By sweetestdrain. Doctor/Jack.
Slash. Contains spoilers up to Doctor Who 2x13 "Doomsday", but only speculation for Torchwood (beyond the fact that Jack will be in it). Title from Kenneth Patchen's poem "Lonesome Boy Blues."
Written for faded_memories in the Tenth Doctor Ficathon. The request was for Ten/Rose/Jack or Ten/Jack, PLOT and kissing. Unfortunately, when I think "plot" I generally veer more toward the old school Who than the new school. Thus, there are lots of corridors. Sorry about that. Hope you enjoy!
The Doctor was beginning to talk to himself.
Of course, “beginning to” implied that he had never talked to himself before, when that was not the case at all. At times, talking to himself had been a favored pastime, and in some situations it was the Doctor’s only option if he desired intelligent conversation. The Doctor had even, on occasion, talked to himself when another himself was actually there to be talked to; such mix-ups and timeline-crossings were inevitable when one was over 900 years old and wandering all of time and space.
“That was a right mess a few times, wasn’t it?” The Doctor murmured. “All that running about and those Cybermen and that horrible cosmic angst. And there I go, I’m doing it again.”
He sighed and twisted a knob on the TARDIS console.
The reason that his new-old habit (his new-new habit?) of talking to himself was so disconcerting was because he had become rather fond of having other people to talk to. That was one of the reasons he traveled with companions to begin with. And, if he was honest with himself, (seeing as he and himself were having all these nice chats anyway), there was one recent companion to whom he’d grown quite attached. No longer having Rose by his side made everything seem a little off.
“She’s happy,” the Doctor reminded himself. “Or will be. She’s with her family, she’s not dead.” Just not coming back – never ever, as some might say.
He flicked a few switches, then twisted the knob back to its original position. Between trying to get a message to Rose, riding the edge of a supernova, ferrying about a very confused and irritable bride-to-be, scrubbing the internal transgravity joists, and making countless pots of tea, the Doctor had not been able to treat himself to some good sight-seeing in quite a while. Maybe a day’s excursion would be just the trick to get him out of his state of ennui.
Of course, the fact that all his excursions inevitably led to uncovering dastardly plots and running for his life was merely an added bonus.
“Let no one call me a thrill-seeker,” the Doctor muttered, and sure enough, the TARDIS remained silent and empty around him.
Of course, he hadn’t expected the thrills to start quite so soon.
Having decided to visit Earth at the time of the second glorious Renaissance, the Doctor instead came down within the walls of a small art museum on the outer skirts of Blackpool in the early 21st century. There was something odd about the place; it was transmitting an advertisement into the outer reaches of the solar system that could only be picked up by passing ships, and would not be detectable by anyone on Earth for at least the next seventy years.
“VISIT OUR MUSEUM,” the transmission read, accompanied by a border of little spinning Mona Lisas. “LIFE-SIZE REPRODUCTIONS OF FAMOUS EARTH MASTERPIECES. ALL REPLICAS ARE COMPLETELY TRUE TO LIFE. WADE THROUGH A MONET TODAY!”
The Doctor exited the TARDIS, tugging his coat on as he inspected the artwork hanging on the walls of the perfectly white, bland corridor. Sure enough, many of the pieces were immediately recognizable. He stepped closer to a replica of Cezanne’s Apples and Oranges, reaching out to touch the orange in the painted bowl. At first he only felt the texture of the paint, but pressing his fingers a little more firmly against the surface, he could feel the smooth, speckled skin of the orange.
“How strange,” the Doctor said to himself. “How entirely... odd.”
He pressed a little harder, and was only a little surprised when his fingers slipped right through the canvas and found themselves wrapped around a small spherical object. Tugging it loose from the painting, he found himself holding an orange that, aside from the thin layer of paint covering its surface, appeared to be a perfectly normal orange.
The Doctor stared at it a moment, then stuck it in his pocket. There was definitely something a bit off about this place. He continued walking down to the end of the corridor, casting cursory glances at the artwork around him. No sooner had he turned the corner than he heard the sounds of gunfire up ahead.
“Oh, bollocks.” The Doctor, sonic screwdriver already in hand, took off toward the sound. Time to investigate this place, and if there was gunfire, there were sure to be answers as well. And the Doctor had so many questions. First, he wanted to know the basics, like: Who would try to shoot someone in a museum?
He skidded around the next turn in the corridor, his coat billowing out dramatically behind him, only to plow straight into a man who was backing very quickly down the hall. The man nearly fell, but grabbed onto the Doctor’s lapels at the last second to steady himself.
“Well, that ruined my stunning entrance,” said the Doctor, supporting the man by his elbow and taking quick stock of the corridor’s other occupants. There were five very angry looking aliens facing them, guns raised. The aliens were bipedal, vaguely human in appearance, and were colored a violent pink hue that the Doctor had rarely seen outside of teenaged girl bedrooms. They wore bright green uniforms. And, the Doctor noticed, although they had paused for a second upon his sudden appearance, they seemed to have collected themselves and were about ready to start firing again.
