"It's bad, isn't it?" Rose's face is taut with worry.
"Too early to start fretting," the Doctor advises, leaning back against the stone wall of their cell.
Jack represses the urge to assure her that everything will be just fine. He's made himself a promise not to lie to these people who've come so unexpectedly into his life. Besides, Rose may be young, and from a primitive era, but she's not stupid. She's been travelling with the Doctor long enough to know that friendly, peaceful worlds can become dangerous to visitors who accidentally trespass in holy places. "We don't know exactly what's going on," he says.
"We know we're locked up," Rose replies tartly.
"Nothing new in that. Four-star jail, this is."
The Doctor's right about that. The room is clean and not too uncomfortable. Sunlight and fresh air come in through narrow window slits near the ceiling. Jack's been in barracks that were worse. The only thing that makes it a cell is the latch on the other side of the door. The wooden latch that's too sturdy to break and is impervious to the sonic screwdriver.
"S'pose we'll find out when this High One shows up," the Doctor continues.
"What is a High One?" Rose asks. "A priest? Or some sort of magistrate?"
Jack spreads his hands in a gesture of ignorance and frustration. "I have no idea. Sorry." Maybe if he'd paid more attention when he was learning about Rakuma Epsilon at the Academy. . . but no. The instructor only briefly covered this isolated world and its humanoid inhabitants. The Rakumai have no spoken language, and though they can hear sound, they appear unable to distinguish the differences between words in alien languages. They communicate among themselves in an elaborate sign language of gestures, facial expressions, and body postures. It is a beautiful language, according to the few off-world scholars who have mastered it: graceful, subtle, and capable of complex abstract concepts. The TARDIS's linguistic circuit does not translate Rakumarasa.
Time Agents who need to deal with the Rakumai are provided with hypnogogic instruction that implants the language in their minds, along with a terrible headache. Jack never needed it. He knows a hand-sign version of Tradetalk that the Rakumai understand. It's very simplistic, little more than pidgin Rakumarasa, but it's good enough for asking directions, ordering a cup of hot kellif, or bartering for a better price on the handwoven shawl that caught Rose's eye. It is completely inadequate for discussing the finer points of sacrilege and the legal ramifications thereof.
A few minutes later, when five Rakumai step into their cell, Jack doesn't need an introduction to know that the elderly female in white robes is the High One. He bends forward, touching the tips of his fingers to his forehead in what he thinks - hopes! - is a gesture of deep respect. Rose and the Doctor follow his lead.
**You (singular) speak for you (plural)?** the High One signs.
"Yes, I speak for us." Jack replies with voice as well as hands, so the others will understand.
**You (plural) walked in garden?** The last sign is delivered with a particular emphasis, long fingers curling inwards. Jack doesn't know if the extra flourish denotes 'sacred' or if it stresses the location or the wickedness of their trespass.
"Yes, we walked in . . . garden." Jack signs 'garden' without the flourishes. He decides it's better to seem ignorant than to say the wrong thing. "We didn't know it was wrong. We didn't mean to offend, to break your laws," he says, glumly aware that his clumsy signing is nearer to **We not know bad. We not choose bad**.
The questioning continues. Jack has been through torture sessions that weren't as stressful as this silent interrogation. It's not that the High One is harsh or cruel. On the contrary, she's very patient. When Jack searches his memory for the sign that means 'visitors', she waits calmly for his response. No, the problem is with Jack. He can talk his way out of - or into - anything. Words have always been his weapons, his trusted tools. Only now he's having to fight with an uncharged blaster, pick a lock with a piece of wet string.
Beside him, Rose is tense and the Doctor is frustrated. The Time Lord is accustomed to being the one in charge, the one who does the talking for himself and his companions. The Doctor claims to speak millions of languages, but Rakumarasa isn't one of them, and neither is signed Tradetalk. Their freedom and maybe their lives depend on Jack being able to negotiate in a language he only half remembers.
Jack would happily suffer a thousand hyperstimulus headaches all at once if only he could remember how to sign 'unintentional' or 'apologise' or 'merciful'. If I ever knew them in the first place. He darts a glance at the Doctor. Legends say that Time Lords are telepathic, and although the very idea scares the shit out of him, he has to ask. "Doctor, is there any way you can stimulate my memory? Or get the signs from my mind so you can talk to them?"
