"Slaver scum like the Sycorax deserve everything they get. Believe me, Prime Minister — your actions ultimately saved far more lives than they took. Far more."
Harriet Jones, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, sighed and glanced down at the glass in her hands, at the untouched amber liquid within. "I wish that I had your confidence in me, Jack," she said softly, looking back up at the man sitting before her, his tired face bathed in the flickering light of the fireplace. "I wish my party did too."
He snorted into his own drink. "You survived the vote."
"I took office with a landslide majority, of course I survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence." Harriet shook her head. "The party doesn't want a General Election, not so soon after the last one, not if there's a chance of a reduced majority. They want me weak, not gone. They'll keep me in place just long enough to get themselves organised and form their factions, and then they'll turn on me and replace me as party leader." She absently tapped her polished nails against the crystal tumbler in her hands. "Politicians are like sharks — they can smell blood."
"Then stop bleeding."
"Ah, if only it were that simple, Jack...."
"Stop that! You've done nothing wrong." He was on his feet, pacing across to stand in front of the great fireplace, bracing his hands on the ornate mantle as he stared into the flames. "You only did what you had to."
"Try telling that to the Doctor."
He had no answer for that, not moving as the fire painted his handsome features orange and gold. Harriet watched him silently, wondering what he was seeing beyond the blaze. She still knew remarkably little of Jack Harkness, but then she suspected that that was true of most — neither MI5 nor MI6 had been able to prove that the man existed beyond the obvious fact of his physical presence. It had taken some considerable persuasion on her part for her security teams to even allow this meeting to take place and she didn't doubt that there were armed guards waiting just beyond the heavy wooden doors, listening closely for any sound of Prime Ministerial distress. A part of her suspected that there were those in her Cabinet who would relish the thought of shutting her in with an assassin — political martyrdom always went over well in the papers — and she knew full well that the American President was still upset with her on any number of levels, not least because Britain apparently had better toys than he did. But, despite his accent, the man standing before her didn't feel like a CIA hitman to her.
No, Jack Harkness was something entirely more dangerous than that.
"The Doctor doesn't know everything." The words were so soft that Harriet almost missed them. "He's not infallible."
"Try telling that to the Doctor," she said again, and was rewarded with a small smile. "Jack, you know him better than I do —"
"I thought I did." Harkness turned away from the fire, stalking past the leather armchair he had occupied and pacing around the half-lit drawing room. There was something almost predatory in his movements, something that spoke of training and experience, of a life beyond anything she could imagine. "I really thought I did." He swung back towards her, leaning over the back of his chair as he said, "So, was it Cardiff?"
"Yes," she said, catching the sudden conversational shift neatly. "We have security footage of you with the Doctor — well, with the old Doctor, that is — and young Rose Tyler and Michael Smith in the Town Hall. With all that went on that day, you earned yourself a Code Nine. That's why you're here at Chequers now."
"Code Nine? Which would explain all the heavies coming to drag me out of that greasy spoon in Truro yesterday morning?" He quirked a dark eyebrow at her and she nodded confirmation. "They could at least have waited until I'd finished my breakfast. And... speaking of Cardiff, how the hell did a Slitheen end up as Lady Mayor? As I understand it, you'd met her before."
"Oh yes. She hunted me through Downing Street, in fact... back when there was a Downing Street, of course." Harriet sighed and looked down at her glass again, this time taking a sip of the single malt and letting the well-aged alcohol warm her throat. "Margaret Blaine took office while the Government was still in a state of chaos — the prime minister and half of the Cabinet dead, London disrupted, conspiracy theories abounding thanks to the cover-up. We were too caught up in trying to regroup and keep the nation running — successfully, I might add — to worry about what was happening further afield. She simply took advantage of our distraction."
"She nearly took advantage of a lot more than that," Harkness muttered darkly, draining his glass. "Still, she's gone now, not a problem any more."
