"Doctor," Jack whispers, "tell me again what we're doing here?"
The Doctor turns to him, dark eyes wide and innocent. "We're helping Professor Archer with his excavation."
Jack frowns. "I mean, what are we doing on Earth?" He knows it's the Doctor's favourite planet, but Jack has too many painful memories tied to this world and this country. If the Doctor had to land on Earth, why couldn't he have chosen the Songhay Empire at its height, or the Australian Technopolis or Medici Florence? Why Victorian Britain?
The Doctor grins at him. "History, Jack! History and mystery! What could be better?"
He tries another tack. "You do realise that I'm already here?"
The Doctor waves a dismissive hand. "Your other self is one hundred miles away in Cardiff." He cocks his head. "Come to think of it, one of me is in London now. And in Moscow - or was it St. Petersburg? At any rate, the timelines are perfectly safe."
Jack nods reluctantly. It could be worse. The Doctor could have brought him to the early twenty-first century. The nightmare of the 456 isn't an open wound for him any longer, but it's far from healed. He's not sure it ever will be.
He pulls his thoughts back to the current time and place as they continue to stroll through the church. "What's so fascinating about this particular excavation?" he asks in a normal tone of voice. St. Rumon's is a small medieval church which has been falling quietly to pieces for three hundred years. It's not notable from an architectural, historical, or religious perspective. Jack can't fathom why this ruin in the wilds of Cornwall should be so intriguing to a Victorian gentleman archaeologist, let alone to an alien who has all of time and space for his playground.
"Why, the story of Medrod's treasure, Captain Harkness." Professor Archer emerges from the shadows of the north transept, which still has an intact roof. "Did none of the villagers mention it to you? They are very proud of their local legend."
The travellers shake their heads. They haven't actually been to the village. The TARDIS landed in the next valley over, and they came straightaway to the excavation site, directed by a passing shepherd who assumed they were friends of 'the historical gentleman'.
Professor Archer's narrative is half folktale and half academic lecture. "Medrod is said to have been one of the stone-cutters who built this church. There are two versions of how he acquired the treasure. One says that he met a merchant in the tavern, and plied the man with drink until he revealed where he'd hidden his riches. The other says he waylaid the merchant on the road and robbed and murdered him." For a moment the white-haired scholar looks as bright-eyed as a boy reading a penny dreadful.
He continues, "Both versions agree on what happened next. Three days after the theft, Medrod entered the church, and a stone fell from the roof, crushing him. It was, of course, deemed to be divine retribution."
"Of course," Jack murmurs.
"Medrod lingered just long enough to confess his crime, but died before he could tell anyone where he'd hidden the treasure. His wife and sons were questioned, and his house searched, to no avail. Over the centuries, there have been many unsuccessful hunts throughout this region for Medrod's treasure."
"What exactly is this treasure?" the Doctor asks.
"No one knows," the professor says, "though there's been endless speculation. There was a broadside published during the reign of Charles II that mentions 'goodly jewels, silver and gold' but that verse seems to be a borrowing from an earlier Robin Hood ballad."
"You're hoping to find a treasure based on a centuries-old legend?" Jack doesn't try to keep the scepticism out of his voice.
Professor Archer smiles tolerantly. "Schliemann started with a far older legend, and he unearthed the gold of Troy. I don't expect to find anything quite so impressive, but I do believe that there is something to find. We've only been on site for four months, so it's early days yet."
He escorts his guests to a large canvas tent. The interior is a curious mix of austerity and extravagance. The trestle table is surrounded by folding camp-stools, but it's covered with a spotless white linen tablecloth and the tea service is silver. Archer introduces his assistants. Henry Deveril and Thomas Pengilly look and sound enough alike to be brothers - dark hair, dark eyes, and crisp Oxbridge accents - but are apparently neighbours, sons of the local gentry. Deveril is reading for a Classics degree at university; Pengilly is studying British history.
They make idle conversation about Schliemann's work in Turkey while Archer sets a kettle to boil over an alcohol burner. The Doctor chatters about the Trojan War as if the major participants were personal acquaintances, and recites bits of the Iliad in flawless Homeric Greek. Professor Archer beams as if he's been given an unexpected birthday present, and his assistants gaze worshipfully at the visitor. Jack can't blame them. Beings far older and more experienced than these boys have fallen under the Doctor's spell.
"Doctor, where did you study?" Professor Archer asks when there's a lull in the conversation.
"Here and there," the Doctor says casually. He picks up a silver pepper-pot and heavily dusts his cucumber sandwich, then takes a large bite.
"Ah. . . just so," Professor Archer replies.