The Doctor gives him a sharp look, then shakes his head. "No, I can't."
Jack didn't miss the pause. "Can't - or won't?"
"Can't do it quick enough to make a difference. Language is a complicated brain function, even in humans. It'd take hours for the transfer, if you don't want me to risk burning out your cerebral cortex," the Time Lord says, as matter-of-factly as if he was discussing the tensile strength of cupro-nickel wire. "Just go on as you've been doing, Jack."
Jack returns to the maddening back-and-forth of half-understood questions and stumbling answers. At last, the High One draws herself up and makes a series of stiffly formal gestures.
Even Rose can tell this is something significant. "Jack, what's she saying?"
Jack's heart is pounding in his ears. "Just a minute, please." He signs rapidly at the High One, but each of his questions receives the same answer. Jack signs in reply, **I will**.
He turns to Rose and the Doctor, knowing that his face is showing only the calm, confident expression he wants them to see. "The High One wants to take me to a courtroom - or maybe a holy place. Once I've made an official confession on our behalf, they're going to expel us from the planet."
"Let's go, then!" Rose takes a step forward, and the Rakumai guards point their weapons in her direction. She freezes instantly and holds up her hands. "All right, calm down. Don't get your knickers in a twist."
Jack smiles apologetically at her. "Sorry. I didn't get a chance to tell you that they only want the official spokesman. You two just have to cool your heels until I'm done." He faces the guards and the High One. "I'm ready."
"Jack." The Time Lord's voice is colder than the frozen seas of Woman Wept. "I may not know their language, but I know when you're lying to me. What did she really say?"
Oh, Gods! Jack's first night on the TARDIS, he was given a short list of offences that would get him kicked out the door as soon as the time-ship materialised (planet optional). Endangering Rose and mucking about with the TARDIS without permission were the top two. Lying to the Doctor was the third.
He spends a few nanoseconds considering his options. He should just refuse to answer. It's the safest choice, though he's pretty sure that the Doctor and Rose can't prevent him from leaving with the High One. Once he steps through the cell door, they won't be able to change what happens next. But maybe they deserve an explanation before you go, an inner voice whispers.
Jack tries to ignore that voice. The Doctor has begun to trust him; the small, shiny key in Jack's pocket is proof of that. He braces himself to meet the Time Lord's contempt with silence.
"Jack?" It's Rose, and she's looking confused, but not angry. She's waiting to find out what's going on.
She trusts me. A Tyrrlian 'lectro-whip couldn't sting more than the look on Rose Tyler's face. Jack was prepared to endure the lash of the Doctor's sarcasm, but disappointing Rose hurts more than he expected. He signs **wait, please** at the High One, then faces his cellmates again and takes a deep breath. "They want a sacrifice."
Rose manages a thin laugh. "If they want a virgin to throw in their volcano, they're looking in the wrong cell, unless the Doctor was lying about dancing."
"Jack. Explain." The Time Lord's tone has warmed to a few tenths of a degree above Absolute Zero.
"The garden we entered is sacred to their goddess." Jack doesn't repeat the name-sign that the High One used. It might be considered blasphemous for an outsider. He doubts they can get deeper in trouble than they already are, but the way his luck is running, he's not going to chance it.
"Yeah, got that already," the Doctor says.
"The High One said, 'Goddess makes life. You - plural - walked in garden of Goddess. One of you must give life.'" Jack runs a hand through his hair, then shoves it deep into his coat pocket. "I asked if we could pay a fine. I offered gold, gems, tech - anything, but she just kept repeating, 'Life. One of you must give life.'"
Rose's brave attempt at humour has vanished, and she's looking pale and wide-eyed. Her emotion isn't fear, he notes with approval, but outrage. It takes a moment to register that the outrage is directed at him. "Jack Harkness - how could you?"
The glib, clever ex-conman currently known as 'Jack Harkness' blinks. "Huh?"
"You were going to go along quietly and let them cut off your head or whatever? Just walk out of here without a goodbye or an explanation?"