"No, now we have other problems to face. The world is a far different place to what it was, Jack." She met his gaze, wondering how many saw beyond his looks to recognise the sharp intelligence behind those blue eyes. "I've read the files — the Earth has been a magnet for alien activities for decades, maybe centuries, but the governments and the United Nations have always been able to cover that activity, hide it from the populace. But now —"
"Now they've all had first-hand evidence of that activity." Harkness nodded, moving around the chair to seat himself once more, the dark leather creaking under his weight. "Even if they didn't see the Sycorax ship first-hand or on a screen, they would have known someone affected by the blood control you described, or been caught by it themselves. Hard to hide that, even if you can control the media."
Harriet laughed shortly and unstopped the decanter on the low table between them, leaning forward to refill his glass. "There are days when I rather think that the media controls the government."
"The eternal battle...." Harkness raised his drink in mock salute and leaned back in his chair, his expression suddenly unreadable. "Why am I here, Harriet? If you just wanted information on the Doctor, then you could have had your men try to extract it from me in the time-honoured fashion."
"'Try' being the operative word, no doubt?" Harriet topped up her own glass before looking at him again. "That's really not my style, Jack... and besides, I value the lives of my people more highly than that. I hate having to write letters of condolence to grieving families."
He chuckled softly. "So I'm too dangerous to set loose on your secret service types, but you invite me here for a private chat, all first name terms and expensive alcohol? Tell me, Prime Minister, do you really think your guards out there could put a bullet through my skull before I snapped your neck?"
"Not for a moment," she admitted, "but then I honestly believe that my neck is perfectly safe in your company." She cast an assessing eye over him, seeing the lines of bone-deep exhaustion written across his lithe, muscular form. Whoever he was and wherever he had come from, Jack Harkness had reached the end of his resources.
As had she.
Harriet closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, feeling suddenly old beyond her years. It wasn't fair — every time she thought that she understood the rules of the world around her, they shifted and left her stranded in some new reality. She had entered politics after her husband's death in the honest belief that she could do some good, could make a difference, if only from the backbenches. She had never thought to be a minister, far less the prime minister. And as for fighting off an alien invasion, never mind two....
Strange, though, that she had never actually felt tired before the Doctor had whispered his poison into Alex's ear.
"Prime Minister?" Harkness's tone was cautious, concerned. "Harriet?"
"I'm all right, Jack. I just... need to rest." She opened her eyes and sighed. "I must look like a silly old woman to you."
"Hardly silly, and certainly not old." He flashed a smile that made her suddenly wish that she were twenty years younger, then the expression faded, replaced by something harder to define. "Tell me again," he said quietly. "Tell me about the Doctor."
"I'm not sure what else there is to say. Rose was there, but when I asked if the Doctor was with her, she said no. Then...." She paused, took a long swallow of her drink. "Then the doors of that blue box opened and out stepped a man I'd never seen before, in pyjamas and a dressing gown, of all things. And he called himself the Doctor and knew things that only the Doctor could possibly know, yet somehow...."
"Go on," Harkness prompted as she trailed off.
"He was the Doctor and yet he wasn't." Harriet shrugged, her words sounding foolish even to her own ears. "It was almost as if he was trying to decide who he was, what his personality would be. London accent, not Mancunian — he sounded a little like Rose, actually. About the same height as before but thinner, younger-looking; more hair, less ears —"
"He would have had trouble getting more ears!"
Harriet smiled despite herself. "Brown eyes. I remember those. Big brown eyes and brown hair and so much more... physical, more proactive than the man I knew, we knew. He went right at the Sycorax leader with a broadsword, for heaven's sake!" She paused, sipping at her whisky once more. "Friendly, so long as you're doing exactly what he wants."
Harkness snorted softly. "That sounds familiar."
"No, not really. I remember standing in Downing Street, in the Cabinet Office, having to be the one to make the hard decisions because he wouldn't, couldn't. This one, though... he took command and then he took delight in telling me about how there would be other invasions, about how we had been noticed — it was as if he were trying to deliberately frighten me." Harriet sighed and set her glass aside. "Ironic, really — it was his words that convinced me to give the order to fire, much as they did before. But as soon as I did, he turned on me. And I don't think that he believes in second chances any more."
"You made the right decision. You saved lives, saved whatever world they'd have targeted next. You did the galaxy a favour."
"So you keep saying."
They lapsed into silence for a while, the only sounds the crackling of the fire and the soft ticking of the clock on the mantle. Harriet almost thought that her guest had fallen asleep when he suddenly said, "Regeneration."
