Reclamation

by ponygirl [Reviews - 8]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Drama

Author's Notes:
A.N.: This was cowritten with wmr, who wouldn't let me rest until I agreed to write it. I finally did agree, but only on the condition that she help me with it. And boy did she! I just can't say enough about her talent and her kindness. This fic wouldn't have happened without her.

Reclamation


Jack Harkness pulled the black Mercedes over to the side of the road, a little way from the small collection of other official-looking vehicles. Slamming the door behind him, he scanned the farmland around him, and headed across the winter-brown pasture toward the small knot of people a hundred or so meters away.

As he approached, he could make out the furrow and small crater that held their attention. He stopped a short distance behind the tight little group.

"Doctor?" he asked, voice loud enough to cut across their low conversation.

Several people glanced up, including a slender man in a brown suit and a trenchcoat, who straightened and replied "Yes?" in a soft London accent. Despite knowing what to expect, Jack was surprised by the shock of feelings that ran through him as he met the ancient eyes staring out of the unlined, finely drawn features.

Those eyes widened in recognition, a very familiar grin growing.

"Jack!" exclaimed the man, rushing forward to meet him.

Jack braced himself and punched the Doctor full in the face, hard enough to put him flat on his back.

*********

Satellite Five
200100 C.E.



Jack lay immobile on the floor as the sound of the dematerialisation sequence faded away. The TARDIS had gone.

The Doctor had left him. Abandoned him, here, on a now-defunct satellite surrounded by dead bodies and the dust of Daleks.

Why? What had he done, except been prepared to give his life in the cause? So that the Doctor could do what needed to be done to destroy the Daleks?

He had died. Somehow, he was alive again. How, he had no idea and it wasn’t a question he was likely to get any answers to. Not now. Not with the Doctor gone.

The pain in his chest magnified as his eyes fluttered shut. And a familiar voice whispered inside his head.

“It's a bit overwhelming, when you're not used to it."

"What is?"

"Being loved.”


Liar. Bastard.

How could the Doctor say that to him one day, and then abandon him to this the next?

Even if he’d thought that Jack was dead - and that was more than likely; he had been dead - it was a callous act to just leave without checking. Leaving his dead body to rot in the deserted satellite, along with the bodies of everyone else who’d died in the Doctor’s war.

No. That wasn’t fair. It hadn’t just been the Doctor’s war. It had been everyone’s. The Daleks’ mission, after all, had been to destroy all human life. The Doctor had saved the universe from the Daleks once, and lost all of his own people in the process. Now, he’d saved it once again, but at what cost this time?

Earth. What had happened to the Earth?

He forced himself to his feet, ignoring the stabbing pain in his chest and the pricking behind his eyes. Went to the communication panel. Saw the devastation. And a lump grew in his throat.

The Doctor’s handiwork was still behind him. The machine to create the Delta wave. It hadn’t been used. That made no sense. How had the Daleks been killed?

He stabbed at the button which should allow him to communicate with the base station on Earth. Nothing happened.

Were they all dead? Was he the only human left alive in this time, apart from the off-world colonies?

He tried again. And again. Still no response.

And, finally, he slumped into a chair, needing the rest, needing to recharge his body before he decided what to do next.

**

The Doctor would come back. Of course he would. Jack had to believe that. It was the only explanation he could think of.

He must have had to get away in a hurry. He’d come back to get him. Or his body. The Doctor wouldn’t really abandon him...

But, just in case, it was time he got up off his butt and took some action...

Still no response from Earth. But he did have the extrapolator. And some quick testing revealed that it still worked. He could get himself off the satellite and back to Earth. The only things he’d need would be an airtight vacuum suit and tank of air to protect him from the atmosphere. There had to be stuff around this place he could use to put that kind of equipment together.

He headed for the elevator. But, just in case... He looked around, then grabbed this era’s equivalent of paper and a pen. After thinking for a moment, he chose a language no-one in this time or part of space would be familiar with, but one the Doctor would know well. And he wrote.

Doctor.

You bastard.

In case you’ve actually bothered to come back for my body, I’m alive. I’m somewhere on this cursed satellite, assembling kit to get me back to Earth. Contact me on my wristcomm.

Jack.


And he set off to scavenge.


**

Three days later, there was still no sign of a big blue box. And he’d finally managed to rig up a suit that would get him safely to Earth without burning himself as he entered the planet’s atmosphere, as well as protecting him from the cold and the lack of oxygen otherwise. And he’d actually found oxygen tanks. Full, what was more. Food and clothing hadn’t been a problem; the Big Brother households had held plenty of both. In fact, he probably could have survived on the satellite for a month or more if he’d needed to.

But he couldn’t get off the goddamned place soon enough.

He was comfortable enough. There were beds aplenty. And places to sit. But every time he went back up to Floor 500 he passed dead bodies. Rotting dead bodies. A reminder of what they’d tried to do, of his suicide mission to help the Doctor stop the Daleks.

A reminder that he was alive and the Doctor had abandoned him.

And, finally, he was ready to go. There was still no response from the satellite’s base on Earth, and he was taking a chance that there’d still be any kind of life left on Earth. That the planet would even be habitable after the Dalek attack.

His final act before leaving Floor 500 was to rip down the note he’d left for the Doctor. One zap with what Rose had called his sonic gizmo later, and it was in flames on the floor.

Then it was a quick trip down to the exit ports with the extrapolator and his makeshift space-suit. Before leaving, he did the one thing he could do for those who’d died at the hands of the Dalek. A bomb, timed to explode half an hour after his departure, would provide the nearest thing to cremation he could arrange for the hundred or so dead bodies.

“See you in hell, Jack,” he murmured to himself as he fired up the extrapolator. If he was very lucky, he’d make it to Earth unscathed; if he was even luckier, he’d find signs of life there.

It was far more likely that he’d die in the attempt.


*********

Earth
April 11, 200101 C.E.



It had been a long winter. Harsh, cold, brutal.

The survivors in this, one of the few colonies which had been established since Apocalypse Day, as those left alive had named it, had been practically useless when he’d found them. No survival skills whatsoever. Too used to living their insulated, computerised, robotised lives, where hands were used for anything other than taking care of themselves, feeding themselves, protecting themselves against attack.

Jack had made it safely to Earth six months earlier, hoping to find help, a way of getting to a time he wanted to be in, perhaps a way of finding the Doctor. Instead, he’d found scattered groups of helpless individuals, lost, scared, mourning their lost civilisations and without a clue what to do to rebuild. He’d found gangs of marauders preying on the weak, stealing what little provisions existed, raping, attacking, murdering. And he’d found a complete lack of leadership in an Earth nuked back to a primitive era.

