Title: Present Arms
Warnings: HUGE spoilers for CoE. Huge.
Disclaimer: I didn't make the 'verse. I'm just playing in it for a while.
Notes: This story takes place post-COE, and after my other fic, Pass In Review, but it can be read as a stand-alone. Eventually, Jack had to be found...
Jack Harkness had been broken.
At least, that was the going word. The Doctor refused to believe it, no matter how often it managed to reach him- especially accompanied as it was, by considerable blame and anger- until he saw it for himself.
It occurred to him, sometime along the way, that going in search of the vanished captain may have been the first honestly brave thing he'd done. Any past heroics had been in his nature, but this… This went entirely against. His instincts were screaming at him to run- far, fast, and in the opposite direction.
Which was a decent form of detection, really.
He found Jack at the last functional dock- and that was being kind to the place- in the galaxy, right at the very edge. And he had broken, he really had. He didn't do it like anyone else, of course- wasn't curled up in a corner, hadn't crawled into a bottle, didn't look to have been harming himself. Looked the same as the Doctor had seen him look hundreds of times: stripped to his undershirt, braces hanging down, sweaty hair threatening to fall into his eyes as he worked.
He'd gotten himself a ship, which made a bit of sense because Jack was, before he was a lot of other things, a pilot. But it was obvious that the thing hadn't been flown. Modified, repaired, maybe even built from scratch-but never let out of dock. That was how the Doctor knew.
Jack Harkness had done more than break. He'd grounded himself.
What was less clear was why it had happened, why now. Oh, he knew what had gone on with the 456, the greedy, stupidly-named bastards that they were. But Jack had seen plenty of death before that- caused plenty of it before that, too, in fact.
Jack had seen the very bloody end of the universe.
Maybe he'd finally seen too much.
But no, the Doctor decided, that assumption was doing a disservice to the young man Jack was grieving; it wouldn't do to think of him as just one more death, even if that death was the breaking point. All though, saying so might shake Jack up enough to… well, to do something.
"Are you going to keep creeping around, or are you going to speak to me?"
The Doctor pulled his gaze from Jack's ship to Jack himself. "Sorry. Going to creep around some more." He made a show of pacing back and forth a bit. "Haven't been here in ages, you know."
"Not being there is becoming a pattern for you," Jack answered- and that wasn't right at all, really.
Yeah, the remark itself was probably deserved, especially from Jack's perspective, but the Doctor expected a flash more temper. He'd never heard Jack talk like that, in that quiet, flat, utterly tired voice. Like Jack had been extinguished.
"Why come now?" he continued in the same tone.
The Doctor shrugged. "Maybe I wanted to see you-" and at the skeptical- aha! A bit of emotion!- look Jack turned on him, he added, "What? Curiosity, you know."
"Sure." Jack wiped his hands on a rag and rummaged through a toolkit for a moment before coming up with a screwdriver. He moved around to the ship's wing, apparently with every intention of continuing what he'd been doing.
Fact was, though, the Doctor was curious about a few things, and there was no delicate way of asking. Not that he'd ever had much use for delicacy. "You're angry with me," he started, "because I didn't save the day, or some such."
That brought Jack up short. He turned back around, but his expression was still… Nothing. Muted. "No, Doctor," he said, "I'm angry that you came here expecting me to beg."
And that cut, it really did, but it might have been accurate. He did figure Jack would ask him to go back, undo what had happened, even though they both knew he wouldn't. They also both knew he was capable of it, so… "Won't you?"
Jack shook his head. "I've done enough of deciding fate for others, haven't I? And what right did I ever have?" He looked down at the screwdriver he was holding, seeming to remember his task. "So I'm done."
Well. That explained it. After altering the course of countless lives, he wasn't even going to try altering his own. It was an interesting form of penance, that, but… it suited Jack. He did have a bit of a self-sacrificing streak.
The captain spoke again, and his voice was laced with more than a little accusation- which was something, "Did you only find me so you could tell me I had to go on like this? Lecture me about timelines, and the course of history? Tell me there was no other way than-" He clamped his lips together and didn't finish.
The Doctor shrugged. "I was planning on it being more of a pep talk, honestly."
"Don't turn my back on the universe? Still so much to live for? All of that?" Jack laughed, half-bitterly. "No need. Save your breath." He used his screwdriver to pop off the plating on one of the ship's wings, then scrambled up to get a better look at the circuitry within. "I've got work to do."
"I can see that, yeah." The Doctor reached up to touch the ship's side, but his hand was batted away before he could get it close enough.
"It isn't finished," Jack said.
That didn't give away much, of course, except that it was important. That Jack kept working on it… that gave him purpose. But what for? The Doctor let his hand fall back to his side, considering. He knew it was custom, among Jack's people, to burn the dead, and in plenty of cultures that sort of thing was done at sea, and this could have been some sort of equivalent- a funeral ship for Ianto Jones.
"Where will you scatter the ashes, then?"
Jack looked up, and there was a flicker of… something… in his eyes. "That's done," he said. "We… his family… Gwen… me… we're the ashes of his life. And I said my proper goodbyes."
"Is that why you came so far, then?" The Doctor asked.
"No." Jack almost-almost!-smiled. "I came here because I needed a ship."
"Because," Jack said, as if it was simple. "There are so many things out there that need doing. Things he would have wanted me to do. And I need a way to get there."
And finally, the Doctor understood. Jack Harkness was broken, and would be grounded until he pulled himself together again.
But he was building.