"Cellular regeneration — that's what you just described to me. I've never seen it but I heard about it once. It's a..." Harkness waved a hand in the air as he searched for the words, "a biological oddity, something exclusive to some higher species, the ones who exist in more spatio-temporal dimensions than we do."
"'We'? You are human, then? Since meeting the Doctor, I'm never quite certain."
"I'd have thought that your medics could have told you that after the amount of poking they subjected me to yesterday." He raised an eyebrow and gave her a half-hearted smile. "Not that I object to a good poke every now and then, but the circumstances could have been better...."
She smiled back, a little sadly. The medical report had been fascinating, if painful, reading, telling of burns and welts the doctors could not explain, of deep blood-settlement bruises that had no place in anything living. They had treated what they could and Harkness had let them, if warily, protesting only where needles were involved. They had finally managed to fill him with vitamins and painkillers and, after a day of observation in which he had eaten everything put in front of him like a man starved, delivered him to her at Chequers. "I'm sorry that they didn't treat you more gently, Jack. Now, regeneration?"
Harkness shrugged. "There's not much more that I can tell you. It's meant to be a last-ditch survival strategy, a way of cheating death. The way it was described to me was as being like a lizard shedding its tail to escape a predator, but in regeneration you shed your body, shed yourself." He turned his head, gazing into the fire once more. "I thought it was a myth... but if there's one thing I've learned lately, it's that there's more than a grain of truth to every legend." He stopped, staring into the flames for a moment that stretched on and on until Harriet felt the need to break the silence.
"I'm never going to see him again, am I?" He closed his eyes for a moment, then turned back towards her. "Rose. How old was Rose?"
"Rose? Had she... did she look the same as the last time you saw her?"
"Well, yes." Harriet frowned, not understanding this sudden tangent. "The same as when I saw her in Downing Street, the same as in the Cardiff tapes. Just... Rose. Young, peroxide blonde, too much mascara...." She shook her head, confused. "Jack, I really don't see how this is important."
"It's... it isn't." He turned his face back towards the fire again, his exhaustion plain. "Not any more."
"They left you behind?" Harriet asked quietly, when it became apparent that he would not say more. At his mute nod, she sighed. "It's none of my business, I know."
"They thought I was dead. Hell, I thought I was dead." His gaze never left the flames. "I don't know why I'm not. I should be."
"They should have checked, made sure."
Harkness shrugged again. "Doesn't matter now. I thought I could catch them up, but it looks as though I'm out of luck — what I'm looking for doesn't exist any more." The blue eyes slid shut and Harriet suppressed the sudden urge to hug him, uncertain how he might react to the gesture. "Shit."
"Don't give up, Jack." Harriet leaned forward in her seat, her expression earnest. "I don't have a clue what it is that you do with the Doctor, other than try to blow holes in my capital cities, but Rose is still the same, after all, even if he isn't. There's always hope, always. Remember that."
He was silent for a few moments, then chuckled softly, without humour. "That's rich coming from the woman who's just sitting back and watching her career get flushed down the pan."
Harriet recoiled as if slapped. "I hardly think that —"
"What? The Doctor is allowed to ruin your life but not mine?" His eyes met hers, his gaze challenging. "I got left behind — you don't have to be."
This time it was Harriet who looked away. "I rather suspect that that may be out of my hands."
"Bollocks!" She glanced back at him, startled to hear that word in that accent. "I've not been here long, but I've seen the papers, heard people talking. Your party might be a pack of back-stabbing bastards out to grab what they can, but your people love you." Harkness was on his feet again, pacing around the room. "They were the ones who elected you. Doesn't that count for something?"
Harriet sighed. "Not to the Doctor."
"The Doctor isn't here!" he snarled, gesturing broadly in his frustration. "And the last I checked, he wasn't registered to vote." He stopped, shaking his head. "Harriet, you're one of the few genuinely honest and decent politicians in this world's history. You've still got so much more to offer — don't throw that away."
"Jack, maybe this is for the best —"
"You can't know that."