Shoving off the Doctor’s side to regain his balance, and ignoring the resulting “oof” of complaint, the man got himself back on his feet again and clasped the Doctor hard by the shoulder, giving him a brief shake to get his attention.
“Who the hell are you?” the man demanded. The Doctor’s eyes widened as he focused on the man properly. He was tall, with blue eyes, dark hair and a classic movie star jaw, and happened to be toting a gigantic pulse pistol in his other hand. He was wearing a black vest, leather trousers, and was wearing very heavy, sturdy boots that were currently squashing the Doctor’s toes. He was very familiar. There was a reason he was very familiar.
He was Jack Harkness.
“No, never mind that,” continued the man who happened to be Jack Harkness. “Just run!”
“Run? Oh, I’m very good at running,” the Doctor said with a grin, then grasped Jack’s hand and tugged him around the corner. Bullets whizzed past where they had been standing a mere fraction of a second before, and the Doctor and Jack took off down the colorless, art-laden hallway. Jack didn’t question the fact that they were holding hands, simply returned the Doctor’s grip fiercely.
“Really?” Jack yelled over the sounds of pursuit. “I’m good at running, too. Jack Harkness, pleased to meet you!”
“Pleasure’s all mine!” the Doctor yelled back.
“Don’t worry,” Jack responded, and somehow managed to waggle his eyebrows at the Doctor without losing stride. “With me, there’s always enough of it to go around!”
“We’ll see,” said the Doctor, tugging the both of them into a storage cupboard and oddly surprised to realize that he was still smiling. He hadn’t done that in a while.
“They’ll find us in here,” said Jack in a whisper, his face pressed close to the Doctor’s and his breath quick and hot against the Doctor’s cheek.
“No, they won’t,” said the Doctor. “And who are ‘they’, exactly?”
“The curators,” said Jack, as if that explained everything.
“Ah.” The Doctor considered this for a moment. “And where are they from?”
“They’re called Elloph, although why I’m telling you that, I have no idea,” said Jack, “And who are you again?”
“Elloph!” the Doctor exclaimed. “Of course! That explains – right, absolutely nothing, what are the Elloph?”
“Very angry?” Jack offered, then turned serious. “They’re calling themselves the Elloph, that’s all I know. Showed up on Earth a week ago, charging exorbitant prices for admission, people keep going to their museum and not coming out again. I was sent to investigate.”
“A species I haven’t heard of,” the Doctor said, his voice incredulous. “That’s impossible.” His knees were knocking against Jack’s in the dark, cramped space of the closet, and he was pretty sure that it wasn’t a mop handle that had just copped him a feel. “If not impossible then at least very improbable, and is that your hand on my arse?”
“Sorry,” said Jack, sounding not the slightest bit. “It’s black as night in here, you know. Can’t see a thing.” He made no steps to remove his hand, either. “You sure they won’t find us?”
“Absolutely certain,” said the Doctor, and then the door opened.
The Doctor decided to look on the bright side: at least they were about to find out exactly how all those museumgoers had been disappearing.
Jack didn’t seem to see it the same way, and kept struggling against their captors. The larger Elloph guards had already kicked him around while they were trying to subdue him, and a thin line of blood was snaking its way down his temple. It made the Doctor feel a little sick with apprehension; if he had stumbled across Jack again only to see him get killed, he would not forgive himself for a very long time. Jack cursed under his breath and received another fierce backhand for his trouble, his head snapping to the side with the force of it.
“Don’t hurt him!” the Doctor yelled, suddenly furious. The guards who were pinning his arms behind his back gave an extra little yank, and the Doctor gritted his teeth against the wrenching pain. “I mean it,” he said, his voice going ragged in the middle. “He doesn’t know anything. Me, on the other hand...” The Doctor’s voice took on a stern, commanding tone. “I’ve come to talk to your leader. Send for them.”
The Doctor ignored Jack’s quick, confused glance. Jack didn’t recognize this regeneration, and now, there was the smallest chance that his ignorance could come in handy. The Doctor could implicate himself and try to get Jack off the hook – Jack would be far more likely to let a complete stranger do that than he would a trusted friend. (If the Doctor still was a trusted friend. How long had it been for Jack since they had traveled together?)
One of the Elloph tilted its head at him quizzically.
“Didn’t you hear me?” the Doctor said. “I want to speak with your boss. Your higher-ups. The big kahuna. Who is in charge here?”
The Elloph remained silent.
“I am a very impatient man,” said the Doctor. “You don’t want to make me angry.”
The Elloph made a warbling sound that the Doctor suspected was a laugh.
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” the Doctor said, his voice low and dangerous. He paused. “Wait, that’s the Incredible Hulk.”
You are amusing, human, the Elloph said, with a faint, amused voice that sounded like a babbling woodland brook that had suddenly been smacked soundly up the side of the head and told to stop its yammering. The Doctor considered correcting the Elloph’s assumption, but decided not to bother.
