“Stop pouting, Doc. I doubt you’d ever find fish fingers in a restaurant. Did you see how insulted the waiter looked? And then the outrage when you demanded to speak to the chef?” Jack laughed so hard, tears leaked from the corners of his eyes and spasms wracked his chest.
“It was a perfectly reasonable request—”
“Can’t say I’m sorry for it either,” he went on, calming slightly, “I really didn’t want to watch you eat that. It kills the – oh, no, wait, no, it doesn’t. Eat whatever you like, Doc.” Jack grinned lasciviously, leaning back against the red vinyl cushion of the booth and leering at the new, younger face of the man he knew.
“Shut up, it’s nice,” he said with a mouth full of the banana parfait he’d settled for, choosing to ignore the innuendo. “And Time Lords, Harkness, don’t—”
“So, kids, what’s the story? What Earth-destroying threat are we facing, or was this a social call?”
The Doctor winced, the spoon dropping from his traitorous hand. Jack would see his share of threats to the planet soon enough. “I didn’t land us here. The TARDIS did.”
“Still didn’t get a body that can drive, huh?”
Everyone but the Doctor laughed rowdily, causing looks of shock and annoyance to drift their way from the neighbouring patrons trying to enjoy their lunches in the busy café. The strange group was shamefully out of order, in their opinions. There was no reason for such gales of mirth. What was so good about a Wednesday afternoon in Wales? Didn’t they have anything to be getting on with? Work, or bill-paying? Nothing could be that terribly funny. Simply shocking.
“Oi!” the Doctor protested hotly. “We’re just refuelling. I picked this lot up not long ago on Garazone Prime.”
“Oh! Beautiful planet!” Jack effused, a hint of nostalgia flitting across his face. “Shades of orange and purple everywhere you look. Back when I was with the Time Agency, I once had a thing with a lovely female Garan who used to go crazy whe—”
The Doctor choked on his parfait and began coughing loudly, drowning out the rest of Jack’s indubitably inappropriate words, and sending bits of banana where bits of banana were never intended to fly. The table nearest signalled for their cheque while glaring at a chunk of slimy fruit on the side of one of their water glasses.
“Haven’t ever been able to look at carrots the same way since,” he finished beaming in the satisfied way that only Jack Harkness could. “Still, Alpha, Beta, and Omega? Don’t Garazonian humans typically name their children more, and no offence intended, traditionally?”
“Weeell, we aren’t human, are we?” Torin said through the mouthful of his chips. “We’re Time Lords.”
The Alpha glared daggers at him, and the Omega pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. Torin’s gob was unrivalled.
“You’re what?“ Jack spluttered into his scotch.
“Time Lords,” Torin grinned obliviously while still chewing a chip. The Alpha elbowed him hard in the ribs, but he wilfully ignored her.
“I thought you were the last, Doc,” Jack said in a low voice, eyes sweeping the room automatically. He, at least, understood there were some things you couldn’t talk about just anywhere at the top of your voice. “You know, ever since Lucy Saxon shot… the Master.”
“Was the last,” The Doctor replied just as quietly. “Not anymore. Chuck us a chip, Beta.” Torin shifted his plate into the Doctor’s reach and caught his eye for a conspiratorial fraction of a second, before resuming the flouting of his sibling and munching of his chips. The Doctor grabbed a handful and started dipping them in his bananas as he continued nonchalantly, “This lot crashed there. I felt them and picked them up.”
“You felt them. Alright. How come you never noticed them before?” Jack pressed, still in the throes of amazed disbelief of the revelation.
“We were trapped in a parallel dimension, it happens,” the Alpha replied firmly, leaving it at that and hoping Torin would better control his tendency toward verbal diarrhoea.
She’d garnered that this was still early enough in Jack’s history with the Doctor that too much information could seriously damage future events – events which meant the difference between existing and not existing for the only ones at the table she truly cared for. She was not a little perturbed they were even mucking about like this. What was the Doctor playing at? What was his ruddy ship playing at? Impromptu anything was her abhorrence, and this was, well, this was just idiocy she couldn’t abide.
Jack Harkness was interesting though. Another legend from her childhood, as it were, come to life in a technicolour flamboyancy she could not have predicted. She’d never seen time behave so strangely. She couldn’t see his time lines at all, which was odd, but not shocking since he was a fixed point, and she hardly knew of any other living fixed points with whom she could compare her time sensitivity… But the way time moved around him was… wrong. It interacted with but never touched him. It was like watching magnets repel each other for the first time. Every instinct insists they should touch, behave as any paramagnet might and come together effortlessly, and yet, they do not; will never, just as time would never again touch this otherwise unremarkable human. Eerie, and if she watched too long it’d give her a headache, but almost entrancing nonetheless.