"Can't I?" Harkness was at her side in two quick strides, dropping to one knee to look her in the eye. "Harriet, you have to fight for this! You're not a quitter and trust me when I say that you have far less blood on your hands than the Doctor has on his. This world needs a champion who won't just up and vanish as soon as the fun is over. It needs you. The next decade is going to be vital in defining how humanity faces the stars. You have to —"
"Jack!" She caught one of his hands, grateful for his misplaced faith even if she was uncertain what she had done to deserve it. "I don't think that I can. The damage has been done. I'm sorry."
"You can. You will." He held her gaze fiercely. "Actions have consequences, but you'll come through this stronger than ever. But you have to fight your corner."
"Jack, I'm sorry." She shrugged helplessly, not letting go of his hand. "We can't all be great leaders. Some of us are just fated to be footnotes on the pages of history."
"Three full terms of office is hardly a footnote!" he snapped, then something indefinable crossed his face and he pulled away from her sharply, regaining his feet and making his way back to the fireplace again, suddenly unwilling to look at her. "I mean, if you fight for this, you could —"
"'How old was Rose?'" Harriet felt strangely calm as the pieces clicked neatly into place. "Not, 'how was Rose?' but 'how old was Rose?' As though the answer weren't immediately obvious."
"You're a time-traveller." Odd how the phrase just slipped from her tongue, as if it were perfectly normal. "The Doctor is a time-traveller. Not just an alien, but a time-traveller."
Harkness sighed and seemed to reach a decision. "Let's just say that I've come a long way to be here. A very long way."
"You thought that you could catch them here because of Rose's family ties?"
"You know, you're scarily good at this for a beginner."
"Thank you, I think." Harriet reclaimed her drink from the table and downed half of it in one. "If I might ask, where do you — I mean when do you call home?"
"Fifty-first century." Harkness turned back towards her. "Born 5027. Last place I saw the Doctor... well, that was a little farther out."
"You have a ship of your own?"
He shook his head. "Not any more. This was a one-way trip."
"I see." Harriet took another swallow of whisky, trying to order her thoughts. "They still speak English in the fifty-first century?"
"No." Harkness quirked a smile. "And for the record, I'm not an American either — this is just the accent I learned the language with. Probably still count as a colonial, though."
She took a deep breath. "You can't tell me, can you? About the... three terms?"
"And risk interfering with history? I've already told you too much." He ran a hand down over his face and moved back to his chair, dropping into it gracelessly. "But that's why you have to fight, Harriet. Fight and win. If you don't...." He shrugged eloquently. "The world I grew up in vanishes in a puff of probability and I'd really rather that didn't happen."
"Of course." Harriet tossed back the rest of her drink and set the glass down, feeling an odd numbness settle over her. With all that had happened since Christmas, she had long-since prepared herself for defeat, had already written her resignation speech in her mind. Go quietly and with dignity, that had been the plan, hand over the reins and step back to... what? The backbenches again? The chat show and after-dinner circuit? She hadn't been able to see beyond the inevitable leadership campaign, but now....
Now everything was different. Now there was a future, one personified by the tired-eyed temporal stray sitting opposite, and with it came a sense of purpose, of responsibility. A part of her wondered if he might be lying... but she discarded that thought almost immediately. She had seen so very many strange and terrible things in the last year that this was all too plausible and fit all too well with fragments of evidence she had almost forgotten. The Doctor — the one that she remembered with fondness — had been convinced that he had heard her name before, when she had been nothing more than the anonymous Member for Flydale North, barely recognised by her own constituents. If he had known then that she would become Prime Minister, if she had made enough of an impact that even an alien remembered her name....
"Well?" Harkness’s voice was soft. "Will you fight?"
Harriet smiled at him, feeling the same flush of excitement and determination that she had felt clambering bruised but alive from the wreckage of Downing Street. It was... exhilarating, to feel that again, to see a way out of the morass she had felt trapped in since Christmas and the Sycorax. "Fight? Oh yes, Jack, I'll fight." The sudden look of delight that transformed his haggard features cemented her decision — how could anything that produced that reaction be wrong? — and she beamed back at him. "Three terms, you say? Well, who am I to argue with the course of history?"
