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he should be working // they should both be working

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He meets Jack again on Pluto, shortly after its colonisation in the 23rd century. The small planet has become a hub of activity, a ‘doorway to the Solar System’ as it were, and most importantly, a hub of scams, cons, and cheap tricks to amuse tourists.

The Doctor isn’t really looking for anyone. Or anything.

 

He can’t quite deal with the loss of Amy and Rory yet, so he wanders.

Wandering is his default coping mechanism, it seems.

He spots the conman sitting, at an elaborate booth, with one of the longest lines leading up to it in the entire sector. Figures.

 

Jack’s a conman, through and through, but he is a good one. He squints and just manages to make out the sign on the booth. Speak to Your Dead Relatives or Learn About Your Future: 5 Credits. He snorts. Jack was never one for subtlety. However, the medium thing? This could prove interesting.  

And so, he gets into the line. It’s not like he has much else to do. He fiddles about in his jacket pockets for credits, and manages to find four placed haphazardly on the shelf next to his sonic screwdriver. The fifth is even deeper, next to a maple leaf and a pile of wrappers of something that he doesn’t want to think about. The anthropomorphic being in the line in front of him gives him an odd look while he scrabbles about, shoulder deep in the pocket, but he just shrugs and offers up a, “Bigger on the inside?”

Jack looks so young when The Doctor finally reaches the head of the line. The Doctor suddenly feels incredibly old, much older than his exterior appearance would suggest. This Jack is younger than the Daleks, younger than The Master, younger than everything they’ve had. This Jack is mortal.

 

The Doctor almost pities him.

Jack gives him an appraising, sweeping look as he sits down at the booth.

 

The Doctor can feel himself blushing, which he really doesn’t like. This body is harder to control. It has impulses, problems, and unfortunately, blushing is one of them.

 

“I’ll do the reading for free if you go out to dinner with me?” Jack offers, raising an eyebrow at him.

“You used to be better at flirting, Jack.” The Doctor doesn’t mean to use his name, doesn’t mean to let out that he knows him. This isn’t the Jack he knows, he’s nowhere near. This man doesn’t deserve his life ruined just yet.

Jack stills. “I haven’t slept with you, have I?” He smirks, but there is definitely a hint of weariness in those blue eyes. “...That’s the name I usually use for those sorts of deals.”

“Not in this lifetime,” The Doctor retorts, because it’s technically true, “Don’t worry. Honestly. I’m not a contract killer or anything. I promise.”

“Huh.” Jack takes one of his hands in his and turns it over so his palm is facing up. His grip is warm, comfortable, and the Doctor is reminded of a similar grip, more callused, from such a long time ago, “So can I get a name, mysterious ‘non-contract killer’, or will I have to keep on calling you Handsome Bowtie Man in my head?”

 

His tone is teasing, but the Doctor can definitely still sense the wariness. Comes with the ‘enhanced-senses-Timelord-thing’, y’know. “John. John Smith.”

“So, John, John Smith, which definitely isn’t an alias, who are you looking to contact?”

“I was rather hoping you could tell me my future, actually.” He really hadn’t considered it till this point, in reality. He just wanted to have a conversation with someone who he knew, someone who could perhaps help him begin to heal the gaping wound in his chest. He missed his past companions, missed them utterly, but there was no-one he could really turn to, for most of them were stuck inside closed time-loops.

Jack gave him a long look, considering, “I could do that, but I also don’t work with time travellers. They try and change their own future, mess things up and try to sue. Messy.”

“How did you kno-”

“You reek of the void.” Jack says, “The smell really never leaves you. I would make a judgement on your home planet, but I think that’s best left unsaid in this place.”

“It... would be best.”

“I think I’ll guess your past.” Jack says, rubbing his free left hand over his forehead. He looks tired. “Cheap trick, but it amuses them.” He jerks a head at the queue behind them.

“Go on?” He’s tired, but he’ll go along with the trick.

 

Cold reading is not really any particular type of skill, and really he’s just relishing being in the company of someone who doesn’t know who he is but who he can relate to. It’s odd, being so empathic and having so many emotions. He thinks it’s something he’s picked up from the many humans he’s had in his company in the last hundred years or so.

Jack grips his hands in his and gazes into his eyes. The Doctor briefly wonders how species with problems with eye contact or perhaps no eyes at all would participate and then realises he doesn’t really care. He is just done. It was a bad idea, leaving the TARDIS. Although it is definitely a bonus to meet an old friend, he just feels exhausted and everything hurts.