Jack hides a smile behind a potted-chicken sandwich. He notices that the professor hasn't asked about his educational background, despite his smartly-cut frock coat, blue silk waistcoat, and elegant four-in-hand tie. He's accustomed to Britons - especially in this era - making assumptions based on his accent. He doesn't mind in the slightest. One of his rules as a con man was 'Always let the mark underestimate you'.
The conversation turns back to Professor Archer's own excavation. "I confess, I was selfishly glad when you gentlemen arrived. Our numbers have sadly dwindled. I had hired men from the village, but most of them have run off."
"Why is that, Professor?" the Doctor asks.
"Because of the bucca," young Pengilly blurts out.
Deveril scowls at his friend. "Tom, you gaupus!"
"I didn't mean that I believed it, Dev, only that it's what they're saying in the village," Pengilly protests. "Some think it's a piskey, but most say it's a bucca - a ghost," he translates for the visitors.
The Professor only sighs. "Mr. Pengilly is correct. It is the unfortunate truth that in the past fortnight several of the men saw a shadow or a flash of moonlight that they fancied was Medrod's ghost, and they have infected the other villagers with their superstitious imaginings." As he leads them back to the church he adds, "Fortunately, a few loyal fellows are made of sterner stuff." He gestures at the labourers gathered outside the ruin. "Good men all."
While the Professor sets his men to their various tasks, Jack pulls the Doctor aside. "A ghost? Is this what you're so excited about? Ghosts don't exist." Jack knows that better than anyone.
"Of course they don't," the Doctor agrees, but his eyes are bright and his body taut with anticipation. "On the other hand, there are all sorts of manifestations that someone might mistake for a ghost. Or a piskey," he adds.
"It can't be fairies," Jack says, and inside the pockets of his frock coat, his hands curl into fists. "There haven't been any deaths."
The Doctor starts to speak, then seems to read the answer to his unvoiced question in Jack's eyes. "Not fairies," he agrees. "Hrekil? Pa'alkoot? Randeev?" He contorts his face into an expression of intense concentration. "Could be a time echo, but I'd sense that."
"Or it could be kids playing tricks, or shadows and a bellyful of ale," Jack says.
The Doctor nods. "True. Only one way to find out."
Jack grins. "A starlit summer evening. Very romantic. It's a date." He waits for the Doctor's usual half-amused half-annoyed scolding, but the Time Lord only nods, and goes off to speak with Professor Archer.
Humans never cease to amaze him. These particular ones are three thousand years from discovering even rudimentary time travel, and yet they manage to find ingenious ways to explore their own past. It's not entirely true that he 'points and laughs' at archaeologists. He admires scientists and truth-seekers of all kinds, reserving his scorn for the arrogant ones who think they know everything, or the greedy ones who put profit ahead of knowledge. Professor Archer is one of the truth-seekers, the Doctor decides. Although the archaeologist is searching for treasure, it's the truth behind the legend that is his real goal.
They spend the afternoon toiling alongside Professor Archer's team. St. Rumon's was built in the traditional cross shape. The nave - lined with pillars on both sides - forms the long section of the cross, while the two transepts are the arms of the horizontal bar. Part of the roof collapsed years ago, leaving the south transept choked with rubble that must be cleared away.
The stone shell of the church offers some protection from the sun, but doesn't do much for the heat. Jack promptly strips off his coat and waistcoat and rolls up his shirtsleeves. By contemporary standards, he's nearly naked, even more so when his linen shirt becomes sweat-dampened and clings to his well-muscled torso. The Doctor watches Jack for six minutes and forty-three seconds, waiting to see if anyone will comment on his scandalous state of undress, but either archaeological sites are exempt from the rules of propriety, or foreigners are not expected to know any better. He himself is perfectly comfortable in his usual suit and tie, his physiology being much more efficient about temperature regulation. He is a Time Lord, and a Time Lord is always perfectly in control of his body's reactions. Always. He stoops down, picks up a thirty-seven pound piece of granite, and heads outside at a brisk trot.
When they break for tea he and Jack chat with the workers from the village. Alan Godolphin and John Carey are out-of-work miners, Jago Mason was discharged from the Army a month ago, and William Teague is a farmhand on temporary loan from his employer, Henry Deveril's father. All of them look older than their years, especially Mason, who spent most of his military service in India.
Godolphin is one of the men who has seen the 'bucca'. He explains that he got up in the night to relieve himself, and spotted a faint light in the church. He thought it was children making mischief, so he grabbed a large stick and crept quietly inside, intending to give the offenders 'a good colloping'.
What he saw was a figure draped in white. "Just like a corpse in a winding-sheet." He gave a shout, and the figure ran, vanishing into the night.
"And then?" Jack demands.
"And then I went back to my bed," Godolphin says matter-of-factly, "Whether e' wa' living or dead, e' wa' gone, and naught I could do about it."
