[the other side of the sky]
[I: truth or consequences, and other places]
Jack was bewildered and dead. Or maybe just dreaming.
This is not a story. It may have a beginning, middle, and end; it may even appear to have an internal, coherent, and logical sense and structure. But there is context missing; links and clues have been left out; people appear and disappear without rhyme or reason in places that do not exist. And sometimes the people themselves are not quite who they appear to, or indeed who they should, be.
This is not a story. The events described herein did not happen.
And if they did, they can only be found transcribed in Lucien’s library.
[II: dreamings of meetings or meetings of dreaming?]
When he opens his eyes, somebody pale with dark hair and stars for eyes is frowning down at him, arms crossed within a great dark cloak. “You are not supposed to be here,” that somebody states, and Jack snorts.
“No kidding,” he says. “Last I checked, I was getting my ass kicked by Daleks on a space station orbiting Earth in the year 200,100.” He sits up on his elbows and looks around the throne room. It is a throne room, bare and splendid, and the man in the dark cloak–or what looks like a dark cloak–is sitting in the throne, the only piece of furniture in the room.
Jack looks back to him, takes him in carefully. “Are you my Prince Charming?” he asks with a sweet smile, never mind that there’s a war going on back there, never mind that friends and people he’s never met are dying back there and he should be back there, fighting.
“No,” the pale man with stars for eyes answers after some consideration. “But you look as if you have been marked by my sibling.” He stands up (his feet are bare) and steps down from the throne and holds out a hand to lift Jack up. He moves back when Jack is standing, and Jack couldn’t say what his skin had felt like, if there had been a pulse beating in that wrist, under that skin. “More than one of them,” he adds after another long moment of looking Jack over.
“I’ve never been here before,” he says.
“Yes, you have,” the other counters, regal and calm. “You have just never made it to the throne room before. Most don’t. It is…unusual that you have now.” He starts walking past Jack, and Jack follows for lack of anything better to do. Perhaps he can get back to the war, this way. The pale man with dark hair pauses in the doorway to look back.
“You don’t belong here,” he repeats, and Jack can’t tell if he’s angry or merely bemused.
The first time he saw him/her/it, he had been nine years old and had been watching the beautiful little boy standing behind him/her/it. But then his focus had shifted, he’d looked up, noticed the spacesuit s/he wore and the way hair framed its face, and Jack had blinked. And then he had tried very, very hard not to blink.
Sometimes he sees him/her/it again, out of the corner of his eye, in the midst of a crowd at a party, whispering in the ear of a young man at a rave, shoving its tongue down a young woman’s throat in the back row of a theater.
He never gets as close as he wants. But he thinks that when he does–and it is always when with Jack, not if–he might try to show him/her/it a trick or two.
[III: the view from the backs of mirrors]
The pale man with the bare feet and long trench coat (Jack prudently decides against asking what happened to the cloak) drops Jack off in a library. Jack doesn’t know why. The librarian is a tall, quiet fellow who seems content to leave Jack be.
Jack is bored and impatient.
“No offence, but I’m not really one for libraries,” he says finally, sprawling back into a comfy chair placed near a small, circular table. “I prefer field research.”
“Your stories are always action-packed,” the librarian agrees, precariously balanced on one of those sliding ladders, putting books back into their proper places on the shelves. “And quite often over stimulated.”
Jack frowns. “My stories?”
The librarian sighs and rolls the ladder down a few units, climbing up a few more rungs to pick out a beat-up paperback. “The Life, Many Times, and Many, Many (Many) More Loves of Cap’n Jack,” he reads from the front cover. He turns it so Jack can see the image: Jack in a white shirt opened to the navel, with a young woman on one arm and a young man on the other. “Your piratically-inspired tales are particularly amusing.”
Jack jumps out of the comfy chair and fails not to appear unsettled. He’s never liked people getting into his head, much rather they stuck to getting into his pants. “I can’t be here any more,” he said. “I really have to go now.”
“You must wait,” the librarian states flatly, putting the paperback back on the shelf and climbing down the ladder. “My master says.”
“He’s your master, not mine,” Jack mutters, and the librarian has reached his level and jumps off the ladder neatly, wiping his hands down. He towers over Jack.
“He is master of this realm, and you are his guest,” says the librarian, glaring Jack down over his glasses, “and you will wait.”
Jack sits down again with a sigh.
He doesn’t know how many times he has seen him/her/it, though he tries to keep track after the third or fourth time. Once or twice he has tentatively tried to find out if anybody else noticed this person, this being, pointing it out at the end of the table at a dinner party, casually asking about it in the middle of a Dionysian rite. But they only ever shrugged, or shook their heads, or looked confused and asked him to repeat the question.
Somehow, he knows better than to approach him/her/it. Caution is boring, but Jack has a highly developed sense of self-preservation. He can wait.
[IV: desire swears by the first circle]
“He is yours,” and now the pale man is wearing black leather, dark hair spikier than Jack remembers, “not mine.” He sounds somewhat impatient, as if he has better things to do.
Jack, too, has better things to do and turns to look at whom the pale man is speaking with.
Jack blinks, and then he tries very, very hard not to blink.
S/he steps forward, smiling, and circles Jack, and he doesn’t want to move, but at the same time he does. He wants to put a hand out to touch his/her/its face, kiss, take, but somehow he does not.
S/he stops in front of him again, still smiling. It’s fond and cruel and distant, and s/he reaches out with a hand, brushing against Jack’s cheek, and he leans into the touch, not even wishing to resist.
“Yes,” s/he says, fingernail scraping against Jack’s chin, on an ecstatic edge toward painful, “yes, he is, isn’t he? But I didn’t bring him here, even by accident or design.” S/he turns to the pale man, and Jack tries to contain his disappointment. “Not yet,” s/he says and puts its hand against its’ sibling’s face. “It’s not me you want, this time.”