Harkness whooped and launched himself from his seat, making Harriet glance nervously towards the door. Her Special Branch guards thankfully failed to materialise, however, as he hauled her upright and spun her around with rather more enthusiasm than balance. "Thank you, thank you! I knew you were stronger than that!"
She laughed, rather breathlessly, and grabbed at the mantle before they both ended up on the floor. "Jack, calm down, please — I've had far too much to drink for this sort of thing!"
"Oh, I think that we're not quite drunk enough...." He caught her in a fierce hug, pulling her tight against his borrowed shirt and then abruptly releasing his hold with a gasp as the pressure reminded him of the broad, inflamed welt across his chest. "Ah, shit...."
"Jack?" Harriet drew back, startled, then touched his arm in concern as she realised what had happened — the medical team had been fascinated by that particular injury, their report describing it as a curious, partially-healed combination of blunt trauma and deep electrocution burn. "Jack, come on, sit down, please. You're hurt. You need to rest."
"Yeah," he breathed, suddenly looking a little pale. He didn't protest as Harriet steered him back to his seat and sat him down. "Sorry, forgot about that...."
"I think that maybe it's time you remembered," she told him kindly. “I won't have you neglecting yourself, not while you're in my care. Do you want more painkillers?"
"In this period, on top of all that scotch?" Harkness shook his head, leaning back in his chair with a wince. "I'll be fine — just give me a minute to catch my breath." He flashed her a weak grin. "Takes more than this to keep me down!"
Harriet smiled fondly and reached out to stroke a maternal hand over his dark hair. "Oh, Jack, what am I going to do with you?"
She had meant the question rhetorically, but his expression sobered in an instant and she thought she saw a flicker of vulnerability in his eyes before his features became unreadable once more. "Actually, that's a question I'd quite like to know the answer to myself, Prime Minister," he said quietly.
"I imagine that you would." Harriet turned to move the glasses and decanter aside before seating herself on the polished oak of the low table and reaching to take his hand. "You asked me earlier why you were here at Chequers. The truth is that I just wanted to speak to someone who might understand, someone who knew the Doctor, knew what... insanity he leaves in his wake." She sighed. "The last couple of months haven't been easy, Jack, and there are times when I've felt so very isolated...."
"Months?" Harkness snorted softly. "It's been maybe a week for me."
Harriet squeezed his fingers. "One way or another, Jack, it's been much too long for the both of us."
He shrugged. "We'll survive. History's not done with you yet, and me... well, I always have before. Don't see why this time should be any different."
"You came here — well, now — to try to find the Doctor again. Do you still want to?"
Harkness tipped his head back, looking up at the shadows that the firelight sent chasing across the high ceiling. "I don't know. Perhaps." He paused for a moment, frowning into the half-light. "Yes," he said at last, "I want to have some sense of closure, one way or another. Even if things don't work out with... with him, I do want to see Rose again. I just... I want some answers. I kind of doubt I'll be getting them in a hurry, though, not if I've just missed them."
Harriet nodded, then sat up, smoothing her skirt over her legs, all business as she finally decided on her course of action. Harkness watched her, his gaze wary. "First things first, Jack — I want you healthy. I've had a room prepared for you here and a fully-briefed medic brought in. Let yourself rest and recover for as long as you need to — you'll be safe here, I promise."
"And if I don't want to stay?"
"Then I very much doubt that I could stop you leaving," she acknowledged. "But you'll stand a far better chance of getting past Special Branch undetected when you're not half-dead from exhaustion and goodness only knows what else."
He chuckled softly, then his eyes narrowed. "So I accept your hospitality. Then what?"
"You're a Code Nine, Jack." Harriet paused, considering her next words, then laid her hands on his knees. "I'm not the only one aware of your presence in this country, although, as Prime Minister, my claim takes precedence, at least initially. There are people who would be very interested in offering you employment once you're fit enough to accept it, even without knowing the... full details of your background. There is a United Nations group that —"
"No military," he said sharply. "I know who you're talking about — no."
"Let's just say that there are certain former employers who I'm quite keen to avoid right now. They don't know where or when I am and I'd kind of like to keep it that way." He covered her hands with his for a moment. "Military record-keeping could just bring in the wrong sort of attention, you know?"
"I see. Is this something that I should know about?"