They wait until past midnight before slipping out of the camp. With only a few glances and gestures they agree on a hiding place: a crevice in the valley wall, partly blocked by bushes. The night is peaceful, but not quiet. Jack can hear the sounds of a summer night: birds calling to one another, wind in the treetops, the distant barking of a farmyard dog, the soft clicks of bush-crickets, and the rustle of dry grass as a fox stalks its dinner.
They sit in comfortable silence for over an hour. A few times, it seems to Jack that the Doctor is about to speak, but the Time Lord never utters a word. Another hour goes by, during which the greatest excitement is a barn owl hooting just a few metres behind them. It's well past two before their patience is rewarded. The Doctor tenses beside him in the same instant that Jack spots the dark shape moving through the shadows. By unspoken consent, they give the intruder a few minutes to enter the church before creeping out of their hiding place.
They'd been prepared to split up to search the ruin, but it proves to be unnecessary. Even from the entryway they can see a tiny flickering light near the altar, illuminating an amorphous white shape. The Doctor drifts to the left, towards the mostly-intact north wall, and begins to make his way up the aisle. Jack joins him a moment later. Their progress is partly concealed by the columns that separate the aisle from the wide central nave.
They reach the crossing where the transepts intersect the nave, a ten-metre square of open space with no possible concealment. They exchange glances. The Doctor shrugs and Jack nods in reply. They'll have to chance it. They take slow, careful steps. Sudden movement is more likely to make noise; more likely to be noticed.
Their luck holds. The white figure is crouching down beside the stone table of the altar, facing the semicircular wall that curves behind it. It's human - or humanoid, at least - and draped with a long white garment that covers its head.
"So," Jack says in a loud, clear voice, "you come here often?"
The figure springs to its feet and whirls around. Jack can see that the 'ghost' is a man wearing a voluminous white cloak, hood pulled forward to obscure his face. The man rushes forward, knocking over the small brass lamp on the ground. Jack moves to intercept him. In the split second before the light winks out, he sees a hand grasping an iron pry bar emerge from beneath the cloak. The light goes out, the hand swings upwards, and then it gets really dark.
The first thing Jack hears as he comes back to life is the harsh rasp of his oxygen-starved lungs sucking in as much air as possible. The second thing he hears is a soft tenor with a London accent. "Welcome back."
"Thanks." Cautiously, he sits up. His wounds may be healed, but his muscles protest against the time spent lying on a stone floor. "I guess you couldn't catch him."
"I- no," the Doctor says. He doesn't look directly at Jack.
He didn't chase him, Jack realises. He stayed here. That's very unlike the Doctor. "How long has it been?"
"Huh. Longer than I would've expected." His assailant will be long gone by now. There's no point in searching the area. Jack pulls himself into a crouch, tests his balance and stands up, brushing dust from his trousers.
"He bashed half your skull in," the Doctor snaps.
Jack raises his brows, and feels the tight, tugging sensation that means they're stiff with blood. "Not bad for an underhand swing. I wonder if he's a golfer."
He can't see the Time Lord's face well enough in the darkness to read the expression, but the tone of voice is clear enough: anger, the kind that is generally a mask for something else. "I'm sorry he got away-"
"You think that matters to me?" the Doctor demands.
"It was the point of us being here," Jack says. "Doctor, what's going on? You've seen me die before."
"Yes, I have." The Doctor turns and walks a few steps in the direction of the south transept, then stops, his face raised to the gap in the roof where the night sky blazes with stars.
Jack frowns. He's died twice in the months that he's been travelling with the Doctor after he said goodbye to Gwen and Rhys and fled from Earth, intending never to return. On the first occasion he fell into a mountain crevasse; on the other, he was hit with a neurostim lash on full strength. Before that, there was the incident on the Crucible, when he was shot by a Dalek - painful, but bloodless. The last time the Doctor actually saw him die a messy death up close was- Oh. Damn.
There's a very short list of things they never talk about. Never. The year on the Valiant is on the top of that list. Jack's lost track of how many times he died while they were the Master's prisoners. It's well over three hundred. The Doctor only saw a fraction of those deaths, but the Master made sure that he witnessed some of the most. . . creative ones.
"It's over," Jack says, and his voice is harsher than he intended.
The Doctor spins around to face him. "Is it?" he challenges. "Really? You don't think about it? Don't have nightmares?"
No more than you do. "It's over," Jack repeats firmly.
"Why don't you hate me, Jack? You ought to hate me."
Jack lets out a soft laugh. "I've never been very good at doing what I ought to." He walks forward until he's only inches away from the Doctor. This close, his dark-adapted eyes can see the Time Lord's face, read the expressions that flicker across it: bewilderment, guilt, remnants of anger. . . and something else. Jack takes a deep breath. "If I hated you," he murmurs, "I wouldn't want to do this." He leans forward and presses his mouth against the Doctor's.