"Umm, yeah." Afterwards, when they escorted you two back to the TARDIS, I figured you'd assume that I'd run away and you were being deported. "I thought that-"
"You didn't think at all," the Doctor snaps. "An' you'd no right to make that decision. If anyone's going, it'll be me."
"No!" Jack's reaction is instinctive.
Rose cries out in wordless protest.
"I'm responsible for my companions," the Doctor says. "Besides, I'm not that easy to kill. Rose, I always meant to explain- Damn! Jack, at that Time Agency of yours, did they tell you anything about regeneration?"
Jack nods numbly. It's one of the more intriguing parts of the legend. Not only could Time Lords survive injuries that would kill lesser beings, but they could die and return to life. One of his Academy texts, A Short History of Time Travel, had commented, 'Thus we see a syncretic blending of the legend of the Time Lords with the myth of the Dying God. If an inhabitant of long-vanished Gallifrey was to appear among us, he would surely be amused by the godlike powers attributed to his race.'
The Gallifreyan standing in front of Jack doesn't look amused or godlike, just deadly serious. "As soon as they let you go, you an' Rose lock yourselves inside the TARDIS. Wait three days. If I'm not back by then, look for the blue button on the emergency control panel-"
"No you don't!" The outrage Rose directed at Jack is mild compared to what she's aiming at the Doctor. "If anyone's going to 'give life', it'll be me. I'm the one who got us into this mess. I wandered into their bloody garden - you two just followed me."
"No!" two male voices chorus.
A loud thump makes them all turn in startlement. One of the Rakumai guards is banging his spear against the floor. As soon as the prisoners look in her direction, the High One begins to sign.
Jack replies instantly with signs and words. "No! No, don't!" He signs faster, hands flying in clumsy, desperate pleas.
The High One clasps her hands before her in a gesture of ceremonial silence and turns her back on the three offworlders. The guards follow her out of the cell.
"What did she say?" Rose whispers.
Jack slumps back against the wall. He wants to look at the floor, the ceiling, anywhere but Rose's face. "She said since we can't decide who should have the 'honour' of giving life, we will all do it."
The procession to the sacred garden is colourful and dramatic. Jack can imagine that it would make an interesting writeup for a travel guidebook.
First comes the High One in the stiffly pleated white robes of her office. The prisoners follow behind her. Bright red tabards - the colour of blood and life - are thrown over their own clothing. They are surrounded by a ring of guards, resplendent in blue and green uniforms. Though the guards' spears may seem primitive to offworld spectators, they are scalpel-sharp, and as deadly as any 'civilised' weapon.
The official procession is escorted by a dense crowd of ordinary Rakumai who seem delighted by this interruption to their work day. On another world, no doubt this parade would be loud with songs and shouts, prayers and catcalls, and the hubbub of excited conversations. On Rakuma Epsilon the only sound is the clatter of footsteps, but the scene is enlivened by the brilliant colours of the native costumes, and many arms waving in the circular motion that serves the Rakumai as cheering. It is a charming spectacle - one of many that make a detour to this remote system worthwhile.
Colourful and charming. . . as long as you aren't one of the red-draped prisoners in the middle of the crowd. The presence of the crowd makes Jack very uncomfortable, and not just because he knows from experience how quickly a large group can turn savage and destructive. These are unarmed civilians, and even though they're clamouring for his blood, the Doctor would classify them as innocents. Jack is racking his brains for an escape plan that will get them through the densely-packed throng without harming any innocents.
It shouldn't be necessary. If he'd kept his mouth shut in the cell, he'd be the only prisoner taking this one-way walk to the sacred garden. Rose and the Doctor would be safe inside the TARDIS, heading for their next destination, and probably counting themselves lucky that the lying, untrustworthy conman had abandoned them. Instead, they're walking beside him. The Doctor still radiates cold anger when he looks at Jack. Fortunately, most of the Time Lord's attention is fixed on Rose. He's murmuring to her, a stream of comforting words about how they'll get out of this fix.
Rose smiles at the Doctor. Jack isn't sure if she believes his reassurances, or if she's putting on a brave face. She glances curiously at the crowd. Many of the Rakumai are signing in unison; two-handed sweeping motions performed so vigorously that Jack can't help interpreting them as shouts.
"Jack? What are they saying?"