“Incredible! How’d you get here?” Jack looked hopeful. “Doc, do you think however they did it, we might be able to try it and go get Rosie?”
The Doctor shook his head sadly. “Spoilers, Jack. And it was an accident. Sometimes the walls of the universe have cracks, and things just pop through,” he replied evasively. Jack would have his opportunity to reunite with Rose, and it was hard not grudging him for it. The complicated nature of the mixed-up time lines made it impossible to share in any case.
Jack looked nonplussed. Despite his disappointment, he understood. Things came through the rift all the time without rhyme or reason. After all, a rift was a wormhole, and who could say what was on the other side without risking everything and jumping into one. It wasn’t a far stretch to imagine the same being true of cracks between parallels. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Well, that’s a downer. Would’ve been great to finally see her again. So, you all are just going to stay to fuel and then be on your way? No chance I can tempt you to stay a while? I’ve got a room full of stuff I’d love to pick your brain about.”
“Not likely. We need to repair their TARDIS, and we won’t find what we need here on Earth.”
“You might be surprised with some of what we’ve had come through the rift over the years. Most of it is beyond our best and brightest.”
Four identical smirks surrounded him.
“Oh, not fair,” Jack whinged, leaning back in his seat. “That’s… wrong. Spare me the speciest insults in surround sound, please. Pompous asses. All of you.”
Four smirks morphed into four shit-eating grins.
The Doctor shook his head and ran a hand through his floppy mop of hair. “I know what’s in your archives, Jack,” he informed the ex-time agent confidently. “We won’t find what we need here.”
The captain nodded. He didn’t put it past the Doctor to keep tabs on what they got up to at any given point, and he could hardly blame him given the history he’d shared with the secret organisation. Something inside pressed him to keep near the Doctor and his… companions this time, however. “Any chance you’d want to take an old man along for a couple of trips?”
“It’s alright, Doc, I know. The TARDIS doesn’t like me. I’m wrong. I remember.”
“I thought you were set on working with your team here. That’s what you said after I offered last time.”
Jack tried to give a genuine smile. He did have his team and plenty to keep him busy. He wouldn’t grudge the Doctor his refusal, even if a part of his mind screamed at him to press further for acceptance. “I did. And have. And am. I’m just a little restless at the moment, I guess. Things are…” He ran his fingers through his hair. “And you’ve got a time machine. You could have me back tomorrow and none would be the wiser!”
Selene and Lios had stopped eating while Jack talked, and were staring at each other intently. Both wore sober miens, tinted with frustration. The Alpha’s eyes flickered downward for a moment, and she adopted a resigned demeanour. The Omega nodded and smiled, then they both turned to Torin, who froze in place, mid-bite.
“What the hell was that?” Jack asked, thoroughly confused by the exchange.
“Time Lords are telepathic, Jack,” the older Time Lord answered, looking thoroughly worn out and ancient in his annoyance. “Bloody kids…” he muttered. “Oi! It’s rude to have private conversations in the middle of company!”
Jack knew there was so much more to this story than he was getting, but left it alone, preferring to let his suspicions be confirmed in time. No one would tell him any more than they would tell him. He might be able to wheedle, cajole, and coerce information from most people he met, but he knew better than to try with the Doctor. He wondered if all the Doc’s people were similar, or if this group was just especially secretive. His hunch would indicate the latter.
“Yeah, sorry,” the Alpha replied without sounding the least bit apologetic. Jack smiled again to himself. “Still not used to the… comp’ny thing. So, Doctor… we, er… well, maybe the Captain should come. See, er… There’s this thing we’re supposed to do, an’, er… well, Li thinks he could help.”
She damned her youngest brother for making the request. She cursed that it was always down to her to see it done. It was awkward enough feeling beholden to the Doctor for the help he’d already given, their living quarters, and hospitality. Asking him for another favour was torture. She damned him further for having sound logic to back himself up. Logic she couldn’t just share easily anyway.
“A thing of which I’m not aware,” the Doctor stated rather than asked.
His tone was deceptively easy, and, though he spoke casually, she knew they’d row again if she wasn’t careful.
