Jennifer - what Jennifer's become, what she's twisted her Flesh into - lunges at them.
He and Cleaves hold on to the sonic screwdriver.
"Geronimo!" he shouts, and sets it off.
Jennifer's contorted form explodes, and with the same sonic burst, Cleaves's Flesh and his own lose coherence, melt apart. With the Flesh, consciousness dissolves, flows apart into nothing.
Only a puddle on the floor remains. Nothing.
Empty corridors, dark and damp, spattered with liquefied biomatter, acid pooling in corners. The whole island is dead. Nothing will happen, can happen here. The stage is empty, the actors ... dissolved.
Then it sparks: A tiny flicker over the dead Flesh. Another.
Then, a small shower, sputtering sparks, there and not. A twitch underneath, a hint of movement. More sparks, and then ...
Then, golden energy bursts forth like a fountain, blinding and hot, drenching everything in its light, in its power. It breathes life. The Flesh flows together - it contorts, twists and shapes itself, animated by the golden light. It flows into the curve of a spine, the smoothness of a shaven head bowing over knobbly knees, into hands clenching into fists: the shape of a man, nude and shivering, a fine sheen of sweat on his dark skin.
He lifts his head, coughs another burst of golden sparks, contemplates his fingers in their brief light. In the dark, he runs a hand over his face, then grimaces against his palm, feeling full lips and high cheekbones, a scratchy chin and the fascinating movement of his jaw as he experimentally moves it up and down, and sideways as far as it will go.
He coughs again. The spark of light is dimmer this time. It's dark in here, even to his eyes, which are more adaptable to different light levels than human eyes would be, but he can see his sonic screwdriver on the floor next to him. There's no light. It'll need fixing, but that should be no trouble with a few simple tools. He picks it up with his left hand, then clears his throat: time to try his voice.
"Time Lord mind. Right," he explains to no one in particular, and then tilts his head, contemplating the sound of his voice. A baritone, smooth beneath the scratchy post-regeneration roughness. "Poor Cleaves," he adds. Crisp vowels, clear enunciation. Hmmm.
He shrugs, then pauses immediately to repeat the movement, familiarising himself with his shoulders. Bows his head slightly, smiles at himself. With a finger he traces the curve of his lips. Ganger or no, his Time Lord mind has impressed itself on the Flesh, strong enough to last even as it was dissolved. He regenerated. He is a Time Lord. He is the Doctor.
The Doctor without the TARDIS.
There's all the universe out there, but first he'll have to find a way to get there.
Ah, well. There are other ways to travel. Everything is wide open. Only the familiar paths are closed.
He shrugs again, the movement casual, no longer new. Slowly, awkwardly, he gets to his feet, avoiding the acid pooling nearby.
"First priority," the Doctor announces to the empty cavern with a lift of almost-already-familiar eyebrows, "new clothes. And then, the universe!"
The Doctor leans against the wooden door casually, his chin resting on his breast bone, his eyelids lowered. Through thin slits he keeps watch, his sonic screwdriver a comforting pressure at the small of his back where it's wedged into the waistband of his trousers. It won't be long.
He'd made his way here steadily, directly, only pausing along the way to stop a minor Rutan incursion and help a trio of panicked Stolian parents find their runaway teenage son. Oh, and that business with the hallucinogenic alien aphrodisiac - not a good combination, that! - which some genius had sneaked out of Area 52. Small-time stuff, nothing of consequence. And here he is now.
Quick, energetic steps, the rustle and swirl of heavy wool - a moment later, Jack Harkness strides around the corner and slows down, eyeing the stranger at his door with an expression that's half suspicion, half appreciation. A grin expands across Jack's face as Jack's eyes sweep, with obvious deliberation, up and down his visitor's body.
The Doctor doesn't show that he's affected, but he'd have to be completely dead to at least half his senses not to be.
"I wasn't expecting guests," Jack says, "but I always make exceptions for the right person. Are you?" The look in those blue eyes is positively wicked.
The Doctor pushes himself off the door with his shoulder blades. "You tell me, Jack," he says, dropping his voice to a deeper register, and meets Jack's smouldering gaze head-on.
It only takes a moment, then Jack's eyes switch from suspicious flirtation to friendly flirtation, with a brief detour through pure delight somewhere in between. Then, Jack fakes a groan and presses a hand against his chest in mock disappointment. "You. Shame."
He nods. "Me." He is himself, at least; that's the one thing he can always be sure of.
"Doctor," Jack says, warmly. "You regenerated again." There's regret under the pleasure of recognition.
"In a way." He waves his hand in dismissal and adds brightly, "Long story. Best told over a drink. What say you?"
There's a slow-burning heat in Jack' grin, very real beneath his casual flirtation and the bone-deep knowledge that flirtation is as far as this'll ever go. Twin Time Lord hearts clench at the sight. "I'll buy you a drink any time, Doctor."
