Standard disclaimers apply. Thanks to Krypto for the beta. Thanks to everyone who's reviewed, too. You guys are swell! So, on with the final part. Bit long, but I didn't want to break off the Epilogue into a separate chapter. Oh well, either you'll deal with it, or you won't ; )

XYZ

Houk'tar

Chapter 5

XYZ

"Kill them all."

Nirrti froze, possibly in disbelief. Jack didn't know if this was a brilliant strategy, or if the Doctor actually was following through with his promise to destroy anything that stood in the way of him neutralizing the Goa'uld's ability to control the genetics of some kind of super-creature. "You will sacrifice them all. War does change one."

Eyes narrowed, the Doctor leaned forward, the bonds yanking his arms above and behind him. "And you Goa'uld are supposed to be so clever. So clever the little humans worship you. I help you. You let them live. For now. Just until you have what you want, and then you won't be able to control it."

His words thus far had been calm and controlled. As he held Nirrti's attention, his words gained energy, like a snowball down a hill on a wet winter day. "That much power will far too tempting for you lot, and the next thing I know, everything's all shot to hell again, and they all die anyway. Because you won't bring the Time Lords back, will you? There isn't a single part of you capable of being honest. I'll be dead about three seconds after you have your genetic map. And I mean dead-dead, no regeneration. I go one way and my head goes another. Duplicitous bitch. Sure, I'll help you. Great. Fantastic."

Nirrti's eyebrows rose, though the rest of her face remained placid. She decided to call his bluff. "We will continue this discussion once her smoking corpse has cooled. Perhaps you'll reevaluate your position."

The stick had been lowering slightly throughout the Doctor's rambling speech, but it quickly regained its former place, just under Carter's nose. She tried to jerk her head back, but it was already retracted as far as it would go.

Jack yanked violently and loudly against his bonds, willing to rip all the skin off of his hands if it meant he could do something about this. He did NOT like being insignificant chess pieces in a game played between higher powers. A Jaffa staff clipped him in the middle of the back, and he ceased his struggling—for the moment.

Ignoring the whole display, the Doctor just grinned wickedly, like he knew something Nirrti didn't. "That's it. Go on. Kill all of your little bargaining chips."

The space-time thing was Carter's territory, really. But if what the Doctor was saying was true, he was far closer to being a god than the Goa'uld. It was also far more power than someone like Nirrti needed.

That being said, he wasn't taking this lying down. "Hey! Both of you! We're right here."

Carter's eyes, which had been focused on the tip of the torture device shot to him instantly. He could tell she wasn't sure that this was the greatest idea, but he also knew she trusted him enough to let him interrupt.

"Seriously," he continued. "You'd think WE would get some say in this whole thing. Clash of the titans, and all that—I know it's your deal. But guys—GUYS, can't we all just get along?" Bobbing his head back and forth, thinking over the matter, Jack continued. "Of course… Nirrti… I can call you that, right? Well, you DID try to turn a little girl into a bomb to kill everyone on my base… a little girl I just so happen to be very fond of. So, y'know. If you happen to end up DEAD… I wouldn't cry."

A millisecond later, HE was staring at the wrong end of the pain stick. "I CAN start with you."

Carter's head dropped to her chest, relieved for the moment's reprieve, but still not sure about the continued well-being of her teammate. The Doctor watched her for a moment, then tsked at their captor. "You're just not getting it again. Kill him first, kill the cute one first, we all end up dead eventually. It's just all about how many people I take down with me. So, I'm only going to say this once: let us go. Now. Only warning."

Great, Jack thought, that'll work. There's bluffing, then there's just making crap up. But a second later, a thin, cruel smile spread across Nirrti's lips and she slowly turned around to face the Doctor. Her robes dragged in her wake. She stopped in front of him, close enough to whisper something in his ear before pressing the stick to his stomach, an audible charge running through him and off into the air, the floor—anywhere it would go.

That charge would have killed either of them. The Doctor cried out, but somehow was able to discharge the energy before it killed him. Nirrti paused, allowing him to contemplate just how much he didn't want to experience that sort of pain again.

Usually torture and retrieval of information was the job of a Jaffa highly skilled in… information extraction. That Nirrti was doing this herself told Jack two things: first, this information was too important to charge a mere Jaffa with its keeping. And there was quite a bit of bad blood (and not just the magical alien blood that this whole affair revolved around) between them.

This was about revenge, and Nirrti would take pleasure in letting this go on and on. "You don't have any companions to rescue you this time," she pointed out. Waiting until his muscles had stopped spasming, she hit him again, longer this time, taking great pleasure in the low groan of pain he released. The energy crackled off of him, up the chain, going into the ceiling, smudging it with black, a coppery pink showing around the edges.