Jack, with a sidelong glance at the Doctor, wriggled in the guards’ grip until he was facing the Elloph who had spoken. “He’s lying,” said Jack, “I’ve been sent from Torchwood to investigate your operation here. My superiors have granted me permission to negotiate, but I’m also allowed to use deadly force against alien threats. What’s it gonna be?”
The Elloph stared at Jack bemusedly, then turned to the guards holding him. We will keep the striped one for questioning. Put the other in the collection. Toulouse-Lautrec, I think. Or, with that particular look, perhaps a Paul Cadmus.
“No, don’t -- No!” said the Doctor, but Jack was hustled out of the room in seconds.
Several rather nasty thoughts were starting to click together in the Doctor’s mind. Things like who the Elloph actually were, and how someone might go about constructing a “living” painting if it contained not just flowers and trees and oranges, but actual people.
“You really shouldn’t have done that,” the Doctor said. He glanced around the room, looking for anything that might give him an advantage. Now that he had a few more pieces of the puzzle, he knew what to look for.
The walls around them were covered with paintings, most of them Van Gogh – the Doctor supposed this must be the Van Gogh section – and all of them life-size, not based on the size of the original painting, but on what the painting contained. This worked well for paintings of things like sunflowers, but the pieces that had been enlarged from the artist’s intent took on an almost nightmarish quality. The Doctor decided that as beautiful as it was, The Starry Night was never meant to take up an entire wall.
After a few moments, the Doctor found himself staring at the replica of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters that hung behind the Elloph’s head. If he squinted, he could see that the painting was significantly different than the original. For one thing, the figures around the table were all in the correct position, but their faces looked wrong, and for another, the Doctor thought he would have remembered that flowered Hawaiian shirt sticking out from under the man’s dull brown jacket.
The people in the paintings… tourists, all of them. They had come to Blackpool to visit the clubs, the arcades, to climb the silly Tower... and now they were part of a second-rate sideshow of an art museum, a museum that cared more about quantity than quality, and more about finding new models for its masterpieces than simply not killing people. It was obscene.
The Doctor sighed, and turned to the Elloph. If he was right – which he nearly always was – negotiations were going to be a bit tricky.
But he’d already given that a try, hadn’t he? Maybe, just this once, he wouldn’t negotiate.
“All right,” said the Doctor. “You’ve got me. You won’t take me to who’s in charge, but I’m betting it’s you – yes, you! What do you want to know?”
The head Elloph snickered, and it sounded like a leaking tap. Let him stand, it said. He has no way to escape.
The Elloph that were holding him allowed him to straighten. In the process of doing so, they also loosened their grip on his arms. The Doctor slowly, without drawing their attention, let his sonic screwdriver drop neatly into his hand from where it had been hidden in his sleeve.
He will cooperate, the Elloph said with conviction.
Twisting the head of the sonic screwdriver carefully, and hoping he’d gotten it the right way round and wasn’t accidentally setting it to “vibrate,” the Doctor aimed it at the dormant pressure plate-based alarm system embedded in front of the painting to his right.
“That’s me,” said the Doctor, to cover the buzz. “Cooperative.”
Right. That should do it. Sticking his foot oh so casually over the now very active and armed pressure plates, the Doctor leaned.
And, during the ensuing blare of alarms, he took the opportunity to twist away from the startled Elloph and make a nice, clean escape.
Back to the TARDIS, to find a good way to eradicate the museum from the face of the planet. But before that – he must find Jack. If the Doctor was right – and he was very right – any human beings placed in those paintings would probably not stay alive very long. The technology behind the “living” paintings was only a bastardized version of what it could have, should have been. The Elloph probably stole the idea, not caring about the effects of the process on their unwilling models. New works of art were important in order to keep the museum drawing customers, but there wasn’t any room in the budget for keeping the works of art alive.
The Doctor had a rotting, sickly-sweet smelling orange in his pocket, and humans like Jack had the unfortunate habit of needing to breathe quite often.
How long since they had taken Jack away? How long did the process take?
The Doctor ran a little faster.
The hallways were all empty.
Well, not empty, exactly. There were plenty of Elloph roaming about, trying to find both the Doctor and the “intruder” that had set off the alarms. The Doctor managed to evade them neatly, though; he could be quite wily when he wanted to be. But what the hallways were empty of was Jack.
Finally, one of the long, winding hallways held a clue. Jack’s leather trousers were crumpled on the floor, and as the Doctor grew closer, he saw Jack’s gun and vest there as well. He had found where they had put Jack, the efficient bastards. He was just lucky, damn lucky, that his alarm had interrupted the guards before they could clean up after themselves.
Looking at the painting that held Jack, the Doctor allowed himself a brief sigh. “Oh, Jack,” he said, “I do believe this lot have your number. If you could only see yourself now, I’d never hear the end of your bloody preening...”
The Doctor plunged his hand into the painting, grasping at Jack’s brushstroke hand. The paint felt thick and slimy against his skin, and was strangely resistant as he tried to grab hold of the figure within. They obviously used stronger stuff on people than they did on oranges. Either that, or just buried them more deeply.
“C’mon,” the Doctor muttered. “Come on, you great big ugly canvas, give him back to me.”