Give life! Give life! "Praise the Goddess," he lies without hesitation. A hard look from the Doctor tells him that the Time Lord isn't fooled, but won't challenge him in front of Rose.
And now they're approaching the garden. There's no wall or barrier to prevent ignorant strangers from trespassing in the holy place, just a flat border of black and white stones laid out in a neat zigzag pattern. It looks like a small city park: a green square dotted with many flowerbeds. They're all evenly shaped, and bordered with more of the black and white stones. The effect might be overly rigid, except that the flowers are a cheerful jumble of bright colours.
A two-metre section of the border, wider and more elaborate in design than the rest, appears to be the official gateway. As the procession enters, the crowd splits. Like sea waves hitting a rock, they flow around the garden, filling the streets on all four sides. Jack curses silently. He'd hoped the ordinary Rakumai would enter the garden. Their best chance for escape is to create a diversion and disappear into the confusion.
He looks at the Doctor. "What's the plan?"
"What makes you think I've got a plan? I don't do plans."
"What's your idea, then?" Rose asks. "You've always got ideas."
For the first time since they left the cell, the Time Lord smiles. "Yeah, I do. I'm gonna resonate concrete."
It's not actually concrete. The larger-than-life statue of the Rakumai Goddess in the centre of the holy garden is carved from a single block of pale green cerdanite. Cerdanite has a crystalline structure that makes it vulnerable to resonance. If the Doctor can hit the correct frequency on his sonic screwdriver, the statue will shatter into a million shards.
"Soon as that happens, I want you two to run for it," the Doctor orders.
"Us two? And what are you going to be doing?" Rose asks.
"Running the other way. We'll meet at the TARDIS."
Rose nods reluctantly.
Jack knows exactly why the Doctor will be running in a different direction - the offworlder who destroyed a holy statue will be the primary target of the guards and the outraged mob. He and the Doctor have a silent conversation that requires no signs or gestures.
Keep her safe.
I will. I promise.
The statue stands on a wide, circular altar made of dove-grey marble veined with pale green. The High One bows before her goddess, then begins a long, complex series of movements as graceful as the giant butterflies of Mela'ai'tsao. Jack understands maybe one sign in twenty, just enough to know that this is some kind of prayer or formal invocation. At the end, the High One bows again. She turns and gives her three prisoners a look of careful appraisal.
She walks to a nearby flower-bed, stoops, and plucks a single bloom. Petals of faintest pink streaked with yellow form a cup shape, like a wide-mouthed miniature tulip. This she offers to Rose while making an emphatic sign with her other hand.
The Doctor starts to reach for the flower, but the High One jerks her hand back, and signs disapprovingly at him.
Jack translates. "This one is not for you. Wait your turn."
Rose holds out her hand, then hesitates. "'Is it poisonous?"
Is this how they do it? There aren't any nice ways to be killed, but execution by flower strikes Jack as particularly obscene.
"Nah. Just an ordinary flower," the Doctor says reassuringly.
Jack is next. The High One presents him with a spike of bright blue florets. He takes it with a bow and a jauntily signed **thank you**.
The High One studies the Doctor for a full minute before selecting a flower for him: purple so deep it's almost black, with long, swordlike petals that swirl around each other in a complex spiral.
The Doctor accepts it with a curt nod. "S'pose they'll be getting down to business now. Jack, tell her that I must go first, that I'm the oldest."
Jack translates. He thinks he may have accidentally claimed the Doctor as his grandfather, but he gets across the basic point. The High One accepts this with the barest flicker of her fingers. Clearly, neither she nor her goddess care which in order the sacrifices are presented.
**Give life! Give life!** the High One signs.
The Doctor steps forward. Following Jack's verbal instructions, he lays his flower on the marble altar. His other hand slips inside his coat pocket. He must be adjusting the sonic screwdriver's setting by touch.
**Give life! Give life** the High One repeats. This time there's something slightly different in the movement of her hands, Jack notes, but he's much more focused on the Doctor's hand, which is starting to withdraw from the pocket.
The realisation hits so quickly that Jack finds himself shouting a warning before he quite understands why. "Doctor! Stop!"
In the blink of an eye, one of the guards is pointing a spear at his throat, and another is signing angrily, **no noises during the offering**.