“Yet,” she confirmed with a nod, and what he might construe as a promise, should he so choose. It wasn’t, but he could interpret it as such. “We sort of landed in Cardiff before we got a proper chance to talk. You an’ me.”
Lios looked more pleased with his sister than the Doctor had seen him. He also picked up on… what was it… relief?
It was a bad, terrible, very not-good idea. Jack hadn’t been through the trauma of The Crucible yet; hadn’t experienced Rose crossing the void with the dimension cannon. Nor did he know about the meta-crisis who would go on to father the very beings asking this very bad, not good thing of him. He should refuse.
What possible reason could she have for such a request? Not five minutes before, her entire disposition screamed that a meal in the presence of this man was as terrible an idea as he believed the proposed scenario before him. Her brother had put her up to it, however, and as little as he liked the scheme, he doubted the sibling in question would keep answers from him if she was not forthcoming. After all, Lios had risked her ire to reveal them to him to begin with.
After the Doctor still hadn’t spoken for what felt like ages, she huffed and shrugged. “Look, it’s not tha’ big a deal. It’s your ship. ‘S not like—”
“I haven’t said no.”
He searched her face. Her inky brows were drawn, and she didn’t smile, but she met his eyes with earnestness shining in them. And, blast it all, they were Rose Tyler’s eyes, weren’t they? Pleading with him in the way that she had when she’d wanted to go back and see her father, just once. Not that that little adventure had turned out well, but how was he ever going to say no?
“Well, Jack, I think your room was deleted when I had a run-in with a nasty sentient asteroid, but I’m sure we can find you one that will do.” He groaned and wanted to kick himself already. He knew he was in for trouble ahead. He could feel it. If things went pear-shaped, he’d simply have to lock Jack’s memories away, by force if necessary, which, he supposed, wasn’t the end of the world.
Jack jumped out of his seat and kissed him smack on the lips. The Doctor flailed like a toppled giraffe, regretting his choice instantly. Kissing was infinitely more awkward in this body than it had been in the last.
“Right. Cheers.” He wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve with a grimace.
When they arrived back at the TARDIS, the young men went exploring and Jack went to the Hub to pack a bag, and the older Time Lord took the opportunity to confront the Alpha.
“Talk then,” he demanded. “You and me. Now.”
Selene froze in the doorway of her young ship. Clearly, she’d been trying to escape doing that very thing. She shifted from foot to foot for a moment, then tugged at her coat sleeves and fussed with her red muffler. She debated ignoring him. Walking a few more easy steps, and simply shutting the doors.
“If you don’t start spilling immediately, I’ll ground us here in Cardiff.”
“Bollocks,” she snorted. “You’d never.” She turned around with a cheeky grin to look him in the eyes, and nearly stumbled back in the face of what met her. Her smile vanished.
She shot him an insolent scowl, which still paled in comparison to the dark look he wore, then returned her gaze to the floor. “Can’t it wait? One night?”
“Look,” she reasoned, “it’s not tha’ I’m tryin’ to do anythin’ dodgy. I jus’ dunno where to start.”
“The beginning is often the best place.”
“Fine, yeah. Mum—er… Well, Mum’s… The Captain’s got a time thing happenin’, you must’ve noticed, an’ might be able to help us bring back Mum… an’ we need Mum.” She regarded him defiantly, as if daring him to challenge her assertion.
He didn’t, only raised his brows expectantly. “That’s all?”
“Erm… Well… He’s funny?”
“Selene,” he warned in a deadly timbre, “don’t play games with me. I don’t respond well to being used.”
“Oi!” she snapped back. “When did I say you could call me Selene, eh? An’ used? Tha’s a bit of unfair, innit? I’m not the one who insisted we stay, was I? I never asked a damned thing from you, Doctor! Tha’ was all you. I never asked to be here! Your ship opened her doors an’ lured me in like a peedo with a sweet, an’ kidnapped me—OW! Mental piece of space junk! Stop shockin’ me!” She kicked at the railing.
“That was completely out of order! Show her some respect and she won’t!”
“Oh, you’re one to talk! How often do you swear at her or hit her with a mallet then, eh?”
“She’s my ship!”
“An’ you blew her up!”
“Only a bit!”
“It imploded the bloody universe!”
“I got it restarted!”
“By relyin’ on some human’s locked up memory of an erased timeline! How’s tha’ for responsible?”
“Who cares? It worked!”
“You let a madman steal her and turn her into a livin’ paradox feed!”
“Oi! Exactly how much did she tell you?”
