Jack turned slowly. Martha was standing in the doorway of the TARDIS, looking furious.
"How did you find me?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
"Triangulated the cell phone signal," she said briskly, crossing the grating toward him. "We were looking for the Doctor. Imagine my surprise when I let myself into the TARDIS and find you."
"I can explain," he said quickly.
"You'd better," she said firmly. "You can start by telling us where the Doctor is. I've been trying to get hold of him for weeks."
Jack pointed outside. "Did you happen to see those? He's dealing with them."
Martha crossed her arms over her chest. "Without his sonic screwdriver?"
Jack looked down at his hands; he had forgotten that he was still holding onto it. "Look. We've got bigger problems right now." He brushed past her, heading for the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" she cried, turning to follow.
"To stop those things!" He raced outside, Martha at his heels. They spotted Gwen out in the alley.
"Jack!" she sputtered, running up to him. "Where have you been? We've been worried about you!"
"No time," he said, marching back out onto the street. "We've got to find out what those things are. What are they doing?"
"We aren't getting any activity from them yet," said Gwen, falling into step beside him. "No readings. They're not doing anything -- they're just… hovering there."
Jack looked up. There were so many of them that they were blocking out the sun. There was no way he could deal with this himself, but he had to. He just had to.
"Jack! Jack!" John was running toward him. He looked terrified.
"Doctor!" cried Martha brightly. "Thank God you're–"
"Jack!" John stumbled up to him panting and threw his arms around him. "Where have you been? There are real live spaceships up there." He took a few steps back and stared at the sky. "Can you believe it? Actual aliens!"
"Doctor?" Martha blinked in confusion. "Are you all right?"
"I told you to stay inside," said Jack urgently, placing a hand on John's shoulder. "Come on. We're working on it. Let's go back inside."
John looked confused. "Who's we?" Then, he seemed to see Gwen and Martha for the first time. "Oh, hello! Do you work with Jack? I'm John Smith, I'm, er, a friend of Jack's."
Gwen reached out to shake John's hand. "I'm Gwen Cooper. It's nice to meet you. Jack's told me a bit about you."
"Oh, has he then? Brilliant." He beamed, apparently not seeing the glare Gwen shot Jack over his shoulder. "And you are?" He looked at Martha expectantly.
"I don't believe you," Martha hissed at Jack. "This is the nice bloke you met on holiday?"
John raised an eyebrow.
"This is Martha Jones," said Jack firmly. "I used to work with her."
John smiled. "How do you do? You look familiar. Have we met before?"
Martha shook John's hand. "No, I don't think so," she said, clearly struggling to keep her composure. "Maybe I just have one of those faces."
"We should go inside," said John. "These things." He pointed to the sky. "I don't want to be out here when they start doing… whatever it is that they're going to do." He grabbed Jack's hand and practically dragged him back toward the building. Gwen and Martha followed them, talking to each other in hushed tones.
"Nice place you've got here," said Gwen, as John let them into the flat. "It's wonderful that they keep these old buildings in such good repair." The expression on her face did not match the polite small talk she was making with John.
"Can I get you ladies some tea?" asked John.
"Tea would be lovely," said Martha quickly.
"Do you need some help?" Gwen asked, following John into the kitchen. As soon as they were out of earshot, Martha whirled on Jack.
"Start explaining," she said. "Now."
Jack held up his hands defensively. "It's not how it looks."
"Oh?" said Martha. "Because I think it looks rather bad."
"I ran into him a couple weeks ago," Jack continued. "At the seaside. We spent a lot of time together -- I was just keeping an eye on him, while he's... you know."
"It didn't look like you were just keeping an eye on him."
Jack winced. "Yeah, listen, I can really explain. He's a different man -- you should see him! He's so alive, he's–"
"I know how it is, Jack." She looked at him seriously. "I've been there, remember. You can't just..." She shook her head. "You know he's not supposed to be like this."
Jack looked down at his feet and put his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he admitted. His hand closed around the watch and he withdrew it.
"We've got to find the watch," Martha was saying. "We've got to bring him back. It was nice of you to keep an eye on him, but–" Her eyes were drawn to Jack's hand. He unclenched his fist. "No," she whispered. She looked up at him, in shock. "You didn't."