Jack Harkness is kissing him.
Jack Harkness is kissing him.
It's not the first time that Jack has kissed him; it's not even the first time in this body. That's just the way Jack is. Jack kisses as casually as twenty-first century humans shake hands.
There is nothing casual about this kiss. It is urgent, demanding. There are only two possible responses to a kiss like this. He can be a coward, and run away from Jack Harkness yet again - or he can be reckless, and admit that he wants this. If he runs, Jack will understand. Jack will forgive him, just as he always does.
If he gives in to what he wants - what they both want - he risks. . . what? The inevitable pain of breaking up? They're not starry-eyed young lovers. They're weary old men with too much blood on their hands. He thinks of Pain and Death and Time, whom the ancient Gallifreyans worshipped as goddesses. Those three will have the last laugh, as They always do, but in the meanwhile, why shouldn't two weary old men find some comfort and pleasure in each other? Doesn't the universe owe him a bit of happiness for services rendered?
The Doctor wraps his arms around Jack and pulls the man tightly against him.
He opens his mouth wider and Jack does the same. Tongues meet, caress, explore. As the kiss deepens, he breathes in the scent that is uniquely Jack. Fifty-first century pheromones don't trigger a sexual response in him any more than the scent of flowers makes him want to pollinate something, but he finds them both very pleasing.
He lets his hands drift down Jack's back, imagining what it would feel like without those tiresome layers of clothing. He knows what it would look like - he's seen Jack shirtless, even naked, more than a few times. An image appears in his mind, unbidden: Jack stripped to the waist and chained to a bulkhead in the Valiant, his back covered with bloody welts- He shudders.
"Don't think about it." Jack's broken the kiss, but is holding him even more tightly than before. "Whatever it was, it's over."
He forces himself to nod, and banishes the memory with effort.
Jack sighs. "I think our next stop should be the TARDIS, and not for the reasons I'd like. I need a shower and a change of clothing, and we have to make some plans."
"Plans?" he echoes.
"We have a ghost to catch," Jack reminds him.
We have a murderer to catch. "So we do. Off to the TARDIS, then."
Jack allows himself a leisurely shower. It would be wonderful to have company, he muses. Bet I could persuade the Doctor to scrub my back - or my front. His cock twitches impatiently at the thought. Then again, maybe not now. It took three brisk rounds of shampoo-scrub-and-rinse before the foam vanishing down the drain was white, not pink. He doesn't need to see that.
Jack's not surprised that a nasty memory interrupted their first real kiss. It was bad timing on his part. That soon after he saw me die, it's no surprise it triggered a flashback. I should've waited. . . but I've been waiting so long.
He has to admit that it was a gamble. In the past few days, the Doctor's been giving off strange signals. Jack has nearly two hundred years' experience in seducing (or being seduced by) a wide variety of species and genders He can read desire in a smile, a glance, a flick of a finger or a tentacle, and no being in the wide universe has baffled him as much as the last Time Lord. The Doctor is an amazing bundle of contradictions. You have to listen carefully to what he says - and disbelieve at least half of it. More importantly, you have to listen to what he doesn't say.
He steps out of the shower and drapes a thick towel around his shoulders. The gamble paid off, he decides. It's too bad about the flashback but, until the interruption, things were going very well indeed. He just needs to be patient for a little while. Once this mystery is solved and they're back in the Vortex, he can return to the delightful task of seducing the Doctor. Until then, he'll behave himself. He'll be restrained - even demure - if it kills him.
Clean, dry, and dressed in another elegant suit, Jack makes his way to the console room. The Doctor is hovering over the temporal stabilizers, making minute, unnecessary adjustments to the settings. He straightens. "There you are, Jack. I've been thinking about our unfriendly friend in white. I've got a few ideas."
Jack drops into the jump-seat. "So do I."
He goes into the library. It's one of his thinking places, and he needs to think. The intriguing historical mystery has become very personal. It's no longer a matter of some unknown person playing silly buggers at an archaeological site; now it's a question of murder. If Jack were not an impossible, eternal Fact, he would- No, don't think about that. You haven't lost him.
He finds paper and a fountain pen in the mahogany Hepplewhite desk. He backdates the note to ten o'clock the previous evening. In suitably turgid prose he explains that he and Captain Harkness will be going out into the countryside "to further their studies of the nocturnal fauna of Cornwall" and that they will rendezvous with Professor Archer at the excavation site sometime the following morning. He signs it "Doctor [illegible squiggle]". It's so exquisitely pompous that for one very brief moment he almost considers getting out sealing wax and his Prydonian seal ring. But- no. Bad idea.
