Jack Harkness doesn't do quiet nights. Even when he's minded for a mellow evening, events have a habit of conspiring against him. Like they are right now in an alley off to the right of him.
At first glance, it's a street hustle. Three men have a fourth backed up by a wall, his open hands spread in front of him as if trying to ward them off, or maybe reason with them. He's a lanky young man whose clothing includes, rather improbably, a tweed jacket and a bow tie, and right now he's in way over his head. Downtown Telsa City doesn't play nice with tourists.
"Let me pass," he's saying as Jack approaches, sounding like he really hasn't got time for this sort of thing. But a slight slurring of the words undermines the hint of impatient authority in his voice.
"Oh, but we don't want to do that, out-of-towner," comes the mock-pleasant response from one of the men; Jack tags him as the thug in charge. "Y'see, you're just too fine a piece of stray to be walking round this big, bad city all on your own. We want you to come along with us, be our party boy."
Jack revises his assessment of the situation. So, not a street hustle after all.
"How very nice," the young man says, either oblivious to their intentions or just choosing to ignore them. "But little busy here. No time for partying. Oh look! Weeping Angel!" He punctuates his last words with a wild gesture skywards. The men glance up on cue and obligingly leave their intended victim to make a run for it.
It might have worked, Jack thinks. The bright lights of the main street aren't far away and there tends to be safety in numbers. The problem comes in the actual execution of running for it because the young man only manages to get a few steps before he stumbles and goes crashing to the ground. His look of dismay would've been quite comical in other circumstances.
"Legs! Legs! Where are my legs?"
Far from happy at this attempt to dupe them, the three men drag him upright and slam him up against the nearest wall.
"You're not allowed to just cut and run when we're all lined up and eager to get us some tail," the thug in charge snarls in his face. "You hear what I'm saying?"
"I hear you." Jack draws his gun in a single smooth movement. "Put him down."
The thug turns his head. " Find your own ride." He sneers at Jack. " This one's ours."
The other two appear rather more alert to the fact that they're looking down the business end of a gun. They release their hold almost immediately, all their swagger gone. Their companion is a little slower on the uptake. He stares at Jack's gun as if seeing the danger for the first time before taking a good long look into Jack's eyes. He clearly doesn't like what he reads there because the next thing he does is grab hold of his intended victim and shove him hard into Jack.
It's not an unexpected move. Jack's ready and snags the young man with one arm, but the thugs are already disappearing into the shadows back to God knows where. Keeping a tight hold of his gun, Jack allows himself a moment to check out his newly-acquired armful. Under the man's floppy hair, he sees a rather striking face – a heavy brow and strong chin, coupled with a surprisingly sweet smile as he stares back at Jack with unfeigned delight.
"Oh, you beauty! It's the dashing Captain Harkness, dashing to my rescue in a very dashing manner. And that's too many dashings, isn't it?"
So this man knows him. Interesting. But it's not a good time to start demanding details: there's an outside chance of the thugs plucking up the nerve to come back, or there could be others around with an equally distorted idea of a good night out.
"You've got a gun. I don't like guns. Please put it away now," the man continues to ramble as Jack takes firm hold of one tweed-clad arm and tries to remove him from the alley.
"This gun just saved your skinny ass – and I do mean that literally," Jack tells him, marvelling at the whole new level of meaning being brought to the word 'uncoordinated' by the man staggering at his side: he has all the grace and balance of a new-born giraffe. "What the hell have you been drinking?"
"A lemony, limey, fizzy, poppy sort of ... thing."
Jack takes a quick sniff of his breath and smells limon popsicola, a soft drink with no alcoholic content whatsoever. "Then I'm guessing your drink was spiked with something powerful and odourless."
"It was tall and green. Tasted just a little bit fluffy," the man reminisces. "Spiked, you say? Actually, it shouldn't make any difference. I can override the effects of alcoholic intoxication."
"Really?" Jack straightens him up as he sways alarmingly. "You might want to reconsider your last statement."
"Yes. Funny, that. I do feel a little squiffy. And my legs seem to have stopped working properly. Maybe there was ginger beer in there. Tricksy stuff, ginger beer."