Leadership was something he knew. He might have been a soldier, accustomed to following orders, but he also knew how to lead. How to take command. And so he did.

He’d taught those who’d joined up with him to forage for food, for water. How to fight and defend themselves. How to scavenge for what was left of their civilisation. How to repair, rebuild, relearn.

The first priorities were food and shelter, and those had to be in place before winter hit. It had been a hard couple of months, persuading people who seemed to have lost all sense of hope and optimism that they could survive, they could learn to live again. Now, they were all refugees, and they had to learn to be self-sufficient. Not sit around waiting for help to come from outside. There was no help coming from outside. It took him a long time to persuade them of that. That they themselves were all the help they were going to get.

He managed it, though not without a lot of blood, sweat and patience. His refugee camp of a few thousand people became a makeshift town of human beings who relearned the values of community and society. They had shelter. They had the means of providing themselves with food, water, heat. Enough of them, himself included, knew about basic medicine - no more robot-doctors, genetic repairs or anything like that - to take care of all but the most serious injuries.

Life was being rebuilt, slowly but surely.

Still, many had died, and died painfully, slowly, from injuries or illnesses that a short time earlier on this planet would have been curable. Would not even have existed. Diseases which had been so long eradicated from human experience that medical science no longer bothered inoculating against them. Typhoid and dysentery from stale, diseased water. Food poisoning. Blood poisoning. Death in childbirth; death of new-born babies and infants because the medications, the care needed simply were not there.

Many had died. But enough survived.

The technology of this time - what it had been before the Daleks - was far advanced from his own time, but he understood it. Had visited Earth in this time, or near enough to this time, and so he’d been familiar with some of the advances. Familiar enough that, when excavations uncovered miniature electronic devices and components and other things, he knew what uses they might have had and what uses they could have now.

And, as his band of followers expanded as news of the amazing, inspirational Captain Jack Harkness spread, he attracted scientists and engineers and programmers who were able to repair some of the equipment. Enough to start making contact with other groups of survivors elsewhere on the planet.

That was communications. The next task was transport. Getting around. Meeting with other survivors, working together to rebuild on a wider scale.

Working together to defeat the armies that had sprung up all over the devastated planet, preying on the weak, setting up petty dictatorships, destroying what had been rebuilt and striking renewed fear into those struggling to rebuild.

His own weapons and gadgets, the ones he’d saved from his ship and those he’d picked up along the way, were useless now. Even his wristcomm no longer worked - it hadn’t been powered in months. The extrapolator had been burned out, rendered useless, by the time he’d finally got to Earth. His blasters and rayguns also had no power. Sooner or later, he’d be able to recharge them, once appropriate power sources had been restored, but he too was learning more traditional ways of surviving. Fighting.

A lot had been achieved. There was still a long way to go. The thought of the magnitude of the task ahead weighed him down. So many people relied on him, even those in the growing communities and cities elsewhere on the planet. He had hoped, once communications had been established, to find real leadership elsewhere. Politicians, soldiers, police officers of some sort, people trained to the role of commander and leader, who would take over and leave him to get on with his life. But all he’d encountered were people even more scared than he was. With less of an idea of where to go from here. Who were able to help and assume responsibility, but only at his instigation.

He was tired. So tired. And weak. He’d been ill himself several times over the winter, recovering only because of his strong constitution, and the fact that he’d been born many centuries earlier and had been inoculated against some of what were once again common diseases.

He’d almost died at least twice during the long winter, once when he’d been caught by surprise and been slashed in the thigh by a sabre during a raid by a marauding gang. He’d found one of his sonic blasters - which, fortunately, still worked then - in time to prevent the bastard killing him, but he’d lost a lot of blood. It had been touch and go.

Later, he’d ordered the building of a communications tower. Had climbed up to direct the connection of some cables from the underground power source they’d discovered, and some idiot had hit him with a beam. He’d fallen almost ten metres to the ground, fortunate to have landed on some cushioning - warmer clothes stripped off by workers overheated by their exertions - and had broken his leg and collected a head-injury. Lucky, that time. Very lucky.

Now, he walked with a limp. That, he could live with. It wasn’t too bad, and was getting better. In time, perhaps, it would disappear completely. The ache in his heart, the anguish in his head, were worse. Far worse. And they refused to go away.

Why him? What sins had he committed in his life to earn him the unenviable role of Earth’s saviour? It wasn’t a task he’d wanted or signed up for. It was a task that was slowly tearing him apart. Driving him insane, in those few moments when he had the quiet and space to think about where he was. What he was doing. When he was ever going to get away from here, from this.

This - future Earth, devastated Earth, slowly reviving Earth - was not his home. Was not where he wanted to be. Was not a place he liked, or could grow to like. There were people here he’d come to respect, a few he’d even come close to in a way. Some he’d slept with, had brief affairs with, but from no reason other than brief desire, the need to forget for a while, the drive for human contact and momentary sensory pleasure.

For now, Jack Harkness was just existing, going through the motions, doing what needed to be done because somebody needed to do it, and he seemed to have been the one who’d drawn the short straw.

There was no-one here he really cared about. No-one he could let into his heart. No-one he loved.

Though love was an emotion he’d sworn never to feel again. Loving meant betrayal.

Would he, ever again, find somewhere to belong?


*********

Earth
September 18, 200101 C.E.



The ceremony was almost over. The newly-appointed President of New-Earth had been sworn in and was ready to take over her duties.

Jack was relieved; he hated this kind of thing, and he was stiff from standing so long. His leg, now healed for the most part, tended to ache if he didn’t get to move it around for a while.

He was also relieved because he hated being in the limelight. He’d never minded recognition for a job well done before, but since teaming up with the Doctor and Rose he’d become accustomed to doing what needed to be done and then leaving. Not staying to collect the thanks and the laurels and the praise. To having no-one even know that he’d done anything.

Today, many of the speeches had made reference to him, to the role he’d played in rebuilding the Earth, in binding scattered communities and fledging city-states together, in teaching humanity to live again after Apocalypse Day. They’d forced him to accept a medal and a new award of Most Honoured Citizen. He hadn’t wanted it, but hadn’t wanted to seem rude or ungrateful.

They’d offered him a Cabinet position, or leadership of the new Earth army. He’d declined both. Had had enough of taking command, being the one in charge. It wasn’t that he had a problem with leadership. He was good at it, and at times even enjoyed it. But leadership here wasn’t what he wanted.

As the final speech meandered on, he found his thoughts drifting back to what had been achieved; how they’d got to this point. The last six months had been easier than the first, at least in retrospect. At first, it had just been damned hard work.

The challenge had been building relationships between the scattered bands of those who’d survived annihilation. The initial contacts had been promising. Later, they’d turned suspicious, hostile. The emerging leaders had distrusted his motives and refused to work with him. A couple had put a price on his head. He’d survived one assassination attempt that he knew of, and probably others he didn’t.