He persuades Jack to remain in the TARDIS while he sneaks back to the camp to deposit the note in the dining tent, where the professor will discover it at breakfast. Jack wants to accompany him, but the Doctor argues that he can travel faster alone. One person is less likely to be spotted than two, and besides, he has superior night vision.
"If our friend in white is lurking around-" Jack begins.
"He won't be," the Doctor replies firmly. "Either he's already scarpered, or he's gone back to his own bed, secure in the knowledge that we don't have the faintest idea who he is. He won't be haunting the dining tent. And I can promise you that I won't be lingering to salute the rosy-fingered dawn with a nice cuppa."
True to his word, he returns to the TARDIS well before the sun rises. Jack is waiting for him outside, having changed into clothing that is more appropriate for their upcoming confrontation.
The Doctor eyes him up and down. "Very nice," he says admiringly.
Jack shrugs. "Not my favourite style, but it's one of the rules of the con: dress to fit the part."
He wants to protest that this isn't a con, but of course it is. They're just not doing it for money.
They're in the church by four o'clock. Professor Archer and his crew won't be there until seven, but sunrise is at twenty past five. They want to travel to the church in darkness so they don't risk being seen before time. They sit on stone blocks inside the north transept and talk in low voices about everything and nothing: planets they've visited or would like to visit, whether the 4016 Olympics were rigged, and what the best flavour of tavell is.
At half six they go to their separate hiding places, and wait. At four past seven the Doctor hears the sounds of Professor Archer and his men: the laughter of the university boys, the deeper rumble of the labourers' voices. The Doctor is standing behind one of the pillars that line the nave. His role is to watch unseen. Easy peasy, and no perception filters needed. People can be very unobservant when they're distracted, and Jack will be providing a major distraction.
The men walk through the main doorway of St. Rumon's and head up the nave, work boots clomping on the stone floor. Ten, nine, eight, seven. . . The Doctor ticks off the seconds in his mind.
"Professor, did you want me to photograph the carvings on the facade today?" a young voice asks.
Six, five, four. . .
"I would prefer that you concentrate on the lintel inscriptions, Mr. Deveril."
Three, two, one. He's looking in the wrong direction to see Jack, and can't hear the tread of his soft leather shoes, but he can tell by the men's reactions when Jack steps into sight. They stop where they are and fall silent. He knows what they're seeing. Jack is standing in the middle of the crossing where the transepts meet the nave. His face is cold and remote in its beauty, like a flawless statue of a warrior angel. His elegant suit is all black, appropriate for a Victorian gentleman to wear to a formal occasion - or his own funeral.
Everyone reacts - some with surprise, some with confusion, and a few with mild amusement. Only one man betrays himself with a shudder of fear.
"You seem surprised to see me, Mason," Jack says softly. "Why is that?"
Mason's jaw drops, but no sound emerges from his mouth.
"Corporal Mason! Answer me!" Jack snaps.
"Sir!" The years of military training kick in. "You- you're dead! I killed you."
There are gasps and murmurs from the onlookers. The Doctor turns so he can see both Jack and Mason.
"Really? And how did you kill me, Mason?"
"I cobbed your head with my bar-ire. Capp'n, I didn't mean to do it, sir! Only I was afeared and I just struck out afore I knew what I was doing."
Professor Archer strides forward. "Mason, that will be quite enough. Captain Harkness, what is the meaning of this taradiddle?"
The Doctor slips out of his hiding place and moves to stand at Jack's side. "I can explain that," he says calmly. "Jack and I did a little hunting last night, and we found your ghost." He gives a quick explanation of their vigil, the light in the church, and the white-cloaked figure.
"But what is this nonsense about having killed Captain Harkness?" the professor demands.
"Oh, he took a swing at me, all right," Jack says, "and if he'd connected with that pry bar I'd be as dead as a dodo. Obviously, he missed."
Mason is trembling. He shakes his head. "There was blood. I saw it."
"Guilt, fear, and darkness can have an extraordinary effect on perception," the Doctor says to Professor Archer.
The archaeologist nods. "The fancies of a disordered mind." He runs a hand through his white hair. "Why, Mason? What was the purpose of this- this charade?"
He has to repeat the question several times before the distraught Mason replies. "You shouldn't be digging here, Professor. It's not right."
The professor sighs. "I've explained to all of you men - St. Rumon's was deconsecrated centuries ago. It's not holy ground any longer."
"It's naught to do with that," Mason retorts. "You shouldn't be digging here, looking for the treasure - my treasure."
"Your treasure!" Professor Archer says, bewildered, and his assistants echo him like a Greek chorus.
"Yes, mine. Mine and my family's," the ex-soldier says defiantly.
