Author's Note: This story insisted on being written. After I wrote my drabble, Stranger, I started wondering what happened next. This story was the result. I have never written so much so quickly. It is not part of my OT3 Changes!verse series, and is darker than those stories. My thanks to Canaan Alexander for the beta, and to Yamx for support and advice, for putting up with my obsessive word counts, and for letting me use her creation, choree stew (comfort food of the Boeshane Peninsula). Additional notes are at the end of the story.

Jack darts a look over his shoulder. He's not being followed. He's used every trick he learnt in the Time Agency — and a few he invented himself — to make sure of that. Hurriedly, he picks the lock and slips inside the closet. The blue glow of the utility light is just bright enough to show him where he can sit without knocking over stacks of air filters, deactivated mop-bots and cylinders of cleaning solution.

He settles down in a position that won't cramp his legs. It'll be hours before he dares to venture outside, but if someone finds him, he has to be ready to make a sudden run for it.

Jack is reasonably sure that he's made himself unfindable. While his faulty vortex manipulator will no longer teleport him through time and space, the technology inside it — sophisticated even by 51st century standards — can be adapted to other purposes. Right now it's masking his body heat and other bio-signs. It helps that he had access to the even more sophisticated tools in the TARDIS.

The TARDIS. Jack allows himself a quiet sigh. It makes his current situation much easier, knowing that Rose is in the TARDIS. She'll be safe there. The Doctor will see to it.

He hears noises outside and freezes. Footsteps, about two metres away, and coming closer to his refuge. He doesn't move, doesn't breathe. He prays to gods he no longer believes in that his jury-rigged equipment is really concealing his thunderous heartbeat. Jack forces himself to analyse what he's hearing. Two humans wearing the heavy boots favoured by spaceport maintenance. The shuffle-click of clawed feet: probably one of the Squerri workers. The hum and rattle of a wheeled luggage cart. Ordinary, nonthreatening sounds, but his pursuer is very clever. He might convince spaceport personnel to help him look for me.

Only when the footsteps fade away does Jack allow himself to breathe, to relax his taut muscles. He shoves his shaking hands into the pockets of his coat, even though there's no one to see him.

There are things inside the closet that could serve as weapons: tools that can strike or stab, ropes that can throttle, cleaning solvents that can steal the breath and blind the eyes. Jack barely glances at them. He doesn't want to injure an innocent spaceport worker, and if his pursuer finds his hiding place, none of those things will help him.

Jack tries to put himself into a light alpha trance, but he can't summon up the calming focus images that always worked for him in the past. Memories, old and new, of brushes with death swirl through his mind: failed missions, cons gone wrong, betrayals, torture, booby-traps, and monsters of all kinds. And now he's being hunted by an adversary far more dangerous and powerful than any he ever faced as a Time Agent or a con man.

Two hours go by. Three. In another twenty minutes he can run for the safety of the off-world shuttle. Well, not 'run' in the literal sense. Running attracts the wrong kind of attention, he hears his Escape and Evasion instructor drone. (Odd, that one of the most exciting classes at the Time Agency Academy was taught by the most tedious lecturer.) Jack shifts into a low crouch and begins to flex his leg and arm muscles. Once he leaves this closet he can't afford to be slowed down by aches and cramps.

There's no warning. One moment he hears a shrill buzzing, and the next, the door to his refuge is flung open. Startled, Jack loses his balance and topples down onto his knees, splayed hands braced against the tile floor. He looks up and sees exactly what he feared.

His pursuer stares down at him, the blue utility light reflected in his dark eyes like a lingering ghost of his former self. "Really, Jack, this is getting tiresome. Didn't the last two times teach you anything?" Without waiting for a reply, he adds, "Come along. Rose is waiting tea for us."

"Yes, Doctor," Jack says tonelessly. He lurches into a standing position, then pauses to stretch. The Time Lord has already turned away and is striding down the concourse without a single backwards glance. Jack hurries after him.

Tea time is horrendous. By the time the Doctor returns with Jack, the toasted cheese is cold and the meat pies are soggy. Jack broods, hardly saying anything at all. As if trying to compensate for Jack's silence, the Doctor natters even more than usual. Rose forces herself to smile and chat, but as soon as she can, she excuses herself from the blokes and hurries off to visit her garden.

The Chinese garden is one of the most peaceful spots in the TARDIS. Rose sits on a stone bench in the small, open-sided pagoda, letting her gaze drift across the patterned grey tiles, clusters of slender green bamboo, and stone-edged pool. Beneath the lily pads in the pool, she can glimpse red-gold carp swimming in lazy circles.

She likes this place 'cos it's quiet and private. She found it a few weeks before the nightmare on the Game Station. She'd been looking for somewhere she could be alone, and she stumbled across this garden. It's a good spot to sit and think.

God knows she's got a lot to think about. The past two months have been the strangest she's known since she first stepped through the TARDIS door, starting with the deadly game shows, the Dalek attack, and the Doctor's regeneration. The last was hardest to accept. She doesn't remember much about the moment of regeneration, even though she witnessed it. Her memory is blurry, the Doctor told her, because tiny human minds are not meant to contain Vortex energy.

She does remember what happened afterwards.

The new Doctor babbles at her, then at Jack when he returns to the TARDIS, and then collapses. She's still half-convinced that the brown-eyed stranger must be a shape-shifter or body-stealer, but Jack calms her by explaining what little he knows about regeneration. Together they drag the unconscious Doctor towards the medbay.

They place the Doctor on one of the beds. While Jack tries to figure out how to reset the diagnostic scanner for a Time Lord, the Time Lord in question wakes up long enough to grab the scanner and use it on himself, babble about visiting London for Christmas, and request a cup of tea.

While Jack persuades the Doctor to remain in the medbay, Rose goes to make tea. When she returns, the Doctor drains his tea in one long gulp, mumbles his thanks, and falls back to sleep, long fingers still curled around the handle of the mug.

He sleeps for three days. At first, Rose wants to wake him, but Jack convinces her to leave the Time Lord be. Some species, he says, are capable of accelerated healing in a trance-like state. If a Time Lord can nearly die and change his whole body, a healing trance is probably no more than a party trick for him.

They both sleep in the medbay, but take turns keeping watch. Rose is alone — Jack is taking a quick shower — when their patient wakes up. "Doctor?" she says hesitantly.

"Yup! That's me!" he says, grinning.

"Are you . . . all right?"

"That's a tricky question," he replies, suddenly frowning. "I haven't had a chance yet to find out who I am. It's a dicey thing, regeneration. Never quite know what I'm going to get." Rose watches in silent amazement as the new Doctor pats his head, touches his ears and chin and nose, comments approvingly on his hair and teeth, and gets very excited about a mole that he claims is between his shoulder blades. "What do you think, Rose?"

She hesitates. "I'm still getting used to your new look, Doctor." It isn't just his looks that have changed. How he talks, how he moves — there seems to be nothing left of the Doctor she met in the basement of Henrik's.

He nods. "So am I. Did I tell you I've done this nine times? Always takes a while to settle into a new body." He prattles on happily about his previous bodies for a good ten minutes. His fourth self had a wonderful nose, but unfortunate teeth. His fifth self possessed splendid knees. Suddenly he falls silent, smile vanishing as though it had never been there.

Jack walks in, sporting clean clothes and damp hair. "Rose, that was wonderful. You should— Doctor! All done with your nap?"