But perseverance had paid off, and in time planet-wide co-operation had emerged, grown to a point that he could start to see a future for the Earth.

And then the Time Agency had arrived.

Finally, they’d caught up on what was happening to the future of their planet.

He’d put aside personal feelings and assumed the role of liaison with the senior Agency representative, and to his surprise had after a while been able to do it without the bitterness he’d felt for so long at any mention of the Agency. Time Agents had played a useful role, and in fact the head of the Agency was a special guest at today’s ceremony.

At last. It was over. He could stretch, walk around, get away from the crowds. He spied an opportunity to slip away, and took it.

He had some decisions to make. What was next for Jack Harkness? This was the last place he wanted to be. He’d had more than enough of New-Earth; even in his year in the place he hadn’t made friends, put down any ties. He had no desire to stay.

There were still Time Agents around. And technology was being redeveloped fast here now. Getting a time-ship - whether stowing away, stealing one or seducing some pretty young thing of either gender to give him a ride - would be easy.

Except that some things didn’t come easily to him any more. Like conning. Like lying. And like seducing.

He hadn’t had sex in over four months. Rose and the Doctor would be astonished, disbelieving, if they knew. But they’d never know, because he would never see them again. Had given up hope of that a long time ago.

Anyway, the Doctor was the last person he wanted to see.

So. Where did he want to be?

“Jack?”

Damn. Someone had found him. He turned, to see his former commanding officer in the Agency hurrying after him. Colonel Marshall. A man with whom, once upon a time, he’d had an on-again, off-again affair. Had lusted after for a very long time.

Now, though the man himself had changed little, Jack felt nothing. Not a stirring of interest at all.

“Colonel.” He inclined his head. He’d run into the man a couple of times over the past month or so, but they’d never had conversation. He’d suspected that he wasn’t the only one avoiding the encounter.

“How are you?”

He shrugged. “Fine.

“You’ve done an impressive job here.”

He was fed up with hearing plaudits for what he’d done. He’d only done it because no-one else would. “Just doing what needed to be done.”

“Still. A job well done deserves recognition.”

Jack didn’t answer. The Colonel wanted something; he wouldn’t have come after him otherwise. He’d wait for him to get to the point.

“Jack, the Agency wants you back.”

Somehow, that wasn’t quite as much a surprise as it should have been. After all, Captain Jack Harkness was now a regular hero. A decorated hero of New-Earth. He’d be a feather in the cap of the Agency, more than enough so that they’d be prepared to forget what he’d done when he’d quit, the three agents he’d injured badly enough to end the careers of two of them, the equipment he’d sabotaged.

Did he want to go back?

In some ways, he realised, he’d made his peace with the Agency. He’d never stop resenting what they’d stolen from him, but he didn’t hate them with the same savage intensity any more. They’d been useful partners over the past couple of months.

But that wasn’t the same thing as accepting his old job back. And he knew he couldn’t. He’d moved on.

“There’ll be a promotion, of course.” The Colonel was obviously reading his silence as hesitation. Perhaps even a desire to negotiate. “To Commander.”

Commander Harkness. That was some promotion - skipping a rank. But he still didn’t feel in the least tempted.

“And Chief Bagwell has authorised me to grant you any request within the Agency’s power.” Marshall stopped, smiling like a man who knows he’s played his trump card.

Any request.

He could have his memories back. Knew without having to ask that that was what was implied by the offer.

“Whether or not I rejoin?” he asked, pausing in his stride to turn and look at his former boss.

Marshall inclined his head, seeming in that motion to understand that Jack would refuse. “Yes.”

His memories.

And then he heard himself say, “I want a ride to 2006. London, England.”


**

Later, about to board the ship that would take him millennia into the past, he still had no idea why he’d asked for that instead of his memories. Why he was going on what he’d been told would definitely be a one-way trip, to Rose’s time.

“Earth of that era still believes that time-travel’s impossible,” the Colonel had said. “We try to avoid any possible sightings of our vessels or people in that time, because we don’t want to screw up history. So you understand that we can’t offer you a return ticket.”

He did understand. And, somehow, he knew he wouldn’t want one.

Earth, 2006. England, 2006.

Rose’s time.

Which really didn’t make an awful lot of sense, since he had no intention at all of trying to find Rose. Too much time had passed, for one thing - for him, even if not for her. And who knew whether they’d even have anything in common apart from the Doctor? Or whether she’d even want to see him now? The Doctor had sent her away, after all - to save her life, of course, a courtesy he hadn’t extended to Jack, although part of him had always wondered just how he’d wound up alive again after the Dalek and whether, somehow, the Doctor was involved - and, if Rose had loved the Doctor even half as much as Jack had always thought, she probably wouldn’t want a reminder of him.

It wasn’t so much the possibility of seeing Rose as... well, as being in a place, a time where at least he could feel a connection. To something, or someone, who’d once made him feel that he belonged. Someone he’d loved.

Earth, 2006 wasn’t home. But maybe it could be.

With one last glance at New-Earth, he threw his kit-bag into the time-ship, then climbed in after it. He was about to live out the rest of his years as an ordinary twenty-first century guy. And he had no regrets whatsoever.

Even if he still dreamed, some nights, of a blue box and a man in black leather. And a golden-haired woman with a smile that lit up his world.


*********

London, England
September 19, 2006



And so Jack Harkness found himself in a hotel room in London, alone with a small satchel containing all his worldly possessions, plus a modest bankroll of the local currency, enough to get him a small apartment and cover a couple of weeks' expenses until he landed a job, courtesy of the Time Agency.

It took sixteen hours for the men in black suits to show up at his door.

They were young, obviously military despite the civvies, and unfailingly polite as they "invited" him to accompany them and answer some questions.

For a moment, his mind swirled with possible plans to evade them, but a huge wave of weariness crashed over him, deflating him visibly.

"Take me to your leader," he told them, and came peacefully.

A dark Mercedes whisked him away to a sober, gray building surrounded by a high fence. Once inside, he was escorted in to the office of an aging black woman wearing the uniform of a Brigadier, whose name tag identified her as W. Bambera, of UNIT.

"Take a seat," she said brusquely. "Name?"

"Jack Harkness. May I ask what I've done to attract the attention of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce?"

Brigadier Bambera leaned back in her chair, a trace of humor glinting in her dark eyes.

"Well, Mr. Harkness, it seems you were sloppy enough to be observed as you were dropped off by a time ship. A little bit of research matched your face with the face of a man seen in Cardiff last year in the company of the time traveller known as the Doctor. We just wanted to have a word with you."

