Jack and the Doctor stand on opposite sides of the boy's hospital bed and do not touch each other. It's been years—so many years that even Jack's face shows signs of aging, however minute, to his intense distaste—but the Doctor remains unchanged as ever: Jack half expected to meet a new incarnation, if they ever met again, and it is a shock to see the Doctor here, just as before, wearing the same suit and tie as if the bloody night in Cardiff was only yesterday. His hair is the same, his face is the same, his clothes are the same—but there is something in the Doctor's eyes which strikes Jack, even now when he is only watching the Doctor look at someone else: something harder, colder, older than before.
“Doctor Jack Harkness,” the Doctor says slowly after a while, a slight emphasis on the first word, letting his fingertips brush the motionless boy's hand where it rests on the starched sheets. “Imitation's the sincerest form of flattery—that's what they say, isn't it?”
“I've had a long time to train in several different careers. I'm more than a medical doctor.”
“That doesn't answer my question,” the Doctor replies quietly, but he doesn't push any further or look to Jack. In fact, there has been no eye contact at all: not since Jack was told that a new specialist—Doctor Smith—had come to see Timothy Brown, and that he'd like a consultation, please, if it wasn't any trouble. Right from the moment that Jack came into the tiny room and realized who 'Doctor Smith' really was the Doctor has hardly acknowledged him at all, has only stood there, quiet and still, looking at the boy.
Jack clears his throat quietly. “Doctor, about last time—”
The Doctor raises a hand quickly between them, fingers spread slightly, palm up in a gesture of offering or beseeching. His voice is quiet and soft, a little frown lining his brows as he talks. “I'm so sorry.” For a while there is quiet: Jack has no idea what to say, and the Doctor seems trapped in thought, picking at his lower lip with one canine tooth before, finally, he speaks again. “So why are you here? Now?”
“Nothing like a holiday with the Victorians,” Jack replies with a shrug, brushing every painful event between then and now away. After that he pauses momentarily, shying away from a question to which he may not want to know the answer—hope, unbidden and traitorous, flares up again—before finding the words, managing to form them by looking out of the window down onto the grounds. From the corridor comes the faint sound of nurses chatting outside one of the other rooms. All of a sudden the smell of carbolic acid is overpowering. “And yourself?”
Seeming at first not to have heard the Doctor leans forward, bringing his hand to the motionless child's forehead and pressing his palm there, frowning at the touch. “Fever.”
“He won't survive,” Jack says quietly. “He's been unconscious for hours. It will be over a hundred years before this is curable.”
The Doctor shakes his head slowly, moving his hand to stroke back the boy's dark hair from his sickly-pale face, to straighten the sheets about him. “How do you do this, Jack? How can you come back here and watch them die?”
“I can help some of them,” Jack says quietly, taking a step back, his shoes squeaking over the floorboards, to stand by the window. Outside the sun is brilliantly bright, a lovely July day; one of the other doctors has a convalescent outside in a wheelchair, walking them past the flowers. The peace and unshakable continuity of it makes something inside Jack ache with envy. His place here is fleeting, skin deep; there is no true place for him anywhere anymore. He is a man out of time, and it takes all his willpower to make himself speak, normal and light. “They've never had such a strong advocate of Lister's disinfectants.”
Briefly the Doctor smiles, but Jack has never seen a look so sad. “I'm here to help this boy,” he says finally.
The Doctor nods, moving his gaze from the boy to his hand: from his pocket he withdraws a plastic-wrapped needle and a small vial which catches the light, drawing Jack's eye. “I should still be in time. He'll miraculously recover. No one'll question how it happened. You don't question an act of grace.”
For a moment it is as if Jack's stomach has dropped free from his body and there is a great emptiness inside of him. He has to struggle for words for some time before he can articulate any thoughts, and by the time he does the Doctor is already loading the needle, its sterile plastic casing back in his pocket, raising it to make sure there are no air bubbles inside. It is almost incomprehensible, this: so much care for a human, for a boy that the Doctor has never talked of before.
“Doctor. That's—that doesn't happen. There is no way he can survive. He dies from this disease.”
“But he doesn't,” the Doctor says quietly, and for the first time he looks to Jack, his gaze steady, piercing. “He survives. He is a doctor himself and saves hundreds of lives in the War. They give him a medal for his bravery, Jack. He's a hero.”
Jack shakes his head, incredulous. “But he should die now—”
“There are some things that can't be explained,” the Doctor says simply with a little shrug. “Why worry about it? He survives. This is how. It was always meant to be this way. I'm only fulfilling my role in—” he pauses, before briefly flicking a smile to Jack, “—the clockwork. Keeping everything ticking over like it should.”
“But why this boy? Why this one boy, out of all of them? It's not a small category—people who die before they can help the world.”
The Doctor reaches down and strokes the boy's hair gently before slowly turning over his arm. “Help with the tourniquet, Jack.”
Biting his lip the Doctor looks up again, blinking slowly once before speaking again. “One of the young men he saves is Rose's great-grandfather.”