He forced his hand a little bit further, his arm in the painting almost up to the elbow in a swathe of Jack’s pale-blue shirt, and finally made contact with something that felt like Jack. The Doctor took hold, mentally crossing his fingers that Jack wouldn’t slide out of his grip, and then, bracing his feet against the base of the wall, gave a sharp tug.
For all the resistance the Doctor had encountered on his arm’s way in, Jack slid out of the painting easily, nearly bowling the Doctor over on his rapid descent to the museum floor. Jack gave a muffled groan at the impact.
The Doctor tugged Jack to a sitting position, taking quick stock of his condition. Jack was completely covered in paint, with thick layers of color covering his skin, clothes (what there was of them), and face.
“Oh,” said the Doctor. “Oh, that is not good.” He took a hasty swipe at the worst of the paint around Jack’s nose and eyes, but only succeeded in smearing some of it. He needed to take quick action if Jack wasn’t going to suffocate.
At the sound of footsteps echoing down the hallway, the Doctor realized he needed to take quick action in other respects as well. He hoisted Jack off the floor and tried his best to carry him, reminded once again why it was always easier to have female companions. Shorter, not as many muscles, much easier to run for your life with.
“Elloph,” muttered the Doctor, adjusting Jack’s weight over his shoulder. “What are the Elloph. Elloph. Ellll-off. There’s no such thing. There’s just –“ he broke off, and began scanning the walls. There was no such thing as Elloph. So what were they?
Fallible, that’s what.
The quickest way to escape the “Elloph” would be to take a quick nip outside. Right out in the night air. Yes -- a window. A window would be nice. Or even a door.
Jack woke gasping, then coughing, as his lungs seized for breath and he found that his throat was full of something thick and bitter and altogether unpleasant. He was dimly aware that there was someone else there beside him, someone that was rolling Jack over on his front and dipping cool fingers into Jack’s mouth to help dislodge whatever it was that was making him choke.
Jack pushed himself up on his hands and knees and retched into the grass. (Grass? There was grass? Jack felt it under his palms.) Specks of orange came up in his spit, all mixed in with long strands of blue froth.
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to see what had been in his mouth, trying to forget wherever the hell he had been until a few minutes ago. It had been still, and silent, and slick against his skin, and there had been no air. It had been hell.
Yes. Hell. Hell, and then someone grabbing hold of him and pulling him out. And the “someone” was still there. Jack squinted up at the stranger, blinking bits of paint from his eyelashes. The man was tall, lanky, wearing a pinstripe suit that was now streaked liberally with various shades of blue and pink. He was looking at Jack with deep concern in his eyes, but once he saw Jack looking back, he blinked and the expression disappeared, replaced by jovial good cheer.
“I’ve no idea what kind of paint that was,” said the man, “But it was nothing that Earth has come up with yet. I’d imagine there are some nasty toxins in it. Let’s get you fixed up and get you a change of clothes, shall we?”
“You haven’t told me who you are,” Jack said, his voice rough. “If you hadn’t saved my life twice today, I might find that suspicious.”
The man smiled at him, and grasped Jack’s hand yet again, this time to pull him to his feet. “Let’s see if you can guess,” he said. “I’ve been told I have a very distinctive face. In the meantime, let’s sneak very carefully back into the museum and find my ship.”
“What, is this a game?” said Jack, following the man back into the building. “I’m in no mood for games today, not after being shoved in a frame and mounted, and not in a fun way. At least, I’m not in the mood for this kind of game – if you were to suggest something with a little more substance, say, handcuffs –”
“Haven’t got any on me,” said the man.
“Got any on your ship?” Jack said.
“Oh, probably,” said the man, “Got all sorts of things on my ship. I’ve got a shower, too! Several. You’re free to use one.”
Jack grimaced at the feel of the paint against his skin, and idly wondered where his trousers were, but he twisted it into a joke. “You trying to tell me I stink, Doctor?”
The man’s grin widened. “There you go,” he said.
“What?” said Jack. “There I go what? I smell? Or you’re a dominatrix cleverly disguised as a young, up-and-coming businessman? Love the Chucks, by the way.”
“Disguised? I’ll have you know that all the dominatrixes on Quarrilipsis Eight dress exactly like this, and no. You just called me ‘Doctor’,” said the Doctor. “You know me. I rather thought you would.”
What? Jack looked at the man more closely, almost stumbling into him in the process as the man stopped at a particular exit door in the building and began to jimmy it open. After a moment’s frustration, the man pulled out his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the lock.
“Or,” the man continued, “Do you have some ideas regarding the medical profession that I’d rather not be made aware of? I must admit, doctors and your average dominatrix...”
“Well,” said Jack faintly, realizing that yes, he had called him “Doctor”, and yes, the man was, “Ideas? I’ve always been rather fond of those 1940s nurse uniforms.”
“Oh, yes, those! Lovely,” said the Doctor. “But before you ask, I’m not going to wear one, not even for you.”