The Doctor flinches, and takes two steps backwards. "I thought I was hallucinating," he mutters. "Regeneration sickness can cause that, sometimes. Oh, Rose, what did you do?" he asks, but he isn't looking at her, he's staring at Jack, and his face screws up like he's smelling something nasty. "Jack, you're wrong. You're so very wrong."

Jack is very pale, but his voice is steady as he asks, "What do you mean, Doctor?"

The Doctor tells him. Immortal. Impossible. An immutable Fact. "You may outlive the Universe," he says, and Rose can tell from his expression that this would be a very, very bad thing.

Jack looks as though he wants to say something, but can't remember the words. He glances at Rose, then goes back to staring at the Doctor. His face is almost completely white.

"I'm sorry," the Doctor says. "I'm so sorry." He takes a step forward. Rose thinks he's going to Jack, to give him the comforting he needs; instead, the Doctor rushes out of the room, looking as though he's going to puke, and stepping sideways to avoid touching Jack as he passes him.

Rose wants to run after the Doctor and give him a piece of her mind, but Jack needs her. She wraps her arms around her friend and holds him tightly until he stops shaking and she stops weeping.

Later, she takes him to her garden. She's been keeping it as her own personal retreat, but it's calm, and they both need calm. And it's private, and she needs a private place to talk to Jack. To apologise. Not that any words can make up for what she did to Jack, but she's got to say them.

Jack listens to her stumbling speech. Her heart sinks when he shakes his head, but then he says, "Rose, it's not your fault." He lays a finger across her lips to silence any protests. "I'm still pretty confused about all this, but that's one thing I'm sure of: it's not your fault. I was dead. Now I'm alive again, and that means I get to do this." He removes his finger from her lips and kisses her.

It's a long kiss, intense and yet somehow gentle. She's been kissed by Jack before. He gives kisses as readily as some of her male friends back in London give hugs. She's had his we-made-it-out-alive! kiss. This isn't it. She's had let's-take-this-to-bed kisses from other blokes, and this isn't that, either. She can't label it with words, but it doesn't need words. By the time they pull apart she knows without doubt that Jack does not blame her, and she feels a sudden spill of hot tears on her cheeks.

Jack grins at her. "I must be out of practise. My kisses don't usually make beautiful women cry."

You could practise with me, she thinks, and is glad for the tears that disguise her flustered blush.

It's getting better — and worse. The Doctor doesn't flee the room when Jack comes in, doesn't flinch or pull a face. He's making an effort to control his reactions, but it's obvious that he needs to make an effort. "I'm sorry, Jack. I can't help it," he says, looking in Jack's general direction, but not meeting his eyes. "I'm a Time Lord. It's instinct. It's in my gut."

You could at least find a better way to say it, Rose thinks. The Doctor's bluntness is getting on her nerves, and she's not the one it's aimed at.

"Fine," Jack snaps, "I'm wrong and impossible and you can't stand to look at me." He pauses for only a moment. "New Scotia would do. Or Ishmad IV. Or Chandikor, any time after the 32nd century."

"No." Just that one word, flat and unemotional.

Rose shivers. She doesn't want Jack to go, either, but there's something about the Doctor's voice . . .

"Eruvai, or the Tanyiki Spiral. Or anywhere with a decent spaceport."

"No. I can't have you running loose out there, Jack." The Doctor's hands spread wide to indicate the entirety of the Universe.

"What the hell does that mean? You're going to keep me prisoner in the TARDIS for the rest of time?"

Rose is still learning to read this new Doctor's face. She isn't sure of everything she sees, but something cold is flickering in those dark eyes.

"Course not. But I'm a Time Lord. My TARDIS created your condition. It's my responsibility to keep an eye on you."

Jack's jaw tightens. "Just what are you afraid I'm going to do?"

The Doctor throws up his hands. "It's not what you do, Jack, it's what you are. You've got a bit of the most powerful force in the cosmos stuck inside a human body, and that should never happen. You seem to be stable right now, but I can't be certain how long that will last. If something goes wrong when you're three galaxies and ten millennia away from the TARDIS, I might not arrive until it's too late to help."

"You don't know that anything will go wrong," Jack says, "and you definitely don't know if you'll be able to help."

The last word is tinged with such acid that Rose winces. I know he's being a prat, Jack, but you're just making things worse.

"And don't bother to give me a superphone like Rose's," Jack adds. "No offence, Doctor, but if I run into trouble, I'll deal with it on my own."

"First of all, Captain, you're not going anywhere, and if you were foolish enough to try, I'd find you," the Doctor says. "I will always be able to find you, anywhere in time and space."

Without a word, Jack turns on his heel and stalks out of the console room, vanishing in the depths of the TARDIS.

Rose's indignation explodes into words. "How could you?" He may be the same person in some complicated biological way that she doesn't understand, but this man in front of her is not her Doctor. "How could you say that to Jack?"

"You think I'm being too hard on him? Do you know what the High Council of Time Lords would have done with Jack if they were still around?" he demands. He doesn't wait for her reply. "They would have taken a vote on the only two options: whether to destroy him immediately or send him to the Council's laboratory for experimentation first." His voice follows her out the door. "Rose? Where are you going? Rose!"

She manages to get halfway to the garden before the tears begin to fall.

They don't understand. How can they? Clever as they both are, they're human. They haven't got a time sense. Even Jack, with his Time Agency training, can't understand the intricacies of the Vortex and the Web of Time.

He can. He's a Time Lord, and this whole bloody disaster is his fault. Course, Rose should have known better than to mess about with the TARDIS, but he should have realised that she might do something mad and impetuous. Let him die, let the TARDIS quietly moulder away — nope, not Rose Tyler. He should have known she'd do something drastic. He just never would have imagined she'd do that. Or what the consequences would be for poor Jack.

Jack. He's a mess and a half, he is, and no mistake. There's nothing that can be done for him. The Doctor told Rose the truth when he said the Time Lords would have destroyed such an abomination. No use mincing words — that's what they would have called him.

It didn't help to have Rose reacting as though he'd announced his intention to extract every vestige of the Time Vortex from Jack, then reduce his dead body to its component atoms. She ought to know better. Regeneration hasn't changed him that much.

That drastic solution isn't an option now, even if he wanted it. It would take the full power of the Time Lords and the Eye of Harmony to accomplish such a thing, and Gallifrey is gone.

Gallifrey is gone. The Time Lords are gone. He knows that, has (mostly) accepted that. He hadn't realised until now the full significance of that. I am the last Time Lord. He was Time's Champion once. Now he's got to be Time's Protector. There's no one else who can do it. Just him. He's the only one left, so it's his task, his burden. He's got to be careful; got to make the difficult decisions, even if they seem harsh to those who can't understand, even if they hurt others and break his own hearts.

Jack, uncontrolled, is a danger to the Web of Time. Almost certainly. Probably. How can he know? The most brilliant minds at the Academy never anticipated this event, not even in theory. Jack's a good bloke. He'd never do anything harmful on purpose, but what if the power within him changes him?

No, it's clearly unacceptable to let Jack Harkness loose. He's got to stay close at hand, under proper supervision. Perhaps later on the Doctor can consider relaxing his hold, but not now. Jack was a Time Agent. He'll understand. He must do. And even if he doesn't understand, I'll do what circumstances require.