Jack yelled for Nirrti to stop, but she didn't even acknowledge his existence. There was something else that bothered the hell out of him about this whole experience—if there's something you want out of someone, there're ways to get it. Slowly, meticulously, sometimes painfully, often maddeningly.

Revenge thing aside, if this information was as important to her as they knew it was, why wasn't she maximizing her chances of success by taking the longer path?

It seemed like forever, but she finally pulled the stick away from the Doctor. Jack decided to try to get a word in. "Excuse me, your royal evilness," he addressed her flippantly, but with the tone of someone begging an audience. She looked over her shoulder at him, as if to say he would be next. "I was just wonderin,' if you don't mind. Why you're torturing him hard and fast, instead of long and slow? I mean, I'm happy for the whole 'us being alive' thing, but I know a thing or two about torture, and I think you'll find my suggestions to be really helpful--"

Holding the instrument out for him to see, she eyed Jack dangerously.

Looking around at the on-alert Jaffa, Sam spoke up. "…No…" She got that little concentration crease in her forehead that Jack liked to see in times of crisis (not so much during meetings and friendly conversations). "That's a good question, sir."

"Really?" He was fairly decent at wagging his tongue. This Doctor fellow could give lessons to a Chatty Kathy doll, though. But it irked him that their yapping was about the only thing keeping them alive. Jack liked the more direct approach. Usually bullets, running and explosions were involved.

Sam nodded, which garnered Nirrti turning around fully to make them the next victims of her 'information gathering' session. "I'm guessing she's a little pressed for time, sir. If the Asgard can put a lock on your genes to prevent tampering, then I'm sure another highly advanced race could put safeguards on their own. Not only is it giving Nirrti fits, but it probably is also putting an expiration date on the samples."

The Doctor heaved air in and out of his lungs, twitching slightly. Still not recovered, he gave Carter a pained smile. "Give the girl a prize." Turning his head slightly, he tried to look around his captor. "She's a keeper, mate."

Jack opened his mouth to respond, but it died right there. No matter what he said, he'd be doomed. Say she's not a keeper, say she was… it'd all end badly.

Drawing in a few slow deep breaths, the Doctor closed his eyes. "I'd imagine the timer in my genetic code is giving a giant 'ding' right around now. Alright, Nirrti, I lied. THIS is your last chance. Call me a sentimental fool." Every strained muscle in his face suddenly relaxed as the breath flowed out of him.

"No, this is yours." Just as the Goa'uld was turning to correct any illusions her prize captive had about their current roles, she froze. One hand crept to the back of her neck. Her ornately carved torture wand clattered to the floor, pinging three times as she clutched her stomach. This was followed by the deep, echoing thud of the Jaffa guard simultaneously dropping their staff weapons, clawing at themselves in a nearly identical fashion to their mistress.

Jack and Sam simply looked around them and watched as knees slowly started to buckle under some kind of unknown strain. They didn't look to be in physical pain, but something was harming them.

As Nirrti's knees hit the floor Jack looked at the Doctor. Still that same placid look, eyes closed and not moving so much as to draw in breath. Yeah. Completely not a guy you wanted to piss off. And if a Goa'uld was putting HIM in 'god' class, then Jack AND the Air Force would do their damnedest to stay on his good side.

He was so caught up in the display, that he didn't notice they had more company until Sam called out. "Daniel!" Managing to drag his attention from the Doctor, he saw Daniel stepping over the writhing Jaffa, Teal'c behind him.

Daniel's eyes swept across the scene. "What's goin' on?" he asked cautiously, noting the look on the Doctor's face. "We found a control panel and figured out where the rings were being operated from—Teal'c found a communications array and 'persuade' some hapless Jaffa to ring us up here. Soon as we were here…all the Jaffa… well, just like this. At first we thought it was some kind of poison, but Teal'c wasn't affected…"

The chain above the Doctor's head rattled just a bit. "Yes, that's all very nice, Rambo. And a tough job it was, too, to isolate the ONE symbiote that you don't want to give nightmares to. I'll explain it all for the slow children later. Can we leave now?" A manic grin was plastered across his face as he shook the chains just a bit more.

Pushing the glasses up on his nose, Daniel blinked, possibly contemplating walking right back out the door. Instead, he slid his hand into his back pocket, pulling out the sonic screwdriver. "Teal'c came across it. Figured it might come in handy." He began fingering the dials. "How's this thing work?"

The Doctor sighed. "No telling what setting that thing's on now that you fiddled with it like a Rubix Cube. The loud American approach should be just fine."

"Hey!" Jack protested.

At their feet, the Jaffa began to stir, whatever haze they'd been captured by slowly beginning to lift. That was all the incentive Daniel needed. "Ok, one Jack Special coming up." He gestured to Teal'c. "All yours."