"How do you figure that, Mason?" Jack asks.
"Mason!" the Doctor exclaims. His face scrunches up, and he waggles his hands as if he's trying to shake out his excess energy through the tips of his fingers. "Mason. . . By any chance, was your grandfather a stone-cutter?"
"Yes. And his father and grandfer afore him."
Not for the first time, Jack feels as though he's running after the Doctor, always a step behind. "Mason," he says slowly. "Stone-mason. A family of stone-masons, going back to. . . Medrod?"
Jago Mason nods energetically. "That's what Grandfer allus told me when I was a boy - that we was descended from Medrod, and heirs to his treasure. His treasure," he repeats with added emphasis. "They gambled for it, and he won it fair and square."
The puzzle pieces fall into place. Jack thinks about a boy from a poor family, raised on tales of ancient treasure. How often did he sneak away from his chores to visit this ruin, dreaming of wealth and the comforts it can buy? How often did he search the fallen stones for a clue to his supposed birthright? The boy grew into a young man, took the Queen's shilling, and accompanied his battalion to the other side of the world. In the dusty heat of Lahore, did he dream about stone ruins in the cool valleys of home? Did the sight of jewel-draped maharajas and nawabs keep alive his fantasies of Medrod's treasure?
The Doctor rubs his hands through his hair, giving it the look of a poorly-constructed bird's nest. "Professor, you said you've been excavating here for four months, but the 'ghost' didn't appear until two weeks ago?"
"Mason was discharged from the army a month ago," Jack muses aloud. He came home after years away, and discovered that an outsider had invaded his special place and was searching for his treasure. "It took him a couple of weeks to come up with a plan. He decided to scare your workers away. His little masquerade worked on some of them, but not all."
"Since he couldn't shut you down completely," the Doctor says, "he decided to join your team. What better way to keep an eye on what you were doing?"
"And to do some searching of his own, it appears," Professor Archer says. "Doctor, you say he was digging when you found him?"
"Prying at the paving-stones, I think," the Doctor replies. He leads the professor to the space behind the altar. On the ground is the overturned miner's lamp that Mason left behind when he fled. Beside it is the pry bar. If he weren't a Time Lord, and perfectly in control of his reactions, the Doctor would shudder at the sight of it. True, Jack had cleaned off all traces of blood and given it a new coating of dirt and stone-dust, but the memories clinging to it are all too fresh.
The rest of the group approach, Carey and Teague escorting the unresisting Mason.
"Mason, were you checking for hollow spaces?" Professor Archer asks.
He bobs his head. "Yes, but I didn't dare strike the stones too hard, for fear of the noise."
That's hardly an issue just now. Within moments, Henry Deveril is thumping the pry bar energetically on the stone slabs that form the floor in this section of the church. His efforts produce only dull thuds until he reaches the eighth stone. "Professor, I think this is it!"
"Huzzah!" Tom Pengilly shouts. "Well done, Dev! Open it up!"
"Not just yet, if you please, Mr. Deveril." The professor sends Godolphin outside to fetch some more suitable tools. Together, he and Deveril pry at the near edge of the slab until it begins to move. As soon as a thin line of darkness appears, the professor deftly inserts several wooden wedges into the gap. The Doctor watches as they repeat the process on the opposite side of the slab. Pengilly brings in an armload of long wooden poles. They're made of sturdy oak, fifteen centimetres in diameter, and perfectly round. He sets two down on the floor parallel to the far edge of the slab.
Under the professor's direction, they arrange themselves around the other three edges of the slab: Godolphin and Deveril at the front, and the Doctor and Jack on the sides. On the count of three, they lift the stone and move it forwards until the leading edge is resting on the two poles. Pengilly sets down a third pole, then a fourth. With each roller that goes under the slab, the weight on their arms lessens. Within a few minutes, the slab has been safely rolled aside.
"Brilliant!" the Doctor says. "They used a very similar method for the pyramids."
No one asks him just how he knows this. Their attention is entirely held by the dark hole that has been revealed. Godolphin lights the miner's lamp with practiced ease and holds it over the hole.
"Jimmery-cree!" Tom Pengilly exclaims. "It's a box."
Jago Mason, still firmly held by Carey and Teague, stares longingly at the hole. "It's my treasure."
Jack watches as Professor Archer and his men fashion a makeshift sling out of a wool blanket and some rope. With infinite care, they lift the box from its hiding-place, and set it down on another blanket. It's a small iron-banded wooden chest with two locks set into its front.
Jack offers to tackle the locks. "I used to work with a locksmith," he says vaguely, not wanting to explain the exact nature of his association with Jamaica Joe Bailey, the best cracksman in San Francisco. He opens the first with only a little difficulty; the second is rusted shut.