The next morning, Rose is the first to approach him. No surprise there. Her compassionate nature is part of what makes her so special. "'S not fair what you're doing to Jack."

"I'm not doing anything to Jack," he replies.

Hands braced on hips, she shakes her head at him. "You're keeping him a prisoner."

Patience, he reminds himself. "He's no more a prisoner than you or me. He's not locked up." Not bound to one time, one planet. Not battering his wings against the bars of a cage. "Blimey, most people consider it a privilege to travel in the TARDIS. Do you know, I've been offered a fortune just for one single trip? There was a Kerekh Prince—"

She cuts him off mid-sentence. "If I said I wanted to go home, would you take me?"

Oh, Rose! He's not ready to lose her. Not so soon. "Is that what you really want?" he asks with a calmness he doesn't feel.

She doesn't answer his question. "Would you? If I asked?"

"Course I'd take you home. Promised your mum, didn't I?"

"But you wouldn't take Jack home." It's not a question, it's an accusation.

"Jack's never struck me as a settling down sort of bloke," the Doctor says. "He likes to be on the move, see new places—"

A male voice interrupts. "He likes to have a choice." Jack walks in. He's looking calmer than the night before, but no happier.

"Welllll . . . that's not possible right now. I'm sorry, Jack. Maybe later, when I'm sure that there's no danger. You can wait a bit, can't you?"

"Not too long," Jack says with obvious reluctance.

"Not too long," the Doctor agrees. Possibly in a few centuries. That's a blink of an eye for him. "Sooo . . . where shall we go now? Jack? Rose? Any suggestions?"

The first time Jack runs, it's almost by accident. Three weeks after the Game Station, and life aboard the TARDIS has returned to something resembling normal. They're shopping in the Grand Bazaar of Nepisi. Rose has purchased an armload of flower-silk sarongs from a cart in the open street, and she's wild to try them on. The TARDIS is less than a kilometre away, but the route passes through a rather unsavoury neighbourhood.

The Doctor is still haggling over the price of a used transducer cell in better-than-average condition. He diverts his attention from the bargaining just long enough to catch Jack's eye. A silent understanding passes between them, and for that brief moment it's just like the old days. Jack will escort Rose back to the TARDIS, then return to help search for repair components.

Jack's heading back to the Bazaar when he glances down one of the zigzag alleyways that the locals call "spirit-catchers" because evil spirits can only travel in straight lines. In the distance, he sees one of the blinking yellow lanterns that identify a tavern on this world. In this neighbourhood, it'll be little more than a sleazy dive. That suits him just fine.

He walks in and gives the place a swift once-over. Two dozen burly men scattered around the dark room turn to stare at the newcomer. Jack keeps his hands in his pockets and gives them a tight-lipped smile. Recognising a fellow predator, they turn back to their exactly warm and welcoming, but that suits him, too. He tosses a coin onto the counter. "Trassig."

Out of habit, as Jack drinks, he listens to the fragments of conversation that drift past him. Most are just the usual bits of backstreet gossip, bawdy humour, and illicit business dealings that thrive in places like this. One bit catches his ear: there's a spacer coming by tonight to hire deckhands for an outbound freighter. It's unskilled, backbreaking work, but it's a way to get off-planet. Once they break orbit, Jack can probably get a better berth, either with his engineering skills or with his other talents. Suddenly, this dirty little hole seems a whole lot brighter.

A few more coins buy him a pitcher of trassig and the right to drink it in a private room in the back of the tavern. It has a "serpent-eye" — a circular two-way mirror that looks out on the main room. Jack suspects the back rooms are used for illegal gambling at night, but by that time he intends to be very far away.

The pitcher is half-empty when Jack sees movement through the clouded surface of the serpent-eye. The jackals in the outer room stare hungrily at the new arrival, assessing his wealth, status, strength, willingness to fight, and a hundred other details. The newcomer doesn't flee the jackals or challenge them — he ignores them. He scans the room, his face expressionless.

Jack knows what he's seeing. The entire back wall of the tavern is made of metre-wide wood panels, each decorated with smoke-tinted round mirrors. All of the panels look identical, but five of them are actually doors with serpent-eyes leading into private rooms like the one where he sits.

The newcomer makes his way across the room. He's silent, his hands are empty, and his face is locked in "neutral", but the back-alley toughs stumble over each other in their hurry to get out of his way. Without pause or hesitation, he walks directly to Jack's door and pushes it open. "Captain."


"If you've finished your drink, we can head back to the TARDIS now," the Time Lord says. His tone is casual, even pleasant, but Jack can hear the command beneath the invitation.

He downs another cup of trassig, then gets to his feet. Silently, he follows the Doctor out of the tavern. Not until the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling of his room in the TARDIS, does it occurs to him to wonder if he could have chosen to do something else.

Jack makes appreciative noises when she models the pink and lavender sarong for the blokes, but he's wearing his con man smile, the one that doesn't touch his eyes. She's not stupid. The Doctor came back to the TARDIS without Jack, went out immediately, and returned with him, wearing a sour expression that he didn't change quickly enough. She can guess what happened. As soon as she can do it without being obvious, she gets Jack alone, leading him to her garden. "Are you okay?""

"Me? I'm doing great. The Doc's just a little pissy because I stopped off for a drink, that's all." She gives him Jackie Tyler's patented what-kind-of-idiot-do-you-take-me-for? look, and he drops the act. "I'm fine, Rose. Really. Our Lord and Master isn't happy with me, but that's the status quo these days."

"What did he say?"

"He gave me the 'don't wander off' speech. You know the one."

She doesn't want to ask, but she has to know. "You were going to do what — just leave? Without even saying goodbye?" She hates to see the sadness on his face, but at least it's what he's honestly feeling.

"Oh, Rose . . ." He strokes her cheek with the tip of one finger. "I wish I could stay with you, I really do. But he's going to drive me nuts before too long."

"Is it really that bad, being here?" A terrible thought strikes her. "He's not, dunno, getting all stroppy with you when I'm not around? 'Cos if he is, I'll—"

"My defender," he says wryly.


"Sorry. No, nothing like that. He's very . . . polite."

She winces. Oh, Jack! They're sitting on the bench inside the pagoda. Instinctively, she places an arm around his shoulders, and he leans in against her, burying his face in her hair. Jack is a man who needs to touch and be touched. He talks like everything physical is about sex, but he doesn't mean it. He used to touch the Doctor — friendly pat on the shoulder, slap on the back — but now he keeps his distance.

He sits up straight and gently turns her so they're face to face. "Rose, I have to get away, and I will, just as soon as I figure out a few details. I won't tell you when and where. I don't want the Doctor to blame you—"

"He wouldn't." She's sure of that much.

"—or pressure you to tell him where I've gone, even though you could out-stubborn him any day of the week." His eyes, so serious and intense, suddenly crinkle with amusement. "I won't be able to say goodbye before I leave, so let me say it now." He cups her face in his hands. "Goodbye, Rose. I will always be glad that I met you." He leans in slowly and kisses her.

Kissing Rose Tyler is a pleasure, and like any pleasure, it's worth lingering over. Jack takes his time. He breathes in the scent of her: warm skin and apricot shampoo, and the salty tang of sweat. Her lips taste of tea and honey, and they open to him at once, inviting him deeper.

