"Hey! What took you so long?" Ianto greeted Jack and Tosh as they returned to the crime scene. The relief on his face was plain to see - Jack knew he had hated being left behind, and he had obviously been worried.
Jack walked over to put a hand on Ianto's shoulder. "Just needed some time to take care of everything, that's all. No major trouble. Piece of cake, really."
"And what happened to Gwen and your 'Doctor Smith'?" Owen asked, the suspicion so heavy in his voice that Jack could practically hear the quote marks around the last two words.
"They stayed behind to deal with some unfinished business," Jack said vaguely. The truth was, he only had an educated guess himself. "I'm sure they'll show up soon enough."
"The most important thing is," Tosh added, "The case is solved now. There won't be any more deaths."
"What exactly happened, then?" Owen asked, still sounding dubious.
"We met the Ood!" the answer came in the Doctor's cheerful voice. Jack turned to see both him and Gwen approaching them. The Doctor looked absolutely exhilarated, but Gwen's expression was somewhat subdued.
"Met them, talked to them like civilised people, and now I'm going to take them home," the Doctor explained.
"So, everything's in order, and you're leaving again," Jack stated. It wasn't a question, because he already knew it to be true. He could see that glint in the Doctor's eyes, the enthusiasm for new adventures which were already waiting for him, somewhere out there, among the stars.
"Yes, but we'll meet again soon enough," the Doctor said. "At least most of us. You have a good team, Captain Jack Harkness. Take good care of them." He gave Jack a serious look, which Jack couldn't quite interpret - until he remembered that the Doctor had said he hadn't been supposed to meet the Torchwood team yet. Maybe that was what he meant. Jack would have to take care of them, in more than one way.
"I will," Jack answered both the verbal question and the unspoken one.
"Well, then." The Doctor turned towards Gwen, and shook her hand. "Gwen Cooper. Thank you for your assistance." He looked at the rest of the team, and smiled. "Thank you, too, and adios." He waved his hand, and turned to leave.
"Not so fast!" Owen suddenly shouted. "Hold it right there. Turn around, slowly."
Jack was baffled to see Owen pointing a pistol at the Doctor, who spun around quickly, but froze and raised his hands when he saw the gun. "All right, let's just stay calm, everybody," he said.
While everyone else stared, dumbstruck, Jack's first thought was to leap forwards, to place himself between the pistol and the Doctor. Before he had moved as much as an inch, Owen cast him a sharp look and shook his head, the gun unwavering in his hand.
"No, you don't, Jack. None of that human shield business. You as much as twitch, and I'll shoot. I'm pretty sure you're not faster than a speeding bullet. Do you really want to give it a try? You know I'm a bit unbalanced these days. Hell, I've always been unbalanced. I will shoot. You know I will."
Jack raised his hands as well, and stayed still. "Okay, no sudden moves."
"Owen, are you out of your mind?" Gwen cried out. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I just want some proper answers."
"Great, ask away," the Doctor said. "Just put the gun down, first. You really don't need that. I'm much more talkative when people aren't making death threats at me."
"I don't think so. I don't know what you've done to everyone else, but you're not fooling me."
"I must be fooling myself, too, then, because I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Owen," Jack growled in a low voice. "You better have a really good explanation for this."
"As a matter of fact, I do, Jack. Look me in the eye, and tell me, honestly, that this man - this alien - is not the being known as the Doctor. You can't do that, can you?"
Oh, damn, that was what this was about. Jack should've guessed as much. "He's the Doctor, all right, but the rest of what you might think is plain wrong. I know what our files say, but they've got nothing to do with the truth. He's a good man. More than that, he's a good friend of mine."
"He's not like you think, Owen," Tosh said.
"It's true. He's not the enemy, he's one of the good guys," Gwen added.
"Like I'm going to believe you!" Owen snapped. "Gwen, you tell me, why did you stay behind with him? What did you really do?"
Gwen made a face. "Oh, you're not going to believe me, anyway."
"Just tell me the truth!"
"All right. Don't say I didn't warn you. We went back in time, so I could knock him out in the past - the past him, I mean, so he'd have to stick around to help us and the Ood. I also left him a few notes so he'd be able to figure out that we should go back in time to do this."
"What?" Owen said incredulously.
"The carambola juice. The reason you found me unconscious," the Doctor said. "That was our doing. I did it to myself. Well, she did it to my past self, because I asked her to."
Owen just stared at him, shaking his head.
"The thing is, the Doctor went through all this trouble just to help those Ood," Gwen said. "While all you're doing is proving to him that Torchwood is every bit as bad as he claimed earlier."
As they spoke, with Owen all dumbfounded and completely engrossed in the conversation, Jack slowly, stealthily inched closer to him, and finally, before he could react, stepped in front of him and the muzzle of the gun.
Jack placed a hand on Owen's forearm, and locked his eyes with Owen's. "Believe me, you don't want to shoot him. He's saved the Earth countless times, as well as more alien planets than you can name, during a stretch of history longer than you can even begin to imagine. I'd die a thousand horrible deaths to protect him. And this is no mind control talking, this is plain ol' Cap'n Jack Harkness. You can see and hear that, can't you? Put the gun down, Owen."
