Christmas Eve, 1879
It was a bitterly cold night in London. The darkness seemed to ensnare the world in a glass globe of icy air and cold pavements. Jack rubbed his hands together, despite them being covered in thick woollen gloves, and sighed out a cloud of white breath. The frost stung his cheeks raw, and he was shivering all over. It was late, and around him young women in their bonnets and crinolines held onto the arms of dashing men who were helping them into Hackney cabs. Jack loved London, but right now he was loath to be back in Cardiff. The ice on the cobblestones was almost too much to bear, and the warm lights of houses filled him with a deep longing for that warm glow of comfort. He was only here for the night, anyhow.
Jack wrapped his arms around himself, and barrelled headfirst down an alleyway. The smoky smell in the damp bricks filled him with nostalgia for the future. In forty or so years, this place would be bombed to the ground and he would be here. The thought was tantalising; the man he'd waited for for so long, back at last and yet so out of reach because their timelines hadn't crossed yet and he wouldn't know what to do. He would have to stay in Cardiff on the day he and the Doctor met, on the day that for just once, everybody lives and by God, it would be so hard.
Jack stopped, and looked up at the starless sky. He was up there, somewhere, and one day he'd find him. Jack needed to be in London tonight, and every other Christmas night. He'd heard stories of 1951, before he'd even been here: a Cyberman in the Thames. He'd nearly destroyed his home in Cardiff with his anger and tattered hope. He was not going to let that ever happen again. Christmas in London it was.
He continued on, his black boots protecting his feet from the chill. He turned the corner, and then another, down the Labyrinth streets until finally he came out onto a dark and silent main road. He looked up at the street-sign, and then pulled a scrap of paper from his coat pocket. He unfolded it, and tapped on the small circled dot where his hostel was marked. He studied the map for a moment, then muttered "Chrissakes…" under his breath and stuffed it back into his coat again. For a moment he stood frozen in the middle of the void street. Then he heard a cough.
Jack wheeled around at the sudden noise. A little way down the road, he could see someone sitting on the pavement, and he frowned. It was a young man in his mid-twenties, with tousled sandy hair. He was sitting on the curb, clad only in a thin jacket, white shirt and cotton trousers, his hands clasped in front of him, staring into the distance. Jack frowned, and then shook his head and carried on up the road.
After a short while the American came across a pub, The King's Head, which was still open and raucous, spilling light out into the street. Jack grinned, and pushed his way into the tavern. Instantly he was surrounded by light and colour; bawdy laughter. A young girl in a revealing dress bumped into him and giggled: "Sorry, Mister," He shoved his way through the crowds to the bar, and managed to grab the attention of the flustered young barkeep. Over in the corner, a buxom older woman started up a chorus of "Good King Wenceslas" with ruder lyrics, and then promptly fell off her chair.
Jack laughed. "I'll have two of whatever she's having."
The young man quickly poured out two glasses of mulled wine from the large stew-pot, and passed them over. Jack winked at him, and he blushed. Jack turned and smiled suavely at the girl who had bumped into him he walked in, and she gave him a wave with her fingers. Jack started towards her, glasses in hand, but then paused. Then he pushed his way out of the crowd and back into the night air, leaving the girl huffing behind him.
The night seemed eerily quiet in comparison to the loud clamour of the pub, and Jack felt the warm liquor warm his hands as he carried them down the roads. His heels clicked against the stones, and as he drew nearer, the mysterious man looked up. As Jack drew closer the man wrapped his arms protectively around himself, eying him warily, looking as if he might flee at any moment. He was quite good-looking, Jack mused to himself; a slightly hawkish face, but a kind-natured one. He was sitting in front of a boarded-up shop, with the words Closed for Renovation painted over the darkened door.
"Hey!" Jack called, and the man frowned up at him as their shadows crossed over. Jack stopped in front of him, and grinned in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "Thought you might want a little company. Whatcha doing out here?"
"Waiting," the man replied shortly.
"You look a little underdressed," Jack said. The man looked down at himself, as if he hadn't even noticed how cold it was, and shrugged.
Jack handed over one of the glasses. "Here. It'll warm you up."
The man took it, but didn't place it to his lips. He stared down into the dark liquid. "I…can't. Sorry."
"One of those guys, are ya? Well hey, more for me!" said Jack, and he sat down on the curb next to the man, grabbed the glass of mulled wine back, and sipped at it, sighing as the spiced alcohol burned inside him like a furnace. The man watched him tensely.