They've reached the end of the alley and Jack somehow manoeuvres his new acquisition into the relative safety of the main thoroughfare. There's no way he intends letting this one off the leash just yet. Instead, he tucks his gun back into his holster and takes them both for a little stroll down the crowded street. Although it's obvious one of them is pretty much wrecked, the same can be said of about a third of the people carousing there so they're far from conspicuous. Jack decides they're now safe enough to embark on a proper conversation.
"So. Have we met before?"
"You've no idea, have you? It's actually rather adorable considering we have met before, and more than once. Here." The young man makes a clumsy grab for Jack's hand and presses it against his heart. "Oh, and here as well." He moves Jack's hand and presses it against a second heart. Then he looks at Jack with a ridiculously smug expression. "That's a binary vascular system, that is."
"I know what it is," Jack says very carefully, trying to wrap his mind around this revelation and come up with a coherent response. "You're the Doctor. Or the Master."
"Oh please!" Is that really a pout? "Would the Master try to do this?"
And the Time Lord flings himself at Jack, aiming for his mouth but somehow ending up sticking his tongue down Jack's ear. Jack prises him off and holds him at arm's length.
"No. But then neither would the Doctor."
The Time Lord flaps one hand playfully at Jack. "New face. New body. New libido!"
"Crap." Jack opts for bluntness. "You're just drunk. If you can usually override intoxication, then experiencing it full on will hit you damn hard. And the same holds true if you're the Master."
"You were in a bar and you got a note and it said 'His name is Alonso'." The Time Lord taps one finger on Jack's forehead and just misses poking him in the eye. "Ah! I see you remember it. I remember it, because I wrote it, but the question you have to ask yourself is this: would the Master remember it?"
"I'm guessing not." Never mind the damn note. It's becoming obvious there's no way in hell this can be the Master – not unless he's had a complete brain transplant.
"So what did you do with the lovely and lonely Alonso?" the Doctor asks, showing a disturbing amount of interest in Jack's love life.
"Plenty of things I'm not going to tell you about." Jack makes a heroic effort to say this in a non-flirtatious way. He's always liked flirting with the Doctor, but this is a new Doctor, a drunk Doctor, and just, well, no. "Then we said goodbye and went our separate ways. And you regenerated. How's that working out?"
The Doctor considers this. "Not bad. I'm still not ginger. I have legs and nice ears. Not sure about the chin. What d'you think?"
This new Doctor might not have the quirky masculinity of the first incarnation Jack met, nor the big beautiful brown eyes of his successor, but he's definitely attractive, his distinctive features adding to rather subtracting from the whole. Not that Jack has any intention of saying so. Instead he asks, "What are you doing here, Doctor?"
"Sex," the Doctor says. Then he gives a silly smile and leans towards Jack. "I have newlyweds. In the TARDIS. They want a honeymoon with sex. They've already had honeymoons, but they kept complaining there wasn't enough time for the sex."
In spite of his best intentions, Jack can't stop himself grinning back. "Yeah. I can see how that could happen. Where is the TARDIS?" That would be the best place for the Doctor to recuperate, especially if he had companions who could keep an eye on him. Though no doubt they wouldn't be best pleased at having their current attempt at a honeymoon interrupted.
"She's ..." The Doctor releases Jack and, rather unadvisedly, attempts to twirl on the spot. "Over there." His long legs tangle up, and he falls back into Jack's arms. "Hello again!"
"Hello," Jack says wearily, trying to hold him at arm's length because, damn it, there are only so many times the Doctor can do that before Jack's body begins to perk up and take an interest in spite of his best efforts. "I think we should head back to the TARDIS, Doctor. Get you sobered up."
"There's lots of hotels round here. Nice hotels." The Doctor looks around, and then adds with all the subtlety of a brick to the head: "They'll have comfy beds. Big, big, comfy beds. For sobering up and ... things"
Jack sighs. They're in a part of Telsa City where there are no 'nice hotels', just the seediest of flophouses. If Jack were ever to make a conscious choice to take the Doctor to bed, it sure as hell wouldn't be in some crapsack place where most rooms were rented out by the hour. He puts his hands on the Doctor's shoulders and turns him round to face him.