It's a little weird to be sitting here in Jack's house, a martini glass in hand, with Jack beside him. A little too strangely domestic. At least they're not sitting at the kitchen table; that might have been overkill. No; Jack has an actual, genuine bar along one wall of his living room, complete with barstools and a mirrored wall with shelves stacked with bottles from different countries, decades, and - in at least three clearly visible cases - planets. It seems Jack entertains quite a bit in this century.
Good. Jack's not the kind of man who should be lonely.
And barstools are infinitely preferable to kitchen chairs or sofas, never mind that they're less comfortable. Much better message all around.
The Doctor studies the image they make in the mirror, around and between and beside the bottles on the wall: Jack, looking as he always does when he ditches his World War II coat, antiquated braces and all, and beside Jack he himself, almost half a head shorter this time round, dark-skinned and slender in his dark trousers and the white shirt he'd finally settled on, with sharp, distinctive features, close-cropped hair - he'd decided he preferred that to the fully-shaved version, all in all - and a wide smile. He looks a decade or two older than Jack, too, though what the real age difference is even a Time Lord's senses can't easily tell. Convoluted, twisty timelines and all that.
In the mirror, he can watch Jack eyeing him appreciatively again. "Lookin' good, Doc."
There can be no doubt that that opinion is genuine, the Doctor muses. "Improvement over the last one, you think?"
"And no bow tie."
"Hey!" The Doctor isn't sure whether to pout or scowl, and tries both in quick succession. "Bow ties are still cool." Jack snorts, but doesn't comment. One of these days the Doctor'll manage to convince someone else of the innate coolness of bow ties. He's sure any of his incarnations would have agreed. "Although maybe you preferred me the way I was when we met," he adds after a moment. "Jumpers and ears and all."
Jack's expression turns wistful for a moment. "I still miss that you sometimes."
He does? The Doctor tilts his head. "Didn't go anywhere, did I?"
Jack mock-pouts at him. "You lost the ears, though. Damn shame."
"Always knew you only wanted me for my ears."
"Well, you know what they say about the size of a man's ears ..."
They are wearing matching grins now.
"And still you never so much as bought me a drink," the Doctor complains, miming deep sorrow. "I'm wounded, I am."
Jack lifts his glass and clinks it against the Doctor's demonstratively, and they simply sit and grin at each other for a long moment. Then the Doctor turns serious.
"As much fun as this is ... not, I'm actually here for a reason."
Jack nods, resigned amusement in his expression. He's got the Doctor's measure, all right - he always knew better than to think this a social call. "So, what brings you to my door?" he asks eventually, quietly.
"Well ..." The Doctor makes an amused gesture with one hand, lets the corner of his mouth quirk upward a bit. "I'm in a bit of a pickle, as they say. Up for giving me a hand?"
Jack, predictably, waggles his eyebrows. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
The Doctor laughs, under his breath but genuinely pleased nonetheless. He's seen Jack in many moods, in many frames of mind, and this is the one he infinitely prefers. Here and now, it seems, Jack is genuinely content and happy with his life. A rare condition for an immortal, perhaps, but all the more to be treasured.
He promises himself he won't do anything that might jeopardise it.
"Borrow your Vortex Manipulator?" he asks lightly.
Jack's eyebrows shoot up, and his expression grows concerned. "You've lost the TARDIS?"
"No, no - I'm still in her." His other self was. Almost the same thing.
"Not quite." He hesitates. The last version of him wouldn't have told Jack the truth. He'd have talked, and talked, and talked, swerving wildly from subject to subject without ever actually said anything, the master of dissimulation. The one before that ... he'd have talked too, but in a different manner, either maniacally cheerful or deathly intent and either way too self-absorbed, and in the end he'd have simply demanded Jack's cooperation without necessarily offering any explanation in return. (Jack, of course, would have gone along. That was Jack.)
And the man he'd been before that, the one Jack said he still missed sometimes ... yes, that man would have told Jack the truth. He'd have thrown it out as a challenge, wielding his own vulnerability like a blade.
Who is he, now that he is no longer any of these men? He hasn't had much time to get to know himself yet.
Ah well, it'll come.
"You heard about the upset with the gangers, on that island?" the Doctor asks, eventually. It's been weeks now, and the whole thing has been all over the news. Well, some version of it, at any rate. "It was coming, of course - you must have known that, living in this century. Paid attention to your history lessons?"
Jack merely nods, making an impatient gesture. His eyes have turned speculative. He's catching on. Smart boy.
The Doctor gazes into Jack's eyes, recognising the recognition. "Yes," he says, simply. "I'm a ganger. Or I started that way, anyway. Then I died."
He nods. "Never underestimate the power of a Time Lord mind." A wry smile. "I scrounged clothes from the workers' closets, placed a call. Bit of computer manipulation with the trusty sonic did the rest. Passed myself off as a journalist, and with the whole upset over the Flesh no one really wanted to antagonise me further, so I got out no problem." He can't help but flash an ironic grin at himself in the mirror: teamwork, even when the Doctor in the TARDIS doesn't know his other self still exists. Neat. "They did do all sorts of tests to check I wasn't Flesh myself after all, but all they proved was that regeneration energy is as good as the TARDIS's own when it comes to stabilising a ganger."
