Jack let go of his vortex manipulator and slumped onto the console. "This isn't going to work," he admitted through the din of the alarm system. Klaxons were blaring, loud and shrill in disharmonies not calculated for human ears, echoing in the deserted control centre. Jack grimaced. "Please tell me you've got something."
The Doctor's grey head came up; a brief, sharp blue gaze stabbed over the terminals. The alarm lights kept throwing flashes of sickly mauve over the room, throwing the Doctor's features into stark, shadowed relief. Then his eyes darted away, and he scowled, tossing his sonic screwdriver onto the plastiglass surface with a clatter. "No," he huffed, straightening from his hunch over the terminal and crossing his arms over his chest.
Jack had known for some minutes now that his efforts were futile, but he'd hoped the Doctor was having better luck. The Doctor was generally good for a last-minute save, after all.
Not today, it seemed.
Jack nodded and ran a tired hand over his face. "Let's see," he said. "The TARDIS is still somewhere up there." He gestured toward the ceiling and the ocean beyond the dome of the underwater base. "We can't get the transmat working, there are no escape pods -"
"Lifeboats," the Doctor corrected.
"Lifeboats, whatever. And," Jack added pointedly, lifting his wrist and tapping the vortex manipulator with his other hand, "the temporal jump circuits are broken beyond the sonic screwdriver's ability to repair."
The Doctor grimaced. "Should have taken care of that earlier," he muttered. He'd planned to, or rather, the Doctor had claimed he'd planned to. Jack still wasn't sure if he'd actually meant it. "You done stating the obvious?"
"You have anything not obvious to state?" Jack snapped back. "Because I'm all out. Unless you've got a miracle up your sleeve that you've been hiding, we're going to blow up." He glared.
Not that it was the Doctor's fault, any more than his own. The base was a trap, and they'd both walked - well, transmatted - right into it. It didn't matter that it was an old trap, left over from one of the planet's many vicious civil wars. The spider at the centre of the web might be long dead, but the remnants of its weaving were just as deadly to any fly that happened to be caught in it.
In less than ten minutes, the base was going to blow, and Jack was furious. If they couldn't get out, Jack would come back to life - even torn to pieces by an explosion of this scale, he'd always, eventually, come back. His body would piece itself together, inevitably.
The Doctor, though? No. Regeneration required a mostly-intact body. He wouldn't come back, not from this.
Perhaps Jack shouldn't have been angry with him over that, but he was. He'd never forgive him if he actually died here. He'd never forgive him for dying at all, no matter when that day came.
"Well," the Doctor said, twirling the sonic screwdriver between his fingers as he came around to Jack's side. "Here we go again."
"Yes. Again," Jack echoed darkly, and watched the Doctor's spine stiffen in response. They were standing close now, watching the screen, looking at the building overload that they didn't know how to stop or escape.
The Doctor's mouth opened, then snapped shut again. He turned away, and Jack felt his insides clench. His mind was racing as he watched the Doctor lean over the terminal, pick up his sonic screwdriver and stab it into the air. The lights stopped flashing, and the klaxons fell silent with a last painful screech. Into the sudden, stunning silence the Doctor said, "There. No point dying with a migraine."
Jack bared his teeth. He wanted to punch the flippancy right out of the Doctor. He wanted to reach out, to shake him until he came up with the idea that would save him. Because if not ...
Here we go again, the Doctor had said, but one day there wouldn't be another again. No matter how many times he cheated fate, eventually the inevitable would catch up.
Today or not, one day the Doctor wouldn't be there any more. That inevitable day had loomed over Jack forever, but that made it no easier to stomach. One day, there would be no more new incarnations of the Doctor to discover, the last of them dead in Jack's own present time, and all he'd have to look forward to were past timelines looping into his future, little more than echoes of things lost.
The Doctor's eyes were too perceptive. "Be maudlin some other time," he snapped. "This isn't the place."
Looking into the Doctor's face, indignant and irritated, Jack almost laughed. Only you, Doctor.
But the Doctor was right. The future could wait; here and now was what mattered. The older Jack got, the easier it was to forget it at times, but the Doctor never failed to remind him.