"Not if you keep my name off the books." Harkness leaned back in his chair, a gleam of amusement in his eyes. "Besides, the UN don't sound as though they're any fun. Especially not when compared to what you're about to offer me."
Harriet looked at him curiously. "And how would you know what I'm about to offer you?"
"From the future, remember?" Harkness grinned at her. "Just because something is smothered in secrecy in the here and now doesn't mean that it's not common knowledge at a later date. And every 'Golden Age' needs a little outside inspiration to get things moving, if you catch my drift. So," he leaned forward carefully, mindful of his injuries. "What's your pitch?"
"It rather sounds as though you know my 'pitch' already, Jack."
He shrugged, his smile still firmly in place. "You could surprise me."
"After the Sycorax, I somehow doubt it." Harriet patted his knees and drew her hands back, sitting up straight. "As you'll know, over the years there has been considerable alien activity on this world, a quite startling amount of it in this country. That activity has resulted in a number of... artefacts being left behind. Officially, those artefacts come under the purview of the United Nations and the British Government aids the UN in the acquisition of whatever comes to our attention."
"But unofficially you're skimming all the best stuff for yourselves." Harkness didn't make it a question. "Which would be why London has a plasma cannon array."
"Which would be why London has a plasma cannon array," she confirmed, then sighed. "Please understand, Jack, that this country, and London in particular, seems to suffer the brunt of hostile alien activity on almost every —"
Harkness laughed and held up a forestalling hand. "No need to justify yourself to me, Prime Minister. There's not much that says 'bugger off elsewhere' quite like the business end of a plasma cannon. The most effective and flexible arrays are orbital, of course, but, you know...." He grinned again, his hands miming some twisting, stiff-fingered charade that apparently made sense to him, although it was quite lost on her. "You always end up with some idiot who decides to turn the thing inwards for some lunatic reason or other and then things get messy."
Harriet smiled despite herself. "Evil Overlord Syndrome?"
"Something like that. It's one of the universal constants of sentient life." He chuckled, then his smile slowly faded as he met her eyes again. "Anyway. You were going to tell me about Torchwood?"
"It almost sounds as though you know more than I do."
Harkness shook his head. "I know the stories, the legends, but so much of the early history is lost that I couldn't tell you the details. Believe me, Bletchley Park had nothing on Torchwood House when it came to keeping its secrets."
"Oh, I don't doubt you on that." It sounded strange to hear someone speaking so freely of Torchwood, this fragment of forbidden knowledge convincing her all the more of the strangeness of Harkness's origins. "Officially, the Institute doesn't exist and nobody in the Government knows of it, most especially not the Prime Minister."
"Plausible deniability, huh?"
"It's the reason why I'll never be permitted to write my autobiography." Harriet smiled ruefully. "Well, one of the reasons, at least. The Institute's field units — and I don't know how many there are or what their make-up is, only that they're decentralised — are our frontline in finding and assessing non-Terran technologies. They are, by all accounts, very good at what they do."
"As the Sycorax discovered." There was a note of satisfaction in Harkness's voice that made Harriet wonder if he had ever encountered the Sycorax himself. "But however good the Torchwood units are, they're still flying blind, right? Finding something and knowing what it is, what it does — two very different things."
She nodded. "It can be rather... hit and miss. Which is why they would jump at the chance to recruit someone of your particular talents."
"Assuming that they don't just want to dissect me, of course...."
"I think that you're safe from that, if you're as human as you say." Harriet took his hand again, wishing that this didn't feel so much like using him, abusing the fragile trust still growing between them. "Think about it, Jack. You don't need to decide right —"
"No decision to make." He caught her fingers, brushing a kiss across her knuckles. "I accept."
"Just like that?"
"I'm in the mood for a little active camouflage." Harkness smiled, but Harriet could see the shadow of fatigue in his eyes. "Where better for me than with a group that doesn't exist? It's not as if I have anything better to do, right?"
"Maybe not now, but — always hope, remember?" She reached across to stroke his cheek, feeling the roughness of stubble against her skin. "This needn't be forever."
He closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. "Nothing is forever, Prime Minister," he murmured, covering her hand with his, and Harriet was startled to find herself suddenly blushing like a schoolgirl. "Let go and live in the moment. In the end... it's all we have."