He flashed Jack a wicked smile, just a further proof of his identity, right as he opened the door. Inside the museum, in a now-darkened hallway, Jack could see the glow of the TARDIS.
Jack blinked at the sight of the TARDIS, blinked back at the Doctor some more – new face, he thought, probably new everything – and wondered how long it had been since his heart hammered this hard at something other than immediate danger.
“Come on,” said the Doctor, and they crept into the building.
“There just happened to be an exit door right next to where you parked the TARDIS?”
“Well, I planned ahead,” said the Doctor.
“So it was a coincidence,” said Jack.
The Doctor made a “hmm” noise. “Well, if you want to put it that way. But I would have planned it if I knew from the start who these particular aliens were.”
Jack’s head was starting to hurt, but the rest of him felt like it was finally, finally back in place. “Who are they?”
“The Elloph are actually not Elloph at all. They’ve disguised themselves, probably because they’re actually Elcraxi, and the Elcraxi have a reputation. Carnival operators, sleazy salesmen, marketers of freaks and perversion. And not in a ‘fun way.’ They’re ruthless, and don’t care who they hurt or murder in the line of their scheme.” The Doctor paused. “Although, I must say they have great taste in art.”
“Wait,” said Jack, seeing the other paintings in the hallway. “What about the people in these? How are we going to rescue them?”
The Doctor gave him a hard look. “We can’t. They’re dead.”
The words were simple, but Jack had to stop in his tracks for a second, swallow down the nausea. He could still taste paint.
“I’m sorry,” said the Doctor. “Nothing either of us could do. But what we can do is put the Elcraxi out of business for good. And stop them from making any more of their ‘art’.”
Jack stared at the floor. “How many?”
The Doctor walked to the TARDIS, and took his time unlocking the door before he spoke.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Many. There are a lot of people dead in these walls, I’m guessing.” He paused. “You coming?”
Framed in the doorway, the light from inside the TARDIS turned one side of the Doctor’s face a pale, mottled green. It made his face look more familiar than it actually was.
“I don’t know,” said Jack.
The Doctor simply stepped inside, and left the door open for Jack to follow.
He followed the Doctor to the medical bay, only to be caught with a sudden wave of dizziness. The Doctor turned around just as Jack turned pale and leaned heavily against the doorframe.
“You all right?” The Doctor went to him and helped him onto the small sickbed in the corner. Jack sat with a squelching noise, and more paint oozed out from beneath his shirt. He wondered where he’d gotten the blue swim trunks from, then decided he didn’t want to know.
“I’ll be better once I’ve had a good shower,” said Jack, shuddering. “Could I borrow a change of clothes?”
“You can borrow them, you can keep them. I’ve got clothes to spare. Some of your old things are still here, I’d imagine. Here, drink this.”
The Doctor handed Jack a small cup that had steam billowing from it. Jack took a tentative sip and found it to be room temperature, and tasting slightly of peanuts. He bolted the rest down and handed the cup back. The Doctor tossed it in the sink and stepped closer to Jack, beginning to clean the worst of the paint from his face with a damp towel.
“What was in that?” Jack asked.
The Doctor hummed a little under his breath. “It’ll take care of anything toxic you might’ve swallowed from that paint. Hold still.” He scrubbed a little too vigorously at the side of Jack’s nose, and Jack flinched away.
“Whoa, Doc -- trying to take my face off, too?”
The Doctor just smirked, and discarded the paint-streaked towel, instead turning his efforts to removing Jack’s paint-logged shirt. In all the ways that Jack had imagined the Doctor undressing him, this had never come to mind. Not to mention that the Doctor in his head generally was a bit more brooding. This guy – well, he supposed the ears were an improvement. And the rest of him wasn’t bad, just different.
“So,” said Jack. “What’s with the new... body?”
“You ever heard of regeneration?” The Doctor tugged Jack’s T-shirt off over his head, succeeding in getting even more paint on Jack’s nose.
“No, but I can probably imagine what it means.” He considered the Doctor carefully for a moment. “You died? But you have some sort of escape mechanism – clone bodies, or consciousness transferal. I’ve seen some other species that have a similar ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
“They still have Monopoly in the 51st century?”
“Yeah, I hear it’s a nice place to visit. Some areas of it, anyway.”
“Right.” The Doctor pulled off Jack’s swim trunks with nary a flinch, but way too quickly for Jack to properly enjoy it. “You’re on the right track, but nothing so complicated as consciousness transferal. That’s a nasty business, anyway – all those brainwaves leaping about willy-nilly? You can’t control where that mind is going to decide to go.”
“Something less common, then,” said Jack.
The Doctor stood, apparently unbothered by the fact that Jack was seated completely nude in front of him, and simply waited for Jack to make the connections.
“A phoenix,” Jack said slowly. “Arising from the ashes of its previous body. That’s you, isn’t it.”
“Close enough, yeah,” said the Doctor. “The me that you knew died back on the Gamestation. So here I am! A new man. Well, not so new, now. It’s been a while. Like it?”
“It suits you,” said Jack. “Maybe try less of the paint spatters next time.”
