The Doctor crouched, exhausted and battered, half-wedged between a stone pillar and the warm stone wall behind him. "I almost wish for the Master's tissue compression eliminator," he muttered wryly, noting that his thin frame was still too large for the space he was trying to cram into. "Of course that may have less than desirable effects." He was all too aware that his self-talk was merely a mechanism for easing his fear. Swallowing hard, easing the frantic counter-beats of his two hearts, he tried his hardest to become invisible to the sounds of stomping, of running. He let his gaze drift upwards, then back to the street.
Dark bodies ran past, making him snap his head back into the shadows. It was pure luck that they didn't look back at him. Their eyes were glued ahead, crimson and black helmets obscuring their faces but not their intent. If the Doctor had been standing before him, they would have run him over before realizing he was the one they were after.
The Doctor crammed himself tight into his hiding place, the fabric of his cricket jacket scraping against the rough stone. He froze, even though there was no possibility of that faint sound being heard against the pounding run, and felt a sudden childish urge to close his eyes in the hopes that if he couldn't see them, they couldn't see him. Chastising himself, he settled for holding his breath as soldiers passed by, close enough to touch.
A loud voice boomed through the streets, and the soldiers ran faster. "Find him! Find the Doctor! Kill him! KILL HIM!."
The Doctor's eyes closed.
"You want me to do what?" Captain Jack Harkness leaned over the TARDIS console, still breathless from his run. His arrival on the TARDIS had been sudden. He had been fleeing an army of soldiers when the blue police box appeared, the door open. He took advantage, of course, and leapt inside, thinking he would be transported back to Torchwood. He had to get back to his team, tell them there were more soldiers from Orta stomping about.
What was happening now completely smacked him from left field. He knew better.
"I want you to rescue me," the Doctor said plainly as he flipped a large switch beside a blank monitor screen. He studied the screen for a moment, making Jack wonder just what he was waiting on. Black frames made his already large eyes seem impossibly huge. He looked up at Jack, unblinking.
Jack glanced back at the door, trying to reckon his narrow escape with this shift of events. A half-smile crept onto his face. "Are you planning on doing something nasty?"
"What? NO, you idiot. Not me!"
"…but you just said?"
The Doctor studied the screen in front of him. He snatched off his glasses and regarded Jack evenly. "Another me."
Jack managed a nod, sort of. "Look, Doc, I'm pretty busy at the moment."
"So am I."
Jack raised his chin. "I see. So we're there, are we? You disappear for a year, then when you're in a tight spot you call on good old Jack." He leaned in. "You do need me. Admit it."
The Doctor pushed at a stubborn lever and sighed, tucking his glasses into his pocket. "There is a past version of myself who is in a lot of trouble. I need your help getting him - me - out of it."
"I see." Jack said again, and ran a finger lightly over the side of the console. "So this isn't just you diving in and helping me out for a change."
"I already said, I don't know what to do about your - situation." The Doctor wouldn't look at him.
Maybe old wounds hadn't been healed. The Doctor still felt uncomfortable around him. And he dared ask for help? "My situation? Just say it. You mean immortality?" Jack pointed his finger angrily. "Listen. I already have a situation going on! My team needs me down there! Now, as glad as I am to see you again, you really need to take me back to Torchwood." He turned and face the door.
"If you help me, this situation you're currently battling will cease to exist," the Doctor responded smoothly. "What better way to make things right for your friends, eh?"
It was something he could never get used to, the Doctor's seemingly infinite knowledge of Jack's doings, as though he was being watched. For all Jack knew, he was. Hell, the way the Doctor got around, Jack could be catching up to an event which already happened while the Doctor was merely working his way backwards from it. It made maintaining a distant friendship…troublesome. "Oh, I knew better than to expect you to take a hint. What do you know about it?" he snapped.
"Oh, don't be like that," the Doctor groused, but with a hint of good humor. "I saw you running. You've come across a brigade of Ortarian soldiers, haven't you? I've come across them before, myself. In a past incarnation. They're persistent beings, aren't they? All that stomping about. It's enough to drive one mad."
Jack knew better than to be surprised, yet he was. "And?"
"And - it seems they want me dead."
Jack blinked. "What alien presence doesn't want you dead?"
The Doctor's eyes widened. "I should take offense at that!"
"Maybe, but you won't."
"I might!" Indeed, the Doctor did look a bit affronted and waved the comment away. "Either way, now doesn't matter. They're after me then."
Jack just shook his head.
"Oh, come on, time-agent man! It's as easy as this. Someone's messed with the time stream in order to loose these Ortarian soldiers amongst the galaxy. And they've used your little gateway to send them to Earth."
"That much I know. And?"
The Doctor paused thoughtfully, bracing himself on the console. "I had stopped them, all those years ago, the first time they tried to take Earth." His voice grew faint with memory, and a hint of regret. "At the time they had a target on the Brigadier, I don't know why specifically, but I'm sure it was something to do with UNIT. We managed to send them back, but they were a little put out with me."
"Can't imagine why," Jack said cheekily, but he was curious, despite himself. "Did they put a price on your head?"
"Absolutely. And I managed to destroy them."
Jack leaned forward, likewise bracing himself on the console. "Only you didn't! Because they're here, now. On Earth." He let his stare say, Get to the point, Doc. I've got work to do.
The Doctor rubbed his chin. "Yeah…I did stop them actually, not that it matters now." He glanced down at the console and after a moment's thought, quickly started pressing buttons. "Whoever is using them has actually gone back in time and manipulated my handiwork. They've put the idea of killing me into the minds of these soldiers long before I came up with the solution for destroying them. They've been on the hunt for ages, and now they have me." He winced. "Timing's a bit tricky on this one."