"Let me take a look,' the Doctor suggests. He stoops down, and under the cover of his coat, sonics the lock. He rises, gesturing at the chest. "Professor Archer?"
With hands that tremble only slightly, Professor Archer raises the lid of the chest to reveal bulging leather sacks. He opens the nearest. Inside is a lumpy black mass. He pokes at it with a cautious finger, and it separates into tiny rough spheres about three or four millimetres across. "My goodness. . ." He opens another sack, then a third and fourth. Their contents are identical. "What can this be?"
"Medrod's treasure," the Doctor says. He reaches over and scoops up a small handful of the spheres, raises them to his nose and sniffs. "Yup, I thought so. Fructus Piperis nigri."
Deveril, the Classics student, is the first to translate the Latin name. "Pepper? Black pepper?" he says incredulously.
Pengilly grins at his friend. "Don't you read anything but your dusty old Romans, Dev? Spices! Every European nation sent out explorers and traders to bring home the riches of the East. In Medrod's day, this would have been a real treasure."
"Not quite a king's ransom," the Doctor says, "but certainly worth about a year's wages for someone like Medrod."
Jack helps himself to a sample of the pepper. To his merely human nose it has no more odour than a withered autumn leaf.
"My treasure is. . . pepper?" Mason bellows. He pulls himself free from his two guards and rushes to the chest. Snatching up a fistful of peppercorns, he turns and flings them as forcefully as he can down the nave. A few of them roll across the stone floor, but most crumble into dust. "Pepper," Mason repeats in a dull, weary tone, and he slumps to the ground, and begins to weep.
They sit around the table in the dining tent, conversing over tea and saffron buns.
"So, Professor - what happens to Medrod's treasure?" Jack asks.
"As local representative of the Crown, the district coroner will decide." Professor Archer says. "In a case where ownership cannot be determined, valuables usually revert to the Crown. In this particular instance, I daresay Her Majesty's coroner will be happy to leave the chest and its contents to the finder. Even the chest is of little value. It's unornamented, and the workmanship is not particularly noteworthy. I shall add it to my personal collection, and keep it in my study at home. It will inspire me when I write my paper for the British Archaeological Association. I believe I shall entitle it 'The Unlikely Treasure of St. Rumon's Church.'"
"And what will happen to Mason?" the Doctor asks.
The professor sighs. "That depends largely on Captain Harkness." He looks at Jack. "Do you intend to press charges?"
Jack does a quick mental review of what he remembers of British penal law in this decade. The mildest possible charge - 'Threatening Behaviour' - could get Mason as much as four years hard labour. 'Assault' or 'Attempted Murder' would involve a longer sentence, perhaps even hanging. He glances at the Doctor, but the Time Lord looks away. He won't try to influence Jack's choice.
Jack shakes his head. "I haven't got a scratch on me. The poor guy panicked, that's all. Besides, he's already been punished."
"Losing his treasure." Professor Archer nods.
"Losing his dream," Jack corrects, "and in the worst possible way - by discovering that it was never what he thought it was." The professor looks at him in a way that tells Jack he's let too much truth slip into his words. Jack smiles - a careful, sympathetic, reassuring smile. "Mason has family in the village, doesn't he?"
"Yes. Three brothers and two sisters still living. And Mr. Pengilly has promised to speak to his father about hiring Mason as a stablehand. I would offer him a situation in my own household in Norfolk-" The professor looks uncomfortable. "-but I think it unwise to have him anywhere near the chest, as it is likely to excite his monomania."
"Probably for the best," the Doctor agrees, "though monomania can sometimes be a very good thing. If little Robbie Goddard had let himself be distracted by football or stamp-collecting, you lot might still be stuck on Ear- err, in early stages of technological advancement. And Marconi- no, not yet. Michelangelo! Fascinating chap." He burbles on, to Professor Archer's confusion and Jack's secret delight.
They say their final goodbyes, declining an escort to the village, where Professor Archer believes they left their carriage. As soon as they enter the TARDIS, the Doctor hurries to the console and starts the dematerialisation sequence.
Jack watches him. Normally, he'd be offering to help drive, but he's a bit distracted right now. This is the first moment that they've had time and privacy since that interrupted kiss in St. Rumon's. "So. . . what now?"
"Lots of possibilities," the Doctor says brightly. "Where would you like to go? Carnival on Jaag Pekash? Birth of the Crab Nebula? Visit Michelangelo?" He doesn't give Jack a chance to respond. "Nah, brilliant artist, but he wasn't much for socialising, Michelangelo. I know! How about Cellini? Benvenuto Cellini - now there was a bloke who knew how to party."
Jack's heart sinks, but he forces himself to smile. "All of those sound great, Doctor."