No, this wasn't over yet. After all, there was still one thing he could do. Whether the Doctor liked it or not.
"Stay right here, Doctor," Jack said, voice harsher than he'd meant, and turned toward the exit. If they weren't together, he couldn't know what had or hadn't happened. It wasn't much, but right now, it was all there was.
"Stop." The word was quiet, but it fell into the silence like the drop of a hammer, like judgment spoken.
Gut clenching, Jack came to a halt. He could feel the Doctor's eyes pierce into him from behind, and he turned. They had less than ten minutes, and the more of them they wasted, the harder this would become.
There was a reason you weren't supposed to cross back into your own timeline, after all. And Jack, impossible immortality and all, was a fixed point in space and time - he didn't even want to contemplate what might happen if he ever caused a paradox. He suppressed a shiver, and forced the thought aside. The Doctor was right; no time for that now.
"You have any better ideas?" Jack asked, knowing he sounded angry, knowing he sounded defensive.
The Doctor met his eyes only for a moment; then he looked away. "Just this one," he admitted.
Jack pressed his lips together, nodding grimly. Of course the Doctor knew what he was thinking; no time traveller could have failed to realise. A moment's hesitation; then, "Do you trust me?"
Even as the words came out of his mouth, he wished he could take them back. Too loaded, much too loaded a question, even in this limited context.
The Doctor came forward, closer, a grimace baring his teeth for a moment. He reached out, a hand hovering almost tentatively over Jack's shoulder for just an instant too long before it was snatched back. A quick, jerky shake of the head, as if to clear his thoughts; then his hand cupped Jack's cheek instead.
Jack's breath caught in his throat. Every muscle in the Doctor's body, every frown line on his face spoke of reluctance. For all their physical closeness, for all that their clothes were brushing against each other's, the Doctor wasn't meeting his eyes. He was looking down.
"Sorry," the Doctor muttered. "I'm so sorry," and for a moment the ghost of another face, another voice hovered between them.
But this wasn't Jack's second Doctor, the one in the suit and the brown coat, the one with the sad eyes and the god complex. For all that he was the same man, he was older and changed.
The Doctor had even finally, grudgingly conceded that Jack's time travelling was Jack's own business. Not that he'd actually got around to repairing Jack's vortex manipulator, so his change of mind hadn't been put to the test.
This wasn't going to prove anything either, of course. It wasn't as if they had any other options.
It still mattered, what the Doctor would say.
The Doctor's fingers pressed into Jack's face. "This is going to hurt," he said abruptly. "One of your worst revivals, I'll bet."
Jack only raised his eyebrows.
Another one of the Doctor's grimaces, lips pulled up and eyes narrowed. "I'm glad," he finally said, looking as if he'd bitten off something sour. "I shouldn't be, but I'm selfish, and I am. To hell with the risk, you've beaten worse odds."
Jack swallowed. "I'm glad too," he admitted, his throat tight. Glad I can do this, no matter the cost, no matter the risk. Because it's you. And the Doctor wasn't protesting. That shouldn't have meant so much, after all this time, but it did. It did. "For just as selfish reasons."
They looked at each other, unhappy and determined but reluctant to let go.
Eventually, the Doctor gave a sharp nod and stepped back. "What are you waiting for? Go!"
Jack managed a quick, fake grin in a futile attempt at reassurance as he left the control centre.
Whatever the Doctor had said, the risk was very real. Yes, Jack would recover even from this explosion, eventually. However long it might take him, however painful it might be, he eventually would. Yes, he'd then have all the time in the universe to find the TARDIS, or another means of time travel, to come back to this very point in time, to snatch the Doctor from here right before the explosion.
But if he missed, even by a moment - if he encountered himself - or if he failed ...
They both knew it, even if the Doctor would never admit to even the chance of defeat. Defeat was for others, not him. Not while he had any denial left in him; not while he had any life left in him.
No. Jack couldn't let himself think that way. The Doctor needed him. The Doctor's life, in his hands ...
"Damn you, Doctor," Jack breathed, "Damn you to hell."
It was the Doctor's face that flashed before his mind's eye, scowling at him in stubborn challenge, as the explosion took him.