He doesn't hesitate to accept. He would have kissed Rose long before — kissed her properly, not just friendly pecks — if she'd been willing. And if he hadn't worried about getting in the Doctor's way. There's no doubt of Rose's willingness now, not the way her arms are wrapped around him, pulling him closer. As for the Doctor — Jack no longer gives a damn what the Time Lord thinks. If he wanted Rose, he'd have made a move before now. Deliberately, he pushes all thought of the Time Lord out of his mind and concentrates on Rose. She deserves my full attention.

When they pull apart, Rose is bright-eyed and breathless. "You should say goodbye more often, Jack."

"Every day," he promises. He'd like to do much more than kiss, but it wouldn't be fair to Rose. Her culture has some odd notions about short-term sexual relationships, and he's determined to leave as soon as possible.

Two weeks later . . .

"You're still planning to leave?" Rose asks. "I thought— well, things are getting better. What about when we caught the bird-lizard-thingy? That was fun. Just like the old days, yeah?"

"Just like the old days," he echoes.

It was fun and satisfying to track down the "winged monster" haunting the Hrufan forest, who turned out to be a stranded avianoid from Eta Zeta IV. The forest air was cool and sweet, dappled here and there with patches of mist. The three of them ran almost soundlessly on the spongy moss-covered ground.

At the end, when the Zetan had been located and her ship repaired, they grinned at each other in perfect accord. Rose hugged each man in turn. The Doctor turned to Jack. For once, the Time Lord's body language seemed relaxed around him. "Well done, Captain! That was a clever trick, rerouting the secondary launch sequencer."

Jack's grin broadened. "Thanks, Doc." Slipping into old habits, he reached out an hand and patted the Doctor's forearm. The Time Lord stiffened slightly, but he didn't pull away. Jack stuck his hands in his pockets. It's a start, I guess. "I had to do something similar once on Gran Opularis, only there was an ion storm moving in and four hundred angry Xori warriors wanting to burn me at the stake—"

They wandered back towards the Hrufan village. The Doctor grinned and shook his head and Rose burst out laughing at Jack's only slightly embroidered account of his adventure.

But when the excitement was over and they were sitting at the celebration feast in their honour, he could feel the weight of the Doctor's gaze on him: watching, assessing, judging. He swallowed his resentment along with a glass of Hrufan wine. And another. And another.

In the midst of the sweets course, Rose was dragged off, laughing, to dance with the Chieftain's wives. The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at Jack. "We were so busy before, I forgot to do this."

'This' was a simple molecular scan. The Doctor insisted on taking a daily reading so that he could monitor any changes in Jack's bio-signs. Jack had never objected before. It was a quick, noninvasive procedure. There was no practical reason not to do it on the spot, and none of the Hrufan villagers would understand the device or its purpose.

A minute ago I was a hero; now I'm a fucking lab rat. Jack focused his bleary eyes on the Doctor. "Can't keep me forever, you know," he hissed. "If nothing else, I'm going to outlive you."

The Doctor didn't reply, but the long, speculative look he gave Jack sobered him faster than a bucket of ice water.

It hurts so much, the tension in the air. She can feel it, even when both blokes aren't there. What makes it even worse is that it's her fault. No matter what Jack says, it's all her fault. If she hadn't opened up the heart of the TARDIS, none of this would have happened. The Doctor would have figured out some other way to stop the Daleks. He wouldn't have regenerated — died — saving her from her own stupidity, and Jack would still be a normal, mortal man.

Or he'd be dead. On Teivis, Jack shoved her out of the way just in time to get a poisoned arrow in his chest. The Doctor held her tightly and let her muffle her sobs against his pinstriped jacket, so she never saw the exact moment Jack revived. She felt the Doctor stiffen a split second before she heard Jack's loud, hoarse gasp.

A few minutes later, there was no proof that anything unusual had happened, other than the hole in Jack's bloodstained t-shirt. Jack made a feeble joke about having a hangover without enjoying a "night before". Only she couldn't help notice that it was the Doctor who looked like he was going to be sick.

The second time Jack runs, he plans it carefully. He has a hiding place that no one knows about. (What you don't know, you can't betray.) He has two different routes to the spaceport in the high desert, three different ships that are willing to take him on, and four backup plans. In his coat pocket, he has a spray canister of a substance that will put most oxygen breathers out for an hour. It should work on a Time Lord. And since it's absorbed through the skin, respiratory bypass is no protection.

When he walks into the delivery bay of Cray-Tech Spacelines, he sees a large crate marked Caution! Extremely hazardous! Sitting on top of the crate is an extremely annoyed Time Lord. "You're late," the Doctor snaps. "I was beginning to worry."

Jack chokes back an impulse to laugh. The Oncoming Storm, playing mother hen. "Thank you for your concern," he says in a smooth tone that doesn't quite disguise his bitterness, "but as you can see, I'm fine." He slips his hands in his pockets and surreptitiously touches the canister of knock-out spray.

The Doctor holds out one hand. "Give that to me." His voice hardens. "Now, please."

Carefully, Jack removes the canister from his pocket. It's not too late to use it. The Doctor may have better-than-human reflexes, but Jack can still press a button faster than the Time Lord can cross two metres of sun-softened tarmac. Still, he hesitates. How the hell does he know what I've got?

The Doctor answers his unspoken question. "I know everything that goes on in my TARDIS." He continues to hold out his hand. "You don't want to use that, Jack."

Anger bubbles up in him. "What I want, Doctor, is my freedom."

The Doctor's voice is weary. "We don't always get what we want, Captain."

Jack feels a flash of fear, and he's not sure why. Then he looks into eyes that are dark and full of ancient pain, and he understands. That isn't the Oncoming Storm sitting there, but the Destroyer of Worlds. He's pitting his will against that of a being who wiped out his own species for the good of the Universe. Slowly, and following proper protocol for surrendering a weapon, he holds out the canister.

The Doctor takes it and nods stiffly. "Thank you." Then in one smooth motion, he points the nozzle at himself and presses the button. A fine mist engulfs his head, leaving clear droplets on his face. He smiles. "Blimey, that feels good." His smile broadens at Jack's horrified reaction. "What? Oh, this? It's distilled water. You don't think I'd let you go wandering about with a Class Five anaesthetic, do you? Someone might get hurt." He slips off the crate with the careless grace of a child jumping off a swing. "Back to the TARDIS, now."

As Jack follows behind the Doctor, he feels something deep inside him begin to crack.

He may be a genius, but he's also an idiot. He bungled it with Jack — bungled it badly. It seemed like a brilliant plan when he first conceived of it: the ambush, replacing the anaesthetic with water. The idea was to convince Jack that escape is impossible, that the Doctor will always be three steps ahead of him. The sooner he accepts that and settles down, he'll be happier. All of them will be happier, and the Universe will be safer.

Unfortunately, his little drama seems to have accomplished the exact opposite. Jack is more determined than ever to run away. The Doctor sighs. This means he can't ease up on the lad, can't let him see the part of himself that sympathises, that knows the pain of being trapped. If he does, Jack will continue to hope for what he can't have.

I don't want to fight him. I don't want surrender, just cooperation; but it looks as though I can't get one without the other. He has to make Jack give in, and he has to do it soon. If the struggle goes on for too long, it's likely to end with Jack broken in mind and will.

That night, Jack lies in bed, counting the hexagonal tiles in the ceiling. He seems to need less sleep since the Game Station, but he can usually count on a few hours. Eventually, he gives it up as a lost cause. His chrono says it's two in the morning, ship's time. He'll go to the garden. Rose won't be there, but maybe sitting in that tranquil place will help quiet his mind.

