Chapter 11: Adjournment
He isn't sure what he expected, really. Come into the TARDIS, get the whole immortality problem sorted and head back to Torchwood, most likely. Not this. Not to be invited back to a life that he thought he left behind. No more time and space travel, not for him. He was stuck doing the same thing every day. Living life day by day, sequentially, like any other human.
Things are different now, aren't they? He is human now. He feels it now, deep inside him, in that place that once seemed to know far too much about the future. Not any more. There's just him. He's human again and he's hard pressed to determine just what he feels. This is exactly what he wanted, yes, but it changes everything. It changes how he's lived his life since Satellite Five. He can no longer afford such a cavalier attitude towards death.
That conversation he had with Gwen seems so long ago.
Gwen watched Ianto and he watched her out of the corner of his eye. "All that deception. Because he couldn't bear to live without her. So have you ever loved anyone that much?"
He didn't respond, letting his thoughts turn inwards. Gwen continued a moment later, a thoughtful tone in her voice. "When she had hold of you, I thought, just for a moment, I thought maybe you could die after all."
He looked into the Hub, for a moment wishing that that could've been true. "Wanna know a secret? So did I. And just for a second there, I felt so... alive."
He can't do that any more, now can he? Back to being Jack Harkness, human. Just as mortal as any other man on Earth. God, it feels good to realise that. Sure, he'll have to change the way he operates, but that's okay. He can survive. He will survive because that's what he does. He survives. Lives on. And, now, some day, he will die. Just as he's always wanted.
But that doesn't answer the Doctor's question. Does he want to stay? Back to the same old life? Before, even without the shadow of immortality hanging over him, he supposes that his answer would've been immediate. Of course he'd come. Of course he's back to stay. But things aren't as simple now. They can't be.
Over a hundred years have passed since he was last within this ship. He knows that he's different, that he's changed. In many ways, not for the better. Then there's what he's leaving behind. Yes, he could leave. Let Tosh, Ianto, Gwen and Owen muddle their way through protecting Earth from whatever the Rift attracts. But would that be right?
What the hell is he supposed to do? What he wants? What he feels like doing? Or what he should be doing – whatever that is?
He realises that he's been quiet for too long when Rose shifts nervously beside the Doctor, her gaze trained upon him. He thinks he knows what she wants him to say, what both she and the Doctor want him to say. He just wishes he knew what he wants to say.
So he hides a non-answer behind flirting, because that's the easiest thing he can do. This is something he doesn't know the answer to, not yet. He knows he can't keep them here, not really. But he's not sure if he can leave. Damnit.
"Would I get a repeat of what you just did?" he asks, giving the Doctor a half-hearted leer.
"Oh, I don't know," the Doctor says, his expression oddly knowing. He wonders if the Time Lord knows that he can't answer the question. "I seem to remember telling you that you had to buy me a drink first."
He lets himself smile. "There's a Thresher's down the street. Would a six-pack do you?"
"Only one way to find out," the Doctor replies. "Thing is, that doesn't really answer the question, now does it? Buying drinks and snogs… No, wait. That's not buying a snog. Or is it? Would a drink be considered a bribe? Rose? Is that considered a bribe in human culture? Because there is this species – Hervalllunallians – look a bit like a mixture of an elephant and a tiger, actually – who believe that holding someone's hand is a bribe. Or was it a proposition? I really can't remember. Anyway, as I was saying before I distracted myself, that doesn't answer the question."
It's really amazing how much useless babble can pour out of this Doctor's mouth. "Guess it doesn't," he says, looking away from them both. "Thing is, I don't know what I want to do. Or even if I should do whatever it is that I want. I've got duties here, things that don't change just because I head off to have adventures in space and time." He turns his head and meets the Doctor's gaze.
"Can't you just, oh, do the same thing I'm doin' with UNIT?" Rose asks. "I'm sort of on retainer. They call us and we answer, simple as that. Couldn't you do the same?"