Jack struggled to cover his surprise.

"Time travel is impossible," he said levelly.

The Brigadier only raised an eyebrow.

"C'mon, pull the other one. It's got bells on," she answered.

Jack blew out a breath.

"Okay, let me rephrase that. You're not supposed to know that time travel isn't impossible."

A slight smile pursed Bambera's lips as she replied, "We know about all sorts of things that we aren't supposed to here. It's in the job description."

"I see," said Jack. "Then I suppose the question becomes... what do you do with errant time travelers trying to find a quiet life in your century?"

"It depends. In your case, we'd like you to answer a few simple questions. And then... we'd like to make you an offer."


*********

Cardiff, Wales
December 24, 2006


Jack sat in the darkened living room of his spacious apartment, nursing his scotch, alone with his thoughts on Christmas eve.

As the commander of the newly commissioned Torchwood project, he should by all rights be on top of the world. Generous salary, the chance to tinker with alien tech, surrounded by the best and the brightest... and all he could think of on Christmas eve was how empty he felt inside, cut off from the people around him.

Several times over the past few weeks, he'd had to fight the urge to search out Rose. He knew it wasn't a good idea, he knew it would only reopen old wounds for both of them, and still he couldn't help picturing her, celebrating the holidays with her family and friends. Playing it out in his head, as he knocked on her door, surprising her, as she invited him in, drawing him in to the festivities. Filling up the void inside.

Of course it wouldn't really be like that. He would only drag her down with him.

So he stayed away.

Sighing in disgust at himself, he rose to refill his glass when the silence of the apartment was broken by the shrill ring of the phone.

Can't even be depressed in peace, he thought as he grabbed it and placed it to his ear.

"Harkness."

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but we're tracking an incoming bogey from the Big Pond. Request your presence on site ASAP."

Shaking free of his earlier fugue, Jack was instantly all business.

"ETA?"

"Approximately five hours at present speed, sir."

"Has the government been informed?"

"They're tracking it as well, sir. They believe it is somehow connected to the Mars probe."

Jack filed away that snippet of information, his mind already playing over possible scenarios.

"Very good, Corporal. Have the techies start pre-prep operations for Big Mama. I'll be there shortly."

The young man on the other end of the line gulped audibly at the mention of Big Mama.

"Yes, sir," he said, and hung up.

Jack hurriedly changed into his uniform and grabbed the car keys, his mind whirling. Big Mama, the giant plasma cannon recently installed in London, had been his pet project since he'd been drafted into Torchwood.

It was also the sort of weapon that you hoped would never, ever have to be used-- partly because of its vast destructive capability, but mostly because the world would be changed forever, a part of its innocence ripped away.

Suddenly, Jack felt a jolt of affinity with Robert Oppenheimer, and shuddered.

**

"Report," Jack barked, striding into the control center.

Corporal Jamison hurried up to him.

"Sir, the British government is attempting to enter in to negotiations with the aliens. The Prime Minister has ordered us to make ready to defend the planet."

Jack frowned.

"The Prime Minister isn't even cleared to know about Torchwood," he said.

"Yes, sir. She's taking full responsibility. Technically, sir, she does have the authority."

Raising his eyebrows and blowing out a breath, Jack replied. "I'm not sure anyone has that kind of authority. I bet the U.S. President is having a meltdown right about now."

"Probably, sir."

Jack turned to get a status report from the techies working on Big Mama's control panel, and froze as a strange sensation flowed over him, blue light dancing in front of his eyes.

Up... up... go up...

The whispered imperative pulsed through him in time with the beating of his heart, and the confused muttering of the people around him faded to unimportance as he walked serenely to the emergency stairwell and began to climb. When he couldn't climb any more, he walked forward. When he couldn't walk forward anymore, he stopped.

Time passed.

Jack waited.

**

Something changed.

Jump... jump... jump now...

Around him, co-workers and subordinates gasped and stumbled back from the edge of the roof, looking around in confusion and fear.

Jack came back to himself, his eyes drawn to the pavement four stories beneath him. For moments, he stared at it, fascinated by the way the toes of his boots stuck out past the edge of the ledge. Swayed a bit, feeling the way his center of gravity shifted forward and back, forward and back.

If he stepped backwards, he could rejoin his life in the twenty-first century. If he stepped forward, he could fly again, if only for a moment. Either way, he would be pulled back down to Earth with a very loud thump.

Gradually, he became aware of the chaos around him. Behind him, he recognized the frightened voices of the Twins, a brother and sister pair who had been brought into the project because of their extraordinary psychic abilities.

He turned, and saw one of the security guards approaching him carefully.

"Sir... please, sir, step back from the edge. What's happening, sir?" The impossibly young man kept glancing back between Jack and the distraught twins, clinging to each other a few steps away.

Jack breathed in and out once, and stepped away from the edge.

"It's all right, Steins. See to the others."

The guard nodded, wide-eyed, and hurried off. Jack crossed to the brother and sister and squatted in front of them, placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

Tasha looked up at him, her eyes wide and frightened.

"Oh, God, sir! What was it? It was inside our heads... it was so loud! We couldn't hear anything else... we couldn't fight it..." She trailed off, burying her head against her brother's shoulder once more.

"I don't know Tasha," Jack replied. "But it seems to have stopped now. Come inside, where it's warm. Let the medic check you out... both of you."

He helped the pair to their feet and ushered them back down the stairwell, looking around to make sure everyone else was ambulatory and calm. After dropping them off in the overcrowded medical room, he returned to the control center.

Chaos reigned, people rushing back and forth, talking excitedly.

"Report!" Jack bellowed, and every eye in the room turned to focus on him.

Corporal Jamison rushed over to him.

"Sir! We got 'em, sir! It worked... Big Mama worked!"

Jack wavered between pride that his project had performed as hoped, and the sick feeling that it had been used at all. Burying both feelings, he snapped, "Show me the telemetry readings."

Jamison led him to one of the main screens, the techie in front of it scurrying out of his way as he sat down and began to scroll backwards through the data.

Nausea roiled in his stomach as he pieced together the timeline, watching the ship retreat, only to be blown from the sky minutes later. Cold rage flowed through him, and he pinned the Corporal with a gaze that could have stripped paint.

"Who ordered this?"

Corporal Jamison swallowed visibly, his Adam's apple moving up and down once.

"Harriet Jones, sir. The Prime Minister.

"Yes, thank you, Corporal... I do know who she is," he answered sarcastically.

Looking back at the telemetry screen, Jack pounded his fist on the desk.

"Damnit! There's going to be hell to pay for this..."


*********

London, England
January 25, 2007



Harriet Jones was lying through her teeth.

What surprised him was that no-one else seemed to recognise it.