“I could say the same,” said the Doctor. “By the way, will you be wanting clothes any time soon?”
“You sure you want me to cover up?” Jack winked salaciously.
The Doctor gave him an impassive expression. “Oh, I don’t know – it’s true that the rumpled, covered-in-paint look is really quite fetching on you. Much better than the ‘nearly dead’ look.”
Jack blinked. “What?”
“I’ll get you something to wear,” said the Doctor. “You remember where the shower is?”
“Wait – did you just hit on me?”
“Only a tiny bit!” the Doctor protested. “There’s nothing wrong with that! Perfectly harmless!”
“No,” said Jack. “Just thought I had to buy you a drink first?”
“That was the old me,” said the Doctor. “The new me is rather easy.”
Jack couldn’t help but give the Doctor an appraising look, which he was slightly stunned to see the Doctor returning. If the Doctor, this new Doctor, was up for it – well, Jack would be there in a heartbeat. No matter what the Doctor looked like, Jack would be there. It wasn’t the outside of the Doctor that Jack craved.
“Right,” said the Doctor. “I’ll get you those clothes. Then we’ll go take care of this Elcraxi situation.”
Perfect, thought Jack, letting go of the intensity from the moment before. Just like old times; there was nothing that quite compared with helping the Doctor save the world. Not even his work at Torchwood, which would do in a pinch, but always required tons of paperwork afterward. This... this was more like it.
There was one thing that wasn’t quite right, though. A face that hadn’t been around to greet him.
“Doctor, where’s Rose?”
The Doctor met Jack’s eyes carefully. “She’s with her mum,” he said.
“Right,” said Jack, his chest seizing, missing Rose all over again. “You sent her home. I forgot about that.”
“Yes, I sent her home,” said the Doctor. “She’s safe. Now get a move on, time’s a-wasting!”
And with that, the Doctor was gone, his footsteps echoing down the halls of the TARDIS. Leaving Jack to wonder why, if Rose was safe at home, the Doctor had looked so... sad.
When Jack finally emerged into the console room, the Doctor had already formulated a plan.
“We blow the roof off!” he announced proudly. “No more Elcraxi. Then we get your people in to pick up the pieces.”
“Torchwood,” said the Doctor. “Last I knew, they were good at cleaning up messes. Good at making them, too. How long have you been working for them?”
“Whoa,” said Jack, “I don’t know what run-ins you may have had with Torchwood in the past –“
“You don’t?” The Doctor was surprised. “Really?”
“I looked you up in the Torchwood archives, but there were only a few mentions. Most of them were heavily encrypted – way above my access level. I cracked the files, of course, but there still wasn’t anything useful.” Jack raised an eyebrow. “Almost like somebody went in there and deleted everything.”
The Doctor said, with his best innocent expression: “Oops.”
“Someday, I’m going to ask you exactly what Torchwood did to piss you off,” said Jack, shaking his head. “But first things first... how exactly is destroying the museum’s roof supposed to stop the Elcraxi?”
“Oh, didn’t I mention that? They’re allergic to natural light.”
Jack blinked. “Right.”
“So... we blow the roof off, then what? They get a nasty rash?”
“Actually, they do a bit of spontaneous combustion.” The Doctor bent under the console and rearranged a couple of wires.
Jack fell silent, and the Doctor looked up at him. “What?”
“We just... kill them all.”
“It stops them,” said the Doctor. “Jack... they are not redeemable. They will feel no shame. And it’s not just this. There’s an advertisement being broadcast to the edges of the system, calling in a lot more tourists than just the humans in Blackpool. It’s going to draw all sorts of aliens to this planet, of all kinds of backgrounds. Some will be families, tourists, art connoisseurs…” he trailed off for a moment. “But others will be nasty pieces of work who are coming to see exactly what’s there: a bunch of pathetic, dead humans dressed in funny outfits and hung up on a wall like a kid’s butterfly collection. Those are not the kind of aliens you want tromping around all over Earth. If we stop the Elcraxi, we stop that, too.”
Jack shook his head.
“What?” said the Doctor. “You have a better idea?”
“No, but you should,” Jack said. “What the hell has happened to you, Doctor?”
The Doctor’s mouth was a grim line. “Nothing’s happened to me.”
Jack laughed, even though it sounded forced. It was forced. “No way. No. That’s not the way you do things.”
“How would you know how I do things?” said the Doctor. “New Doctor. New me. And I am just... so sick of negotiating,” he added, almost to himself. “And besides, it’s the easy solution. Isn’t that what Torchwood would do?”
“But that’s Torchwood, it’s not you. And I would know. You wouldn’t change that much,” Jack said vehemently. “The man I knew would never just slaughter them. No, listen to me. He would care. He would make decisions based on something other than what was easiest. He wouldn’t murder a whole group of people, regardless of how guilty they were. He would look for solutions. He would stand up for what he believed in, and he would find another way.”
Jack took a breath. “You... would find another way.”
The Doctor gazed at his shoes for a long, long moment. Slowly, he raised his gaze to meet Jack’s.