Owen let Jack take the pistol away from him, and lowered his trembling hand, his shoulders hunching.
"But I don't get it," he muttered, shaking his head, looking at a loss and slightly horrified, as the idea that he had been about to make a colossal mistake began to sink in. "I thought - his file..."
"An old misunderstanding," the Doctor said softly.
"All the way back from the time when the Torchwood Institute was founded," Jack said. "I've been trying to change it, but the long history makes it damn difficult. I'm really sorry for this, Doctor. Hardly the send-off I wanted you to have."
"It's all right, no need to apologise," the Doctor said, an unreadable look on his face. "You did nothing wrong, and he's not exactly himself these days, is he?" he nodded towards Owen. "Now, I really think I should go. Until next time."
The Doctor turned and walked away. No happy smile or hand-waving this time, let alone hugs. He didn't as much as look back once, just disappeared round the corner.
"Okay," Jack told his team. "Time to go home."
They walked to the SUV in a heavy silence. Jack couldn't help feeling disappointed, not so much in Owen as in himself. He should've seen that coming, should've done something to prevent it - but it was too late, now. All he could do was take care of the rest of what needed to be done, as best he could. Once they were back at the Hub, he would have to retcon everyone. The Doctor had said they shouldn't have met him yet, and Jack would see to that. As for Owen, since retcon wasn't going to work on him, he was in for a long and very, very serious talk.
"We are very sorry for the trouble we caused," the first Ood with a translator device said.
"Yes, we apologise, and we thank you, most deeply and sincerely," the second one added.
The two Ood who couldn't speak in human words simply stood next to their brothers, raised their hands and joined the song ringing in the air all through the planet. They let the rest of their kind know that they had survived through this terrible ordeal, and were back home and all right now, thanks to the Doctor.
"Wasn't your fault," the Doctor said. "If there's anyone who can't be blamed for anything, that's you. I'm so sorry I couldn't save all of you."
He made his goodbyes, and returned to the TARDIS. Closing the door shut out the serene hymn of the free, content Ood-kind, which was just about right, because he didn't feel very serene himself, let alone content, even though his mission was complete now.
He'd taken some serious risks to rescue these Ood, foolhardy, even, messing around with his own timeline like that. He wondered if he would've done it for any random aliens stranded on Earth. He didn't think so. It wasn't just that the Ood were unique with their song and their strange biology. What made them truly special were the memories.
He'd first met the Ood with Rose, although he had failed them that time. The second time he'd met them had been with Donna, and the two of them had become their saviours. Oh, Donna. The Doctor-Donna, of whom the Ood would sing to their children. More than anything else, he had helped them because of her. So that even though she couldn't remember any of this herself, those who cherished her memory would go on.
He leaned on the door behind him and drew a deep breath. He was always lonely, but there were times when it felt overwhelming.
He didn't feel accomplished, he felt blank. Even in Cardiff, among those people Jack Harkness considered his closest friends, the Doctor had been unwelcome, a stranger, an outsider. He didn't blame them for anything. Owen Harper was dead, after all. No wonder he had acted irrationally. Everyone else had mostly been nice to the Doctor, really helpful, but of course they had, because Jack had made it clear to them that they should be.
Sure, things would have been different had he landed in Cardiff in 2009 instead, like he had been planning to. Everyone would have known him then, might even have praised him for saving their world. Maybe he should go there now, visit Jack and Ianto and Gwen, although Owen and Toshiko would no longer be there. Or he could always go to Martha, even Mickey - sure, he did have friends, but there were so many sad and dark memories associated with all those people that it would never be just a happy reunion. Besides, how many times had he already put his friends in harm's way, without meaning to? In the end, wasn't it better for everyone if he just stayed alone?
He shook his head and stood up straight again. Oh, there was no sense in moping around like this. He needed to move on. He had plenty of rift energy now, enough to send him to the farthest reaches of the universe. Keep on running.
Before setting forth towards all-new adventures, he decided he'd better figure out what had gone wrong earlier. Why had he ended up in early 2008 instead of 2009, in the first place? He brought up the log on the screen. As he went through it, he realised there was something very strange about the readings, something he hadn't noticed before, since he hadn't really looked. Only one thing in the universe could create an energy signature like that. That was no accident, nor a mistake. This mission wasn't quite finished, yet, after all.
He reached for the temporal stabiliser with his right hand, and hit the reverse polarity dial with the toes of his left foot. The TARDIS rattled and rumbled and shook as his motions sent her into a reverse loop-the-loop in the time vortex, going around and skimming her earlier trajectory, knocking the TARDIS from the past ever so slightly off the planned course.
Once the TARDIS had stilled again, just floating in the vortex in free flight, the Doctor leaned back and grinned smugly. There, all done. The pattern was complete. He had come full circle. The end at the beginning. Perfect!
Author's Endnote: And that's it, my first Whofic, all finished. Thanks for reading. :) Now, since this was a first attempt, what do you think - were the characters anywhere near the mark, did the dialogue work, did the plot make any sense at all? And most importantly, should I write more Doctor Who and/or Torchwood, or just keep my hands off the Whoniverse and go back to where I came from (Iron Man, mostly)? I'd really appreciate any feedback.