Her story just didn’t make logical sense, apart from being completely implausible. How could anyone believe what she was saying? Even if they didn’t have his experience with aliens and wars and invasions?

It simply wasn’t credible that an alien race would arrive in invasion-force strength ready to take over the Earth, hold one-third of the planet’s population hostage, kill in cold blood half the team brought up to negotiate, and then retreat just because the prime minister of one tiny country gave them a lecture on right and wrong.

There had to be more to the story than that.

Problem was, the chances of getting to the bottom of it were slim to none. After all, the only survivors of the entire encounter were Harriet herself and that assistant of hers. The two of them were singing from the same hymnsheet, not a discordant note between them.

Dead men don’t tell tales.

So dear Harriet would be exonerated by this covert judicial inquiry, with her tale of not believing in the sincerity of the Sycorax’s retreat, of reading into the aliens’ statements an intent to return with even more troops.

She’d be exonerated, and with what perfect timing, too. The upcoming leadership contest would be a foregone conclusion. Just what she’d needed. The bookies’ favourite currently was the Health Secretary, a highly-photogenic man barely older than Jack, with a gift for inspirational speech-making and an ability to charm the ass off anyone he met. Next to him, Harriet Jones looked... to coin a phrase, tired.

Recess, at last. Jack strode across the lobby, intending to head outside for a breath of fresh air. The stink of the Prime Minister’s lies, as well as the order she’d given, was getting to him.

Someone was watching him. He could sense it. The old instincts hadn’t quite gone away. What he didn’t know - yet - was whether this was danger or something else.

He turned. It was Harriet’s assistant. The GQ-handsome Alex. And this was quite definitely a pick-up attempt.

Tempted to turn away - and how unlike the old Jack Harkness that was - he hesitated. Harriet’s assistant. This could be useful. Especially if the guy was the sort to be indiscreet with pillow-talk.


**

Alex was very indiscreet.

They were lying in the other man’s bed, sweaty and exhausted. Alex was a good lover, though nothing to match Jack’s own skill, but it had been enjoyable all the same. He’d brought his lover to orgasm four times, employing all of his considerable talents in the interests of his ultimate objective, managing to come twice himself in the process. Though it had been a long time.

Lazily, careful to give no hint of anything other than idle curiosity, Jack said, “So, what really went on up there on that Sycorax ship?”

Alex blinked. “We told the inquiry. You were there.”

“Ah, come on. We both know that’s not the real story.” Jack stroked Alex’s flank. “I understand you have to have something for public consumption, and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m just interested.”

When Alex hesitated instead of immediately denying it again, Jack knew he had him. “It’s difficult,” the other man said. “I mean, it’s my job...”

“Hey, I know all about keeping secrets,” Jack said with a smile. “Don’t forget, I run an organisation that’s not supposed to exist.”

“Right.” Alex played with the edge of the sheet for a while. Then his expression brightened. “Hey, you know the UNIT guys, don’t you? Isn’t that how you got the Torchwood job?”

“Yeah.” His instincts were suddenly on full alert. UNIT? They’d had something to do with it?

“Then you probably know about him. The Doctor.”

He felt as if someone had punched him hard in the stomach.

The Doctor. The Doctor had been there. God.

And yet that made so much sense.

Okay. Tread carefully. Don’t give anything away.

Casually, he said, “I’ve met him.”

“Ah.” Alex looked relieved. “Well, anyway, he was there. He’s the one who got the Sycorax to go away. Don’t tell anyone I said this, but Harriet was useless.”

No surprise there. “What did he do?” And where had he come from? Had he stayed around at all afterwards? Had he been... looking for anyone?

“He just appeared. Well, this weird blue box appeared. And he came out of it a few minutes later, wearing pyjamas. And he took over talking to the Sycorax leader, and then next thing we knew he was challenging the guy to a sword-fight. Well, first he went and pressed that button we’d been told would make everyone on the rooftops jump, and it turned out that he knew that wouldn’t happen. It just released the mind-control.”

Letting Alex talk without interrupting, without asking questions, was torture. He just had to force himself to lie still, to continue his occasional caresses of the other man’s body, to show no expression other than mild interest on his face.

Pyjamas? The Doctor had always felt practically naked without that leather jacket of his. He’d probably seen the Time Lord without it a total of three times in the months he’d travelled with him.

And a swordfight? Definitely not his style. He’d have expected the Doctor to try talking the Sycorax to death. Now, that really was his style.

I’m the Doctor, and if there’s one thing I can do, it’s TALK!

He’d made a fearsome sight as he’d raged at the Dalek leader. No-one would have guessed at his inner mental state at the time - well, Rose, probably, but he’d had no idea. Not until they’d returned to the TARDIS and the Doctor had all but collapsed, shaking, against the doors. He’d wanted to go to the man, to offer comfort, but had hesitated, not knowing how the gesture would be received.

He’d been right to hesitate. After all, half an hour later he’d been abandoned on a satellite full of dead bodies.

“We thought he was going to lose.” Alex was still explaining. “The Sycorax leader even chopped off his sword-hand.”

“What?” He couldn’t stop the exclamation.

“Yeah, that was...” Alex pulled a face. “Pretty terrifying. We thought the Earth was a goner for sure. But then - you won’t believe this, or maybe you will if you know him - his hand grew back!”

Jack tried not to show the shock he felt. That had never been one of the Time Lord’s talents, that he knew of.

“Anyway, he won. And then the other guy tried to stab him in the back, and he killed him. Then he made this really stirring speech about the Earth being defended, and next thing we were all back in London. And the Sycorax were leaving.”

That explained a lot. And raised another question. Had Harriet Jones really believed that the Sycorax were coming back with more armies, or had she given the order to fire on a genuinely retreating force? One that had surrendered to the Doctor?

But he forced himself to smile at Alex. “That sounds like the Doctor, all right. He always was pretty impressive.”

“Good-looking, too.” Alex smiled as if in memory. “Pretty damn shaggable. All that lovely, untidy hair, and those sideburns... If he wasn’t an alien, I might even have had a go.”

What?

Slowly, he said, “The guy I knew had short hair. No sideburns...” So much for not giving anything away. But he had to know.

“Yeah, Harriet said he’d looked different when she met him before. Seems he’s some kind of chameleon. Can change his appearance. She didn’t believe it was him at first, but he mentioned something she’d said when they met before and she believed him. And then after, when he’d won, she hugged him and said he was absolutely the same man.”

He’d changed his body? Incredible. And yet obviously true.

So now he could even pass the Doctor in the street and not know him.

To distract Alex from noticing anything about his reaction to that information, he said with a grin, “Sounds like Harriet’s a fan.”