The Time Lord hesitates. The guard nearest him gestures for silence by holding his hand across his own mouth and raising his spear.
Jack can only plead with his eyes. I know you've got every reason not to, but please trust me, just one more time. He stops breathing, and he'd almost swear his heart stops, too, until the Doctor's hand comes out of his pocket and Jack sees that it's empty.
Rose is beckoned forward next. She places her flower on the altar, then steps back to stand beside the Doctor. Jack barely restrains himself from rushing forward before the signal is given. He sets his flower carefully in place - tossing it from a metre away would probably be considered rude - and joins the others.
The High One signs the same phrase again, six times in a row. After the final sign, the crowd surrounding the garden mirrors her, then breaks into the wild arm-circles that are Rakumai cheering.
"Life was given," Jack translates.
"Past tense?" the Doctor demands.
"Yeah. I almost missed it." He represses a shudder. If the holy statue had been destroyed, it's unlikely that all three of them would have escaped the vengeance of outraged worshippers.
Rose is frowning. "That was the sacrifice? Just putting some flowers on the altar?"
"That was it," Jack confirms. "'Give life.'"
The Doctor says sombrely, "Flowers die when they're picked. Not right away, but they don't live for long."
Rose smiles at him. "But they're lovely while they last, yeah?"
The Time Lord gives her a smile in return. "Lovely, right."
Jack smiles at both of them. He tries to ignore the tightness in his chest, which feels like the pressure of increasing gees just before a crash.
They go back to the TARDIS as quickly as they can. Their return is delayed by the spontaneous celebration that breaks out in the streets. The Rakumai dance and wave blue and green streamers. Pitchers of kellif and baskets of fried honeycakes appear out of nowhere, and are passed from hand to hand. The three offworlders are suddenly the most popular people in the city, and Jack is sure he could swim in the quantity of kellif he's had to decline.
It's a pity, because some kellif-induced oblivion sounds pretty good to him, but what he has to do will be hard, and even harder if his wits are fogged. Maybe afterwards. . . He fingers the key in his pocket. I should've known it was too good to last.
They have tuna mayonnaise sandwiches and p'truk soup with blue noodles for supper, though none of them eat very much. Rose nearly falls asleep in her soup. "Sorry. 'S been a long day."
"Go get some sleep," the Doctor orders, a smile softening the gruffness of his words. He gives Jack a we-have-to-talk look.
Jack's stomach turns queasy as fear, guilt, and anger battle for supremacy. "Wait up, Rose. Guess I could use some shut-eye, too," he announces.
Rose gives the Doctor a goodnight hug before leaving the kitchen. She gives one to Jack in the corridor outside her room. When her arms wrap around him she murmurs, "Promise me you won't ever do that again? No more secret heroic gestures, okay?"
He promises, and feels a twinge of guilt. She doesn't yet know just how he intends to keep that promise.
Once inside his room, he doesn't even look at the bed. He strips, takes a quick shower, and changes into fresh clothing. Everything he owns fits neatly into a small rucksack, with room left over for a few protein packs. Travelling light suits his lifestyle.
Jack allows himself a regretful sigh as he hoists the rucksack onto his shoulder. Travelling aboard the Good Ship TARDIS has been one hell of a ride. It's not just that she's a beautiful, impossible vessel straight out of legend, or that she's taken him into adventures that make his Time Agency experiences seem tame. The best part has been knowing Rose and the Doctor. He's never met anyone like them, and for him, that's saying a lot. Pity it has to end this way, but one of his rules is to always leave on his own terms.
He waits until he's sure that Rose will be sound asleep. He finds the Doctor in the console room, bent over a monitor full of those circle-glyphs that only the Time Lord can read.
The Doctor straightens. His brows shoot up as he takes in Jack's coat and rucksack. "Going somewhere, Jack?"
By way of answer, Jack holds out his right hand, palm upward. His TARDIS key shines gold and green in the eerie light of the console room. "I figured I'd save you the trouble of asking for it."
The Doctor doesn't take the key. He studies it closely, as if it's some new species of beetle he's never seen before, and then he turns that dispassionate gaze on Jack. "Wouldn't be any trouble if I was planning to ask for it, which I'm not. Mind telling me why you thought I'd ask?"