"The coy bastards."
"Tell me about it. Such is the hazard of time travel."
"So you - I mean your other self- is on the run."
"And trapped on their planet." He looked up. "It's very hard to think when all of your time is spent running."
Jack eyed the Doctor, noting the tension on his face. "You don't think you'll come up with the solution to kill them, do you?"
The Doctor straightened and rolled his shoulders, buying time as ran his fingers through his unruly hair. He considered the question. "Well - the set of circumstance is different now, isn't it? I'm not sitting at a cozy desk in UNIT, therefore I'm not going to be exposed to the same information as before. My chances could be better."
"And what's my role in this?"
"Obviously my going back would be interfering with my own past, with my own time-stream."
"Yeah, yeah, all that timey-wimey stuff. You can't save your own neck. But you've said that's happened before."
The Doctor waved his hand in irritation. "Oh, yeah, yeah, sure, but not as a voluntary thing! There's been circumstances where I've been lumped together with my former selves. I don't just go seeking myself out."
"I can't say I blame you." Jack loved the incredulous look on the Doctor's face.
"Anyway," the Doctor continued, "I need someone to go back, and give me this." He held out a small scrap of paper. "Like I said, the timing's a bit tricky," he muttered. "You'll have to hurry."
"Timing for what?" Jack took it and studied the scrawl. "Coordinates?"
"I can't tell you that."
"In case you're captured, and they make you talk."
Jack rolled eyes. "Nice. It's good to see your confidence in me hasn't wavered, Doctor."
The Doctor walked around the console and stood face to face with him, suddenly looking very serious. "Jack, please. I haven't asked anything of you. I'm asking this. It is more important than you can possibly imagine."
"Eminent destruction of the universe?"
"Mmm…more like Big Brother is watching you." His eyebrows rose over his stare.
Jack sighed and tucked the paper into his pants pocket. He was the Doctor. Jack always found it hard to say no where the Doctor was concerned. "Of course I'll help. You know better than to beg."
Eyes flew open wide, and the Doctor took a step back. "What? Beg? I do not beg!"
"Oh! You were so begging."
"Unbelievable. I should've left you to deal with them on Earth," the Doctor muttered, turning away and checking his panel once more.
"Ya think? And then were would you be?"
"Dead, more than likely." The Doctor answered frankly. Jack felt his expression give. "You've seen them down there on Earth, your small faction of soldiers with whom you can hardly keep up. Now imagine a whole planet of them, swarming the streets, stomping out their rhythm in a deafening cadence." He frowned at the console. "It's a wonder I survived this long." He didn't look up.
"You're really worried, aren't you?" Jack asked in a low voice.
That was something else he couldn't get his head around, regarding the Doctor. Was it concern for his own existence? Did he see these other incarnations as friends, or really as himself? He knew the Doctor retained some memories of previous incarnations, which gave him a bond that he would never have with anyone else, but it was he, himself. Wasn't it? And yet these other incarnations were functioning in different time streams, like he was, with their own experiences that this Doctor probably didn't know about because it was currently happening. . .Jack shook his head. Even a former time agent couldn't wrap around this one. He fingered the paper in his pocket. "How do you know about your other self? Is this something you remember happening?"
The Doctor winced. "Yeaaah, that's the odd thing about time travel. In a sense, it's happening now, because someone is currently trying to manipulate my past. Think of it as having a static memory that keeps changing."
Jack tried. "It's a wonder you're not insane."
"Who says I'm not, eh?" The Doctor gave Jack a playful punch on the arm, then jumped as a beep sounded. "That's your cue. Nearly there. I'm going to make a quick landing, just enough for you to get through those doors. I can't risk hanging about."
"Wait, what do you mean, nearly there?" Jack accused. "You assumed I would say yes!"
"Well," the Doctor said grandly, "more like I knew you wouldn't let me down." He scurried about, instigating landing procedures.
Jack never understood why things had to be scattered amongst the panels. Landing procedures on one. Take-off on one. Flight-path on one. Communications on one. Systems check on one. And so on. He wondered if the Doctor deliberately scattered things about for dramatic effect. "Hang on. How do I get back? How do I contact you?"
"I'll get you back. Well, the other me. It's good incentive not to fail, isn't it!"
Jack shook his head in disbelief. "No, no-no-no! You're burning the boat! I hate burning the boats!"
The Doctor grabbed the console as the TARDIS shook. He gave Jack a stern look. "Jack, if anyone can do this, it's you. It's why I've asked you."
Jack tightened his hold. "If you know where he is, and where you're going, why can't you just pick him up?"
The Doctor peered around the lit column. "Because he needs to set things right."
"But he's you! What difference does it make?" Jack yelled, exasperated. Damned time travel.
The TARDIS arrived at it's destination with a faint whirring sound, and a thump. Jack released his own grip on the console and wiped his forehead. "Time to check those stabilizers again," he said.
"Right. You'll need these." The Doctor reached across the console and handed Jack two small headsets, then pushed the lever which opened the door. "Good luck."
"Just wait, wait!" Jack quickly held up his hand. "If I'm doing this for you, do something for me. Keep an eye on Gwen and the team."
"It's one faction. She can handle it."
"Just the same. Promise me."
The Doctor nodded. "Of course. I'll make sure things don't get out of hand."
"Thank you. One more thing. If this is another you, you'll look different. How will I know who you are?"
"I'll be the one holding my ears."
The Doctor smiled. "Look for a stick of celery on my lapel."