"Doctor, we need to talk. First off, I thought you couldn't stand to be near me. What happened to me feeling all wrong, a fixed point in time and space that shouldn't exist?"
"Well, you are. And you do. But I've got used to it. Which means that right here and now we can have sex. Or maybe not exactly right here and now because they probably have laws about that sort of -"
"Listen up, Doctor." Jack gives him a small shake. "Time to get this straight: you're drunk, and I'm not going to have sex with you."
The Doctor gives these words serious consideration before pointing out with perfect truth: "You always wanted to have sex with me before. Is there something wrong with this regeneration?"
"Absolutely nothing," Jack assures him quickly because this Doctor can pull off the kicked puppy expression just as well as his immediate predecessor. "But damn it, Doctor, you're drunk! That's what makes you off-limits. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes. Yes! Of course I do. I'm drunk and you're trying to save me from myself. Because you're the dashing Captain Jack Harkness and my knight in shining armour."
"Oh, you're this close to clarity, Doctor, but knight in shining armour? You're way off-target on that one." Jack spots the TARDIS up ahead. "I need your key."
"It's in my pocket." The Doctor leans up against the TARDIS and tries out a winsome smile. "Help yourself."
"Stop it!" Jack makes his voice stern and holds out his hand. "Doctor, give me the key."
"Spoilsport." The Doctor retrieves the key and drops it in Jack's hands, and, oh yes, that's definitely a pout.
Jack unlocks the door and pushes the Doctor in ahead of him. Inside, the TARDIS looks rather different. Bigger. All glass floors and staircases, polished copper and platforms. Jack hesitates a moment and then guides the Doctor towards what appears to be an old car seat not too far from the console. The Doctor folds himself into it with a melodramatic sigh of resignation.
Jack spots a note on the console as he straightens up. A rather large and prominent note written in red pen. He reads it. "Came back early. Gone to bed. See you in the morning." The note is signed 'Rory' and 'Amy'. An emphatic P.S. is scrawled at the end: "And DON'T walk in on us without knocking AND WAITING!!!"
A grin tugs at Jack's mouth. If he'd been in bed with any combination of Amy and Rory, an invasion of privacy by the Doctor would have been the perfect excuse to invite him to join them. Providing Rory and Amy were agreeable – and the Doctor was sober enough to give meaningful consent.
Jack puts the note back and takes a proper look round the TARDIS interior. "I see you've had a make-over.'
"Makeover, yes. It all went boom,' The Doctor flails his hands about wildly as if indicating an explosion. "When I regenerated, the TARDIS crashed and fell to pieces. Or maybe she fell to pieces and then crashed. That bit's still just ever so slightly muddled. Poor dear. I think it was my fault. The regeneration was ... well, a lot of burning and raving. Not so much of the going gentle."
"So you raged against the dying of the light, huh?" Jack crosses back to the Doctor and, in the absence of other seating, hunkers down next to him.
The TARDIS is a quiet haven after the night cacophony of Telsa City, and all of a sudden the Doctor is hushed to match her. He stares straight ahead, sitting quite still. "That doesn't work. Can't stop it from happening. Bad things. Lots of bad things. And the worst bad things are the things you find yourself doing to stop other even badder things happening."
Jack's heart constricted. He'd sacrificed his own grandson. And Ianto. Except Ianto's death wasn't even a real sacrifice, it was just a stupid fucking mistake that Jack made because he was playing at being the Doctor, imagining he could walk into danger and wing it.
"I thought I could be the Time Lord Victorious." The Doctor's lips twist in a sad smile. "More like the Time Lord Vanquished as it happened. Lonely, deluded, and hurting."
"And then you got to regenerate out of it," Jack says, his voice cold. "The rest of us just have to find a way to live among the wreckage."
The Doctor turns his head and blinks. "Regenerate out of it? Is that what you think I do? Ah, Jack. That's not how it works. I get a little perspective, a little distance, that's all. Like you're doing right now."