The question sounds sincere, though it's never safe to make assumptions about what the Doctor knows. "I lied to you," Jack blurts out.
"Yeah, you did - an' I'm not happy about it. Still doesn't explain this." The Doctor gestures at the key, still balanced on Jack's hand.
"You told me- when I came on board, you said-"
The Doctor makes a rude noise. "Jack, you're not a complete idiot, so don't act like one. I said lots of things when you first came on board, 'cos I didn't entirely trust you. Wouldn't have given you a key if I hadn't changed my mind." The Doctor has made no move to take the key, so Jack closes his fingers lightly over it, and lets his hand dangle at his side. He won't put it back in his pocket. Not yet, maybe not at all.
"If you don't care that I lied, then why-"
"Never said I didn't care," the Doctor interrupts. "Said I wouldn't kick you off the TARDIS because of it. Not without good reason. So, why did you lie?"
Jack waves his hands in a gesture of helpless frustration. "I thought they wanted to kill one of us."
"An' you decided that one ought to be you."
"I was the most-"
The Doctor interrupts again. "Jack, the next word out of your mouth had better not be 'expendable', or I'm gonna get a lot angrier than I already am."
"-deserving," Jack finishes.
The Time Lord is giving him that rare-insect-under-the-microscope look again. "How do you figure that?"
Jack stares at the grating. "I've done some pretty nasty things. I've told you about some of them, but not all, and not the worst."
"In the Time Agency?"
He nods. "And before. Some things, at the time, I thought they were right. Some I knew were wrong. Some. . . for a while, I just didn't give a damn." With an effort of will he forces himself to straighten and meet the Time Lord's clear unwavering gaze. Half in defiance, half in confession he says, "I've been responsible for more deaths than I can count."
Jack isn't sure how he expected the Doctor to react. Harsh laughter wasn't on the list of possibilities. "Number of lives lost? Innocent blood on your hands? Lad, if those were the criteria for being sacrificed, you wouldn't have been the one walking out of that cell."
Jack remembers a recent excursion to watch a triple lunar conjunction on Iskandria. As they waited for the moons to move into alignment, the Doctor reminisced about other astronomical rarities he'd seen. Conversation drifted from topic to topic. It was a full week since Jack had discovered that the Doctor was the last of the legendary Time Lords, and some of his awe had worn off. The cool silver-blue light of the moons and the warm sea-breeze relaxed him and loosened his tongue. On impulse, he asked about the truth of another legend. "Doctor, can you tell me about the Time War?"
The silence seemed to last centuries. Was it followed by a faint sigh, or was that the wind? "You don't want to know, Captain," the Doctor said finally.
Jack had understood that to mean 'Mind your own business,' and dropped the question. Now, looking into the Doctor's eyes, he suspects the Time Lord was telling the literal truth. He doesn't want to know the details of a war so brutal and absolute that it wiped out the two most powerful races in the Universe. It gives him some comfort to know that none of his own sins are likely to shock the lone survivor of that war. "Now what?" he asks.
"That's up to you. I wasn't planning to ask you to leave," the Doctor says, "but if you stay, there's something we need to settle. Do you know why I'm pissed off at you?"
Other than the lies? Jack's mind spins wildly, uselessly. What else did I do? I only risked my own life. That's my right. He might not like it, but he wouldn't hold it against me. He stares at the Doctor, searching for some hint. The Time Lord stares back, closed and unreadable.
Jack hasn't felt this trapped since he stood beside a wrecked Chula ambulance and listened to the Doctor explain the horrific consequences of his stupidity and greed. This may be worse, because now he cares what the Doctor thinks of him, and the silence hurts more than harsh words. Part of him wants to take the key that's cupped in his hand and drop it on the jump-seat, only that gesture really ought to be followed by storming out the door, and they're still in the Vortex. Part of him wants to beg the Time Lord to yell at him, punish him - anything, so long as they can get past this.
"You couldn't sleep either, huh?" Rose wanders in, clutching a mug of tea. She notices Jack's coat, and her eyes narrow. "What are you two up to?"
"Just talking," Jack says.
Rose looks pointedly at the rucksack slung over his shoulder. "I'd like to know what you're talking about."