The garden is wrapped in shadows, and the artificial sky is dusted with stars. To his surprise, a figure in a pink robe is standing beside the fish pool. Rose whirls around, eyes wide. "Jack!" She lets out a long, slow breath. "I thought you were the Doctor."

"Does he come here often?"

"Never, only I s'posed you'd be asleep after—" She falters.

After I made a fool of myself. "After my busy day?" he asks, and gets a nod in return. "I'm just not feeling sleepy."

"Yeah, me too." By unspoken consent they settle on the bench in the pagoda. Rose seems to sense that he doesn't want to talk, but her hand finds his and their fingers intertwine. They sit in silence until she whispers, "I'm going to miss you."

He smiles at the sentiment, and at her faith in him. "You can't miss me until I get out of here."

"You will," Rose says promptly. "But I wonder if—"


She hesitates. "If you should wait just a bit longer. See, I think once the Doctor has a chance to get used to the idea of you being the way you are, he'd stop worrying about stuff happening. But every time you . . . leave, he gets all worked up again."

Rose looks hopeful, and he hates like hell to disappoint her, but he won't lie to her. "I'm sorry. I really can't stay."

She takes a deep breath. "A'right. In that case, you owe me a goodbye kiss, mister."

"I always pay my debts," he assures her, then takes her in his arms and proves it.

Sometimes she thinks about going back to Earth. Back to London and her mum's flat. Sometimes she thinks she'd die of boredom if she returned to an ordinary job and beans on toast; sometimes she thinks it would save her sanity.

The life they lead is still mad and brilliant and important. They see galaxies being born, overthrow tyrants, save princesses from dragons and dragons from princesses, break out of jail, break into jail, eat blue pizza, and dance with purple lizards. That's all wonderful, and who wouldn't love it?

Only . . . some things are different now. The Doctor is more distant, more alien. He used to remind her ten times a day that he was a Time Lord and a genius and all, but then he'd grin and join in the fun. Now there's a part of him that pulls back, and there's a sadness beneath the grin.

She used to fancy him. She thought he fancied her, too, and if he could get past seeing her as too young and too alien that he might . . . it was worth hoping. Part of her still fancies him, perhaps even more in this new body. He still cares about her, but not in the same way. She can tell. Oh, he smiles at her, and his face lights up when he tells her to run, but he hugs her like a bloke hugs his sister.

Maybe it's just as well. Part of her is angry at him for the way he's treating Jack. That's another reason she wants to stay: she can't leave Jack alone with the Doctor. Not yet. Course, it will happen someday. She'll get tired of the travelling, or get too old for running for her life, or her luck will run out.

Meanwhile, she'll try to do as her first Doctor taught her and live each day to the full. She'll try to accept the new Doctor, even when he hides behind his Time Lord mask. And at least once a day she'll claim a goodbye kiss from Jack.

The fourth time Jack runs, he dies. It's an accident. Probably. He's pelting at top speed across the rough terrain on the outskirts of Xa'apetil City. The shuttleport isn't far, and freedom is in sight. He'd feel deliriously happy except for the minor detail that there's a gorge ahead of him and a relentless Time Lord behind him.

Being a practical people, the Xa'apetili have built a footbridge over the gorge. Being an artistic people, they placed it at a bend in the stream with a lovely view of Mount Akkaan. The pathway Jack is on approaches the gorge, turns sharply left, and parallels the stream for fifty metres. If he keeps to the path, the extra distance will give the Doctor a chance to catch him. Jack is very fast (and very motivated), but the Time Lord's two hearts give him a decided advantage.

If Jack continues straight . . . the gorge is only seven metres across. He's done longer jumps than that. In training, a tiny voice reminds him. With an anti-grav safety field beneath you. He doesn't dare turn his head, but the pounding of trainers on gravel is getting louder. He keeps heading towards the gorge, and at what he judges to be the right moment he pushes off and leaps. His arms are extended, his hands already reaching out to grab the stunted shrubs on the far side. The thin branches slip through his grasp, slicing gashes in his palms, but he doesn't have the time or breath to curse at the pain because the rocky stream fifteen metres below is rushing up to meet him. There's a split second of pain, and then only darkness.

He lifts Jack's lifeless body and lays it atop one of the larger boulders at the edge of the stream. Jack will still be soaking wet when he revives, but at least he won't actually be under water. He might drown. Now, there's a gruesome thought. Under the right — wrong — circumstances, his companion might get caught in a cycle of reviving and dying, over and over.

Jack's head is tilted at an impossible angle. As best as the Doctor can tell, the three lower cervical vertebrae are crushed, and the others are badly fractured. The spinal cord is severed in two separate places. It will take a while for that much damage to repair itself. He settles himself on another rock, then rises and crosses back to Jack's resting place. He straightens Jack's head and brushes clumps of sodden hair out of his sightless eyes.

The Doctor returns to his own boulder. He studies the strata of the gorge walls, and estimates how long it's taken the stream to cut its way down to this level. He thinks about erosion, and why it's a more powerful force than flooding. He thinks about bridges. Sur le Pont d'Avignon. Bridge Over Troubled Water. London Bridge is Falling Down. Jack Harkness is Falling Down. "Jack." He says the name out loud, and it is a curse, an endearment, a prayer. "Jack. Jack-Jack-Jack. Jack, this has gone on long enough. More than long enough. Come on, there's a good fellow. Wake up."

This is not the first time he's seen Jack die. That was on Teivis. Watching his companion get shot with a crossbow felt as though the bolt had pierced his own hearts. Jack's revival was even more painful. It felt as though someone had taken his time sense and crumpled it into— No, that doesn't describe it. Even in Gallifreyan, there are no words to describe it. If he had to explain the experience to another Time Lord — There are no other Time Lords. There never were. — he could only say, "It was worse than the Untempered Schism." The Schism showed the wild, uncontrolled power of the Vortex. Though it was chaotic and terrifying, it was natural. Jack was anything but.

The Doctor stands up again. Calculating the trajectory, he jumps to another rock, halfway between his boulder and Jack's. Another. And another. He'd rather run, but that's not an option right now.

There have been two other deaths since Teivis, not counting this fall. One was from a pulse blaster, courtesy of the Palace Guard on Na'rahr. (Rose was safely locked in a dungeon cell, and didn't see.) The other was from a compact laser deluxe at point blank range, in the TARDIS, on the very same night he told Jack Harkness that he would not let him go.

Jack Harkness comes back to life with a gasp and a jolt that feels like his central nervous system is short-circuiting. He's reminded of an old Earth vid that Rose once showed him about a scientist who assembled a synthetic human, then used power from an electrical storm to animate it. The creature went on a mad rampage of destruction until it was itself destroyed. Is that what the Doctor sees when he looks at me? A monster that should never be?

He sits up slowly, wincing at the aches in every part of him. His shattered bones and torn muscles may have knit themselves back together, but lying on cold, wet stone is still damned uncomfortable. He looks down at the boulder he's sitting on. No way did he land on this thing. It's in the middle of the stream, and he fell just short of the far bank. That means—

"Chionis of Sparta," a familiar voice says, as if continuing a previous conversation.

"What?" Jack turns around so quickly that he almost falls off his boulder.