“Do you know,” the Doctor said, “I can scarcely remember the time when Jack Harkness was a coward. For so long, for as long as I’ve known him, he’s been anything but.” He met Jack’s eyes a second longer, then snapped out of his contemplation and darted over to a monitor, tapping in some commands. “You’re right. Absolutely right, and I... I am afraid I’ve been alone a little too long. Losing touch with the old inner me. Sorry. So now we need a new plan. Do we have a plan?”
“A plan? We –“ Jack stopped, thought for a minute, trying to adjust to the Doctor’s switch in mood. “Wait, I’ve got it. While I was in that painting...”
“There was some sort of power source, some sort of energy field that was part of the frame. There must’ve been. If it had been just paint, I could have got out. Instead...”
“— it held you in.” The Doctor nodded. “Of course. So if we can reroute the power in the building, shut off whatever it is that keeps those paintings in place... everything spills out, there’s chaos, pandemonium, in short, a great upset.”
The Doctor started to smile. “Jack,” he said. “You’re brilliant. We won’t kill them. We won’t even touch them. We’ll cripple them. Run them out of business.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Jack, unable to keep his relief out of his voice.
“And you doubted me!” said the Doctor, his eyes twinkling. He paused. “You were right to doubt me,” he said with a brief nod. “I’m glad you were here.”
“Me too,” said Jack, although it really seemed inadequate to convey exactly how glad he was to be there, after all.
It was an easy enough task once they knew where the generators were kept. They got fired at a few times on the way in, but on the way out, most of the Elcraxi were distracted with trying to contain the mess. The floors were slick with paint, covered in the contents of the paintings around them. Some of the shapes on the floor were people, and the Doctor bowed his head and Jack fell silent as they stepped around the bodies.
By the time they got back to the TARDIS, though, Jack was grinning, flush with excitement. “We did it! HA! We kicked their asses!”
“Now you can call your people at Torchwood!” the Doctor replied, clapping Jack rather hard on the back. “Get them to take the Elcraxi in for questioning, maybe mop a few floors.”
Jack deflated slightly. “Jeez, the paperwork’s going to be hell.”
“How’s Torchwood working out for you, anyway?” said the Doctor, trying to appear unruffled.
Jack shrugged. “It’s a job. I have a good team of people. We make a difference.”
“You hate it.”
“I don’t hate it.”
“You do.” The Doctor grinned. “You despise it. Paperwork. It reminds you of the Time Agency.”
Jack gave him a wry look. “They do have that in common. After all these years, I’m as good at paperwork as I am at blowing things up.”
“Getting old, Jack?”
“Hardly,” Jack snorted. “But – tired. I’m tired. Not so good at being a hero these days.”
“I think you’re doing just fine,” the Doctor said, and turned to the console. “Need a lift?”
“Actually,” Jack said slowly, “I was thinking, before you drop me off at Torchwood... we could visit Rose. She’s in this time, right? I’d like to see her again.”
The Doctor froze. “Jack...”
“Unless there’s a reason we can’t see her.” Jack gave the Doctor a steady look, so calm that if the Doctor hadn’t known Jack so well, he never would have realized how tight Jack’s teeth were gritted.
“We can’t. We can’t see her, Jack. She’s... she’s not here.” The Doctor really didn’t want to talk about this. He had the distinct impression that he was about to be forced to.
“Tell me,” said Jack.
“You mean you just left her there,” said Jack.
“There was nothing else I could do! And she’s happy – she’ll be happy. She has her parents and a new sibling and her job and that daft Mickey –“
“You just cast her off like she was nothing!” Jack exclaimed. “She spent so much time traveling with you, she changed for you – she loved you –“
“I know,” said the Doctor.
“You’re – cruel. Heartless. She meant nothing, did she? She thought she did, that she mattered, but then you left her and you never thought about her again.”
“Jack,” said the Doctor conversationally. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re angry for your own reasons.”
“So what if I am!”
“If you think,” the Doctor said evenly, “for even one second, that I felt nothing less than agony on having to be parted from her, then you are a fool. And not the Jack I knew.”
Jack, breathing hard and caught like a shattered pinwheel in the Doctor’s gaze, said nothing.
“What would you have me do, Jack? What do you want me to say? I moved on. I always move on. Moving on, that’s me. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.” He reached out and tilted Jack’s chin up, ignoring the way Jack tensed at his touch.
“It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt to leave you behind, either,” the Doctor continued. “Seeing as that’s what we’ve actually been talking about. But I had to, Jack. It was necessary. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Jack took a ragged gasp, and the Doctor’s hand clutched almost painfully at the back of Jack’s neck, drawing their foreheads together. “I am so sorry,” the Doctor whispered, his words nearly lost in the inches between them, and then he kissed Jack hard on the mouth.
Jack kissed him back – well, of course Jack kissed him back, it was Jack -- and the Doctor felt his eyes go suspiciously moist. In a universe full of complexities and dangers and death, he sometimes wished it could be this simple: solving all problems with a kiss. But he’d tried that before, and there were always, always consequences.