Jack lets the rucksack drop to the floor. "Mostly about how much of an idiot I am."
"That could be a long conversation," Rose says dryly. She settles herself on the jump-seat and looks up at the Doctor. "You're very quiet."
"I said my piece an' I asked Jack a question. Waiting for the answer," the Doctor replies.
"He wants me to tell him why he's angry at me."
Rose looks at the Doctor again, then fixes her attention on Jack. "Probably for the same reason I am."
"He says it's not the lying," Jack says, uncomfortably aware that he sounds like a pouting child.
Rose considers this. "Nah, that's just the symptom. You really don't know, Jack?" She seems to read his answer in his face. "Doctor, should we put him out of his misery?"
"Just give him the answer?"
Rose snorts. "It's not a pub quiz, Doctor. It's not about making the right guess. What counts is what he does with the answer."
The Doctor nods. "Go on, then."
Rose sets her tea down. Jack holds his breath as she rises and approaches him. Her eyes are solemn but not unkind. "It's a matter of trust, Jack."
His heart sinks. When the Doctor listened to him and didn't destroy the statue, he thought it was a gesture of restored trust. I guess he was just desperate for another option.
"Jack. . . we're angry 'cos you almost got yourself killed. We're sad 'cos you act like you can't trust us," she explains.
For a moment he can't make sense of that simple sentence. "You think I don't trust-?"
"Maybe you are a complete idiot," the Doctor snaps. "In the Time Agency you worked with a partner or a team, yeah?"
"What would you have done if one of them had pulled a stunt like this on a mission?"
Jack wants to say that it's completely different, but it's not, really. There aren't any military ranks aboard the TARDIS, and their 'missions' seem like random accidents, but they have the same life-or-death dependence on each other as the members of an Agency team. The Doctor and Rose are both looking at him expectantly. This isn't just a question to make him think; they want to know.
"It would depend on a couple of things," he says slowly. "Relative ranks would be the most important. Can't punch out superior officers, no matter how much they deserve it. I'd transfer off a team that had a commanding officer like that. I'd put a junior officer on report."
"Why?" the Doctor asks.
"Because taking drastic actions without informing your teammates is a recipe for disaster," he says bluntly. He remembers a mission to 18th century Hungary that short-circuited when a new agent tried to rescue an elderly man accused of witchcraft. The idiot was caught and nearly got his teammates burnt at the stake when they searched for him. And I laughed when I heard about it, and wondered how anyone could be that stupid.
"If we were of equal rank, it would depend on how long I'd worked with the other guy. I'd be tempted to plant him one in the face." The Doctor can't exactly court martial him, Jack thinks, but if the Time Lord wanted to punch him, he wouldn't fight back.
Rose says softly, "And if he was a friend?"
Jack freezes. In the Time Agency there were people he called friends: teammates, drinking buddies, and sex partners. He trusted his teammates while they were on missions. Mostly. After he left the Agency, there were people he had fun with, but no one he trusted. Ever.
When was the last time someone called him a friend in the way Rose means it? In the back of his mind he hears a young man screaming his name in a voice raspy with pain, begging for mercy from their captors, and receiving only the mercy of death. I don't deserve friends. I get them killed. Those are words he will never say aloud, not to anyone.
He makes the mistake of glancing at the Doctor, who seems to be looking inside him with those storm-cloud eyes. Jack's never been body-shy, never understood the psychology of nudity taboos, yet in this moment he feels naked and exposed. He knows! is his first panicked thought.
The Doctor gives him a very slight nod, and Jack remembers what the Time Lord said about blood-stained hands. He doesn't know. . . but he understands.
"If he was a friend. . ." Jack lets out a long, slow breath. "I'd be pretty pissed off at him. Even if he told me that he was sorry and he knew that he'd been an idiot and an asshole, I think I'd find it hard to forgive him. And I'd want to punish him."
Rose opens her mouth and then shuts it again. She looks thoughtful.
"That's the easy way out," the Doctor says. "Punishment is mostly about endurance, an' you're stubborn. I could find some tedious bit of maintenance that needs to be done, an' you'd just slog through it. Could even give you two dozen lashes with the cat, an' I imagine you wouldn't let out a peep."
