TITLE: A Cosmic Joke
AUTHOR: Erin Giles
RATING: PG
DISCLAIMER: Torchwood & Doctor Who are property of the BBC.
SPOILERS: CHILDREN OF EARTH
CHARACTERS: The Doctor, Jack
WORDS: 1000
SUMMARY: "A Doctor and a Captain walk into a bar... I'm still waiting on the punch line."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks as always to my wonderful beta Sam who recently made me some banners that read "Erin Giles, injuring Ianto so you don't have to." She knows me far too well. :)



"A Doctor and a Captain walk into a bar," Jack drawls as he watches the be-suited man approaching him in the mirror behind the bar. Jack's slouched over the bar, both elbows keeping him in place as he stares past the reflection of his dejected self.

"The Captain wonders if this is some kind of joke," Jack slurs before he picks up the glass that holds the remainder of the umpteenth drink that was supposed to console him but can never amount to anything more than an increase in blind stupidity and melancholy negligence.

"I'm still waiting on the punch line," Jack whispers as he slams the empty glass back down on the bar surface, indicating to the bartender to bring him another one.

The Doctor doesn't say anything at first, just sits himself down on the barstool beside Jack, shaking his head when the bartender asks him what his poison is.

"I'm sorry, Jack," the Doctor says quietly, hands clasped in front of him on the bar, staring into the mirror at the top of Jack's head.

"So am I," Jack replies, not looking at the Doctor as he nurses a new glass between his hands. The Doctor sighs, he doesn't have anything to say to that. And he thinks, even though Jack is wrong – beyond wrong – maybe now is the time to extend the olive branch, to face up to what Jack is, the only one of his kind, alone in a universe of death and destruction.

He can still see Gwen Cooper, six months pregnant, chasing him down Queen Street in Cardiff, a rotund man following behind, bellowing at the top of his lungs. When he had finally paused to let her catch up, there were tears in her eyes when she asked, with hope, if he'd seen Jack. He had heard the whole sorry tale in a small coffee shop in Cardiff, complete with tears.

"I understand now," Jack says eventually when that drink is gone too. "I understand why you run away. Because it's easier than getting attached and staying to see what's left behind, knowing that you were a part of that destruction." Jack's hoarse voice is barely above a whisper as he continues to stare at the glass before him as if it holds all the answers to life's problems.

"I can't run far enough away though, not on this planet." Jack sounds broken, as broken as Gwen Cooper had described him to be. The tipping point had been the death of another loved one. The point of no return had been the death of his grandson. This is the moment - the Doctor's opening to invite Jack to come with him, to travel with him to far flung places, go on adventures and possibly laugh again someday as they run for their lives through fields of poppies. But he doesn't; there is only room for one broken man on that spaceship of his.

"You need to go say goodbye first," the Doctor says sadly, flinching slightly when Jack's head shoots up and turns to look at the Doctor for the first time. Jack Harkness has always had that youthful boyish appearance about him, but today he looks every one of his immortal years, and then some.

"After what I did? After what happened?" Jack asks, an incredulous tone to his voice.

"She still loves you, still believes in you, even if you don't," the Doctor replies sadly, a hand coming up to squeeze Jack's shoulder as tears well in the Captain's eyes.

He doesn't tell Jack not to run, he's not that much of a hypocrite, but he knows deep down, running doesn't solve the problem. It just puts a physical distance between you and the ones you love; between you and the hurt.

"Say goodbye, while you still have time to." Those words don't help, but the Doctor can see they strike a chord as Jack's eyes flash with conflicting emotions and he swallows a sob. The Doctor knows what it's like to lose, to be the only one left standing at the end of it all, that's why he's done attaching himself. He suspects Jack is now too, suspects Jack is barely holding all the pieces of himself together now, but Gwen Cooper is his last link to this planet, and if he leaves without saying goodbye he knows he'll mourn it.

"Take me back," Jack suddenly whispers urgently, his unfocused gaze staring the Doctor in the eye, tears twinkling in the stormy depths.

"Jack," the Doctor warns, because he knows what Jack means by those words.

"Just take me back, not to stop it, but just, just to say-" Jack's sentence hangs in the air, dripping with the guilt of unsaid words and the Doctor sighs. He knows Jack Harkness loves freely and openly, but he only gives his heart to a select few.

"You know I can't, Jack," the Doctor says softly, sorrowfully. He wishes, just this once, he could break the rules, wishes he could have met this man that made Captain Jack Harkness turn his back on the adventure of the universe. Maybe, one day, he would take a trip – just to observe you understand, just to see this man that held such power over Jack. Although he knows as well as the next person that he'll get involved somehow and mess up timelines and most probably cause a paradox, so he thinks he'll save that particular trip for a rainy day.

"I know," Jack says resignedly, turning back to face the bar again and slurping on his drink.

"A Doctor and a Captain walk into a bar. Neither of them deserve the title they've been given; they're not heroes that walk among men, they're not even men, and there is no punch line because the cosmic joke that is their lives never ends. So they run to the end of the universe and never look back," The Doctor says softly before he gets up from the barstool and leaves Jack to his grief.

He has no doubt that he'll cross paths with the infamous Captain Jack Harkness again someday and the Doctor hopes that Jack retains even a fraction of that spark he once had. The Doctor glances back as he reaches the door of the bar, hoping to catch a glimpse of that Harkness smile. All he sees is the reflection of himself, slumped and defeated at the end of battle, although won for now, ultimately lost.