Never releasing her hand, Harkness turned his head to press a lingering kiss against her palm. Harriet gasped at the quick, darting swipe of tongue-on-skin, at the unexpected, heated jolt of reaction that touch sent flashing through her body, intensifying as his lips strayed to cover the pulse-point in her wrist. She froze, caught between wanting to pull away and wanting — oh, sweet heavens, what was she thinking? And what was he —
He drew back with a sigh, giving her fingers a final squeeze before releasing them. "I'm sorry — I shouldn't make promises I'm in no fit state to keep."
Harriet swallowed hard, pulling her hands back and folding them in her lap as she fought to regain her composure. "I'm flattered," she said, clearing her throat in an attempt to cover her embarrassment. "Truly I am, but I'm not as young as I used to be, Jack."
"Youth is over-rated." Harkness gripped the arms of his chair for a moment before carefully easing himself forward. "You're a woman in your prime, Harriet — old enough to know what you want, young enough to enjoy it." He smiled, a bright flash of teeth in the firelight. "Remember that. Your country needs you strong."
She nodded. "Three terms?"
"Three terms." Harkness moved as if to push himself up, leaning forward the last moment to briefly catch her lips with his own. The touch felt strangely chaste after that of just moments before, the seal on a promise that, it seemed to Harriet, he felt far more confident of keeping. "Three full terms. Trust me."
"I shouldn't," she breathed, then smiled and pushed herself to her feet, holding out a hand to help him up. "I really shouldn't."
"But you're going to anyway." Harkness held her gaze as he pulled himself upright, a glint of amusement in his tired eyes. "I mean, what have you got to lose?"
"Nothing that I haven't already lost in the eyes of the world," she admitted, then reached to lightly grasp his arm. "Thank you, Jack. Thank you for your honesty. And if you're being less than honest... well, thank you even more."
He grinned. "You're welcome, Prime Minister."
The smile widened. "Trust me."
The funny thing, Harriet reflected as she led him towards the door and the rest he so obviously needed, was that she actually did.
# # # # #
"Well," Jack murmured as he gingerly settled himself on the edge of the wide four-poster bed, closing his eyes and groaning in relief as he felt the soft coolness of the cotton covers against his hands, the backs of his bare, blood-mottled legs. "That could have gone a lot worse."
The only answer was the soft ticking of the clock on the opposite wall, counting off the seconds of what might yet prove to be a lengthy stay in this era. Beyond the tall, curtained window, he could just hear the timeless whisper of the wind in the trees, occasionally punctuated by a spatter of rain against glass. Lying back, Jack catalogued each of these tiny details and sensations that impinged upon his fatigue-blurred senses, using them to ground himself more fully in this unexpected reality. He could feel the beat of his heart, the rise and fall of his burnt and bruised chest, and felt a detached fascination with those simple reflexes, the evidence of his continued survival. Death was a clear memory, the blast and the blackness swallowing him like a wave... but it seemed oddly unimportant now that he had been washed up on a friendly shore. For now, it was enough just to be alive and unhunted.
"So," he said to the canopy above him, stifling a yawn. "Here we go again. New file, new record."
Most people, he knew, led lives that flowed smoothly from one situation to another, experience building to form a messy but complete whole. His life, by contrast, seemed to be a construct of discrete chapters, each requiring him to adapt fast or die. It was a routine that he had become frighteningly good at. Childhood, recruitment, active duty, blankness, freelancing, TARDIS, and now, it seemed, Torchwood, slipping into the shadowy history of the legendary Institute. As ever, he had no idea how long this chapter might prove to be, or how it might end, or if, indeed, it would be the one that finally closed the book.
Not that it really mattered. He'd meant what he'd told Harriet about living in the moment.
He smiled sadly, feeling the beginnings of his beard scrape roughly against the covers. Poor likeable Harriet Jones, even more ill-used by the Doctor than he had been. If there had been a personality renewal along with the physical regeneration then there was no real way to predict the Time Lord's thought processes — not that it had ever been easy to read the Doctor — but Jack couldn't fathom how anyone could find it more morally defensible to allow known slave traders to go free than to remove them from the galactic stage by any means necessary. Harriet had acted from the need to defend the freedom of her country, her world and her species from renewed attack, had taken the hard decision onto herself because that was the role her people had chosen for her and because nobody else would.