Jack's right hand tightens until he can feel the edges of the TARDIS key biting into his palm. As a new Time Agent he'd been sent on a mission during the Napoleonic Wars, and witnessed the Royal Navy's notion of discipline for minor offences. He swallows hard. "If that's what you want-"
"Course not!" Rose exclaims.
"On some level, I think it's what you want," the Doctor says. "Suffer the punishment, an' then you can tell yourself you've paid for your stupidity."
"You're saying that wouldn't be enough?"
"I'm saying that you're trying to pay with the wrong coin."
Rose interrupts. "Jack, remember you said you offered the High One other things for the sacrifice?"
"Yeah, I remember." He's not sure he'll ever forget those moments of desperate, futile bargaining.
"But she wouldn't take money or jewels, 'cos her Goddess only wanted living things - flowers." At his nod, she continues. "We don't want to hurt you."
"What do you want?" Jack asks, and his stomach is queasy again. He's not afraid of what they may ask, because he can always say no. He's afraid to discover just how high a price he's willing to pay to keep this whatever-it-is he's found here on the TARDIS. These two won't want something easy, like sex, he thinks wistfully. They won't want something unacceptable, like humiliation. Obedience? Jack can imagine that the Doctor might enjoy having him snap to attention, but Rose doesn't seem the type.
"Told you - trust," Rose says. "Trust us enough to be honest with us, Jack."
For a moment, Jack can't get words past the lump of ice caught in his throat. His mind flashes on a memory of sand and sea and chaotic terror, and he shoves it back into the box where he keeps such things locked away.
Rose doesn't notice the flicker in his facade, but the Doctor does. "Honest doesn't mean you've got to tell us everything," the Time Lord says. "We all have things we'd rather keep private." He shoots a meaningful glance at Rose.
"Yeah," she says, pulling a face. "This isn't about the past, Jack. We care about who you are now, not who you used to be."
They mean it, and Jack is relieved. The black stains on his soul won't surprise the Doctor, but Rose- No. The only thing worse than her condemnation would be her pity. He lets out a long, slow breath. "What exactly do you want?"
"No lies," Rose says promptly. "And that includes keeping silent when there's something we ought to know."
The Doctor adds, "If we're in a fix, don't go haring off on your own or making secret plans, especially-" He glares at Jack. "-if they include getting yourself killed."
"Okay. No lies, no hidden agendas, no unilateral decisions," he says, covering his fear with well-practised calm. Can it really be this easy? "I can do that."
"That's no more than your old mates in the Time Agency would've expected. You can trust us at least as much as you did them," the Doctor adds dryly.
Rose brightens. "We can be your new team. Team TARDIS!"
The Doctor rolls his eyes, but doesn't offer an objection.
Team TARDIS. It's absurd, like a child's game, and his childhood was shattered beyond mending long ago. He looks at Rose, with her smiling, open face. Somewhere in the back of his mind he hears the echoes of a boyish shout. Let's go down to the beach and play Time Cadets! Off we go! Into Time and Space! It doesn't hurt quite as much as it used to. He looks at the Doctor. The Time Lord looks back at him. Placid. Waiting.
By some miracle or fluke of undeserved luck, Jack hasn't completely screwed up. In the skies above Blitz-torn London these two amazing people saved his life. Now they're offering him a chance to make that life worth saving. Joy rushes into him like an incoming tide. "Team TARDIS sounds great to me," he says, grinning at Rose. "Hey, Doc? Think we could get matching T-shirts to wear?"
The Doctor gives him a completely unconvincing scowl. "Absolutely not. An' don't call me 'Doc.'"
Jack snaps off a crisp salute. "Yes sir! I mean, no sir!"
Teammates. It sounds good. It feels right. Who knows? Maybe one of these days he'll be able to say 'friends' and really mean it. They haven't asked Jack for anything he can't give, and he wishes he had the courage to share more of himself. Once again, he hears children's laughter blending with the steady pulse of the sea. They won't understand, and I won't explain, but it's a start.
"Y'know, a good team needs a motto." Almost absentmindedly, Jack lifts his right hand and deposits the key in the breast pocket just above his heart. "Repeat after me: Off we go-"