They sit together, after, in Jack's office: Jack taking the big leather chair and the Doctor perching on the edge of the desk, his hands in his pockets, swinging one of his legs back and forth. His eyes are focused somewhere beyond the floor, on something or someone else entirely.
“Sometimes you have to break the rules,” he says quietly.
“I've been trying to tell you that for years.”
The Doctor half-smiles and looks up, finally, fixing his eyes on Jack's. “There's no rule against us having sex.”
Shrugging, Jack holds his eye contact, unwilling to ever look away. “There's a rule in you, though, isn't there? Whatever reason you give, it's all the same. You've forbidden yourself this.”
For a moment the Doctor looks pained, a little grimace flicking over his features. “Jack...”
“It's after you lost her, isn't it? You couldn't do it again.”
The Doctor raises his hands to his face, covering his eyes with his palms and breathing out long and slow, his breath catching slightly. “You're young, Jack,” he says finally. “So young. So naïve, so hopeful. Anything that happened would be wrong. Would be taking advantage of you. Would be involving you in something you can't possibly understand.”
They are close enough to touch, close enough for Jack to stretch up and kiss him—but somehow they are farther apart than ever before.
Jack wakes from death.
He has a terrible headache, one that has become familiar to him after his many lives: the thudding agony of being brought back to life, the pulsing pain of regeneration which sears in his veins. With a soft groan he curls himself up into a ball, cradling his legs close to his chest and pressing his face to his knees, taking deep, deep breaths. It's hard: his lungs are heavy and thick with something so that he cannot fill them, and even when he does the stench of fresh blood and corpses itches at his throat, making him gag and retch. There is a seizing agony in his chest as some wound knits itself back together—that would explain how hard he is finding it to breathe—and he realizes, when he reaches for the edges of the damage, that he cannot feel his fingertips: it is so cold that they are entirely numb.
Once he can move he scrabbles to his feet, slipping in the deep mud, having to reach for the bodies about him to haul himself up. He tries not to look at them as he pushes them away to free himself, these broken corpses that once were young men. Long experience has taught him not to look at their blank eyes, open mouths, or shattered bodies: instead he gets to his feet, swaying with fatigue and pain, and looks about him for a way out. Dusk is falling, and all he can see in the semi-darkness are, for what seems like miles and miles and miles, bodies: death by bullet and steel and bomb and gas. Far out of sight he can feel, rather than hear, the deep throb of a distant landship's engines: they must have left an hour or more ago, taking the wounded and the survivors with them. He is the only one left here among the dead.
Finally, when he can think of nothing else to do, Jack begins to walk, picking a direction at random and setting off, stumbling over bodies, until he can go no further.
The next time he wakes, the headache is gone. Details slowly seep into him, dye diffusing through water, slowly penetrating its every inch: warmth. Thick blankets wrapped about him. A low, soothing hum. The sense of being not alone. The hum again, nagging, insistent. Something familiar. Something he knew from long ago. Something hovering on the edges of his memory, teasing, taunting...
Jack sits straight up and looks at the TARDIS about him.
It is exactly the same as it was when he last saw it, so many dozens of years of his life ago. The same little switches flash on the control panel. The same haunting green light flows through the central pillar—the living, pulsing centre of the TARDIS. (Grown, not made: he'll never forget that. He always felt as if there were more than him, the Doctor, Rose or Martha here: always felt that other presence.)
“Wakey wakey, rise and shine,” a voice says from behind him. “Sleeping beauty arises.”
The Doctor sits cross-legged with his back to the far wall, a thick book in his hands, looking at Jack over the top of his black-framed glasses. Once more Jack suffers the pang of the Doctor's sameness: he looks the same as this incarnation always has, right down to his smile.
“What are you doing here?”
Getting to his feet and coming over, hands in his pockets, the Doctor laughs: he stands beside Jack, looking down on him, rocking back and forth on the soles of his feet. “Have I not told you that I live here?”
Jack pinches the bridge of his nose briefly, taking a few slow breaths. “I mean—there.”
For a moment the Doctor's face clouds over, and it seems to cost him a great effort to shrug as he kneels down beside Jack. “I survived my own people's destruction. Seems like I'm drawn to other's.”
Being with the Doctor, Jack realizes, is not like being with anyone else: for a moment he has a comprehension of the age which the Doctor talked of last time, of the impossible length of the Doctor's life which even Jack has not reached, not yet. With so many partings and so many meetings, why talk about all that happened in the middle—all those linking years? There isn't anything to say; he can only accept that the Doctor is here now, and will soon be gone again. He can only accept that the waning and waxing of the Doctor's presence is as natural as the tides or the cycles of the moon—every bit as indescribable and immutable.
“We're not so different, are we?” he says, quietly, thinking back to the bloody fields he has left. “The ultimate survivors.”
The Doctor laughs, sad and amused at once, a few more wrinkles around his eyes than Jack remembered. “Jack, are you trying to get me to have sex with you again? You've had enough to know that it doesn't solve anything.”