The Time Lord is sitting on another rock, his legs dangling off the edge. His brown suit is as drenched as Jack's clothing, but he looks as relaxed as if he's sitting on a comfy sofa. "Chionis of Sparta. One of the athletes in the . . . ummm, thirty-first Olympiad, 655 B.C. He set a record for the long jump. If you'd made it across, you would have broken his record."

"But instead, I broke my neck," Jack observes in the same casual way that he might say I ate some chips or I went to the pub.

The Doctor winces. "Yeah."

"Clumsy of me."

"Jack, I wish you'd try to—"

"Try to what, Doctor? Understand how difficult this is for you? Accept my fate, my place in the grand scheme of things? Be a good dog and trot at your heels? Learn to sit and roll over on command?" He lets out a mirthless laugh. "Hey, I already know one trick: I can play dead!"

The Doctor's eyes go wide. "That's hardly fair!"

"Fair? You're talking about fair?" The outrage burning inside him — pure and incandescent — warms his chilled body. "You've been treating me like a badly-trained pet. 'Come here, Jack.' 'Go there, Jack.' 'Stay put, Jack.' And it looks to me as though you're planning to make it a permanent arrangement. You've got no right!"

"Perhaps not," the Doctor says calmly, cocking his head to one side.

Jack frowns at him. It couldn't be that easy.

"I'm a Time Lord. When it comes to protecting the temporal integrity of the Universe, welllll . . . we can debate whether or not I've got the right, but I've got the responsibility." And the power. The unspoken words are the loudest of all.

"I understand that," Jack snaps back. "What I don't understand is how my immortality — my wrongness, if you insist — is a threat to space-time."

The Doctor's face goes blank. Utterly expressionless. What does Rose call it? Jack struggles to remember. Right. 'Hiding behind the Great Wall of Gallifrey'.

The Doctor gazes off to one side, as if looking at something that only he can see. He's silent for a long time. "Children of Gallifrey were taken from their families at the age of eight . . ."

The Doctor rarely mentions his lost world. He never discusses anything personal, or details of Time Lord society. Now Jack listens, astounded, to an account of the training of Time Lords. Looking into raw Vortex when they're just kids! I'm surprised more of them didn't go mad! Jack can see the exact moment when the Doctor knows he's made the connection. "But they were children—"

"They were Time Lords," the Doctor corrects, "bred for thousands of generations to perceive the workings of the Web of Time. And they were only looking at Vortex energy, they didn't have an unquenchable spark of it inside their bodies. You're human, Jack." He shakes his head.

Only human. "You think the Vortex energy inside me is going to drive me crazy," Jack says.

Another long silence. "I don't know. It could do." The Doctor snorts. "Yeah, that's right, there's something that the all-knowing Time Lord doesn't know. No one knows. You're not just unprecedented, Jack, you're inconceivable. Literally. I can't understand how you can possibly exist."

"Just lucky, I guess." Behind the flippancy, his mind is racing. This explains the covert glances, the open stares. The Doctor has been watching for signs of madness. The pragmatic side of Jack has to confess that he too might be concerned about an immortal madman with detailed knowledge of temporal technology.

"And I have to say, Jack, that I'm not reassured by this sort of thing." The Doctor's waving hand vaguely includes the gorge, the stream, and the boulder where Jack sits. "And, errr, other things."

The Time Lord's gaze is suddenly sharp and focused, and Jack understands he's not just talking about the other escape attempts. He knows. As the thought flashes through his mind, he remembers the cool, smooth feel of the gun in his hand, followed by a split-second of searing heat.

"What were you thinking?"

What's the right answer? Jack isn't sure he can lie to the Doctor. He settles for a shrug and a vague, "Guess I wasn't."

"Don't do it again," the Doctor says. "Please, Jack."

He sounds unhappy, Jack thinks. Before he can explore this unexpected reaction, a frightening thought is pushing all others from his mind. "Rose! What about Rose? She had Vortex energy inside her. You said it would have killed her—"

"It would have done," the Doctor says. "Killed me instead, but I got all of it out of her. And even though it was inside her, it never was part of her, the way it's part of you. She won't have any aftereffects. I promise."

Jack breathes a silent prayer of thanks. "So . . . how long do you figure it will take you to decide I'm not going nuts?"


"A month? A year? Five? A millennium?" Jack throws the last one out as a joke, but there's no answering smile from the Time Lord.

"Not nearly that long. A century or so should do it," the Doctor says in the cheerful tones of one who thinks he's offering reassurance.

A century! Jack comes from an era when most humans can easily expect to live past 100. Unless, of course, they're in high-risk occupations like Time Agent, con man, or companion to a Time Lord. I guess when I get to the Doctor's age, a century will seem like nothing. Right now he's still in his thirties, and a century is a damned long time.

As hard as that thought is to swallow, he's got a more pressing one on his mind. "So, Doctor," he says casually, as if the answer doesn't matter at all, "what will you do? You know, if you decide I'm losing it?"

"Oh, just tuck you away while I look for a solution."

"You have a locked cell somewhere inside the TARDIS?"

The Doctor frowns. "'Course not, Jack. That would be cruel. I'd have to put you in stasis."

Jack smiles inwardly. Stasis isn't reliable for more than a couple of centuries. Even if the Doctor doesn't release him, he'll get out — eventually.

"Under a temporal seal, that is," the Doctor continues.

Jack blinks. "A what?"

"A temporal seal. It's like a chocolate cream Easter egg, only the egg is a time-lock and the filling is a one picosecond time-loop. Oh, and it's spherical, not ovoid." the Doctor says earnestly, apparently pleased with his confectionery metaphor.

Jack focuses on the terms he recognises. A time-lock is a hollow shell of asynchronous time. It's an impenetrable barrier, but it won't prolong stasis. A time-loop causes the same piece of linear time to repeat over and over. In theory, a short enough loop will be the equivalent of no-time, but . . . "It's impossible to create a time-loop shorter than 18 seconds."

The Doctor's brows shoot up. "That what the Time Agency told you. Jack? It's possible. I've done it myself, more than once."

Jack doesn't see the Doctor's usual 'I'm so clever' grin, the one he wears when he's scored a point in their ongoing game of technological one-upmanship. If anything, the Time Lord looks sad. "Under laboratory conditions—" Jack begins.

"Not in a lab. On a planet. Several planets, actually."

"During the Time War?"

"Yeah." A long silence follows. Eventually the Doctor fixes his gaze on the far wall of the gorge. "There were planets that would have been useful to the Daleks because of mineral resources or strategic location, or a dozen other reasons. We had to deny them those worlds. One option was to blow up their suns. That was usually the easiest solution."

Stunned, Jack nods. Easiest. Blow up the sun. Right. Why do things the hard way?

"We tried to avoid that if the planet was inhabited." The Doctor sighs. "There wasn't— I couldn't—" Still staring straight ahead, he says quietly, "When possible, we put a temporal seal on the planet instead. Everything would be frozen in one infinitesimal moment of time. The inhabitants would be unaware of — well, of everything — until the seal was removed."

"And after the War?" Jack prompts.

"The War was time-locked," the Doctor replies.

"The entire War?" Jack is sure that he heard wrong. He doesn't know much about the Last Great Time War, but he knows that it was fought in every galaxy, across a span of a million years or more. To time-lock an event that huge would take more power than he can imagine and technology so advanced it would make the Time Agency drool. Then again, they're talking about the species that invented time travel.