"Let's cut the crap, Doctor. What I'm doing right now is running away."
"Ah. Yes. That can work. For a while."
"So how the fuck do you stand it?" Jack's not sure if he's demanding an answer, or begging for one. "How do you live through so much loss and stay sane?"
"What makes you think I'm sane?" The Doctor stares at him with unnerving intensity, and the unfamiliar eyes seem very old in his young face. "A madman in a box, that's me. Only way to survive. All of space and all of time. Beautiful and terrible in pretty much equal measure. And also frequently ridiculous and, just occasionally, miraculous."
"The universe was fresh out of miracles for me." And you weren't there. The last words are unspoken, but they're clear enough for all that. As is the answer. Jack knows the Doctor sees the fabric of time: all the points he can't change and all those in flux. There's no purpose in either of them stating the obvious.
"It happens. You and I walk the edges, Jack. The bad times are always going to come for us. And sometimes we're going to make those bad times happen ourselves because the alternative is something worse. Then the trick is ... the trick is to find and hold tight to anything and everything that brings you joy or meaning, no matter how little or how ephemeral it seems. Because sometimes those little and ephemeral things will be all that lies between you and the cold."
One of them is the last of his kind, and the other the only one of his kind. There's a kinship there, a bleak and lonely one. Jack reaches out and takes one of the Doctor's hands between his. "So maybe you and me should hold tight to each other, seeing as we're both in it for the long haul and –"
"No," the Doctor says quietly. "Madman in a box, remember? I wouldn't be good for you, not for the long-haul: I'm not even good for myself. I'm not an ephemeral thing, I'm an enduring, complex and damaged thing. And so are you. You need people around you, Jack. Normal people. Normal people are good. You can open their eyes to an insanely beautiful universe, and share their wonder like it's your first time."
"And then you can get them killed." Jack releases the Doctor's hand, his choice of words brutal.
"Sometimes. Yes." The Doctor doesn't even flinch.
"But they're ephemeral things," Jack bites out. "So their deaths don't matter."
"They matter. They always matter. Why else would I take it into my head to become the Time Lord Victorious? I wanted to bend the laws of time to my will. And that put me in a bad place. A very bad place indeed."
"You mean there's something even worse than being a madman in a box?"
"Yes." The Doctor's eyes are full of shadows. "There's not knowing you're a madman in a box."
There's a long, heavy silence. Then Jack takes a deep breath. "Is that a possibility?"
"It's always a possibility." The Doctor sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Look, I'm trying very hard not to make the same mistakes, but that doesn't mean I won't make a whole load of new ones."
"Sucks being you, huh?"
"Sometimes." Unexpectedly the Doctor grins. "And sometimes it's bloody fantastic. Balance the moments, Jack. That's all you can do."
"You make it sound so easy."
"That wasn't my intention."
"I know." Jack clears his throat. "So tell me, Doctor: when did you stop being drunk?"
"Almost as soon as I entered the TARDIS." The Doctor doesn't seem at all fazed by the sudden change of subject. "She chucked a few anti-intoxicants into the atmosphere and job done. Thank you, dear." He looks up and waves a hand.
"I suppose the fact you stopped trying to jump my bones was a pretty big clue. And now you're sober, do you still want to have sex with me?" He wouldn't be Jack Harkness if he wasn't a little curious on that point. "Just this once?"
"Is that what you want?" the Doctor comes back at him.
Jack considers it for a long moment; he imagines slowly stripping that ridiculous bow tie from the Doctor's neck, unbuttoning the pristine shirt, slipping his fingers under the fabric and ... . He blinks the picture away. If there's ever going to be a right moment to have sex with the Doctor – in this incarnation or any other – then, if he's really honest, it doesn't feel like it should be this one. Too much intimacy – of a different kind – has already passed between them in this one short encounter for Jack to truly feel the desire to start taking their relationship up to another level.
"I think what I want from you right now, Doctor, is a kiss. Just a kiss."
The Doctor nods. "Good choice, a kiss. Come on, then."