The pale man with stars in his eyes takes a single step away from the other’s touch. “Who do you suggest then? Your twin?”
S/he turns back and grins at Jack. Jack brightens, grinning back. “No. Not her yet either. You know who.” S/he rejoins Jack, kisses him lightly on the cheek. He breathes in, holds it. “You’ve been flirting with me for years,” s/he whispers in his ear. “Someday I’ll get bored with that.”
“I look forward to that day,” Jack says, wrapping his hand around the other’s tastefully-striped tie, and s/he slaps him away with a low laugh.
S/he strolls away. “Good-bye, brother,” s/he calls over its shoulder, voice floating delicately back.
“Closer,” Jack breathes, and only after she/he/it has disappeared completely can he tear his eyes away to notice that the other figure is staring at him, arms folded. He’s wearing dark jeans and a black t-shirt now. Jack wonders if he can learn that trick too. It would certainly save on wardrobe costs.
“Desire is not one to toy with,” says the man.
“I don’t toy with desire,” Jack says. “I never toy with desire. I take it very, very seriously.” He leans forward with a confidential smile. “You might even call it my vocation.”
Almost despite himself, it seems, the pale man quirks a tiny smile. “You’re cleverer than most of its–followers,” he says. “Come.”
Jack can’t help holding back a moment to admire the pale man’s bum in the tight-fitting jeans, but he catches up quickly because he has a job to do that he hasn’t forgotten about, despite all the distractions. “Now where?” he asks.
“A place you shall perhaps recognize better than my throne room.”
He thinks he has only seen her three times for real, but she visits him so often in his dreams he isn’t entirely sure. (And then there’s the whole two missing years, and who knows how many times she visited him then, but Jack has never been one to dwell.)
She is pale-skinned and dark-haired and wears an ankh around her neck and while she isn’t necessarily beautiful, she is compelling, and all three times that Jack has seen her she has cradled his head, or kissed him on the cheek, or smiled brightly up at him.
Despite this, Jack has never, ever wanted to go with her.
[V: where all mazes meet]
Jack does not want to be here.
The skies are dark, clouded, and the scent of water is heavy on the air. He can hear the waves crashing somewhere nearby, but it’s too dark to see how close they are to the water. It’s a cold night, and Jack is still only wearing his white t-shirt and leather vest. He shivers.
Jack never wants to be here.
“Yeah, I know this place,” he says to his companion who has shrugged himself back into that trench coat, over his jeans and shirt, as well as creating himself a pair of black boots. “I’ve spent a lot of time here, in my dreams, especially the past few years.” Nights when he’s kicked confused and hurt lovers out of bed; nights when he’s woken up, shivering and soaked and incapable of doing anything all the next day. “I hate it.”
“There are worse places to dream of,” says the dark man with stars for his eyes, “and you have dreamt of those as well.”
Jack rubs his arms, shivering again. “Why are we here?”
“We are waiting for my sister.”
“Because I believe she is the one who brought you here by accident, and she will send you where you need to go.”
“Oh,” Jack says in some relief, “that’s good. No offence or anything, but I’ve got stuff going on. The Doctor’s counting on my help.”
“The Doctor?” His pale companion turns sharply to Jack, but Jack still can’t really see worth a damn in the dark. “He is your friend?”
“Yeah. Judging by your tone of voice, he isn’t yours.”
“Neither is he my enemy.” The man faces forward again, apparently searching for–someone–in the distance. Jack wonders if he can see, if he even has to see or if he can use other senses. “However, he meddles where he should not. It would not surprise me if your being here instead of where you should be is due to his association.” He steps forward. “Sister!” he calls into the black. “Here.”
When she gets close enough for Jack to see–which is pretty damned close–he pulls back, angry and afraid and all hindbrain. “No,” he says. “No. Not yet.”
“Hello, little brother,” she says, giving the tall man a one-armed hug. He stiffens momentarily, maybe in surprise, before putting an arm around her shoulders for a brief moment. And then she turns to Jack, pale skin glowing a little in the darkness, teeth gleaming as she smiles at him.
“Hey, you,” she says.
“Not yet,” he says, taking another step back. “Please.”
She shakes her head, stepping right up to him, and he can’t run away because he can’t see and there’s nowhere to go anyway, and she runs a finger over the exact same trail her sister-brother’s fingernail took along his skin not so very long ago. “I think I’m offended, Jack,” she says. “In fact, I know I am. Am I that ugly?”
“He doesn’t belong here,” the pale man interjects. His sister is wearing a trench coat remarkably similar to his own, Jack notices when she twists to look back and up at him, and Jack just knows she’s got an ankh around her neck underneath.
“No,” she sighs, turning around again to look at Jack some more. She is fond, without any cruelty or distance. “No, I don’t know how he wandered in here, but I’m not ready for him yet either.”
“You’re not?” Jack asks in disbelief. He feels suddenly weak.
“No?” the pale man asks at the same time. “Then how–”
“Somebody made a deal for him,” she says, still looking up at Jack. She shakes her head, lips quirked at some in-joke that her brother doesn’t get either. “Somebody always seems to be making a deal for this boy.” She steps back in order to shove at Jack, hard. “Go on,” she says. “Go back to your wolves and gods and little girls in red capes and magicians hiding in blue boxes. We’ll all wait for you.”
“Wait,” Jack says, confused, “wait, what–”
[VI: “have you got anything with a happy ending?”]
And Jack breathes in and sits up and feels pain but knows that he is alive. And when he hears that sound, that wheezing, groaning sound, he also knows that now he is alone.
When he stops for a moment to breathe and think, he wonders at the dream he doesn’t really remember having.
Jack has been bewildered and dead.
Or possibly just dreaming.