"So what's your name, comrade?" asked Jack.
"Nice to meet you, Rory. I'm Captain Jack Harkness."
"Not much of a talker, are you? Wanna tell me what you're doing out here on Christmas Eve, Rory?"
Rory shrugged and looked down at his scuffed shoes. "Insomnia. I couldn't sleep."
"What, so you decided to come and sit out in the cold?"
Jack raised his eyebrows and sipped his drink. "You'll miss Santa."
Rory laughed quietly. "I think I can live with that."
"But, seriously, a suit and no coat? You'll catch your death out here."
"I don't feel it," said Rory. He fiddled with the buttons on his jacket.
Jack shrugged. "Suit yourself. But what's with the outfit?"
"I'm getting married," was Rory's reply.
Jack raised his eyebrows. "A Christmas wedding, huh? Congratulations."
They sat in companionable silence for a moment as the American wore down the remnants of his drink. The cold seeped in through the seat of his trousers and froze his blood; shut down his nerves. At least it wasn't snowing.
"So…are you from around here?" asked Jack after a moment's hesitation.
"Me? No, I'm from Leadworth."
Jack raised his eyebrows, and Rory sighed. "It's near Gloucester."
"Oh. What brings you down to London, then?"
Rory shrugged. "I just needed a change of scenery. I've been down here for a while, but I'll be moving on soon."
"Won't your fiancée mind?"
"I wouldn't have though so," said Rory, with a secretive smile. "Anyway, it's not Amy's choice."
Jack laughed. "Spoken like a true Victorian gentleman, my friend."
"What about you? I suppose you're not a native."
"How did you guess?" replied Jack wryly. "No. I live in Cardiff, mostly, but I used to spend a lot of time here."
"What made you come back, then?"
"Oh, I dunno," said Jack. He looked up to the sky, and the blinding stars above. "Maybe I'm just looking for the right kind of Doctor."
As the American searched the skies for a glimpse of a Christmas miracle, unbeknownst to him, Rory winced and cast a backwards glance at the boarded-up shop. He coughed. "I wouldn't put too much stock in modern medicine, if I were you."
Jack turned back to him. "No?"
"Doctors don't know everything. I mean, who knows what we might be able to accomplish in the future. One day we could have a whole civilisation living right beneath our feet or…or time machines!"
Jack felt the breath stick in his throat. "That doesn't excite you?"
Rory shrugged. "It scares me. Doctors can be so miraculous they become dangerous. They can do so much, but they can't save everyone. Sometimes it's out of their hands."
Jack frowned. "They never give up on you."
"No," Rory admitted. "But they keep you waiting. Like I say, sometimes they just don't know. They should, but they don't."
Jack had the distinct impression that he and Rory were having completely different conversations.
Rory sighed. "I just want to keep her safe."
"Yes. However long it takes."
Jack looked down at his almost-empty second glass. Then he forced a laugh. "Oh, man, cheer up! It's Christmas Eve. You're getting married in the morning."
"That's a long time away," said Rory, and he smiled a smile that made Jack feel like he was excluded from some private joke.
"Oh, trust me," he replied, "It's no time at all."
"Maybe not," Rory said. "I suppose I'll just keep waiting."
"Waiting for eternity," Jack agreed, and he tipped the sickly, cooling dregs of mulled wine down his throat and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He gazed momentarily at the closed-down shop. "You ever wonder what they're keeping in there?"
Rory shook his head. "Maybe they just don't want anyone to know."
"Huh." A cold wind swept past, and Jack involuntarily shivered, trying not to think too much on why Rory didn't even seem to notice it. He stood up with a sigh.
"I guess I'll see you round, Rory," he said.
Rory shrugged. "Maybe."
Jack held out his hand. "Good luck with your wedding."
Rory looked at the offering for a moment before tentatively stretching out his own hand in return and taking it. Jack's eyes widened a little – there was something strange about the skin he was in contact with – but Rory's face remained as impassive as ever. Jack dropped his hand.
"You too, Jack. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for."
Jack grinned broadly. "I got all the time in the world, baby."
The two men laughed, and Jack thrust his hands in his pockets and began to wander off back up the street. He didn't look back, but if he had, he would have seen the young man stand up, and slip silently into the wrecked shop.
All the while, London slept on, all witnesses of this improbable meeting curled up tightly, waiting for the dawn to break.