He broke away. Jack swayed forward a little at the loss, then steadied himself, eyes going soft and reluctant. “I,” he started, and then paused. “Doctor,” he tried again, but there were really no words left.
None except one, a word that would solve absolutely nothing, but which the Doctor found he had to say anyway.
“Stay,” said the Doctor.
Jack looked at him, and the Doctor looked back. There was something about Jack’s face... it seemed like he’d just been torn open like the morning’s first Christmas present. All that familiar bluster lay in tatters, and inside he was still Jack, still the man that Rose had seen in him, that the Doctor had eventually seen, too: still young, and wanting, and reckless, and scared, and relentlessly brave.
“Yeah,” said Jack, in a breath that sounded sort of like a laugh, but not quite. “Yeah, I will. I’ll stay. Can’t get rid of me that easily, Doc.”
And they lingered there a moment, intent on each other, as the Doctor wondered what Jack was seeing in his face in return. Something good, he hoped. Something that was worth it.
“That’s that,” said Jack, entering the TARDIS. “I’ve given my notice at Torchwood. Told them I had an offer from a competing company; let them stew over that for a while.”
The Doctor glanced at Jack. “Ready to leave, then?”
“I’ve already left,” said Jack. “Now I’m back. Oh, you. Yes.” He shook his head, gazing about, taking everything in all over again. “I’ve missed this TARDIS.” Jack threw his head back and shouted, “I’m home, baby! I missed you!”
He threw a mischievous look at the Doctor, his arms still outstretched toward the walls. “What do you think? Think she missed me?”
“Quite so,” and the Doctor began flipping switches to hide his smile. “Where to, then? Someplace exciting? Dangerous?” He glanced up. “Sexy?”
“You’re such a thrill-seeker,” Jack laughed, coming to the Doctor’s side to aid in the flipping of switches. Something in Jack had lightened considerably during the time between ‘hello’ and ‘stay’. “You’re always on to the next adventure,” Jack added, and sounded incredibly happy about it.
“Am I?” said the Doctor. “A thrill-seeker. Hmm. Hadn’t noticed.”
“I’ve got an idea where you could go next,” said Jack.
“Where’s that?” said the Doctor. He continued prepping the TARDIS for travel, only looking up when he realized Jack hadn’t spoken.
Jack’s posture was as confident as it had ever been, and his face was completely serious, betraying only the tiniest hint of nerves. “To bed with me.”
The Doctor stared at him. He wondered why he never had a good reply to that question. It wasn’t like he’d never been asked it before, and many of those times the question had been from Jack. Things had just... changed.
“C’mon, Doctor,” said Jack, trying on a smile. He held out his hand. “You’re easy, I’m easy...”
“And you’re in love with me,” said the Doctor.
Jack froze, his confident attitude beginning to evaporate. “Usually,” he said, “you let the guy get around to telling you that on his own. It’s considered polite.”
“Sometimes that takes too long.” The Doctor continued to stare at Jack, giving absolutely nothing away in his expression – at least, he hoped. “And besides, I’ve been told I’m quite rude this time around.”
“Doctor,” said Jack. There was too much feeling in the word for the Doctor to comfortably decipher.
“It’s not a good idea. Jack...” the Doctor shook his head, but didn’t move when Jack came closer, and he let Jack embrace him, press against him. He leaned his forehead against Jack’s, realizing that this time, he could not find it in himself to say no. He was tired of talking to himself, and he would not step away.
“If it takes too long,” Jack began, with his voice pitched for seduction, “Then why are you wasting time?” It would have sounded ludicrous to the Doctor if it were not for the look in Jack’s eyes, containing something altogether more real and enticing.
“You’re full of very good questions,” said the Doctor. Jack inhaled sharply, and the Doctor mentally congratulated himself on the fact that his seduction-voice, though barely used, was still unparalleled.
There was a kiss, then, which was not surprising. It led to hands clasping, fingers entangling; another kiss, this time with heat, and teeth, and Jack letting go of the Doctor’s hands to grasp at his waist, tugging at suit jacket and shirttails and finally reaching eerily smooth skin and thinking yes, it’s about time; and the Doctor, hands freed, pulling Jack’s mouth closer, pulling everything that was Jack – flawed and brilliant and annoying and captivating – all of it closer, his fingers running through Jack’s hair and still, still finding flecks of paint.
It was a good kiss. The ones that meant something always were.
Then, still kissing, they followed a lengthy and stumbling path to the nearest bed. It was a celebration, a union, it was conversation. It was sex. Fucking. Making love, as some people might say (although not Jack, and definitely not the Doctor).
Or, put more simply: it was a slow, inevitable plotting of a new course.
Lonesome Boy Blues
by Kenneth Patchen
Oh nobody’s a long time
Nowhere’s a big pocket
To put little
Pieces of nice things that
Have never really happened
To anyone except
Those people who were lucky enough
Not to get born
Oh lonesome’s a bad place
To get crowded into
Yourself riding back and forth
A blind white horse
Along an empty road meeting
Pals face to face
Oh nobody’s a long long time