It was good to be back on Earth. Good to be back in Britain, even, though he didn't think he'd be returning to Cardiff anytime soon. America was a nice enough place but Gwen had fled as soon as she was able, and he was sick of saying goodbyes.
So now, Wales. It was a quiet life these days. He liked that. Gwen and Rhys were nearby (though not too near; Rhys had squashed the roommate idea rather quickly), and their daughter was growing up fast. She'd never call him Uncle Jack, he'd make sure of that, but he was starting to be okay with just being Jack again.
He worked at a little pub down the street, pouring drinks and flirting with the customers, nothing to do with aliens. He was self-aware enough to know that it wouldn't last long - he'd get bored, and God only knew he was too big a masochist to play it safe. Still. For now, it was nice.
It was also louder than usual. The place was packed, rowdy teenagers ordering drink after drink, men and women shouting over each other to make themselves heard. Everyone seemed to be looking towards the television, but Jack was sure that none of them actually knew what was happening. These people didn't need much of an excuse to get pissed and make noise, but the Olympics gave them one, and they were taking advantage. Nothing particularly exciting was even happening right now, just the torch and the crowds -
"Hang on," he muttered, squinting at the TV and blinking.
"Hey!" someone shouted. "Look at the place - where'd the people go?"
The stadium was suddenly and completely empty.
The bar erupted again. "SHUT UP!" Jack shouted, and the noise faltered for a moment. "Everyone, shut up!"
The newscaster's voice became audible as he fumbled with the remote. "...a terrible, terrible turn of events," he was saying, and Jack rolled his eyes. No kidding, he thought. But what the hell had happened?
The TV was drowned out again. He thought about leaving, going to his flat or to Gwen's, but they were with Rhys' family for the week and what would he do on his own? He tried not to think about the old days too much, but he suddenly pictured Tosh at her screen spouting theory after theory, the scowl Owen wore when he didn't understand something. He thought of the way Ianto would have sighed and turned on the coffee maker without a word, hunkering down for another long night; the image was so vivid that he nearly nearly missed it when the crowd returned, several minutes later.
It wasn't the end of the world, then. Good. He wasn't ready for that again.
The coat was the first thing he noticed, that flash of familiar brown. No one was paying attention to the TV anymore, too caught up in this latest celebration, but a man had picked up the fallen torch and was running. A slow, reluctant grin spread across Jack's face.
"Should've known," he muttered, and wondered if it had been the end of the world after all.
Sarah Jane heard the shouts from the attic; Luke's cry of "MUM!" reverberated up the stairs and drowned out Mr. Smith's latest theory on how the crowd had suddenly reappeared.
"MUM!" he shouted again when she hurried into the living room, eyes sharp and sonic lipstick at the ready. She nearly lost her balance as he grabbed her into a hug. "Mum, it's him!"
Clyde was whooping, Rani was laughing joyfully, and Sky was still on the couch, looking thoroughly perplexed. "What?" Sarah Jane asked breathlessly, steadying herself. "It's who?"
The answer was on the television screen, though as the image sunk in, she thought she should have known - there was only one "him" that could inspire this sort of reaction. The familiar face was nonetheless shocking; she hadn't seen this version of him for years, now, and even then it had been just a glimpse. His long coat flapped dramatically behind him, and he held the torch high in the air, a broad smile on his face.
"Oh," she gasped, raising a shaking hand to her mouth; she still felt that thrill, the sudden jolt of timelessness, like the shock stretched on for much longer than the split second of recognition. She found herself laughing with Rani, giddiness taking hold.
"Is that the Doctor?" asked Sky excitedly, bouncing on her cushion. Sarah Jane nodded, sitting heavily next to her and not taking her eyes off the screen.
"Look at him go!" Clyde yelled. "The other guy just fell over and then there he was, out of nowhere!"
He was close, Sarah Jane realized - very close. This one may not be in sync with her own timeline, but he was just a few minutes away, and the urge to seek him out was sudden and overwhelming. She was used to meeting new versions of him, and quite liked the one she ran into every so often these days, but she still missed the old faces, the little quirks.
Even if she could get to the stadium, she knew she'd miss him; he was nearly there now, and with the entire world watching, he'd vanish before anyone could try to identify him. Instead she laughed again, shaking her head, and took in every detail of his beaming face. He had been so sad the last time she saw him.
"What do you think he's doing?" Luke asked, and Sarah Jane shrugged.
"Something cool, I bet," Rani chimed in, nudging Clyde.
On the TV, the Doctor held the torch to the cauldron, and they cheered along with the stadium crowd as the flames shot into the air. One spark seemed to fly higher than the rest.
Something cool. Yes, she thought, it probably was. She'd ask next time she saw him.
It was more than enough.
"Rose told me," he explained now, holding her hand as they walked slowly home. "Before I came back. This was right before she got sucked in, actually."
"What, you mean she's here?" Martha asked, surprised. "The old her?"
"Yeah, a few minutes away," he replied, a little too casually. "Not like we could go say hi, though. She thinks I'm trapped in the parallel world - well, I am, I guess, for them - and he hasn't met you yet."
It was strange to think about. She had learned a lot about timelines, but to think that the man who had passed just a few feet from her, the man she knew so well and cared so much about, didn't even know who she was - it was hard to grasp.
"I guess I'll meet him soon, then," she said. "That him, I mean. That's weird." She laughed. "Once he said that the universe is a 'big ball of timey-wimey stuff'. I guess he was right."
Mickey snorted. "Timey-wimey? Idiot," he said fondly. "Always talking down to us stupid apes."
"Shut up," Martha chided, letting go of his hand long enough to poke his side.
"Except - yeah, he kind of does."
Mickey slowed down, turning to look at her properly. "Do you want to call him?" he asked seriously.
They hadn't, not since he'd taken out that Sontaran warrior. It had felt too much like a goodbye, and after Mickey had explained about regeneration, Martha had hesitated. A new body, new personality - a new person, she thought, no matter what Mickey and Jack had assured her. She wasn't sure she was ready for that.
But her Doctor was still out there. She'd just seen him, and he had no idea who she was. Maybe she'd see him again and he'd recognize her; but maybe, maybe it was time to get to know this new one as well.
"Yeah," she decided, smiling at her husband. "Let's call him."
It wasn't a bad show, she had to give them that. The stunt with all the people disappearing was impressive. Got everyone hyped up, she supposed, except Granddad seemed more worried than entertained. "It's just TV, Gramps," she told him, and he nodded.
"'Course it is, sweetheart." But he hadn't seemed to enjoy himself as much after that, and when the torch runner fell and the skinny guy appeared, he leapt to his feet and switched the TV off.
"Oi, what was that about?" Donna asked. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just - stunts, like you said," Wilf replied. She looked him over worriedly - he seemed shaken, like someone had struck him. "Not very good, is all." He gave her a smile; she thought it looked a little forced, but nodded slowly anyway. "Besides, the real stuff starts tomorrow! Better get you home, yeah?"
She shrugged. "If you're sure you're all right," she said, standing and kissing his cheek. He patted her own clumsily.
"You know me, I'm always fine," he promised. "See you tomorrow, sweetheart."
She let Shaun drive home. It must have been all that TV - she was starting to get a headache.