Hard decisions never had been the Doctor's forte. Of course, sword-fighting hadn't been a notable skill before, either....
There was a heaviness spreading through his limbs, an exhaustion that he no longer had to fight... but both training and experience demanded that he process his new situation before he dared to allow himself to sleep. Jack blinked in the darkness, yawned, then chuckled softly at the thought of just how many basic Agency rules he had blasted out of the sky within the past few hours. He hadn't planned to tell Harriet about the three terms of office but there was no denying that things had gone far more smoothly once that particular piece of information had been disclosed. And if he hadn't been entirely accurate in his descriptions of causality, well, it was for the best. Harriet didn't need to know that history was more flexible than most gave it credit for, just as the world didn't need to find out how to get by without her. There were too damned few honest and decent politicians in Earth's history to allow one of the best to escape.
And she had believed him, believed in him, and it was startling to realise just how much he wanted to be trusted... and how much he wanted to trust in return. Some — the Doctor for one — might put that down to the influence of his time on the TARDIS, but Jack knew that in truth it was simply his nature: he had never been a loner by choice, only where it had been necessary for survival. Three-man teams had been the Agency norm and he had loved that sense of interdependency, knew that that early training was why he had slipped so easily and willingly into the Doctor's orbit after years of surviving alone....
Jack sighed. Twice he had let himself trust absolutely and twice he had been burned, left amnesiac or abandoned. He had to be a fool to want to put himself through that again, but he wanted, needed, to belong somewhere that might at least offer him some form of companionship and stimulation. In this time and place, Harriet's offer was more than generous.
Besides, it sounded like it might be fun.
The blaster wound that cut across his right bicep itched and Jack rubbed at the dressings absently. "Third time lucky," he told the darkness, lapsing into a language that wouldn't evolve for over two millennia. "New time, new team. Just have to keep my head down and hope for the best. What the Agency doesn't know about won't hurt me, right?"
For the moment, at least, he was willing to accept that he was safe. He had eviscerated the time-drive on the damaged Agency ship the moment it had left the vortex, then programmed the vessel for an active basalt upwelling on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, hating himself for destroying his one certain hope of temporal freedom but knowing that he couldn't risk being tracked, not by the Time Agency, not now. His sins, both real and imagined, on the Gamestation meant that there was no going back, no future interaction with his former employers that wouldn't involve an immediate field execution.
Still, he told himself, yawning widely, execution had long been something of an occupational hazard in his life. He couldn't imagine that that was going to change any time soon....
Jack yawned again, then groggily pushed himself up, carelessly throwing aside the flannel pyjamas that had been laid out for him — sleeping naked, or as near-naked as his dressings would allow, was a pleasure he was unwilling to forego even for Harriet. Tugging the covers aside, he crawled into bed, spending a few moments arranging the numerous pillows into a comfortable nest and hissing softly as he accidentally caught the blaster scores across his left hip. The mattress was soft, pleasantly broken in, and while he suspected that this was the first time that he had ever spent the night alone in a four-poster, he couldn't quite raise the energy to care.
He turned his head towards the window, listening to the rain outside. His future was open, a world — albeit just the one — of possibilities, even if he had locked Harriet into her path. He missed the TARDIS, missed the Doctor and Rose even more, but if there was one thing that Jack knew it was how to move on, to cast loose one set of emotional ties and form another for the sake of continued existence. If the old ship reappeared and reclaimed him before he grew bored with the twenty-first century, then all well and good. If she didn't... well, locating and acquiring timeships was a skill of his and there were enough temporal tourists who favoured certain repeating events to make it worth his while loitering around an Olympic village or a World Cup Final stadium. One way or another, he wouldn't be here forever. And if he was — and if he wasn't dead — it would be because he wanted to be.
Abandonment, no matter the circumstance, hurt... but it wasn't the end of his world. And with his presence in the here and now, it needn't be the end of Harriet's either.
Smiling to himself, Jack allowed deep and dreamless sleep to claim him at last.
~ fin ~