“Oh, not any more!” Alex rolled his eyes. “He blotted his copybook. After she gave the order to your lot to fire, he tore several strips off her - accused her of an act of war by firing on a retreating enemy. She didn’t take too kindly to that. Not surprisingly - I mean, it’s none of his business!”

So she had lied about that, too. Choosing his words carefully, he said, “Yeah, it’s not as if he knew they wouldn’t come back, right? Those decisions are never easy. You have to do what you think is best in the interests of the country. And the planet.”

So it had all been one huge cover-up.

He could expose them. Give evidence to the inquiry based on what he knew. But it would be his word against Alex’s. He was unlikely to be believed - and either way he’d lose his job. He’d be adrift again, without a future, and probably a wanted man.

There were better ways to handle this. And top of the list was making sure that Harriet Jones never again had the freedom to use Torchwood as an instrument of murder.


**

Alex was sleeping, snoring gently, beside him. But Jack was wide awake.

He couldn’t lie to himself any more. The real reason he’d asked to be taken to this time, this place - it was that, for some reason, this era and this country seemed to attract more than its fair share of trouble, and alien trouble at that. And, where that sort of trouble went, the Doctor was never far behind.

He’d come here hoping to find the Doctor.

And then, when the Doctor had arrived, he’d been up on the edge of a rooftop, contemplating his own mortality.

He’d missed his chance. But... chance for what? An explanation? Revenge? Closure?

If he knew the Doctor, he’d probably get none of those things. So what was the point?

It was time to move on. To get on with his life. Once and for all, to accept that here - this time, this place - was the rest of his life. He had a job to do, a job which, most of the time, he actually enjoyed. It was time to put down roots. To build friendships, even relationships.

Not with Alex - this was a one-night-stand, no more. The guy was attractive enough and the sex was good, but meaningless sex just didn’t hold the same appeal any more. For some irritating reason, now he felt that he had to respect his lovers, and he had no respect for Alex. Oh, not because the guy had been involved in a cover-up - he’d participated in enough of those himself not to hold that against anyone. Because he was too indiscreet. Because he thought nothing of selling out his boss to impress a new lover.

Come morning, Alex would be history, and Jack Harkness would be starting a new life.


*********

Cardiff, Wales
March 15, 2007


Jack paced up and down the length of the Torchwood control center, resembling nothing so much as a caged tiger.

"Jack, will you please sit down," snapped Commander Lambeth in the voice of a woman who was seriously at the end of her tether.

He snapped out of his reverie, meeting her eyes a bit sheepishly.

"Sorry, Verity," he apologized, and grudgingly took a seat near her.

Lambeth's craggy features softened.

"Don't be. Know how you feel, Harkness. I'm just better at hiding it."

Commander Verity Lambeth of UNIT had been assigned to Torchwood after the inquiry into the Sycorax matter. The polite term for her position there was "United Nations liaison". The less polite, but more accurate, term was "watchdog".

Jack was fully appreciative of the fact that Verity's presence would prevent a repeat of the Christmas fiasco, as it clarified the chain of command surrounding the powerful technology of the secret organization. However, that hadn't prevented the initial clashes between two very strong-willed people over the day to day running of the project. It didn't take long, though, for Jack to develop a healthy respect for the woman, one which was cemented the first time they adjourned to the local pub after their shifts to discuss their differences.

There was something rather humbling about being drunk under the table by someone who resembled an old granny-- albeit an extremely tough and hard-bitten granny. Jack's only clear memory of the evening involved being somewhat sloshed, and unthinkingly coming out with some mildly flirtatious remark, only to be informed that his drinking partner had been happily married for forty-two years, had three children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild on the way, and would happily rip off Jack's testicles and feed them to him if he ever made a remark like that again.

It took a bit for Jack to realize why that exchange made him feel nostalgic.

Anyway, after that memorable-but-largely-unremembered night, their working relationship had smoothed out, and even grew into a grudging kind of friendship.

Now, she peered at him over her half-moon glasses and said, "Stop fidgeting. If they need us, they'll call us."

Jack forced his fingers to stop tapping the console in front of him.

"It's just driving me crazy, not knowing what's going on. That's a Tarsil ship up there-- if any of its drones get through our air defenses, they could poison the world's water supply with their nerve agents before we could devise any kind of countermeasures."

"Well, the last update said they were in negotiations with the U.N., so it's obviously not come to that yet. The diplomats are hardly going to call up the big guns after that mess with the Sycorax--" Verity broke off as the red phone on the wall next to her jangled into life.

Rising and grabbing it, she barked, "Lambeth," and listened intently for several moments before acknowledging and hanging up.

"Sir!" interrupted one of the men staffing the control center's radar array. "I read several smaller objects exiting the mother ship. They're attacking!"

Jack leapt to his feet, rounding on the UNIT woman.

"Commander! What is the situation?" he demanded.

"That was the Secretary-General. Negotiations have broken down. You are authorized to bring the weapon on line, but not to fire on the ship without explicit orders. Jack, the situation is Code Nine." She met Jack's eyes meaningfully. "The Doctor is on board."

Jack had to steady himself with a hand on the console behind him in order to avoid sitting back down abruptly. Verity was the only person on the planet, save Rose, who would know the effect that statement would have on him.

After one of the interminable staff meetings that seemed to plague anybody above a certain rank, they'd gotten in a discussion of her background in UNIT. During her reminiscence about "the good old days" as a staff sergeant under Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, she mentioned that she had met the Doctor. Twice. In two different bodies.

Her sharp old eyes hadn't missed Jack's involuntary reaction, and she questioned him about it.

It was a relief for him to finally tell his story to someone he respected and trusted, not to mention someone with high enough rank that they were cleared to hear it.

He tried to make it a sanitized and unemotional account, of course. But Verity, being Verity, had gleaned far more from his recounting than he had intended to relay to her.

When he asked her what the Doctor had looked like when she met him, she smiled and asked, "Which time?" Then went on to describe the little man with the Scottish brogue, and then the elegant younger man in Edwardian finery. Apparently Lethbridge-Stewart had known several different Doctors, and was utterly convinced that they were all the same man.

"Splendid chaps, all of him," he'd said to Verity.

Jack wondered which one was up on the Tarsil ship above them.

Would he never be free of the man?

On autopilot, he oversaw the preparations on the plasma cannon, directing his subordinates while keeping one eye on the radar screen and one ear peeled for the ringing of the phone.

The minutes dragged by, air defenses scrambling to intercept the deadly drones.

Then, without warning, the signature of the mothership flared and disappeared from the screens. The phone rang, and Lambeth answered it. A moment later, she turned to the rest of the room.

"Stand down," she ordered. "The Tarsil ship has been destroyed."

A ragged cheer went up around the command center, but it seemed to Jack to be something far away, unconnected to himself as he continued to stare at the radar.