“It's never really been about sex,” Jack says quietly, “has it?”
A confusion of emotion registers for a moment on the Doctor's face: he frowns, the corners of his lips turning down, and when he leans forward to rest his hand on Jack's shoulder the touch is brief, businesslike. “You need to get more sleep.”
Already the Doctor is standing, a slight, carefully-arranged smile freezing his features. “Don't argue with me, or I'll set a darahog on you. Nasty little buggers. You don't want to find out what they're really capable of.”
Dreams come to Jack as he sleeps, one after another fluttering past him, and sometimes he cannot tell where they end and moments of waking begin. Now and again he is sure, mostly, that he is awake, but he can feel a fever leeching at his strength, smothering him with its cloying grip. It must be the after-effects of the gas, which he does not have the strength to fight: again and again he is dragged down into his unconscious, choking on the terrors of memories and half-recollections. He sees Ianto's hands letting go of an empty mug which Jack himself is powerless to catch and can only watch as it falls down, down, down, hanging for one horrible moment in space before it hits the ground and shatters into a million irretrievable pieces. Rose's face slips in and out of the shadows, close enough to touch—but every time he reaches for her she dissolves in his hands, dispersing like mist on the wind. Tormented, broken sobs come rising up out of somewhere deep behind him in a voice he should have forgotten, but no matter how much Jack twists and turns he can't find the boy he took to that war long ago, in a time yet to come.
Interspersed with these moments are others, more lucid or more dreamlike Jack couldn't say. Moments of the Doctor: the Doctor crouching beside him; the Doctor standing on the far side of the console, talking to the TARDIS in a language Jack does not understand; the Doctor resting his forehead against the wall and scraping his fingers down the metal as his shoulders shake, the tiniest whimper catching on the air. Jack feels movements in the dark: a pacing and a stillness and then a body pressed to his, fingers sliding down the sheets around him, a breath on his skin.
“Jack,” the Doctor whispers, “are you awake?”
Jack has to pause before he realizes that he is. It takes him a moment to shake off the lingering disorientation of dreaming sleep and find what is real, what is not, and what is real feels dreamlike anyway: the Doctor's body lying close to his own, their chests pushing together as they inhale; the Doctor's hair brushing his cheek; the Doctor's fingers sliding, slow but sure, under Jack's shirt. Somehow the TARDIS has been darkened, and in the remaining dim luminescence cast out by the central pillar Jack can only make out fleeting fragments: the glint of one of the Doctor's eyes, the curve of his shoulder. He is terrified to breathe in case even air could break this moment.
Warm and close the Doctor's breath tickles over the vulnerable skin of Jack's neck, mimicking the slow touch of his fingers. His 'shhh' is only the quietest of exhalations, his words formed rather than spoken, and Jack cannot tell for sure if they are audible at all or only comprehensible through the brushing of the Doctor's lips over his skin. “Be quiet, Jack. Be quiet,” he maybe-says, and then Jack cannot stop himself gasping as the Doctor's fingers slide over his belly, tracing down the line of his muscles and arching over the jut of his hips. For a moment this is all, this is enough: eternity in a moment, bliss in a single touch, the impossible resolution of all of these years. The Doctor's fingers move slowly but surely, sliding down to unfasten Jack's trousers, to slip under the fabric and grip his hardening cock. A little cry catches in the back of Jack's throat and he closes his eyes tight, toes curled and fingers grasping at the Doctor's body, every muscle taut and waiting as the Doctor takes his time, gripping firm and sure, moving his hand over Jack in slow, long strokes. Everything is all mixed up in Jack's head: the warm, smooth smell of the Doctor's skin and the maddening swirls of his thumb over the tip of Jack's cock; the press of his leg between Jack's, slowly bringing their bodies together, and the gush of his breath over Jack's collarbone, moist and thick with lust and need. Lust writhes in Jack's stomach, burning and twisting, and the urge to touch, to taste, to press together washes over him—
When he leans forward to press his lips to the Doctor's, however, the Doctor turns his head away quickly and recoils like an animal from a snapping trap, inhaling a snatch of air. His hand is suddenly gone from Jack's body, withdrawn, hidden away; he arches backwards and stays there, his heavy breathing audible in the space between them.
Jack's heart thuds so hard that his ribs ache. Terrified by the moment, the distance, the impenetrable armour of the Doctor's loneliness, he is frozen still as all of his fears crowd about him, the gap between the warmth of the Doctor's body and his own an unbridgeable chasm. It takes all his strength to slowly, carefully reach out a hand, fumbling like a blind man for the Doctor's body, finding his chest. Jack rests his hand there, feeling the frantic struggle of two hearts.
It was always the Doctor who fixed things, but now Jack has all of time on his side.
“Trust me,” he whispers, so quiet that it is almost a thought. “Trust me.”
The Doctor trembles in the darkness as Jack strips away his defenses.
Comments & constructive criticism hugely appreciated!