Aiming his own staff weapon a safe distance above the Doctor's head, Teal'c fired. The chains dropped and the Doctor only barely managed to duck out of the way in time. Rubbing his wrists, he gave a tired sigh. "Thanks." Leaning over Nirrti, the Doctor grinned happily. "Nope. No companions. However, I happen to have friends who have friends, you deranged, cantankerous cow."

A moment later, Jack and Sam were also free. Jack grabbed wire ties from Daniel, preparing to secure Nirrti. "Unless you want her, she's ours. She's got quite a lot to answer for."

Before he could bend to pull the semi-conscious Goa'uld's arms behind her back, the Doctor grabbed his arm. "Don't. I've seen inside her mind. Before she came in here, she put in place a fail-safe. Apparently she didn't trust either one of us to be good little captives; if she crosses the threshold of this ship without disarming the thing, this ship blows. So does the one below, and the blast WILL take out the settlement."

Jack cursed, but he let it go. "How're we going to reverse what she's done to the population?"

The alien beside him grinned, slapping him on the arm. "It just so happens that I'm not just a doctor, I am the Doctor. We'll have it solved in two shakes of a lamb's tail. First we have to get that blood. The genetic self-destruct might have blown, but there're enough antibodies and other niceties that it'd really give a boost that we don't need to her Hok'taur program." Bending down, he flicked her head. "But you're going to be a good evil witch, now aren't you? You're going to leave this planet in peace, and never return. Because if you do…" His smile grew more menacing. "You'll see a lot more than what I showed you."

Not a psychic assault that Jack wanted to be on the receiving end of. He couldn't imagine the things that would give a man like the Doctor nightmares, much less what he'd inflict upon them.

Daniel asked how he planned to do that, but the Doctor just tapped the side of his head. "Bit of reconnaissance for fast facts in addition to a general assault.

They didn't bother standing around; they left the block as soon as they could, the Doctor sealing and locking it behind them. "Scrambled the security policies in the crystals. ONCE they can stand again it'll take 'em a fair amount of time to get free. By then, we should be on our way."

XYZ

It hadn't taken that long either; Sam and Daniel scoured the labs and copied or took any and all information that might aid in reversing what Nirrti had been up to. The Doctor found the appropriate vials and destroyed any equipment that it looked like it had touched, then joined Jack and Teal'c as they finished setting the detonator in the cargo bay on the docked ship on the planet.

Watching on from a safe distance, they set off the charges. It took a few seconds, but a red force of energy kind of looking like those cherry sugar flecks for decorating Christmas cookies blasted outward, and then drew in on itself.

O'Neill asked if that had killed the unconscious Jaffa inside, but was informed by the Doctor that their symbiots would protect them.

The reformed group walked through the woods at an even pace, another day at the salt mines ended. Sam went on about her theory regarding what Nirrti's latest round of genetic tampering and Jack started walking a little faster at the head of the pack, putting a bit of distance between himself and the techno-babble. He didn't want to even pick up some of that stuff just by standing near her and osmosis.

As they maneuvered down an annoyingly steep hill, the Doctor came up beside Jack. "I just wanted to say… thanks. Pretty impressive stuff, really—for a bunch of Yank apes. Glad there's someone to deal with this lot finally—they've had way too much roam over this part of the galaxy for far too long."

Jack couldn't but help smiling. "Hey, we try. Yeah, we're not so bad once you get to know us. That's true for you too, you know. And, if I might be so bold… look the kid up again, huh? Carter's right; can't hurt. Backup's a decent thing to have, too."

He looked around, making sure the rest of his team was still a decent distance behind. Carter had stopped her oration, and seemed to be looking at him, annoyed, like she did in meetings. "Something I can tell you from harsh personal experience…a guy only looks for trouble when there's nothing left. And there's one thing I know—out here… trouble'll come finding you. You don't need to go knocking on its door. So give the kid a chance. Even a whiny human with bad taste in boyfriends is SOMETHING, which is way better than nothing but trouble."

The Doctor didn't respond. He simply looked above him, at the leafy tops of the sparsely placed yet enormous trees. Slowly a smile spread across his lips, as if the thought wasn't so repugnant to him after all.

Leaving the alien to his thoughts for a moment, Jack cherished the moment. He'd just told the last lord of time and space to get a life, and he was still here to tell the tale. Which meant his next inquiry was entirely doable. "There's just one thing I'm dying to ask."

The smile slowly receded from the Doctor's lips.

There was something slightly amusing and slightly sad about the way he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Carter was picking up her pace to join his little sub-group, possibly to ask if he'd been paying attention, more likely to talk to the Doctor about possible solutions to their problem with the locals. Whatever. He had bigger fish to fry at the moment. "What's the deal with the blue box?"

A laugh escaped the Doctor, a short burst that sounded unfamiliar, even to his own ears. The humans were amusing, sometimes. "It's my ship." Before the other man could make a smart comment about traveling through space in a cupboard, he added, "trust me, it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside."