Jack’s gaze is sharp and unwavering, “You’re a time traveller. Frequently too… You visit twenty-first century Earth a lot, judging by that bad an alias. You like unique things and bowties are a particular favourite.”

“You know I know that you picked up most of that from what I’m wearing, correct?” The Doctor asks. He knows he shouldn’t, but honestly, cold reading is not that hard.

“Of course.” Jack gives him a look that clearly suggests that he should shut up. “As for your past…”

 

The Doctor gives him what he hopes is a ‘go-on’ sort of look.

 

“You’ve met me, obviously, at some point in your past. We must have had some sort of decent relationship because I don’t tell many people my name.”

That’ll change , the Doctor thinks.

“You spend a lot of time travelling, with different people. These people often leave marks on you, and you leave marks on them. You’re grieving… you’re grieving for people you just lost - oh, John, I am so sorry.” Jack has dropped his gaze, “I am so sorry.”

“You’re right. You’re good at this.” The Doctor replies, though suddenly there is a sort of bitter tang in his mouth and he wonders if he’s going to cry. He’d prefer not to, would definitely prefer not to - tears are best shed in the dark, in the quiet of the TARDIS, where his constant failures to save lives don’t matter so much - but he doesn’t know if he can stop himself.

 

Gods, he used to be better at this.

“I’m empathic, not a medium. That’s a trick. John, I’m sorry.”

 

The Doctor smiles, but there’s nothing joyful in it. “The Jack Harkness I met wouldn’t get so worked up over a complete stranger.”

 

“That Jack Harkness sounds like a complete asshole.”

 

And the Doctor realises that he might have just discovered a rarity. Jack Harkness, but before the Time Agency had gotten a hold of him, before he’d lost so much and become the cynical Jack he’d met in the 40s.

 

But then again, he’s also the Jack who’s never lived through Canary Wharf, the Master, the Daleks, the 456… he’s the Jack of possibility, but also of naivety. This Jack looks barely old enough to have left the Boeshane Peninsula.

 

Gods, he feels old.

 

“He was… something like that.” The Doctor huffs. His head hurts. He doesn’t feel right doing this.

 

Jack bites on his lip in thought. “Look, do you want to get a drink? I’ll close up shop. We can talk.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be ‘working’?” They both know that what Jack does isn’t strictly ‘legal’.

 

“Nah, the punters will be out till all hours.” Jack drawls, eyeing him with a practised glance. “It’s Pluto! It’s a party planet! There’ll be gullible people out till sunrise.”

 

(Sunrise in this case being artificial sunrise. They’re still on Pluto, after all.)

 

He doesn’t know why he agrees. Maybe it’s just because he’s afraid of spending another night alone in the TARDIS. “Fine.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“-and then the banana plantation burnt down, right in front of me!” Jack is half-laughing, half-crying, and about two-thirds of the way through another cocktail.

 

The Doctor neglects to mention that he’d been the one to do that, so many years ago. It’s a memory for a different time, a different Doctor, a different Jack. He still can’t gauge which iteration of the man he prefers.

 

It’s cliche to say, but experiences really do make a man. He can still see some of that caring, driven person within this Jack, but there’s no hint of the cynicism or darkness that comes with his friend from the future. Time travel is a delicate mistress.

 

“What did you do then?” He asks, taking a sip of his cocktail. It fizzes sour on his tongue and he still doesn’t know if he likes it.

 

“I ran away.” Jack says, with a heavy sigh. “Always running. That’s what I do.”

 

The irony stings.

 

“You? Running? Welcome to my world.” In hindsight, he probably could have been more sensitive. This body had a habit of running away from him.

 

“You cynic .” Jack drawls. He takes another sip of the cocktail, and the Doctor’s eyes are drawn to his throat as he swallows.

 

No. He’s not doing this. “Cynical? Me? Maybe it’s just old age.”

 

“Yes, the age thing. How old are you, John? I feel like I’m trying to cradle-snatch.” Jack says, and laughs. “You look like you’re twelve.”

 

He feels the indignation rise up before anything else. “I am not! I’m far older than you, Jack Harkness, I’m one thou-” He stops himself before he says anything rash. This might be an iteration of his friend, but they’re not the same person. He needs to remember that.

 

“You’re one? Really?” Jack says, but he’s smiling. “Look, I get it. Time Lord secrets and all. It’s good.”

 

“I never said I was a Time Lord.”

 

“Your eyes say enough.”

 

He rolls his eyes, even though he supposes he’s flattered by Jack’s words. “Come on.”

