Early for Once

Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who.

"Doctor," Amy said, sticking her head out of the TARDIS door. "This doesn't look like Barcelona."

"I did tell you that we were going to the planet, not the city right?" the Doctor inquired. "Because let me tell you, they have some very nice hats there. Although I've found that the dogs with no noses tend to draw more interest for some reason."

"Not again with the hats," Amy groaned. "How many of them do River and I need to destroy before you get the picture?"

"What picture?" the Doctor asked innocently.

Rory moved to the TARDIS door to see where they had landed. "Um, Doctor? I don't think this is the planet Barcelona either."

"Are you sure?" the Doctor asked curiously. "I mean, you've never been."

"That is true," Rory acknowledged. "But unless the planet Barcelona looks a great deal like nineteenth century England…"

"Early twentieth century Wales, actually," a voice corrected him.

Rory and Amy turned to see a tall, dark-haired man staring at them.

"But then," the man continued, "all of time and space, I can see how you'd get confused. At least you didn't think it was Barcelona. Either of them."

"Is that…?" the Doctor asked, finally coming to see where they'd landed.

Amy and Rory stepped out of the TARDIS so he'd have a better view.

"Doctor?" Amy asked.

"Oh, it is!" the Doctor said delightedly. "Jack! How have you been? It's been too long." He promptly pulled Jack into a bone-crushing hug.

"Doctor?" Jack asked a little uncertainly.

"Of course it's me," the Doctor said, surprised, as he pulled back. "Oh, well I guess you've never met this regeneration. I know I haven't seen you but with time travel one can never be too sure. It really has been too long."

Jack shook his head. " 'You'll have to wait a century', huh? Five years, a hundred…that's not too far off…"

"Do you think maybe you can introduce us to your friend?" Amy asked pointedly.

The Doctor started. "Oh, right, of course. Amy, Rory, this is Captain Jack Harkness. I'm actually not sure if you're still going by that but I do like that name."

"Jack's fine," Jack said agreeably.

"Jack, this is Amy and Rory Pond," the Doctor introduced.

"Williams, actually," Rory spoke up.

The Doctor gave him a strange look. "I know it was Williams, Rory, but then you got married."

"That's still not how it works," Rory tried to explain.

"Stop fighting it," Amy advised.

"Amy and Rory are my current travelling companions," the Doctor explained.

Jack smiled at them and offered his hand. "Hello there…"

"Jack's from the fifty-first century," the Doctor continued. "That makes it difficult for him to speak without flirting."

"You make it sound like I can't help myself," Jack protested.

"Can you?" the Doctor challenged.

Jack ignored the question. "So you two are married?"

Amy nodded. "I would have my ring but, well, some people don't approve of me wearing it outside of the TARDIS."

"It was really expensive," Rory said defensively. "And travelling with the Doctor is really dangerous. Wearing it would just be asking to lose it."

"You have no faith in me," Amy accused.

Rory shook his head. "No, I just have no faith in the Doctor's ability to give us a restful trip."

"Restful trips are boring," the Doctor insisted.

Rory nodded his way. "See?"

"So did you use to travel with the Doctor as well?" Amy asked. "Is that how you got here?"

Jack glanced over at the Doctor. "Yes," he said shortly.

"So how have you been?" the Doctor asked eagerly.

"Abandoned," Jack replied curtly.

"Oh, that sounds terrible," the Doctor said sympathetically. "And very rude, too. What happened?"

"Why don't you tell me?" Jack countered.

The Doctor frowned. "How would I…oh. You mean…oh. That's right!"

"Doctor?" Rory asked cautiously.

"Are you trying to tell me that you completely forgot that you abandoned me?" Jack asked incredulously.

"…Maybe," the Doctor admitted. "But in my defense, it was a very long time ago."

"I know," Jack agreed. "Thirty-five years ago."

"If you're talking about when I left I'd say it was quite a bit longer than that and two regenerations ago," the Doctor replied. "Oh, wait, you were talking about for you, weren't you?"

"It's been 'quite a bit' longer than thirty-five years and you just forgot about me?" Jack demanded. "I've been waiting all this time and you didn't even remember it?"

"That's not quite what happened," the Doctor protested.

"It sure sounds like it," Jack said stubbornly. "And even landing here now seems like it was a complete and total accident."

"For me, it was," the Doctor conceded. "I was trying to get to Barcelona. The TARDIS must have wanted to see you, though."

"About forgetting?" Jack asked pointedly.

"And I thought that I had it bad," Amy murmured. "At least when the Doctor said he'd be back in five minutes, was gone for twelve years, and then left for another two years after that he honestly didn't realize how much time had passed."

"I'm finding that a bit hard to believe," Rory disagreed. "But still, I'm glad he didn't take seven-year-old you with him. That just reeks of irresponsibility."

"You don't think the Doctor would really do that, do you?" Amy asked, surprised.

Rory just raised an eyebrow at her.

"Okay, so maybe he would," she conceded. "But it's not like it happened."

"Because the TARDIS is the one with all the common sense," Rory claimed.