"Bigger on the inside?" Sam's brow furrowed in that 'thinking' way again. Jack was too fond of her scrunched forehead. He looked away.

The Doctor sighed. "TARDIS-Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, you wouldn't under--"

Sam interrupted, "No, I get it. I was just thinking—that must require an ENORMOUS amount of energy to sustain. Beyond ZPM capabilities. How--" But she stopped when the Doctor shook his head sternly. "Alright, then." Her annoyance was evident.

Finally he relented and gave a small portion of an answer. "Trans-dimensional energy signatures, the ship absorbs them when it's in its idle state. And NO, I won't show you the converters." Letting her know he was done with the topic of discussion. "As I was saying, Jack of the Flying Bullets, bigger on the inside. The police box is a disguise."

Arm slung over his weapon, Jack averted his eyes and muttered, "Crappy disguise."

The Doctor made a face, exasperated. "In nineteen sixties London it wasn't. It was a brilliant disguise, if you ignore the fact she decided to park herself in the city dump. Stupid chameleon circuit got stuck. I spent around five hundred years or so muckin' with the thing, but now I just let it be, I'm tired of fighting with her. If she wants to be a fat blue box, then she can be a fat blue box."

Arriving at said blue box, the Doctor pulled away the remaining vines. "Blondie, you're with me. This shouldn't take more than… twenty minutes? Give or take." He looked to Jack. "Can you, Rambo and Lincoln Memorial gather up the kids? As far as I could tell, they were the only ones affected."

Teal'c ignored the nickname, Daniel shifted uncomfortably. Jack just shrugged and gestured for the rest of the team, sans Sam to follow him. "Carter, do me a favor—try not to have a nerdgasm in there."

Her round cheeks rose in a tiny, controlled smile. There was the obvious annoyance with her CO, but there was also the part of her that like a kid standing outside FAO Schwartz—she really wanted him to shut up so she could run in there and get her nerd-on.

It was yet another thing that forced Jack to look away from her and pretend like he was investigating the bushes. "Alright then. Twenty minutes, give or take for you guys? Give us… oh, however long it takes to herd cats."

Still grinning the Doctor turned his key in the lock of the ship.

Sam watched him mess with the lock for a moment. "Lincoln Memorial?"

Pushing the door open, the Doctor grinned innocently. "Your friend has the same stony stoic look about him. And he seems like he's about as much fun. Ever tried playing Trivial Pursuit with the Lincoln Memorial? You always win, but it's just not fun…" Gesturing for her to enter, he stepped aside. "May I present to you… home sweet home."

XYZ

Epilogue…

A thousand things ran through Rose Tyler's head when the Doctor's ship blinked in and then out that last time—everything seemed to slow, while her mind sped up, thinking a lifetime worth of thoughts in the moment it took her to blink.

She'd done the right thing, hadn't she? She couldn't just leave her mum, or Mickey. She had a life here, security she wouldn't have with him. He'd said it was always this dangerous. Her mum hadn't approved of some of her past friends, because she thought THEY were too dangerous. How would her mum feel about the Doctor? No—there wasn't even a question about that. Mum wouldn't like him.

She was better off where she was—the old familiar estate, old familiar boyfriend…

And no job. She'd have to start over again at as a register clerk and work her way to folding—which was slightly depressing. She could go back to school, get her A levels—make something of herself.

That thought brought her the most comfort. She'd been panicked when she thought about the old familiar estate and the old familiar boyfriend… but the Doctor had opened possibilities to her. She didn't know how she'd make things different for herself but it seemed like the potential suddenly existed, where as it had entirely eluded her before, and she'd simply fallen haplessly into the easiest and most direct path for a girl on a council estate with no positive male role model and no great love for school.

She could make this work, couldn't she? Same old life. She could make her old life work with this new sense of… purpose. No, it wasn't purpose. It was the desire for purpose. Could her current life exist with this new desire?

Oh lord, what had she done…

The silence left by the departing TARDIS was short-lived. The air became electrified with just a tiny bite of metal, and then something screeched again. Slowly the blue box faded in and out again.

Before she could think enough for the involuntary reflex of breathing to function, he was there, standing in the doorway, leaning against it with his arms crossed. "By the way, did I also mention it also travels in time?"

He'd come back for her. The Doctor thought she was worth coming back for—which meant the possibility existed that there was more for her, and here was someone who could guide her to that purpose, whatever it may be.

A moment later she was telling Mickey "thanks," and running towards the open door. another long train of thought unfolded itself in her mind. She should be checking on her mum, she should make sure Mickey was alright, she should…

Without so much as a hesitation or a second thought, she let him close the door behind her. She should start living her life. That's what life was for, after all.

THE END.