“You nearly got her killed chasing phantom Time Lords!”
“I got her back! And she bit me!”
“You flew her like a cruiser down a motorway! In traffic!”
“To save a woman’s life! It didn’t hurt her! Much.”
“Oh, much. Tha’ makes it all better, doesn’t it, you bloody-minded prat! The ends always justify the means, don’t they? You twa—”
Electricity hummed near her and she swallowed her last insult. She paused a moment and caught her breath.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
“What was that? I didn’t quite hear you. Could you repeat it?”
She rolled her eyes and glared, knowing full well he’d never have missed it. “I said, you drive with the parkin’ brakes on.”
“And it makes a gorgeous noise. Love the noise. Live for it even.”
“You call her Sexy.”
“Isn’t she, though?”
“Yeah, but Sexy?” She scrubbed a hand down her face. “Really? She’s a being older’n both of us put together twice, an’ you name her Sexy? At least she’s lettin’ me call her Idris.”
“Yeah, ‘s wha’ she told me.”
“Idris,” he informed her with no small amount of incredulity, “was the name of the woman whose body she was forced into when her matrix was… removed.”
“Oh. Tad morbid.”
“I’ll stick with Old Girl then, shall I?”
“Are we ever going to be able to talk without fighting?” he posed, a plea just under the surface.
“Dunno. You make me really, really angry.”
“Likewise, but you do need to be honest with me, Alpha. I want to help, and I can’t if I don’t know what’s going on inside that impossible head of yours.”
“Impossible doesn’t exist in my family. We eat it for elevenses,” she whispered sadly looking at her feet.
“What is that? Your brothers said something like it earlier.”
A bitter smile ghosted across her face. “‘S wha’ Mum an’ Dad always said to each other. Became sort of the family motto, I guess.”
“You know that I’m not trying to replace your dad, right?”
Her face snapped up to his, eyes wide and brows knitted.
“Easy! I don’t want another row! I’m honestly just trying to help you.” He sat with a grunt on the edge of the dais, arms over the rails, legs dangling over the side, and patted the floor next to him.
She hesitated a moment before joining him.
“Terribly depressing subject, but did your father ever tell you what it was like to be alone in the universe? What it felt like being the last of his kind? Did he tell you about the emptiness? The headaches, the pain? The madness that always feels like it’s just about to swallow you whole because you’re so alone in the vastness of your own— right…” He heaved a sigh. “You have never had to feel that. You’ve always had your brothers. From your earliest conscious moments, you have had each other, and I hope with every fibre of my being that never changes. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve experienced a lot of very not nice things. You still haven’t made a connection with me. You’re still blocking, but your brothers aren’t.”
“Don’t get upset! I’m not eavesdropping on them! Just listen! Having even one other Time Lord in here,” he touched the side of his head with his forefinger, “has soothed me in a way I can never describe to you. I’m just glad you exist, and if there is any way for me to help you continue existing, I want to do it. Completely selfish, actually. I’m keeping you around to soothe my tired old self.”
He nudged her with his shoulder.
“You’re not very good for that though, are you? Absolute nightmare, you are.”
She gave a small, genuine laugh. “Tha’s ‘cos you’re a rude old codger with a daft face.” She nudged him back. “You’re right, though. I have been a bit of a cow. I’m jus’… angry… ’bout a lot. An’ – oh, if you ever breathe a word of this to my brothers, I will slap you into the next you – I’m scared, alright? Those two jammy gits always look to me to know wha’ to do, an’ where to go, an’ how to fix all the things that’ve gone wrong, an’ for once, I properly, properly don’t know. ‘S a million possibilities clamourin’ for my attention every second of my life, an’ I have to be the one who chooses which one is right. ‘S ruddy terrifying.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you sound like a madman with a box I once knew?”
“So, how can I help you, Alpha Tyler?”
She winced. “Don’t use tha’ one again. Tha’ was rubbish.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Gotta get my ship in order. We can start there, yeah? You know where to go better’n we do. Only, maybe you shouldn’t try to help with the actual fixing.”
She stood and walked to her TARDIS, but stopped just short of the entrance. “Doctor?” she called without looking back. “Thanks.” She turned red to her hairline, then disappeared.
It was good, a very nice feeling indeed to see a bit of her which wasn’t hardened and bitter. He skipped down the stairs to tinker, thoroughly pleased with himself and the progress they’d made, and it wasn’t until much later that he realised she hadn’t actually answered any of his questions.
Rassilon! She was good.