The last surviving member of that species summons a not-quite-convincing smile. "So you see, Captain, the technique has been field-tested."

It takes Jack a moment to realise that the Doctor is actually trying to be comforting. If Jack does go mad and becomes a threat to the Universe, he can be safely locked away in a dreamless sleep until the end of Time. He won't suffer, won't be aware of his imprisonment.

Of course, it's also a threat. Typical of the Doctor to say something with two very different but equally true meanings. Right on cue, the Time Lord says mildly, "No more running off, Jack."

Jack can almost feel the cold bite of a chain around his neck. Don't give him a reason to shorten the lead, he tells himself. He gives his most charming smile. "I guess I could stick around for a while."

The Doctor studies him. "Your word on it?"

Jack stares back into those dark, knowing eyes. There's a lock on the chain, and he's being asked to snap it shut with his own hands. He gives a brusque nod. "Yeah. My word." There's a chill on the back of his neck that has nothing to do with wet clothes or cold stone. He shivers.

The Doctor looks at him with what he'd swear is real concern. "Right! Back to the TARDIS. You need to dry off and have a nice cuppa. Allons-y!" He jumps off his boulder and lands knee-deep in the stream.

Jack does the same. "How'd you get down here?"

The Doctor points upstream. "Emergency access ladder under the bridge." He moves at a brisk pace in that direction.

Jack hurries until he catches up and is wading beside the Doctor. "What's the rush?"

"The sooner we get back to the TARDIS, the sooner we can have some nice hot tea," the Doctor says brightly. "And I don't want Rose to worry."

Jack nods. What's Rose going to think? Will she be disappointed that he surrendered so easily? Or will she quietly pity him? He's not sure which would be worse. He tries to think pleasant thoughts about steaming showers and dry clothes and hot tea with brandy, but there's a cold, hollow place inside him that may never be warm again.

Rose jumps up from the captain's chair and paces the console room. She could be doing something else to distract herself — making tea, reading, watching the fish in her garden — but this is where she needs to be. Until the blokes come back.

Jack's escaped again. She's sure of it. The Doctor left after breakfast. He didn't say anything, other than to tell her to stay in the TARDIS, but his shoulders were stiff, and his face carefully blank. She doesn't want to upset him, in case he takes it out on Jack, so she's staying where she can see them both as soon as they walk through the door.

If they both come back. There's always a chance that Jack will get away, that he'll move faster than the Doctor can track him. She's not sure how she ought to feel about that. Jack's been so uneasy and resentful. He hates being cooped up. Except he isn't cooped up, not really. It's the idea of not being able to leave that bothers him. He didn't try to escape until the Doctor told him he couldn't go.

If Jack escapes for good, she ought to be happy for him. Perhaps she will be, but she'll also be sad for herself. I'd miss him. And not just the goodbye kisses. It's more fun with him around. She hates to admit it, but the idea of travelling alone with the Doctor makes her uncomfortable. She's not frightened of him — course she isn't — but he's so different to her other Doctor.

Rose hears a key in the lock and whirls around to see both blokes entering the TARDIS. Her mouth drops open. Both of them are soaking wet. There's a chunk of moss stuck to the Doctor's left sleeve, and the back of Jack's t-shirt is ripped to shreds, but neither of them looks to be injured. Thank God! "What happened?"

Jack gives her a grin that she doesn't believe for one minute. "Hot day. Decided to go for a dip."

She looks at the Doctor, expecting to see the cool, unreadable face he uses now for difficult moments. He's smiling, and she'd swear he's truly chuffed about something.

"We took a shortcut through a rather wet place. Couldn't be helped." He looks down at the water dripping from his suit through the grating. "Sorry."

Rose isn't sure if that last remark is addressed to her or to the TARDIS. "Oi! Don't just stand there dripping like a pair of leaky taps!" she scolds. "Get out of those wet clothes before you both catch your death."

She winces at her careless remark, but the blokes explode into laughter. They've both lost it. They've gone barmy. The Doctor gets control of himself first. Jack's loud guffaws trail off in wheezy gasps that sound like a sputtering engine.

"You heard what Rose said, Jack — get yourself into something dry."

Jack is still breathing heavily. "You . . . too. Nobody wants . . . a . . . soggy Time Lord."

"Have some respect for your elders," the Doctor grumbles, but he's smiling as he says it.

Rose shakes her head. "I'm going to see about something hot to eat. You two comedians can join me in the kitchen in thirty minutes, yeah?" She strides out of the console room, feeling annoyed and relieved at the same time.

The unexpected laughter released some of the pressure, so it's not until he's in the shower and reaching for the soap that the tears begin to fall. Camouflage, Jack thinks. Best way to hide a few millilitres of salt water. He presses a clenched fist against his mouth to muffle the guttural sobs that are ripping their way out of his throat. He leans back and slides gradually down the wall of the shower. The tile is smooth against his skin, which is whole and unblemished, not torn and bloodied. He sits beneath the hot, stinging spray, motionless, head bowed, until he is empty. Empty of tears, of emotion, of thought.

Emerging from the shower he feels oddly calm. He dries off and throws on some dry clothing: jeans and a blue t-shirt that matches his eyes. His chrono tells him he's got eight minutes until Rose's deadline. His mirror tells him that he'll pass muster.

For supper Rose serves tomato soup, macaroni cheese, and triple fudge cake. It's not choree stew and tavaberry pie, but it's tasty and filling. The Doctor empties his plate, which is quite a feat considering that he never seems to stop talking. He natters on about everything and nothing. Jack tells a mostly true version of his visit to the Palace of Delights on New Madagascar, and Rose reminisces about the time that she and Keisha tried unsuccessfully to sneak backstage at a concert by pretending to be pizza delivery girls. "The stingy bastards didn't even tip us. We spent twenty quid on the pizzas, and never got to eat a bite!"

After supper they watch a vid. It's Rose's turn to select the film. She's got a mischievous smile as she loads the disc into the player.

As the opening credits roll, the Doctor groans. "Not that!"

Jack peers at the screen. "I know this one!" he says. "We watched part of this in a class at the academy. History of Temporal Theory. It's a classic of the pre-lunar era."

"It's entirely ludicrous, and the novel is just as bad," the Doctor protests.

Jack holds back a chuckle. "Doctor, for a 19th century author, he did a damn good job of guessing some of the details—"

"He didn't guess," the Doctor replies.

Jack blinks. "Doctor, are you saying that you met H.G. Wells?"

"No, I'm saying that H.G. Wells met me," the Doctor explains. "He came on board the TARDIS and did nothing but get underfoot. The man was a nuisance." The Time Lord interjects comments throughout the vid. Some of them are personal remarks about the annoying Herbert George Wells and some of them are technical criticisms.

Jack has a few remarks of his own, and the two of them get into a lively argument about the development of triphasic difuser circuits. He's only vaguely aware of Rose trying to shush them until she starts throwing popcorn at them instead.

When the vid is over, Rose announces it's her turn for a shower. "Hope you blokes left me some hot water," she teases, and disappears in the direction of her bathroom.

Jack heads to their garden to wait for her. Rose appears twenty minutes later, dressed in a faded red tracksuit bottom and a white t-shirt. Her hair is tied in a thick plait. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," Jack replies, but he can see the question in her eyes. With a glance and a tilt of his head, he tells her to go ahead and ask.

"I didn't think about it before, because I was so glad to see you," she says hesitantly. "That shirt you were wearing was all torn in back . . . Jack, you died today, didn't you?"

