"Is this it? My death? Is it time?" The Doctor can't suppress a shiver. Adelaide Brooks' shot rings in his ears. He can feel the whole of time pressing down on him, everything that he in his arrogance tried to rewrite. Everything he nearly annihilated, everything he still did break, even with Brooks' sacrifice.
It presses down on him as the Ood watches, looks at him in silent accusation, and then vanishes.
This is too heavy. This is too much. He's drowning. The Doctor ducks inside his TARDIS, looking over his shoulder. He has that itch at the back of his head as if someone were watching. Following.
For the longest time, he merely stares at the control panels. Both his hearts clench, thumping a wild staccato in his throat.
"No." The word rips from his throat. No. He can't. He can't deal with this. His paralysis ceases, and he frantically activates the time rotor, fleeing into the Vortex. Running.
Running, fast as he can, faster than he's ever run, even faster than he ran from Jack, once upon a time. He's going to run and never turn back. There's nothing he can't outrun if he tries! He's the multiversal champion of running.
But first, he's going to run in the general direction of Byerych. He's going to get drunk as a skunk.
"Drunk," he mutters to himself, staring into the stoneware mug. It's nearly empty, and he pours himself another from the jug on the counter with the Thorn Crypt Breweries logo painted on. "Drunk as a skunk, right. Good word, that, skunk." Byerych is brilliant. Byerych is the best planet ever. It may be most famous for its ice singers - stupid pretentious boring lot that they are - but its real claim to brilliance is its Arrhik. Arrhik, Arrhik, Arrrrrrrrhik, which not only contains more alcohol than hypervodka, but also a component that acts on Time Lord biochemistry in exactly the way alcohol doesn't. Which is why the Doctor is now, in fact, just as planned, getting drunk as a skunk.
Drunk as a skunk and most definitely not thinking about any Ood, or time streams, or the integrity thereof, or anything else Time Lordly. No, nope, nothing of that sort. He takes another gulp, the sharp, clear taste burning his taste buds. Fabulous. Drunk as a skunk, yes, that still sounds good.
No, wait, actually, that doesn't sound right at all. Do skunks get drunk all that often? Anyway ... he wants to get drunk like a very drunk thing. Drunk like alcohol doesn't get him drunk. Drunk, drunk, drunk - great word, that, drunk.
Oh yes, he's getting so very drunk.
He doesn't even notice at first when someone slips into the seat next to him. In retrospect, the man must have been watching him for quite a while when the Doctor finally turns and blinks at him. "Arrhik?" he suggests, not quite managing not to slur his words a little. "Great stuff, Arrhik. Works on humans and Time Lords both!" He grins at the brilliance of that, and nods emphatically, just for emphasis. Just in case Jack might be inclined to underestimate the stuff.
"Brilliant, yes." Jack's smile is indulgent, and there's a definite sarcastic undertone in his voice.
The Doctor thinks perhaps he should be getting huffy at the obvious condescension, but he can't quite work up the energy. "Arrhik?" he offers again.
Jack hesitates, then gestures at the barkeeper for a mug of his own. "Well, if you're looking for company, I won't say no." He winks. It's probably meant to be provocative. The Doctor pokes a finger at the corner of Jack's eye, trying to touch the creases there, lines engraved by the humour of several lifetimes. Jack, though, flinches back and captures the Doctor's finger in his hand. "I don't think you're quite coordinated enough right now, Doc."
The Doctor pouts, but doesn't bother to argue. He doesn't pull his hand away from Jack, though. Warm human skin; cooler Time Lord skin. Nice. He wants to fall into that warmth. He takes another swig from his mug instead; he's not quite that far gone after all. Eventually Jack is the one to let go.
"What's up?" Jack asks eventually. "Not your usual haunt, this."
"'s wrong," he mutters. "Everything's wrong. You're wrong, I'm wrong, time's wrong. Anyway, I don't want to. I'm running away."
Jack, infuriating man that he is, hones in on the one pertinent bit immediately. "Don't want to what?" He gives what he probably assumes is a reassuring smile. But nothing about Jack is reassuring. He's a Fact; written into the laws of the universe itself. He's a friend. He's everything that ever worried the Doctor. By all rights the Doctor should be running from him, not sitting next to him, drinking more Arrhik and making inane conversation.
But inane conversation it is, and he thinks he even manages not to tell Jack anything pertinent about the whole Time Lord Victorious debacle. He's not up for it. He disappoints people enough; he's certainly let Jack down enough. He doesn't need to see the last of Jack's regard for him crumble. He doesn't need to deal with any of this, in fact. All he needs ... well. He takes another gulp of Arrhik and manages to refill his mug without spilling more than a few drops.