Jack nods, understanding the process, of course. The Doctor smiles. Sometimes it's nice talking to someone whose technical expertise requires few explanations. And then again, sometimes the explanations are half the fun.
Either way, he is Time Lord fully and completely now, not in mind only as before. He's still not certain how he feels about it: there are two Time Lords left now, but they are both him.
Never mind that his other self is a regeneration behind him, never mind that circumstances may mean that version of him will never regenerate into this particular shape: they are still the same. He's the Doctor. And he is the Doctor, too. Rather excellent, really, for him - but for the second Time Lord in all of creation, he'd still rather have chosen someone else.
Well. Nothing to be done about it.
Jack leans forward a little. "And what about him? The Doctor. Well," he corrects himself, "the other Doctor."
Something in the Doctor's chest contracts. Just like that. Only Jack could simply take the idea of two Doctors in stride, never mind how it came along.
"Left before," he explains.
"You're looking to get back to the TARDIS, then?"
The Doctor eyes Jack consideringly. "I thought about it. Perhaps not. Brilliant as it is working with myself." He flashes Jack a quick grin. "I'm not entirely sure. New me, you see - I still need to find out who I am now." He looks away. "Some might say I'm not actually the Doctor."
Jack's snort is instant, dismissive. "The hell you're not."
It gladdens his hearts. Later, he'll tell himself that's what made him reach out, what made him put his hand over Jack's, draw closer to him until he can feel the warmth of his body.
Yes, only that, of course. Self-delusion is a game he's very adept at; he's not about to give it up at this late date.
Jack looks down at their hands in bemusement. From someone else, this might mean nothing. But from the Doctor? Oh yes, Jack knows him well.
"Well?" the Doctor asks, impatient. "How about it? We'll never get anywhere if you just sit there and look."
Jack blinks, and does a rather entertaining double take as he suddenly seems to realise the offer is serious. "Doctor ..." he says, a small, helpless laugh in his voice. "Only you."
He furrows his brow, tilts his head at Jack. "Only me what? Besides, even if that were true, there's two of me now, you know."
Jack's eyes turn speculative; his smile becomes a smirk. "I hadn't forgotten."
"Oh, stop it. One thing at a time, Captain."
Jack appraises him seriously, then purses his lips. There's a challenge in his eyes. Slowly, very slowly, he undoes the leather strap of his Vortex Manipulator and lifts it from his wrist, holds it out to the Doctor.
The Doctor raises his eyebrows, but takes it and fixes it around his own wrist - the right one; not that he's left-handed, more like ambidextrous, but still it seems better that way. All without breaking the lock their eyes have on each other. "Thank you," he says, a deliberate, ironic tinge in his voice. "But that wasn't actually what I meant. You're usually quicker than this."
Jack breaks away from his eyes after all and looks down for an instant, then glances up, wry mischief in the blue of his gaze. "Would you hold it against me if I said I trust you more when you have a way out?"
The Doctor snorts, mimes a bow to acknowledge the distinct touch, and hops down from his barstool, holding out a hand. "Well?"
Jack slides off his own stool. He takes the Doctor's hand and pulls him in, slowly, slowly. Mmm, kissing with new lips. The verdict so far: excellent. But that may just be Jack. "Kissing's good," he breathes into Jack's ear, then bites his earlobe for emphasis. "But you want me to fuck you, don't you?"
A sharp intake of breath, and Jack's hips surge against him. Oh yes, Jack wants. And he wants, too. Well, that isn't new. For some reason, this time it seems right to act on it.
New man again, in more ways than one.
He does fuck Jack, slow and lazy, on Jack's extravagant four-poster bed, Jack on knees and elbows before him, the curve of his spine a sinful temptation. He presses kisses against Jack's skin, circles the bumps of Jack's spine with his tongue. His hips thrust lazily as he curls hand around Jack's cock, just holding it, closely, intimately. Every small thrust of his hips drives Jack's cock forward in this fist, a hot slide of skin against skin. He's stretching this out, he realises, for his own sake as much as for Jack's. It's a memory that will be their own, separate from the ones they share with his other self, and he wants to savour every moment.
The Doctor smiles at the back of Jack's head, at the dark shadow of his own hand curled around Jack's shoulder.
Afterwards, he pulls his sonic screwdriver from the pile of clothes and points it at the Vortex Manipulator around his wrist. Jack watches him lazily, and keeps watching as he slowly puts on his discarded clothes. Neither of them say anything.
Then he's standing next to Jack's bed, fully clothed, entering coordinates for a simple, straightforward time jump. Earth, 57th century. That should be about right.
The Doctor looks at Jack again, lounging naked on the bed before him, then at the device on his wrist. Oh, to hell with it. He owes the man, after all. He sits on the bed, and watches Jack's eyes snap fully open.
He leans forward. "I'll bring it back," he promises, quietly, and presses a kiss against Jack's shoulder. And with the sensation of Jack's skin on his lips, the sight of his startled expression burned into his eyes, he activates the Vortex Manipulator and is gone, away, out into the universe where he belongs.
to be continued ...