Jack closed his eyes.
"Jack, you can't have." She sounded close to tears. "Do you know what you did?"
"Of course I do," he hissed.
"And when were you planning to let him change back?" She put her hands on her hips when he didn't answer. "The world needs the Doctor more than you need a shag," she said coldly.
"I did it to make him happy. He deserves to be happy."
"He's not happy," said Martha gently. "Not like this. It's not his real life."
Jack looked away from her. "It feels real."
"But it's not," said Martha softly, placing a hand on Jack's arm. "He doesn't exist. John Smith isn't real."
Suddenly, the sound of breaking ceramic startled them. John and Gwen were standing in the doorway. John had dropped the two mugs of tea he had been holding. "Jack," he whispered, his voice shaking.
Jack ran to him and pulled him into his arms. "Come on," he said, leading him over to the couch. "Sit down."
"Jack," said Martha warningly. "You'd better do it now."
"Do what now?" asked John nervously, looking at her. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing," said Jack gently, brushing his hair back and kissing him on the forehead.
"Come on, Jack," said Gwen. "We're in a bit over our heads here."
"What's she going on about?" asked John irritably. "You can't just come waltzing into our flat and–"
"Jack, there are things out there, and we don't know what they are, but we need the Doctor." Martha's voice was desperate now.
"The Doctor," whispered John. "The Doctor." He looked at Jack. "That's the man in my dreams, Jack. The Doctor."
Jack put an arm around John's shoulders. "I know. It's okay. He's just a dream."
"Jack," said Martha. "Come on!"
"Is this a dream?" asked John. He buried his head in his hands. "Oh, Jack, I'm going mad."
"No," said Jack fiercely, pulling him into his arms. "This is real, John."
"Don't lie to him, Jack," said Gwen gently. "You know what you have to do."
Jack lifted the watch up and looked at it.
"It's real, isn't it?" John murmured into Jack's chest. "My dreams, they're real."
Gwen and Martha exchanged glances. "I think we'll step outside," said Gwen quickly. "And check on the… the ships. Maybe they're getting something back at the Hub."
Jack watched them go and waited for the door to shut before he said anything.
"The man in my dreams is real," said John, pulling back. It wasn't a question. He ran a hand through his hair. "This Doctor, he's the real me."
Jack didn't say anything. He looked down at the watch in his hands.
"And you knew," said John. "You knew I was this man -- you called me Doctor when we first met, I remember -- and you didn't say anything."
Jack looked up. "I'm sorry, I–"
"No, don't be sorry," said John slowly. "You knew I was this terrible man, and yet you still… you still…"
"You're not terrible," said Jack, kissing him on the temple. "You're not." He hugged him tight. "You are not terrible. Not the Doctor, not John Smith."
"John Smith doesn't exist." His eyes were full of tears. "I've known that for a while, I think, but I couldn't let it go, because I had you."
Jack was silent.
"What's happening out there -- would the Doctor be able to stop it?"
Jack paused and then nodded.
John reached over and plucked the watch from Jack's hands. "He comes back if I open this watch."
Jack nodded again.
"And I'll be erased."
"You'd let me do that?" John held up the watch, examining it, seeming to see it for the first time. His voice was shaking.
"Do you want me to?" He looked seriously at Jack. There was a crash outside and he jumped. He asked the question again, not even trying to fight his tears. "Do you want me to change back?"
"No." Jack shook his head. John threw his arms around him
"I love you," John breathed into his ear. "I love you and this man… the Doctor, he doesn't. He left you behind." He took a deep breath. "And you'd let me switch back?"
Jack nodded. "The world needs the Doctor," he murmured, swallowing hard.
John pulled back. He surveyed the flat, his gaze falling first on the mess of papers for the proof he'd never finish, on all the simple, mundane possessions of the ordinary human life that he'd never really had. He reached out and took Jack's hand in his, entwining their fingers. "Hold my hand?" he asked, turning to look Jack in the eyes. "Until it's over?"
"Of course," Jack whispered back.
John nodded. He leaned forward and kissed Jack fiercely, tangling his fingers in his hair. When they broke apart, he took Jack's hand with his left and picked up the watch with his right.