After another mug, he notices he's listing toward the side, and decides to give up on the struggle to remain upright. He lets himself lean against Jack's shoulder and closes his eyes.
He drifts awake a bit later - not much later, if his time sense is still working at all, which it might not be right now - still pleasantly buzzed. The body curled against his is warm - pleasantly warm, in the fresh air of Byerych. He squeezes an eye open; they seem to be in a bedroom. How they got here he's not entirely sure, but they're both lying on a mattress fully clothed. Jack seems to be deep asleep.
All right. The Doctor lets himself drift for a while, comfortable where he is. He smiles to himself when Jack shifts in his sleep and buries his face in the crook of the Doctor's neck, warm breath was tickling his throat. A minute later, Jack lifts his head and blinks blearily at the Doctor. He opens his mouth as if to speak.
The Doctor presses his lips against Jack's and rolls them over with the firm press of a hand against Jack's shoulder. When he lets go, Jack stares up at him, wide-eyed and incredulous.
He reaches for the buttons of Jack's shirt. Jack's hands intercept his, and Jack begins to shake his head.
Oh, no. He's not going to turn him down; not now. "I'm not that drunk," the Doctor snaps, a bit more sharply than necessary.
Jack looks into his eyes, visibly hesitating, but then he nods and lets go of the Doctor's hands.
"Finally," the Doctor huffs, and clumsily undoes the buttons. He leans down and licks at Jack's neck, the droplets of sweat gathering in the folds of Jack's skin. Tasting the salts, the trace elements, trying to get at the distinctive Jackness underneath. There's a faint tingle of artron energy against his tongue, reminder of Jack's Vortex-induced immortality. Once upon a time he would have found it frightening, wrong - now he simply can't be bothered to care.
Habituation does have a few things in its favour.
Habituation, and having better things to worry about. Mustn't forget about that.
Well, yes, actually, must forget. Needs to. If only for just now.
And so it's this. He rubs skin against skin, smells and tastes Jack and his delicious pheromones, feels him shudder under his hands. He looks into those eyes and sees - sees so much he'd really rather not contemplate but can't deny all the same. He presses himself against Jack, brings them close, so close. All the things he's never dared before. If not now, when?
It's lazy and sloppy, bodies and thoughts heavy and slow. Their caresses are warm and soothing, the pleasure a steady, comforting weight. Release is almost an afterthought, and the Doctor lets himself sink, bonelessly, onto Jack's chest. Within moments he drifts off again.
When the Doctor wakes again, he is alone. Alone in his rarely-used bedroom in the TARDIS. He shakes himself, winces as the abrupt movement sends a spike of pain through his skull, and huffs a laugh at himself as he rubs his temples. What was he thinking?
He struggles to his feet and makes his way to the control room. Yep; he's still on Byerych - he hasn't somehow taken himself into the Vortex in his stupor. He probably didn't even come back to the TARDIS by himself; Jack must have brought him. He winces; he can't quite remember how much he told Jack about the Ood, about Adelaide Brooks, about what he's done. Things are more than a bit blurry. He knows he brought it up at some point, but the details elude him. Damn.
Maybe he should have just kept running. The drinking doesn't really seem to have helped, after all. Although ... He smiles at the sense memory of Jack's skin against his.
Something starts blinking on the console, and when the Doctor takes a closer look, he sees it's a datacrystal. Definitely not one of his. Jack's? Curiosity piqued, he activates it, and a hologram of Jack comes alive in front of him. He's wearing a wry grin and no shirt. The Doctor is momentarily distracted by the trail of love bites on his left shoulder; then Jack begins to speak.
"You're probably being stupid," Jack says, running a hand over his chin. "You know you can't see your own timeline, so whatever you think is coming, it may not be all that." He flashes a tired smile. "So, yeah, probably just being stupid."
"So what if I am?" the Doctor mutters under his breath.
As if it had heard him, the hologram continues. "Go on, be stupid," Jack says. "If you really think this is it - go and do all the silly and outrageous things you can think of. Why not? I certainly would. Go have some fun and go out, if go out you must, with a bang - with fireworks and crackers and ticker-tape parades. There's no living like living in the face of death. Oh, I envy you." His grin is wide and real now. "If it's Volcano Day, go and celebrate."
The Doctor stares. It sounds simple enough. Pain and loss and joie-de-vivre all rolled into one; that's Jack.
"And when it turns out you're wrong? I'm going to tell you I told you so," Jack announces with a smirk. "See you then."
The hologram vanishes, and the Doctor stares at the place where it was for a long moment. Then, decisively, he turns toward the console. And he's off. Off, to run away, and to celebrate. No reason he can't do both at the same time.
So what if there's a tiny bit of him that's started to hope? Maybe Jack will get to say "I told you so" after all.