Of course UNIT's doing that for her. But, if he was in Bambera's shoes, he'd want to do everything he could to keep Rose within the fold. The addition of the Doctor was only a special bonus. He smiles sadly. "Doesn't work that way for Torchwood," he replies. "Mostly because, currently, I am Torchwood."
"I'm not sure I understand," Rose says. "What do you mean you're Torchwood?"
"I run it. Well, this branch of it. There is no-one else, not really. No-one has my experience or my knowledge. If I leave Torchwood behind, in the hands of my team, I don't know what'll happen. To them or to Cardiff."
"Can't UNIT sort it?" Rose doesn't understand, but she hasn't been around as long as he has.
He shakes his head. "Jurisdiction. Proves a bit of a problem, really. We're usually more than happy to let them sort the big stuff. It's the one-on-one things that we handle. They're too military-minded for a lot of it." He doesn't go into how, in many ways, that's a lie. He thinks that someone needs to hold Torchwood back. Then again, someone needed to hold him back for a long time as well.
"But you don't belong here, Jack. You're from the future. You know the future. I jus' don't understand why you'd have to stay," Rose replies, shaking her head.
"That's a point. A very, very, very good point. You know too much-" the Doctor begins.
He cuts the Time Lord off with a sharp shake of his head. "Same could be said for you, Doctor. But, from all indications, you lived on Earth for at least a decade. Day by day. Hour by hour. You lived here. I'm doing the same thing. Though, admittedly, I've been here a lot longer than that."
The Doctor looks suspicious. "How long have you been on Earth? In this time, that is."
"A century, give or take a few years," he replies and he catches Rose's wince out of the corner of his eye.
A frown crosses the Doctor's face as he makes a gesture towards the door. "That can't be right. A century? History must've been changed. No-one can survive that long without going native, without trying to use-" The Doctor curbs his words when he glances at Jack, seeing his frown.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," he grumbles. Oh, it's true, of course. That's always a danger. Stuck in a time before your own, knowing as much as you do about the future, the temptation's always there to change it. He knows, however, that even if he tries to change it, for the larger events, they'll still happen. The story might change, but the ending stays the same. He's seen it before, caused it before. But this time, he hasn't, he didn't.
Travelling with a Time Lord has taught him a few more things about time. It's fragile. It's constantly being rewritten. And he cannot reveal the future to these people. On days when he knew something terrible was going to happen, he locked himself in his office, a virtual hermit, until the event had passed and he could echo his co-workers' gasps of shock and amazement. It was hard, yes, but if he didn't do that, anything might happen. He has no desire to meet the Reapers that Time Agency training and various legends tell him about.
"I need to check something," the Doctor says and darts out of the door without another word.
Rose gives him a shrug, as if to say that she can't explain the Doctor's actions. Then again, who can?
Impossible, improbable and really, really, really not likely. Oh, the Doctor knows that he regularly defies those labels. Then again, so do his companions, but a century? A century locked in the same time, same place. Living the slow path because that's all Jack could've done. He might be giving Jack's influence on history more credit than he's due, but he has a hard time believing that things haven't changed.
But can he really say that? Since the War, time's been jumbled. Rewriting itself, sorting itself, to cover a universe where the Time Lords don't exist any more. He's rewritten history himself. Brought about Torchwood and, in turn, brought about a Cybermen and Dalek invasion. Admittedly, that's been sorted, but the truth remains.
It's Heisenberg in action. No-one can observe history first-hand without changing it. But Jack's been around for a century. A century! He barely realises when he reaches the console room. He's halfway to the console before he registers his location and, shaking his head, he all but rushes to the console. A few twists of a knob and a twist of that dial later, he's accessed the temporal database.
"Jack Harkness, Harkness, Harkness," he mutters to himself, tapping the Gallifreyan characters on the screen with his fingertip. The screen shifts at his command, rearranging shapes and information until he finds what he's been searching for. It's never wise to know one's future, he knows, but now he knows part of Jack's.
He carefully shuts down the system access, password-protecting the information just to be cautious. When he returns to the medical room, he notices that Rose is still trying to convince Jack that he has to stay here, on the TARDIS. But Jack's still resisting.