Jack intends being chaste about this. A nice firm kiss. Lips closed. No tongues. He leans forward and slides one hand to the Doctor's nape of his neck; the silky hair under his fingers feels almost ridiculously long when compared to the only other Doctor Jack's kissed. And what a kiss that had been: a dramatic farewell snatched in the heat of the moment before Jack's death changed his life forever. He'd never quite taken the plunge with the next incarnation, even though that Doctor's initial coolness had thawed and by the end there'd been mutual respect and affection on both sides. But this one ...
This one is full of surprises.
The Doctor closes the final gap between them, pressing his mouth against Jack's. And Jack finds all thoughts of chasteness, well, chased out of his mind because the Doctor's lips are parted, his tongue sweetly insistent, and Jack lets himself sink into the kiss like it's the breath of life itself.
For one long, glorious moment he holds back nothing of himself, his hand grasping the Doctor's hair like it's all that's keeping him afloat, his senses more alive than they've been for a very long time. There's a sudden sting of tears in his eyes at the touch of the cool skin, the feel of the gorgeous tender mouth, and – most of all – at the Doctor's ready acceptance of his embrace.
Jack's never sure how long the kiss lasts. All he remembers is coming back to the world to find the Doctor's hands on his shoulders, their foreheads touching. The Doctor smiles at him, his expression one of strange ethereal charm, before he leans back and lets him go.
"That was my first kiss. Well, there was the time when Amy kissed me, and I kissed her back - I mean, her mouth - but that doesn't really count."
"Amy?" Jack collects his scattered thoughts, brushing one hand across his eyes. "As in your companion Amy? As in Amy married to Rory?"
"She wasn't married to him then."
"Doctor, are you in some kind of love triangle here?"
The Doctor tries this idea out for size, moving his fingers into vaguely triangular shapes before shaking his head. "No. There are no triangles, Jack. There's a line and it goes from Amy to Rory and back again. There is someone I have a line with. I think. A mysterious woman. But that's in the future. My future, her past. And I don't know quite what sort of line it is. In fact, I think there might be several lines, and some of them are a little wonky and not quite right."
"Is that so?" Jack grins widely. "Just what the hell kind of crazy relationship have you started here, Doctor?"
The Doctor looks a little flustered. "Well, technically I didn't start it. Not me me. It's future me. One of the future mes. I think. It's complicated."
"So ... what she's like?"
"Infuriating and fascinating. She knows things I don't, and she's so smug about it. And sometimes she's so magnificent, I could kiss her."
"So why don't you?"
"Because she says I'm not old enough yet." The Doctor frowns. Jack wonders if the mysterious woman ever needles the Doctor to provoke this expression for her own amusement. He wouldn't blame her if she did; the grumpy young professor look he's wearing right now is pretty damn cute.
"That means you've a hot date to look forward to when you've got a few more years on you," Jack tells him, but the Doctor looks pensive.
"Maybe. There's the whole mysterious thing, you see. Like I said: it's complicated." He yawns, belatedly flapping a hand up to cover his mouth. "Damn!"
"Am I keeping you up after your bedtime?"
"It's the anti-intoxicants. Delayed side effect. When they hit the sleep centres of the brain, they act like knock-out drops." He yawns again, blinking like it's going out of fashion.
Jack rises to his feet and stretches. "Then I guess I'd best leave you to your beauty sleep. Take care of yourself, Doctor."
The Doctor cranes back his head to see Jack, but his eyes are already closing. "You too. Other stuff I was going to say, but –"
"It's okay. You said all that needed saying, and whole lot more. I'm good," Jack tells him, and he means it. "You be good, too. And have fun with your complicated and mysterious lady friend."
This time the Doctor fails to answer and when Jack stoops and tucks the Doctor's key back his pocket, he doesn't even move. One of his hands dangles down to touch the TARDIS floor, fingers curling against it. Jack thinks of a child reaching for a cherished security blanket and decides he may not be too far off the mark.
"Sleep tight, Doctor." He kisses his own fingers and then touches them lightly to the Doctor's lips; he's not sure if he does so in benediction or promise. A little of both, he suspects. "Till next time."