stand to shave, Jack thought absently, distracting himself. He just wasn't sure what to say. He missed them, too? Missing them wasn't the right term -- that was too light, too 'wish you were here'. What do you say about the people who stole you out of your orbit around that one black hole in the universe you'd claimed as your own? Who gave you life, and soul, and heart again? What is it when you'd resigned yourself to the end of your journey with them, only to stand with them again? 'I missed you'?

"God," he whispered, voice catching. He cleared his throat and dropped his hand. "Where's Rose?"

The Doctor watched him for a moment, the dark gaze measuring, considering.

"She's around. Actually, expected her before now," he said after a long beat, his voice light, temperament mercurial as ever. Glancing over his shoulder to the forest, he shook his head. "Trust her to get lost in a tiny wood."

And how easy was it to slip back into their orbit? To feel himself right back where, even when things are screwed-up or bizarre beyond words, it's right? "Now, be fair. It's one in the morning, it's raining, there's no moon. It's dark in there."

The Doctor snorted and waved a hand up at the sky. "It never gets properly dark here. Look at all that light pollution. I could find myself a nice comfortable rock and read a book out here." He turned his eyes back at the forest and grinned. "And, here she is."

Bedraggled and soaked, Rose stumbled out of the trees, grumbling bitterly. "Sure, leave me behind to distract the police."

"But, you're so good at it," the Doctor smirked. "Oh, and, look who I found." He slipped his arm across Jack's shoulders.

On noticing him, Rose's response to Jack's presence could only be described as odd. There was a slight falter to her steps, but she didn't say a word, or make any sort of gesture that indicated happiness, or even, recognition. For a brief, awful moment, Jack felt an icy knot of fear. Maybe he wasn't nearly as welcome a sight to her as she was to him. The Doctor tightened his hold on Jack, probably sensing the urge to run, and she just kept walking. When she walked straight into him, throwing one arm around his neck and wrapping the other under his arm, grasping the wet fabric of his jacket, holding on tightly, Jack let out a long, shuddering breath, and pulled her against him.

"Hey," he said softly, lowering his head to hers. "Miss me?"

"God," she laughed, the sound hitching slightly. "So much, Jack. So much."

Leaning back, he held her out at arms length and looked her over. "You are the best thing I've ever seen." He raised a hand and brushed moisture off her cheeks.

"Jus' the rain," she mumbled, scrubbing at her face with her coat sleeve.

"That's what I thought," he agreed. Bending forward quickly, before he could over-think it -- the cad wasn't entirely gone, after all -- he pressed his lips to hers, a quick, slightly less than chaste kiss. When he straightened, she blinked at him, looking a little surprised, but he thought he could see the corners of her lips twitch in the dim light.

"Last time, it was goodbye, thought I ought to make up for that," he told her.

She hugged him again, brief and hard, then stepped away and reached for the Doctor's hand. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, Jack, but I'm freezing my arse off here. Can we do this in the TARDIS?"

The TARDIS, God, he'd missed her, too. If ever a place felt like home. "You didn't rent out my room, did you?" His tone was light and joking, but he couldn't quite keep the hesitance out. Was it really this easy to go back? To be part of them, be part of the myth, again?

"I think it might have moved down by the room with all the bowls, but, we didn't touch anything in it," Rose told him.

"Pottery, Rose. Not a collection to match it anywhere in the universe," the Doctor corrected with an eye-roll.

"Are they or are they not bowls?"

"Philistine."

Smiling up at him cheerily, Rose reached out her other hand for Jack. He took it, squeezing her fingers lightly, but just as quickly dropped it.

"Gotta bring the bike. Where's the TARDIS?"

Rose raised her eyebrows and the Doctor pointed a long finger across the road. "The big, blue box there, Jack," he said with ill-disguised mirth.

And, yes, across the road, tucked neatly under the broad boughs of an ancient oak, was the time ship. Jack winced and bowed his head over the handlebars of the bike. "Right. Missed the big, blue box."

For the first time in what felt like an age, the trio moved together, walking quietly through the rain and mist, across an abandoned country lane, each falling into step with the others. When they reached the ship, Jack stopped short, propping the bike against its kick-stand, and standing back to look the ship over, greeting his other old friend. It seemed a lifetime since he'd seen it last; though, in a way, he supposed it had been. He ran an appreciative hand down her side, patting the rough exterior fondly.

"Welcome home, Jack," Rose told him softly, standing up on her toes to kiss his cheek. This time when she took his hand, he held on, anchoring himself in the feel of her fingers, so warm and strong, wrapped around his.

And it almost felt right. But for one thing. One missing piece, one thing undone. Jack looked at the Doctor out of the corner of his eye, considering the new face, the new body, the new clothes. The Doctor, whatever he looked like, felt much the same, though, if not outwardly, then intrinsically. To feel distanced from him now was painfully unnatural. And so, reaching out his free hand, Jack slid his fingers around the back of the Doctor's neck, and leaned into him, brushing his lips with the gentlest of kisses.

"Making up for last time?" the Doctor asked quietly, echoing Jack's earlier words to Rose.

Jack shrugged, offering a crooked smile. "Guess so. Nothing turned out how I thought it would."

"No, it actually ended up working out alright," the Doctor laughed.

"Says you," Rose grumbled. "You both gave me a right fright."

The Doctor cupped her face in one hand, rubbing her jaw lightly. "And it all worked out right in the end," he told her, his voice low and intense.

"Yeah," she agreed, so softly Jack could barely hear her.

"Let's get in out of the rain, eh?" With a final brush of his thumb along her cheek, he dropped his hand and opened the TARDIS door. "Up for an adventure, Jack?"

"Always."

"Then, come in. That wasn't the only ship to land today. How do you fancy Auckland?"

Grinning, Jack brushed a kiss across Rose's knuckles and turned back for his bike.

"Oh, and by the way, Jack?" the Doctor called, sticking his head out the door.

"Yeah?"

"You owe me a drink."

The Doctor disappeared back inside, and Jack laughed loudly, feeling lighter than he had since the day he woke alone on a space station far into the future. He felt nearly giddy with the absolute joy of having the universe unexpectedly give back the things that made him whole. He'd never be sure he really deserved it, but he'd be damned if he ever turned it down.

He paused to listen to the rain patter down through the oak's thick leaves, paused to let the chill penetrate his bones, paused to let the world remind him how very damn good it felt to be alive.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad night after all, even with the rain.

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