"Good, good, good! Then we'll be off." He pauses. "Unless-"
The Doctor waves his right hand in vague circles. "Because of the, ummm. . . circumstances earlier, I don't think you quite saw me at my best. For snogging, that is. I don't want to boast, but as I told you when I was my previous self, I do have the moves, and if you could just forget about earlier, or just regard it as practice and then we could, you know, give it another-"
Jack disguises an escaping laugh as a cough. "Doctor, are you telling me that you want to try again?"
"Yes! Exactly! If you don't mind, that is," the Doctor adds hastily.
"I don't mind in the slightest," Jack says with as much solemnity as he can muster.
The Doctor approaches, moving slowly, deliberately. He places his hands, fingers interlaced, on the back of Jack's head, and pulls him in, until their mouths are close, but not touching. Jack takes a slow, deep breath, savouring the Doctor's unique scent. He doesn't close the gap between them, doesn't take the initiative. He parts his lips - a silent offering, an unspoken word - and waits.
Jack doesn't know what to expect, and that excites him. The kiss in the church was thrilling simply because it happened. It could have been as insipid as lukewarm tea, and it still would have aroused him. It was not at all insipid. It was nervous and clumsy, but also passionate and intense.
"Close your eyes?" the Doctor murmurs.
Jack obeys. This isn't about power - not that he'd mind - but about giving the Doctor room to improvise. He feels the Doctor's warm breath, gentle against his lips. The hands that were holding his head in place move down. The Doctor brushes his thumbs ever so lightly against the nape of Jack's neck. Jack shivers.
As if in protest, his stiffening cock gives a sudden jerk.
The Doctor laughs softly, and the staccato puffs of air caress Jack's face. "Humans. Always in such a hurry." His cool lips bestow a kiss like a benediction on Jack's forehead, then brush lightly against each fluttering eyelid. Down the right cheek, then outward to the ear. The Doctor slowly rakes his teeth across the earlobe, then sucks on it as if it is an especially delicious treat.
Jack thinks about the Doctor's mouth doing that to his cock and lets out a soft moan.
"You like that," the Doctor says in a tone of pleased discovery. Without warning, his mouth seizes Jack's.
I'm being devoured. It's the only word that fits. Jack can't even begin to count the number of people who have kissed him in his long and busy life. Some were more sensual or more skilled than the Doctor, but none could match the Time Lord's fierce hunger. I have to see him. His lids snap open. The Doctor is gazing at him intently, fathomless eyes wide and dark with desire. He wants me. The Doctor wants me.
He's tempted to lose himself in a blur of frenzied lust. He's sure that the Doctor would enjoy it, too. I think it's been a long time for him. It would be easy enough to do, to push them both over the edge of self-control, until neither one of them can remember his own name, let alone his partner's. Only. . . this is the Doctor, and Jack wants to remember every little moment with him.
The Doctor hugs Jack around the waist and pulls him close. Jack gives in to a different temptation. He reaches around, grabs the Doctor's arse, and squeezes.
The Doctor breaks the kiss with a final, leisurely sweep of his tongue along Jack's upper lip. "Oooh, cheeky!"
"You like that about me," Jack says automatically.
The Doctor pauses, looking thoughtful. "Yup. I do."
"And what else do you like, Doctor?"
The Time Lord raises his brows. "Fishing for compliments now, are you?" he says in affectionate reproof.
Only from you, Doctor. "Hey, just trying to find out your tastes," Jack says. "No point in offering you Maltesers if you'd rather have Liquorice Allsorts."
"I used to be very, very fond of Jelly Babies," the Doctor says, smiling at the recollection. "Always kept a bag or two in my pockets."
Jack does his best to hide his dismay. He doesn't need a crystal ball to see where this is going. He wonders if he has time for a quick wank or a cold shower - or both! - before they head off to Jaag Pekash or the Crab Nebula.
"Of course, that was centuries ago, and in another body," the Doctor continues. "There is quite a lot of things that I haven't tried in this body, and I don't know which ones I'll like." His smile brightens. "I was hoping that you could help me find out."
Jack's mouth is suddenly too dry to speak, so he nods.
"I thought we might just explore for a bit," the Doctor says, a little too casually. "You, know - experiment."
You're scared, too, huh? "Sure thing, Doc," he replies, giving the Time Lord an exaggerated leer. "I'd be happy to be your lab partner. Anything for science."
As they head into the depths of the TARDIS, Jack feels an unexpected sensation rushing through him. It's not lust or excitement or anticipation (though he feels those, too), but something he can't name, like a half-forgotten melody. Moments later, paused in front of the door that leads to the Doctor's bedroom, Jack remembers.
This is what joy feels like.
- THE END -