"Your nefarious plot to make me jealous of the two of you isn't working!" the Doctor declared dramatically.

"Jealous?" Rory repeated blankly. "Of me and Amy?"

"No, I think he means you and the TARDIS," Amy corrected him.

"I…don't have a nefarious plan," Rory told him seriously. "Why would I have a nefarious plan?"

The Doctor coughed. "Nothing, never mind. But it's still not working."

"I guess there's some solace in that I'm not the only one he abandoned," Jack mused. "Not that I'm glad that he did it to you, too."

"Wait, what happened?" Amy inquired.

"The Doctor and I, apparently two regenerations ago, were on a satellite that was being attacked by an army of Daleks. I died – I think – suddenly came back to life and then the Doctor left before I could get onboard the TARDIS. I waited for him to come back but he didn't and I was the only living thing amidst a station-full of corpses. I eventually used my Vortex Manipulator to try to get to the twenty-first century so I could find the Doctor but I overshot it and ended up in 1869 with a broken Vortex Manipulator to show for it."

Rory did some quick math. "So that would make it 1904 then?"

Jack nodded. "Indeed."

"Doctor, is this true?" Amy asked, horrified. "That's horrible."

"Well, yeah," the Doctor agreed, awkwardly. "But come on, I already got yelled at for this once."

"Not by me, you didn't," Jack pointed out. "And clearly it wasn't enough to change your mind."

"Well, of course I-" the Doctor stopped. "Oh, right. Jack, when was the last time you saw me?"

"The day you abandoned me," Jack replied promptly.

"Well that wasn't the last time I saw you," the Doctor explained. "I actually run into you sometime around the beginning of the twenty-first century and then I explain everything."

Jack stared at him. "You're kidding."

"Why would I be kidding?" the Doctor asked, confused.

"You're not just going to tell me now? You're going to make me wait decades?" Jack demanded.

"Sorry," the Doctor said, attempting to actually look sorry about it. "It's just that you clearly didn't know when I had to explain it to you – presumably the next time you see me – and so I can't very well go around telling you now. It would change history! You might not even seek me out and then we really would have been in trouble with…but then, we might not even have had that happen. But no, that's messing with your own past, can't do that."

"Doctor, what are you talking about?" Jack asked tiredly.

"I'm really sorry but since this isn't the first time I've seen you since then and I hadn't already told you when I saw you, I can't tell you now," the Doctor summarized. "But I can promise you that I will explain it one day."

"That's not very comforting, Doctor," Jack said dryly. "There's nothing in the world stopping you from telling me now and then I'll just pretend I don't know later and ask again."'

"I can't take that risk," the Doctor insisted. "You did something pretty drastic to come with me and if you already knew then you probably wouldn't have."

"What's it matter if you change your own past?" Amy wondered.

"Bad things happen," the Doctor said, shuddering. "It wouldn't be such a big deal if the Time Lords were still around but, well, they're not. I've seen giant…winged…insect-thingies come out of nowhere and devour everything in sight to correct a paradox. I've seen a generation nearly completely wipe out its own ancestors when the paradox has been neutralized. I've seen a man go mad with power when he changed a fixed event."

"A man?" Rory asked shrewdly.

The Doctor nodded. "He was in a bad place. He'd lived too long."

"How long am I going to live?" Jack asked, exasperated.

The Doctor thought about it. "Probably longer. So you see, I really can't tell you."

"Do you even want to?" Jack asked skeptically.

The Doctor's eyes widened. "Of course I do! I feel just terrible about all that time I made you wait."

"Then why did you do it in the first place?" Jack asked pointedly.

"I'm afraid that I've already answered that question," the Doctor informed him. "But if it's any consolation, it was my ninth regeneration – the one you travelled with – that ultimately left, my tenth that never came back, and now I'm the eleventh."

"It's really not," Jack said flatly.

"I always kind of wished that I could take the slow path," the Doctor revealed. "But then, I don't think I'd have the patience for it. Not to mention that everyone around me would still wither and die while I wouldn't. Actually, it sounds pretty awful."

"Is that so?" Jack asked sarcastically.

"You seemed happy enough with it the last time I saw you," the Doctor said hastily. "After all, I invited you to come with me again and you insisted that you go back to your team."

"My team? What team?" Jack asked him.

The Doctor shrugged. "I don't know. Torchwood something or other. I didn't really stick around long enough to be introduced. I've never liked Torchwood."

"I just joined Torchwood not that long ago," Jack admitted. "Just a few years."

"Oh, I know," the Doctor informed him. "And it's fine, really. I trust that you're not out to capture me like everyone else."

"Which makes me a rather shoddy Torchwood operative given that our mission statement includes doing just that," Jack said wryly.

"Wait, what?" Amy demanded. "Who wants to capture the Doctor?"

"And more importantly why?" Rory inquired. "Because this kind of thing seems to be happening a lot lately."

"Most of those weren't my fault!" the Doctor insisted. "And the Torchwood thing wasn't even me."

"Then who was it?" Amy asked.