"I think I know what we can do," he announces. "Bit like a retainer, but more like a holiday. I'm sure Torchwood gives you holidays. Paid and the like. Think your people can last a week, or even two days, without you about?"
"Doctor, why're you-" Rose begins, but he cuts her off with a warning glance.
"What do you think, Jack?" he asks.
"I think they can survive a week without me," Jack replies. "But Rose's told me about the time you meant to bring her back in twelve hours that really turned into twelve months. Think you can make it back here in that rough timeline?"
The Doctor sighs. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"
"Nope!" Rose says, grinning.
"You are not helping," he tells her. "Thought you were supposed to be on my side. Isn't that in the Time Lord companion's contract? No cheek, no disagreeing and always on my side."
Rose shakes her head, though her eyes still dance with mirth. "Think you forgot the bit where companions are supposed to challenge you. Makes life interesting."
"Suppose it does," he agrees, turning back towards Jack. "Well?"
Jack frowns. "Would you be able to bring me back? One week, to the day?"
"Yup. One week to the day, promise." That's the least he can do. His mind drifts back to what he found in the database and he offers Jack a smile. "It's not a permanent solution, mind, but I'll tell you this. It won't always be like this. Popping in, taking you off for as long as you like before bringing you back one week later in this timeline. It's just for a bit, and then you can come home full-time."
Jack's gaze sharpens. "You know something, don't you?"
He smiles, trusting that he's reached the stage of textbook enigmatic. "I know lots of things, Jack."
"And you're not going to answer that question, are you?"
He just continues to smile.
Jack's lips turn upwards as he nods. "Well, guess there's no other choice, is there? Only way I'm going to get the best of both worlds. So, I suppose you'd say that that's a yes."
Rose practically throws herself into Jack's arms, planting an enthusiastic kiss on his lips before pulling away. "Good," she says, satisfied.
When Jack looks pointedly at him, he shrugs. "Already told you. Drink first. Snog, maybe."
Jack grins. "You always were a tough man to catch."
"But I'm still worth it," he replies. "If not more so, actually. Think I'm a bit foxier in this body. Don't you? – no, wait, don't answer that."
"See Jack?" Rose asks, grinning. "Still hasn't changed that. Still thinks he's so impressive."
"Only because I am," he says. "Only question is, does your week off start now? Or do you need to sort a few things first?"
Though Jack's smile doesn't fade, he pulls away from Rose and nods. "I should let them know I'm alive."
"Well, go on, then," he says. "Sooner you're gone, the sooner you're back and the sooner we can leave." He's already thinking of their first destination. He never did take Rose to Barcelona, did he? No, wait. Even better. Gralanis Major has a year-long festival every few hundred years to celebrate a comet's passing. Best party this side of the Milky Way, at least. Oh, yes. That'd be brilliant.
A proper holiday, really. And judging from looks of his companions, they all need it. "Oh, and, Jack?" he says, stopping his friend's progress towards the door. "A shower might be a good idea."
Jack turns and grins at him. "Only if you join me."
"Down, boy," he says dryly.
Jack gives him a half-hearted salute. "Might be a while," Jack warns.
"Time Lord," he replies with a smile. "Got all the time in the world."
Jack nods and disappears out the door. Once he hears Jack's footsteps recede, he turns towards Rose. He opens his mouth to ask her a question, but she steps forward and places a finger on his lips, curbing his words.
"I," she declares, "am going to take a shower. No need to suggest one."
He blinks as she drops her finger, turning the motion into a faint caress as she turns away. However, before she leaves, she turns towards him with a wicked grin across her face. "You are, of course, welcome to join me."
With those words she walks out the door and turns left, leaving him gaping in her wake. Did she-? She just-? Swallowing heavily, he straightens his jacket and walks – most definitely not runs, that would be undignified – out the door…
And turns left.
She leans against the solid strength of a building, trying to catch her breath. A holiday, he said. The party to end all parties, he said. No running, no hopping for their lives, no nothing. Just fun and dancing and a proper holiday from all the excitement of the past few days.
She should've known that that wouldn't last.