He went through the motions, supervising the shutdown of the weapon and logging the reports, then leaving as soon as duty allowed.

Verity's eyes followed him knowingly as he escaped, heading back to his cold, empty apartment.

**

He was still wide awake in the small hours of the morning when the phone rang.

Verity's whisky-roughened voice greeted him from the other end of the line.

"Don't talk, just listen, Harkness," she said. "The Doctor is back. He's taking a group of UNIT scientists out to examine a crashed drone in the morning. Write this down."

She paused a second to let him get a pen, and reeled off a string of GPS coordinates.

"What am I supposed to do with this, Verity?" he asked tightly.

"Whatever you want to, Harkness."

Jack didn't answer, the silence growing long and uncomfortable.

Verity finally broke it.

"Jesus, Jack, just go. You'll never find peace until you do."

"Verity--"

She cut him off.

"'Til we meet again," she told him, and hung up the phone.

**

Jack sat in the kitchen for a very long time before picking up his keys and heading out to the car.

When he saw the Doctor again, he was going to punch him right in the nose.

*********

Reading, England
March 16, 2007


Jack pulled the black Mercedes over to the side of the road, a little way from the small collection of other official-looking vehicles. Slamming the door behind him, he scanned the farmland around him, and headed across the winter-brown pasture toward the small knot of people a hundred or so meters away.

As he approached, he could make out the furrow and small crater that held their attention. He stopped a short distance behind the tight little group.

"Doctor?" he asked, voice loud enough to cut across their low conversation.

Several people glanced up, including a slender man in a brown suit and a trenchcoat, who straightened and replied "Yes?" in a soft London accent. Despite knowing what to expect, Jack was surprised by the shock of feelings that ran through him as he met the ancient eyes staring out of the unlined, finely drawn features.

Those eyes widened in recognition, a very familiar grin growing.

"Jack!" exclaimed the man, rushing forward to meet him.

Jack braced himself and punched the Doctor full in the face, hard enough to put him flat on his back.

Several men from the group rushed forward to restrain him, only to be stopped by a commanding voice issuing from somewhere around ankle level.

"No! No, it's all right. Leave him alone. I--"

"Deserved it?" interrupted Jack, finishing the sentence for him.

"As it happens, no," replied the Doctor, wincing and clambering to his feet a little unsteadily. "Though it's a bit of a moot point now."

He returned to stand in front of Jack, unfazed except for the blood dripping slowly from his nose and upper lip.

"Blimey. I wouldn't have said it was possible, but I think you've just made me feel nostalgic about being decked by Jackie Tyler."

Jack found himself being drawn in almost against his will.

"Rose's mother hit you? What the hell did you do to provoke that?"

"Turned her down when she propositioned me, and accidentally brought her daughter home twelve months after I took her, instead of twelve hours, mainly. Oh, and then there was that coffee table..."

Jack shook his head in disbelief.

"God, you really are a heartless bastard, aren't you?"

The Doctor's startling hazel gaze seemed to sharpen, focusing on Jack more closely.

"Jack, come back to the TARDIS with me. Rose is there; she'll want to see you. I sent her back to get some rest while I helped mop things up here. She's had a rough couple of days-- nearly got caught in the blast on the Tarsil mothership when the reactors went up." He indicated the crater behind him with a tilt of the head. "This drone is inert now the invasion fleet is gone-- it's harmless. We can leave it for the official boffins to deal with."

"So, you went back for Rose. Afterwards."

The Doctor looked pained.

"Not... exactly. Come with me. I'll try to explain," he replied with a sigh.

After a moment, Jack nodded tersely, and followed him back toward the cars.

**

They arrived in a suburb on the outskirts of Reading, and the Doctor directed Jack to a quiet side street, where the TARDIS sat nestled behind a large shed. Jack parked the car out of the way, and followed him up to the familiar blue box, unable to stop himself from placing a hand on the cracked blue paint as the Doctor fumbled in his pocket for the key.

The reassuring hum of the ancient timeship vibrated through his fingertips, as if welcoming him, and he snatched his hand away, angrily denying the sense of homecoming that niggled in the back of his mind.

You were quick enough to leave me behind on the Gamestation, old girl, he thought at the ship. Couldn't you have delayed him for a lousy five seconds?

Unsurprisingly, the TARDIS did not reply.

The Doctor disappeared into the craft, calling for Rose.

Her voice drifted out to Jack as he passed through the doors into the ship's unlikely interior.

"You're back! Hey, what 'appened to your face?"

The Doctor stepped to one side, giving Rose a clear view past him, and she gasped, standing frozen for a moment.

"Jack? Oh, God. Oh, God! Jack!" Then she was running at him and flinging herself into his arms and he was holding her close and it was all he could do not to break into a thousand pieces because she had never abandoned him and she still loved him and oh god she felt so good in his arms...

He screwed his eyes tightly shut and buried his face against her neck, never wanting to let go, but after far too short a time she gave a final squeeze and eased back to look at him.

"Jack! What are you doing here? We thought you were in the future!"

"I was. I came back here to try to find you-- well, him." He tilted his head toward the Doctor, who was silently watching the exchange from the console, then frowned in realization. "Wait a minute. You knew I was alive?"

Rose nodded. "The Doctor said you'd stayed to help rebuild the Earth." She cupped her hand to his cheek, smiling tremulously. "I've missed you."

"Stayed to..." He trailed off in disbelief. "Rose, that bastard LEFT me on the Gamestation! He didn't even check to see if I was dead or alive! I heard the TARDIS dematerializing and came running just in time to see it disappear without me."

Rose's lips parted slightly and she shook her head as if in denial, before tearing her eyes from his to search out the Doctor.

"That can't be true! You didn't just leave him without even asking if he wanted to stay? You couldn't 'ave!"

The Doctor stood straight and rigid by the control panel, every inch the unapproachable Time Lord.

"It's complicated, Rose."

Rose turned, placing herself slightly in front of Jack as if shielding him.

"What? You mean you did just leave him!"

"Rose..." he began again, changing tack. "You never asked me about the details of what happened on Satellite Five."

Rose put her hands on her hips, a bit belligerently. "Well, yeah, actually I did. An' you spouted some nonsense about singing a song and making the Daleks run away, and then exploded right in front of me and turned into a completely different bloke. I got a bit distracted after that."

The Doctor blew out a puff of breath. "Okay, fair point. But you haven't asked me since."

"Yeah, I know," said Rose, before looking away. "'Sweird, like my brain doesn't want me to think about it. When I try, it jus' sort of... slides away."

The Time Lord nodded.

"There's a very good reason for that. But still, maybe it's time. Come and sit down, both of you," he said, indicating the seat next to the console.

