Breaking the Circle
It was a few mornings *after* and Jack was sitting in the same seat, in the same bar, although at this hour it was mostly empty of customers including the now no-longer-jobless Alonso Frame. Jack raised his glass – water once more – in salute to the ship that was just pulling away from the station, and to one member of her crew in particular, wondering if he would ever see the young man again. He didn't think it would matter if he did or he didn't, they'd been what they needed to be for each other and neither of them would want to revisit that, not again; there was too much pain involved. But friends? Yeah, they could be friends - if they ever crossed paths. Jack was willing to leave that to the whim of the universe, his decision had to be where to go from here; Alonso – and the Doctor – had brought that home to him.
Initially when Jack had received the note and seen the Doctor standing on the other side of the bar, resentment and fury had burned through him. How dare he! To be conspicuous by his absence when Jack – and the whole world – had needed him only to turn up out of the blue and not even condescend to sacrifice a few minutes of his time to talk… Jack glared until the realisation of *why* the Doctor would not speak to him hit him like a rush of freezing water, immediately dousing the fire of his anger; the Doctor didn't *have* time. Why was he here, and who the hell was Alonso? The Doctor jerked his head to indicate the young man in uniform who had just settled onto the stool next to Jack and Jack couldn't suppress the stab of pain and twitch of renewed resentment within him. Was he worth so little to the Doctor that the last time he saw Jack was to offer him a pretty boy as a parting gift as if to say 'sorry the other one got broken, here's a replacement' and Jack was on the verge of turning away in disgust when the plea in the Doctor's eyes as he gave him that sloppy salute of his made him think again and he returned the salute – nothing sloppy about his own – hoping it would say everything he needed about his bemused acceptance. The Doctor seemed to almost melt away into the crowd, and Jack turned again to Alonso; the guy was radiating misery and despair, things with which Jack had become all too familiar. Perhaps the Doctor thought that two broken men might just somehow be able to heal each other. While Jack wasn't entirely convinced that was possible, for the Doctor he would at least try. Pinning a smile to his face that no longer felt like it belonged there, he took a deep breath, turned to Alonso and opened his mouth.
The ensuing result had been better than Jack – and probably Alonso – had expected; it seemed that two broken men *could* do each other some good and now Alonso had gone on a new ship toward a new life leaving Jack alone once more in the bar.
He'd drifted to this station at this time by chance and opportunity but the time for drifting was over; now he had to take some form of control over his life instead of letting it happen to him. He wasn't ready to go back, he wasn't sure if he'd *ever* be ready to go back, but for his own sake he had to start at least the semblance of living again no matter how painful it was; Ianto would have been the first person to tell him that and no doubt Methos would have agreed. Jack set his empty glass down on the counter, his thoughts in an almost pleasant whirl; a job on a big ship would be best, then maybe some time dirtside in a place nothing like the small blue-green planet that had broken his heart. He nodded to himself, it was a start and it would have to do.
The man in the shadows went unnoticed until Jack almost ran into him as he exited the bar.
"Sorry," said Jack reflexively, not really paying attention.
"No, I'm sorry, Jack. I really am so, so sorry." Jack's attention was well and truly snared with the first breath of sound out of the man's mouth.
"Doctor?" It only took Jack a moment to realise that *this* Doctor was not apologising for the note in the bar, but for the devastating events that had preceded it. Jack almost lost his resolve to keep living rather than existing as his heart sank within him and the pain washed through him anew.
"I… I just wanted you to know… I couldn't do anything. For either of them. Fixed point in time…"
"I figured it had to be something like that. Doesn't make it easier to bear."
"Sorry. Yeah I know. Won't bring either of them back, though." Jack took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, biting his lip to stop the outpouring of bitterness that still threatened, that the Doctor probably expected; he wouldn't succumb to it, not now, not when he'd taken his first step away from all that. Blinking away his tears, his pain, Jack raised his head and met the Doctor's eyes to find them as wet as his own. "Don't ask me to come with you," he whispered. "Not now."
The Doctor nodded, understanding clear in his face. "I won't. Not now. Later?"
"Maybe." It was time to walk away; away from the person who had made Jack who he was, away from the person who had called him *wrong* and who had at one time been the centre of Jack's universe around which everything else turned. One step, two. He could go no further, not without… Jack shivered and turned back to face the Doctor. "Before I go I think I should say thank you. I might not remember next time we meet." Jack found the somewhat bemused expression on the Doctor's face a quite endearing.
"Thank me for what?"
"You'll find out, but I want you to know that it did help break through the circle of pain, though I resented what it implied at first."
"I've crossed my own timeline?"
"Something like that." Jack snapped off a crisp salute. "Doctor."
It was returned with The Doctor's own one fingered version. "Captain."
"See you in hell," Jack gave the Doctor a quick smile though he could feel it didn't reach his eyes and swept through the door of the bar before he could say anything else. From what he'd seen the other day the Doctor still had hell to go through and he didn't want to give him any inkling of that. The sound of the TARDIS engines reached his ears soon after and he wished *this* Doctor a fond goodbye with all his heart. Next time he saw the Time Lord, he would be wearing a different face, be a new man; Jack hoped that he might feel different too.