"Thank you," he whispered to Jack. Jack blinked back tears. "These past weeks have been everything to me. I love you."
Jack leaned forward to brush his lips against John's one last time. "I love you, too," he murmured.
"What's going to happen?" John asked nervously, thumbing the watch. "Is it going to hurt?"
"I don't know," said Jack honestly. "But I'm here."
John nodded. He took a deep breath and popped the watch open.
The next thing Jack knew, he was lying alone on the couch. He sat bolt upright, kicking off the afghan that was covering him. John… the Doctor was gone. The watch was lying open on the coffee table. Absently, he shut it and stuck it back in his pocket.
Jack struggled to remember the last thing that had happened -- he remembered John opening the watch, but nothing after that. Had the Doctor done something to him? So he wouldn't have to deal with me, he realized.
Shakily, he got to his feet, grabbed his coat from the back of the door and shrugged it on. There was no noise coming from outside. He opened the kitchen window and looked out. The ships were gone from the sky; several hours must have passed. The sun was setting. It was hard to believe it had all happened so quickly.
"Jack!" He jumped. Gwen was standing in the street below, looking up at him. "Are you okay?"
He took a deep breath. He definitely didn't feel okay. "Sure," he called. "You want me down there?"
"It could help, yeah."
When Jack got outside, Martha had joined Gwen. "It was really nothing," she was saying. "It was just a big understanding." She laughed nervously. "They… they do these sort of Olympics, this was all set-up for it, they didn't realize anyone lived here. We just… went up there and told them, me and the Doctor." She was eyeing Jack apprehensively, as if expecting him to break down any second.
Jack closed his eyes. He felt glad that it hadn't been a serious threat, but to some degree, he felt disappointed that such a (relatively) minor incident had been the reason he'd lost John. "So he's okay?" he asked her finally.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
Jack's head snapped around. The Doctor was leaning casually against the side of the TARDIS, his hands in his pockets. He'd changed his clothes, Jack noted.
Jack shrugged. "Who knows? Your Time Lord technology -- way beyond me."
"I'm going to go call Rhys," said Gwen quickly. "Let him know I'm all right."
"Me too," said Martha. "I mean, I'll be calling Tom, but…" She looked at Gwen and the two of them hurried off.
Jack didn't look at the Doctor's face.
"Funny thing, Time Lord technology," said the Doctor casually. "It's very thorough."
"So I noticed."
The Doctor grinned. "I know." He tapped his chest. "I had one heart -- and I saw you, you kept checking." He laughed.
Jack felt his ears burn. "Can I go now?" he asked irritably. He had braced himself for anger, he had braced himself for coldness, but he hadn't expected the Doctor to laugh at him.
"No," said the Doctor. "As a matter of fact, you can't go. Because we need to talk." He pushed off from the side of the TARDIS and went around to open the doors. "I'm sure you'll begrudge me that, considering we've been doing a lot more than talking lately." He pulled the door open and went inside.
Jack didn't move. The Doctor strode over to him and placed a finger under his chin, turning his head to face him. "Talk," he said, letting the word drop between them. "You and me. In the TARDIS. Or in a restaurant. Or on Barcelona, for all I care, but we. Have. To talk."
"Okay." Jack yanked the Doctor's hand away from his face. "Get off me."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "How quickly they change," he observed. He stepped into the TARDIS. Jack followed.
"I don't need this from you now," said Jack.
The Doctor turned, his coat snapping and went to fool with the controls on the console, casually stepping over the mess Jack had made earlier. "And what is it you want from me now, Jack? Maybe another snog?"
"I'm going," said Jack, turning. The doors slammed. Jack whipped around again. "What the hell are you doing?" he barked.
"Making you talk." The Doctor leaned over the console, giving Jack quite a view.
"Take me back," Jack ordered.
"Martha and Gwen–"
"Know where we are," said the Doctor, clearly quite pleased with his own cleverness.
Jack ran an exasperated hand through his hair. "If I ask you where you're taking me, will you tell me?"
The Doctor turned to look at Jack and grinned, slamming his hand down on the final button to make the TARDIS dematerialize. "Nope!"
Jack sighed and sank down onto the grating. This was going to be a long night.