"My previous regeneration," the Doctor replied promptly.

"Doctor, unless you're feeling schizophrenic then I think you'll have to admit that it is you," Jack said flatly.

The Doctor considered this. "And if I were feeling schizophrenic?"

"It was still you," Jack replied.

"Well, I don't really remember what happened," the Doctor claimed.

"From what I heard, the Doctor rescued Queen Victoria from a werewolf almost accidentally as he and his companion spent the entire time joking around having the time of their lives," Jack explained.

"Knighted and banished all in one day," the Doctor said brightly.

"I thought you couldn't remember it," Rory reminded him.

The Doctor shifted. "I can't. But I really should look into getting myself un-banished one of these days. I don't want another incident…"

"Incident?" Jack repeated.

"Spoilers," the Doctor said apologetically. He brightened. "Hey, that is fun!"

"So his future wife…" Amy murmured.

"You can't be serious!" Jack protested. " 'Spoilers'? What kind of an answer is that?"

"The kind of answer you get when you can't tell somebody what's going to happen for risk of ruining everything," the Doctor answered.

"How would it 'ruin everything'?" Jack demanded.

"Do you want giant winged insect-thingies to come out of nowhere and start devouring everything in sight?" the Doctor retorted. "Who knows if even you would come back from that?"

"That can't possibly really happen," Jack said skeptically.

"It can and it has," the Doctor countered. "With Rose, actually. Between her saving her dead father's life, her dead father being insanely successful in a universe where he lived thus making her a completely different person probably less likely to drop everything to come with me, her changing her immediate past by pushing a past version of her who was watching the death aside, and her holding her baby self it's a wonder any of us got out of that."

"What happened to 'spoilers'?" Jack asked a little bitterly.

The Doctor shrugged. "Oh, well that happened before we even met you so that's fine."

"If you ever want to look me up someday when you're around the year 2011 then I'd be happy to listen," Rory offered. "I know a bit about insanely long lifespans."

"You do?" Jack asked, surprised, as he raised an eyebrow.

Rory nodded. "Amy died during the time of the Romans once and I was an auton at the time – long story – so I put her in the Pandorica and waited, protecting her, for two thousand years before she could be healed."

Amy nodded. "The Doctor apparently tried to talk him out of it. He couldn't be bothered to wait."

"Oh, be reasonable!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Two thousand years!"

"Rory did it," Amy pointed out.

"Rory is in love with you," the Doctor said matter-of-factly. "And he felt responsible. And it's not like I'm not suitably impressed by it."

"So Rory was abandoned for two thousand years," Jack mused. "I suppose that kind of puts things into perspective."

"I wouldn't say 'abandoned', exactly-" Rory started to say.

"I still have roughly a century to wait to find out what happened to me because one Doctor is running from me and another won't tell me anything," Jack interrupted.

"Abandoned it is, then," Rory said agreeably.

"Hey!" the Doctor objected. "I thought you were on my side!"

"It does seem cruel to be here and not tell him anything," Rory explained.

"You're probably right," the Doctor said grudgingly. "And I wanted to have an adventure, too…"

"We can go somewhere else and have an adventure," Amy assured him.

"You can't even drop me off somewhere closer to the time when your past self would explain things to me?" Jack asked almost desperately.

"I would if I could," the Doctor replied. "And I've checked your history on Earth out. You don't disappear off the radar for long."

"You always blame everything on the fact that you're from the future," Jack grumbled.

"Trust me, Jack, I know exactly how you feel," the Doctor commiserated.

"Oh, does he have a thing for you, too, Doctor?" Amy asked.

The Doctor made a face at her before turning back to Jack. "Well, if that's all then goodbye, Jack," he told him, waving. "I'd stay longer but I don't even think I'm supposed to be here now and I really can't afford to mess this up. You never told me that you had this encounter, after all."

"It could just be that he can keep a secret," Rory offered.

Jack looked at him long and hard for a moment. "Goodbye, Doctor," he said finally. "And Rory, I just might take you up on that offer one day. We'll see."

Amy and Rory said goodbye as well and the three stepped back into the TARDIS.

"For the record, if you ever abandon me again then I will make you regret it," Amy threatened.

"I'm not much for abandoning companions anymore," the Doctor assured her. "So if I do it's probably because something really important came up and I'll be back sooner or later."

"So where now?" Rory inquired.

"Barcelona the planet, of course," the Doctor said boisterously. He snapped his fingers. "Oh, wait!" He ran to the door of the TARDIS and flung it open.

"Doctor?" Jack asked quizzically, not having moved from that same spot.

"This won't mean anything to you now but can you try to remember it for the future?" the Doctor requested.

Jack nodded slowly. "Alright."

"Martha's phone recently had an accident with the Morok Emperor and…well, that's a long story, too," the Doctor said thoughtfully. "I got a new one. Just know that I've only recently become aware that you were trying to contact me. Something about children and a miracle? Oh, well, it's over now. Sorry about not being around. I'm sure you did fine without me. They wouldn't call it a miracle if it wasn't good, right?"

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