 

“Nah.” Jack snorts, trying to keep a straight face and failing terribly. “Like I said before. You reek of the Void. I smelled you as soon as you got in my line.”

 

“That’s flattering.” He supposes it’s only fair. This Jack is fine but the Jack in his future smells wrong. The timelines arc around him in a way that shouldn’t be possible, that isn’t possible. He guesses that smelling a bit off to this iteration is penance enough.

 

“You’re thinking too loudly. Stop it.” Jack says softly, then drains the rest of his drink.

 

“I thought you weren’t a mind reader?” The Doctor tries to do the same, but ends up spluttering over the sourness. Maybe not.

 

“You’re projecting so loud I may as well be.” He stands up from his chair and pulls his leather jacket on. “Come on. Let’s do something.”

 

“Do what?” His world’s a bit blurry at the edges and he regrets the cocktail. When was it that he had last had a Plutonian drink? He can’t remember.

 

“Relax!” Jack calls, from a few metres away. “Come on! Live a little!”

 

And although he knows he should be mulling over the events of the last few weeks, should be in the TARDIS with an empty pit hanging in the depths of his stomach and tears in his eyes, he follows.   

Chapter Text

 

“The Sea of Pluto, John!” Jack crows, “Look at it, come on.”

 

Pluto. He remembers Pluto, so long ago, with another face and another companion. Not like this. Never like this. Bad Jack. Wrong Jack. What is he doing?

 

There isn’t actually a sea on Pluto, but the barren landscape stretches out in front of him well-enough. That’s what it’s called, anyway.

 

“Beautiful.” He says, a lump in his throat. The sea isn’t the only beautiful thing in front of him, but he can’t quite vocalise that part. It’s probably because of the cocktail.

 

Jack is a vision in the lights of the city around him. Raw. Unscarred. It hurts him to see because he knows what is about to come. The Jack he knows now is his fault. They’re all scarred because of him.

 

“You’re looking at someone who isn’t me, aren’t you.” Jack perches on the seat next to him. “The me from the future, right?”

 

He chuckles, but there’s no humour in it. “You weren’t joking when you said you were empathic.”

 

“I get it a lot.” Jack shrugs. “I’ve met this one woman ten times - giant hair, reminded me a lot of you, actually - and she’s always looking for someone older. Makes me wonder what I’ve got in my future to warrant all that.”

 

“Spoilers.”

 

Jack looks at him and laughs once, a short barking sound. “The irony.”

 

“How’d you mean?” Is he slurring? He feels like he’s slurring.

 

Jack shakes his head. “Spoilers. Never mind.” He rests a hand on his arm.

 

It’s comforting, even though it’s not exactly what he wants. He can’t vocalise what he wants - can’t make sense of it underneath all the buzzing in his head. “Gah.”

 

“Gah?”

 

“Yes.” He drums his feet against the ground. It feels like there’s something inside his skin, trying to jump out. His hearts pounds in his ears. It’s like he’s on the verge of tears and of utter hysteria at the same time. That cocktail was a mistake. “Gah. I don’t know what I’m feeling, Jack.”

 

“Hey- hey… shhhh.” Jack runs his nails along his scalp. The Doctor leans into the touch. “Come on. What do you want?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“You came here for a reason.” Jack lets him lean his head on his shoulder. It’s the sort of touch he’s been missing. “What was that reason?”

 

“Just wandering. Always wandering.”

 

“If you’re wandering, why did you come and see me? I’m someone from your past. I can’t be making it easier.” The hand in his hair is stroking now and he resists the urge to sigh.

 

“I don’t know. You’re wrong in my future, Jack. So wrong. I just wanted to see you like-”

 

“Like?” Jack prompts.

 

He can’t finish the sentence. “Never mind!” It’s faux sincerity that brings him to his feet. “Got to leave. Places to be. You know.” He shrugs Jack’s hand away.

 

“You’re lying.” Jack’s gaze is a mixture of pity and envy. He doesn’t know which one he prefers.

 

“And what if I am?”

 

“Look… John… you don’t have to head off into your time machine and feel like this. I can help. I can make things better. Even just for a little while.”

 

He narrows his eyes. “How?”

 

“You know I’m empathic. You know me in the future. I think you know what I’m like. What I can do.  How I can… help.” Jack’s gaze is steady on his. Open. He wants to help. The earnestness of it makes him want to run away.

 

This is a bad idea. His better judgments are screaming at him to leave, to run, to stop… but he doesn’t. One night with an old friend. It can’t hurt.





Somehow, afterwards, he feels worse.