There was a coup planned for the height of the festival. Something about the comet heralding some sort of terrible change for the planet, she thinks. Really, after a time, the problems tend to blur together, but one thing never changes. There's defeating a bad guy, or saving the world but, most especially, there's running for their lives.
By the time she feels her breath coming back to her, she spots the Doctor and Jack running towards her. Their long coats trail behind them, almost cape-like. For an instant, the absurd image of the two in superhero outfits fills her mind, but she blinks it away. There're more important things to do.
As they get closer, the Doctor holds out his hand for hers and she catches it, easily joining them.
"All sorted?" she asks.
The Doctor shoots her a grin. "Oh, in a manner of speak-" His voice is cut off by the sound of a massive explosion.
"Why is it that something always has to blow up around you?" she asks between breaths.
"Doesn't always! Well, sometimes. Okay, a lot of time, but not always," the Doctor protests against her words. "Besides, this one wasn't my fault."
"No?" she asks.
"Nope. It was Jack's!"
"Blamin' him now, are we?" She shakes her head in amusement, hopping over a discarded banner.
"He's the one who tried to buy me that drink!" the Doctor says. "How was I to know that that sort of thing wasn't allowed in Galvanian society? Well, it is in the fifty-first century, but we've got some way to go before we get there. Getting arrested wasn't my fault."
She laughs. "Uh-huh. I believe you."
"Honest!" The TARDIS is looming ahead of them and she feels the Doctor slow slightly to dig out his key. "But it did have a bonus," he admits.
"I didn't get my kiss," Jack responds, piping up from the other side of the Doctor.
"Never would've found out about the alien influence otherwise," the Doctor says, ignoring Jack. They've reached the TARDIS and he's slipping the key into the slot.
"But I still didn't get my kiss," Jack repeats his earlier words.
"But I still had to save the two of you," she replies, laughing. "Never changes with you two. Can't take you anywhere. You just keep getting yourselves locked up at the drop of a coin."
The Doctor doesn't deign to answer, instead opening the doors and ushering them inside. "I've got it! Have I ever taken you to the Eye-"
"No," she says at the same time as Jack.
"What? The Eye of Orion is the most peaceful planet you've ever seen. No alien invasions, no revolutions and, most especially, no running for our lives need apply." The Doctor's using his best wounded-puppy expression, but she refuses to be swayed.
"That's what you said about Galvanis Major," she replies. "Let's just, I dunno, float about in the Vortex for a bit. I'm sure there's something we can do to entertain ourselves here." She doesn't miss Jack's comical leer.
"Oh, I know there's something I could do to entertain you," Jack says, reaching out to tug her towards him. "I think you still owe me a dance."
"Thought you were savin' that for the Doctor," she replies, grinning.
"There's plenty of me to go around," Jack says, tapping his chest with his free hand. "Besides, the Doctor still owes me a kiss."
"You never actually gave me that drink," the Doctor counters.
"That's because we got arrested. I don't think that-"
She just laughs, drowning out their banter with her mirth. The two men give her wounded looks as she guffaws, holding up her hand as she struggles to control herself. "Listen to you two! You're arguing like an old married couple. Why don't you jus' kiss and make up?"
Jack and the Doctor look at each other then at her with quizzical expressions on their faces. "Where's the fun in that?" the Doctor asks.
"He just likes pretending he's hard to get," Jack says, pointing an accusing finger at the Doctor. "But you know better, don't you, Rose?"
She surprises herself by flushing a bright red at the implication. "Jack…"
"I am hard to get," the Doctor agrees, strolling over to the two of them. "But not impossible."
The Doctor closes the distance between them and ducks his head, pressing his lips against hers in a soft, gentle kiss. Her free hand wraps around his torso, holding him close, even as her other is still gripped in Jack's.
She feels Jack's fingers begin to loosen, obviously intending to let her go. The Doctor breaks the kiss slowly, even as Jack releases her. However, before Jack can move away, he leans across her, brushing his lips swiftly over Jack's.
"Didn't you know, Jack?" the Doctor asks. "Patience is a virtue. Or so I've been told."