Rose looked up at Jack and reached for his hand, and he allowed himself to be led forward. He remained standing as Rose seated herself.

The Doctor moved to stand in front of them.

"Do you trust me?" he asked, meeting first Rose's confused gaze, then Jack's implacable, angry one.

"Yes," said Rose.

"No," said Jack.

"Right," said the Doctor. "Close your eyes."

Ignoring him, Jack watched as Rose shut her eyes, a small furrow of worry marring her smooth forehead. The Doctor reached forward, extending his index and middle fingers until the fingertips rested gently over the tiny frown mark.

After a moment, Rose's features relaxed, and the Doctor looked up at Jack's stony expression, and lifted his free hand to Jack's forehead.

Jack made no move to stop him, but kept his eyes stubbornly open and locked with the Time Lord until the slender fingers brushed softly against his skin and a wave of dizziness and disorientation swept over him.

He swayed a bit and snapped his eyes shut. After a moment the haze lifted, and Jack found himself back on the double-damned Gamestation; however, the perspective seemed all wrong, until he realized that he was seeing events from the Doctor's point of view.

**

The Daleks filed onto Floor 500 en masse, and the Doctor knew that the last man standing was standing no more. He stood over the Delta Wave activator, poised to once again destroy everything that mattered to him in order to send the Daleks back to whatever hell they crawled out of.

Not everything, he told himself. At least Rose is safe. At least I saved her... oh, Jack... I'm so sorry...

The Dalek Emperor would not relent, and it was time to close the circuit. He tensed as images of Earth and Gallifrey crowded in on him, the veins standing out in his neck as the demons of the past and present threatened to overpower him.


It would be so easy, his mind whispered treacherously. So easy to just give up and die and let it be over. Finally over...

His hands slid limply from the switch, and the Doctor stood before his greatest enemies, for the first time in over nine hundred years completely and utterly defeated. Craving the death and release to come...

The trumpeting of the TARDIS split the silence, and for an instant his mind screamed in denial.

He staggered and fell under the weight of Time as the Bad Wolf stepped out, beautiful and terrible with power, looking at him through Rose Tyler's eyes. His hearts broke as she ripped and tore the Dalek scourge from the universe, all to keep him safe, unable to let go of the power though it would mean her own destruction.

With a startling clarity, he saw the immediate future-- saw himself once again standing alone in the wreckage of everything he loved, surrounded by the dead bodies of those he had sworn to protect, next to an empty blue box with its Heart ripped out.

No.

The solution blazed across his mind, and he fought his way to his feet, pushing forward through the Vortex to reach the young woman inside, and wrest her free of the maelstrom. Leaning forward, he claimed the one thing that he could only allow himself in death, never in life, and her lips were every bit as sweet as he'd dreamed they would be.

He cradled Rose against his shoulder as consciousness left her, lowering her limp form carefully to the ground.

The Vortex flowed through his body, rushing to fill the space between every cell, every molecule, every atom and subatomic particle. Strands of the web of time brushed across his mind, neurons firing wildly in a doomed attempt to keep up with the flow of information.

Behind his eyes, Jack died... Jack lived. Jack came with them, he and Rose supporting each other as the Doctor regenerated, as the trio laughed and flirted and ran for their lives through time and space.

And two months, five days, eleven hours, and twenty-one minutes later, Jack was caught in the crossfire during a failed robbery attempt on Scorioso Beta, the crimson blood bubbling up from his chest as Rose screamed and cried, his dead eyes staring up at the pair sightlessly.

Effortlessly, his mind slipped from one thread of time to another. Jack stayed behind, trapped on the station with the ghosts and the corpses. Helped rebuild the devastated planet below. Hitched a lift to the past, looking for the ones who left him behind. Saved the world. Made a difference. And one day...

The Doctor released the golden light swirling within him, and made his choice.



**

The Doctor lowered his hand, and Jack gradually became aware of his surroundings again.

A small, choked noise of pain cut across the turmoil in his mind and he looked down at Rose, who leaned over, curling around herself in an attempt to hold in the sobs trying to break free.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and she straightened, dragging in a ragged breath and forcing the words out past her tears.

"I wanted to save you... I wanted so badly to ride in on the TARDIS and rescue both of you at the last minute... but I got it wrong and you both died. I got it wrong! I'm so sorry..." she sobbed.

Jack and the Doctor moved as one to comfort her, wrapping her up between them.

"No... Rose, sweetheart," Jack whispered into her hair. "You did save us. We're both right here because of you. Ssh..."

He met the Doctor's eyes over Rose's head.

"Am I forgiven?" the other man asked.

Emotions swirled in Jack's mind, all the months of resentment and hurt warring with the new knowledge. He hadn’t been abandoned without a care as to whether he was dead or alive. He’d been left - deliberately - but to save his life.

What he wasn’t sure yet was how much of a difference that made. Because he hadn’t known, and because it had been eighteen months. Eighteen hellish, bloody awful months that, at times, had felt like eighteen years.

"It wasn't your decision to make," he grated out.

But he didn't fight it when the Doctor said, "I know," and pulled him forward into a tight, three-way embrace.


**

Rose had gone to wash off her streaked mascara, and Jack found himself alone with the Doctor. Uncomfortable, still unsure what he thought of the revelations the Time Lord had shared with them both, he was unwilling to break the silence.

The Doctor did it first.

"Jack, I know it's going to take time to regain your trust. But you must believe that I was telling you the truth in that hospital on Fralingaea."

It can be a bit overwhelming when you're not used to it... being loved...

"We could just have not gone to Scorioso Beta." Jack refused to let the Doctor see how affected he was by the other man's statement. How his heart was beginning to open again, to let the Time Lord back in.

The Doctor shook his head. "You know better than that, Jack. You also know the TARDIS. On that time-line, we'd have ended up on Scorioso Beta one way or another. Even with the knowledge I had, you could have died. I wasn't going to take that chance. And still, the cosmic imbalance which might have been repaid with your blood was paid with your pain instead. I'm sorry."

Jack inclined his head. Even if he still wasn't sure that he agreed with the rationale, he simply couldn't doubt the Doctor's sincerity.

The Doctor moved closer to him suddenly. "Stay here tonight, Jack. Your room's still here - just as you left it. We haven't touched it. Think things over. Let me know what you want to do in the morning."

And then cool lips brushed his own, light but with enough pressure to remind Jack of his own farewell kiss, so long ago.

"I should go and clean this up." The Doctor gestured to his battered face. "And see if Rose is okay." And the Time Lord left him to his thoughts.


**

The following morning, a lone Mercedes could be seen parked in the side-street, a bright yellow clamp attached to its rear wheel and a parking ticket stuck on the windscreen.


FIN