He doesn't hesitate. "Yeah. I misjudged a jump and fell." He doesn't offer the details. He also doesn't reassure her that he's fully healed. She already knows that, and besides, it's not the point. He watches her face shift through shock, sorrow, and pity.

Her smile is bittersweet. "I guess you owe me another goodbye kiss."

"No. No more goodbye kisses. No more running. I'm going to be staying put for a while."

Rose gasps and wraps herself tightly around him. "Jack! 'M so glad!" Her face is alight with joy. "Does the Doctor know? He must do, 'cos he looked much happier tonight."

Jack has already decided how much of the truth to tell. "Yeah, he and I had a little chat, and we came to an understanding." I won't run away and he won't turn me into Sleeping Beauty.

"That's brilliant, Jack." She hugs him tighter, and he can feel that she isn't wearing a bra beneath her t-shirt.

He cups her face loosely between his hands, as he did once before. "Hello, Rose Tyler."

"Hullo," she echoes, and that's all she says before her mouth captures his.

The kiss is insistent and possessive; very different to what he would have planned. Jack usually enjoys a slow seduction, building desire until it becomes need, need until it becomes urgency. But, hey— he's a flexible 51st century guy. He likes to dance, and he doesn't mind one little bit if his partner wants to lead.

Rose pulls away, just enough that he can see the aching hunger on her face and her darkening eyes. Her body's language is clear enough — quickened breath and stiff nipples — but he's cautious enough to want words, too. "Rose, are you sure?"

Her smile is sweet and triumphant. "Your room or mine?"

It's simple to intercept Jack on his way to the kitchen. Rose will still be asleep, he knows. He notes with approval that his companion is looking relaxed. Freshly showered, dressed, and with a spring in his step that's been missing for some time. "Good morning, Jack."

"Morning, Doctor. You eat breakfast yet?"

"Nope. I'd like a word first, if I may?"

Jack stiffens, but his smile doesn't fade. "Sure. What's up?"

The Doctor leads him to the secondary library and settles himself in the brown leather wing chair. Jack stands in front of him, motionless, in the Time Agency version of 'at ease'. Military folderol! Next he'll be saluting and calling me 'sir'. The Doctor resists the temptation to frown. Utmost patience and kindness, he reminds himself. He waves at the mahogany settee. "Sit down, Jack."

Jack sits, back straight, clasped hands resting on his lap.

"This won't take long. I just want to be certain that you're quite clear on the rules." He smiles encouragingly at Jack.

Jack does not look encouraged. "No running off, no killing myself," he recites in a monotone. "Is there something else, Doctor?"

He can't help it. He rolls his eyes. "I'd like you to stop gambling, stop flirting with every life-form you meet, and stop telling outrageous stories that always end with you naked, but I might as well ask a galaxy to stop rotating." Part of his mind idly calculates the forces necessary to accomplish that. He sighs. "And then you wouldn't be you. No, Captain, nothing else."

Jack gives him a grin and a sloppy salute. "Sir! Yes, sir!" He looks suddenly serious. "About that second rule . . ."

I didn't think you'd balk at that one. "Yes?"

"I . . . If Rose is in danger, I will put myself between her and harm, even if it means I get killed." Behind the defiance is a touch of fear, but his gaze doesn't waver.

"You are a good man, Jack Harkness," he says quietly. "I wouldn't ask that of you, but I would never forbid it. Never."

Jack nods. "I'll do the same for you, Doctor. You can be a real son of a bitch sometimes, but the Universe needs you."

The Doctor is startled but pleased. Perhaps he understands more than I expected.

Before the Doctor can find a reply, Jack rises from the settee. "If that's all, I'm going to get the coffee started."

As Jack reaches the door, the Doctor calls out, "One more thing . . ."

Jack turns, his hand still resting on the ornate brass doorknob. "Yes, Doctor?"

"Be good to Rose, yeah? She deserves it." He watches Jack carefully. The man's response will tell him a great deal.

Jack's reaction, a mixture of surprise and apprehension, is almost comical. Does the silly git think he didn't know all along? Soap and even cologne can't cover the distinctive odours of human pheromones that they've been leaving on each other. And a P'taxian Blindworm could see the looks they give each other when they think I'm not paying attention.

Or is he surprised that I'm not angry? I know I made some threats when Jack first came on board. Those were just bluffs to keep him in line. He was a stranger then, and I didn't know if I could trust him.

After an awkward silence, Jack seems to realise that the Doctor is not about to toss him out an airlock. "I intend to give her my best," he says solemnly, "though she deserves much more." His eyes search the Doctor's face.

The Doctor is amused. What does he want? My blessing? He nods, and Jack takes that as answer enough. He leaves the room, closing the door softly behind him.

The Doctor gets up and paces the room. They'll be good for each other. It won't last, of course. Even if Jack were still mortal, he wouldn't want to settle on 21st century Earth, and Rose will eventually want to go home. But while Rose remains on board the TARDIS, they'll be happy together.

He wants his companions to be happy, he truly does. The Doctor won't deny that once he had certain fantasies about Rose Tyler. Fantasies he never let himself act upon. And he knows bloody well that she had fantasies about him, too, though he was careful never to acknowledge them. He was old and war-weary, and no fit mate for a lively young human. Those things are still true. Besides, Time's Protector can't afford such distractions.

Still, companionship is good. He thinks best when he has someone to talk to. And the new development, though it was none of his doing, is very convenient. Rose will help keep Jack contented.

He wants Jack to be contented. It's the essential foundation of his plans. If all goes well, the two of them will be together for a very long time indeed. He's got three more regenerations left. If he doesn't run through them as quickly as he did in his last few lives, he can expect at least another millennium. Time's Protector doesn't have the resources of Gallifrey to call on, but he does have an extraordinary assistant. Clever, capable, familiar with temporal technology, and indestructible. Oh, there's still the worry about madness — he wasn't lying about that — but even if the worst happens, he's confident that he can find a solution.

Eventually, he wants Jack to be more than an assistant. A partner, sharing the responsibility of Time. He can even envision Jack becoming his successor when he's gone. Jack can never be a Time Lord, but it's not impossible for him to bond with the TARDIS. He is her creation, after all. And what a TARDIS can create, a Time Lord can shape.

He shakes his head. You're getting ahead of yourself, Doctor. There's a great deal to be done before you can be that ambitious.

From his coat pocket he pulls out a small book bound in leather: A Practical Treatise on the Ancient Art of Falconry. He opens it to a page marked with a red ribbon. Humming softly to himself, he re-reads the sage advice of Charles James Hartley, Esq. "The haggard is a hawk caught wild when he is full grown. He has lived long at liberty, and he is therefore the harder to be brought to obedience than the eyass, which is taken from the nest when young. Yet in strength and skill at the hunt he is far superior in every regard, for in the wild he has learnt the necessity of cunning, and has perfected all his wiles. Once caught, attend to his training with utmost patience and kindness. Using a fair lure, teach him to return always to your hand, so that you may be sure of him when at last you loose him to fly. In this manner, you may make of him a most excellent and advantageous creature for your service."

Time's Protector closes the book, returns it to his pocket, and smiles.


Additional notes: The Chinese garden is borrowed from the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is a lovely and peaceful place. The book on falconry quoted above does not exist, though I drew upon several historical books for the ideas and phrasings.