Travelling with a Vortex Manipulator was always a bumpy ride. The technology did its work and even a Time Lord had to admit that it was humanity at its most ingenious - not that this meant much to a Time Lord. Leaving the Tardis behind to travel with a less sophisticated time travel device left him feeling silly. He hoped Jack was taking good care of the Tardis, because he was already regretting the decision to go along with Jack's plan.
The sand had already found its way into his hair and eyes. The air smelt familiar. It reminded him of Gallifrey and that did not bring the feeling of home. With every scrunching step he took, he had a feeling he needed to go, to run, to escape.
He knew that it wasn’t the desert. The deserts he had visited all across the universe had never fazed him like this. It was the temporal anomaly that wasn’t quite in existence yet that echoed back to him through time. Now he was part of it. He’d played clever time traveller so often that he couldn’t quite explain why this had his nerves on edge.
The streets of the colony city were deserted at this time of day. The sun was too hot and people were keeping indoors if they didn't have to be out. His physiology coped quite well with the temperature though. No need to look for shade. The niggling feeling that he was crossing a line somewhere that perhaps he shouldn’t cross - and the only explanation for that he could think of was that Time Lords were back in the universe and guarding time again - made him quicken his pace. He had one thing to do here, one thing only, and he wouldn’t be distracted. No, not him. He was the Doctor. He was never distracted, of course, just insanely well at multi-tasking and blessed with a keen interest in everything.
Jack knew that.
Which was why he had asked him for a favour. And it had been the Doctor's turn, too. “Be nice,” Jack had said, when he'd send him on his way, and it had reminded him of something... someone. He still couldn't say who exactly.
He rounded another corner, not even sure he knew where he was going. The general energy readings the Vortex Manipulator provided had given him rough directions of the settlement, but now he was beginning to thing he would have been better of taking a better scanning device with him.
Not sure where to turn he came to a full stop in the middle of an empty crossing. Appearing out of nowhere, a boy ran right into him.
“What the…? Why are you outside? Has nobody ever told you it’s the hour to be inside.”
The kid, not reaching his hips and wearing dirty white clothes, looked at him with startled grey-blue eyes. “You’re outside, Mister.”
“Yes,” he said authoritatively. “Of course, I am, but that’s me. You should be inside. How old are you anyway, I can never tell. Old enough to know better, surely.”
“It’s boring,” the boy said and then wrinkled his nose. “Gray wouldn't play with me. What are you wearing? Nobody wears this colour around here.”
“Black? Can’t think why. It’s a good look on me.”
“Your clothes are weird.”
Patience with children had been another Doctor's thing. He wasn't sure he'd ever be good at it. The little things were always distracting. Children wanted to be coddled and amused. But they also knew how to learn, how to see the wonders of the world. “You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” the Doctor asked. And it was the curious look the child threw his way then, that finally made the Doctor realize, what was up.
“Ah,” he said. “What’s your name, little monkey?”
“What’s a monkey?” the boy asked and frowned, able to guess at the fact that he’d just been called something he probably wouldn’t like – if he had any idea what it was.
“A haplorhine primate. You’ll learn about that one day, if you want to go up there.” He gestured to the sky.
Of course, the sky was a bright blue and the suns were shining, so there were no stars out.
But the boy looked up and said: “The stars? One day I’ll go. We’re settlers, you know?”
“Oh, I know,” the Doctor answered. “Spreaders too, spreading all across the universe. What’s your name then?”
“Now look at that,” the Doctor said and laughed. “That’s why it was so easy to keep that name, huh? Always wondered why that was the one to stick when you had the choice to call yourself whatever you wanted. Smart. I always knew you were smarter than you looked.”
The boy frowned again. “What’s your name?”
He knew that all answers would just be confusing, dangerous even if they were the wrong ones, so he started walking fast. “Now, where would you colonists, keep a big silver box? Looking left and right, he decided to go for the town square and work his way from there, when suddenly he became aware of little boy Ja’kk standing right behind him, following his gaze. “Are you looking for treasure?”
“Technology,” the Doctor said. “No colony without technology.”
The boy shrugged. “You’re really not from around here.” He pulled at the lapels of his jacket and inspected the fabric. “Are you…?”
“I’m the scheduled repairman,” he said quickly, waving his hands around to distract the curious boy.
“No such thing,” he said and his eyes were gleaming. “What are you really?”
For once he wanted to be in and out of here, before he could cause too much trouble. The time lines were always a bit in flux where Jack was concerned. That was why he wasn’t going to proclaim, that he was the Doctor…
“I saw you arrive,” Ja’kk said. “You just popped out of thin air and thought nobody saw you.”
“Right,” he admitted. “So what am I?”
The boy shrugged. “You’re weird.”
“I’ll concede your point.”
“You a time agent?” After the recent war against time travelling invaders the Human Empire had put efforts into guarding against temporal attacks, the time agency was recruiting more openly these days.
“Do I look like an amateur?”
The boy grinned at him, satisfied. “You’re not dressed for the desert, duh.”
* * *
Then he lost his brother and he knew there was one way for him to go.
From then on there was only one thing on his mind. He didn't just want to be out there among the stars. He wanted to be everywhere. He wanted to be where everything was possible, where there were no borders he couldn't cross.
* * *
After a few missions, learning the way of time and realizing that it was a dangerous and exciting game with its own rules and rifts, he realized that time travellers were everywhere, could do everything. For a while he thought he might find the grumpy grey haired man again and ask him about the power casket he’d taken from the Boeshane town house, back when Jack was a child. Something more than the obvious must have happened that day. But he realized it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Time was complicated and you had a hard time finding one human in the web of time and space.
He knew that.
He’d lost Gray.
His little brother had been taken and never resurfaced.
He’d looked, when time permitted it. But time was its own thing and did not always play by the rules that Ja’kk had to play by.
It was good that there were Arn, Gron and Annie to occupy his time and bed, these days.
But once, on the Gardorian market, he thought he saw the man walk past him, a young woman with brown hair and equally strange clothes by his side. Earth, he thought. Perhaps 20th century.
* * *
“Time Lords?” he asked. “That’s a legend, dear.”
“My people had dealings with one a long time ago. He came to us again and again, taking a different form every time. I do believe they exist.”
At the time he’d been more interested in drawing the man’s tongue back into his mouth and feel the pleasure of his company. He only thought about it again later. Because myths and legends were interesting. Who did not want to be a legend?
* * *
He thought of the grey haired time traveller taking the power casket. Who had he given it to? What had he done with it?
* * *
Ja’kk held up the psychic paper. “I’m here on royal orders, sir. Give me access, please.”
The man glanced at the paper for the merest second. “I’m not in charge here and I suppose your name is not ‘the sexiest thing you’ve ever seen’, man. I need to stop the recalibrator from exploding and taking the whole city with it, so I have no idea what you are doing here, but now is not the time, my friend.”
He blinked and stared at his psychic paper. “How did you…?”
“Doesn’t work on the likes of me. Clever thing that, psychic paper. Anyway, I’m sorry I’m not available tonight… or any other night. I'm a pretty good dancer though. But, I fear, my friend Charlie will be upset if I don't stop this world from dying so I we can still be alive for me to get her out of that engagement with the princess, anyway, so I wouldn’t have time.”
“I saw the princess. I’d marry her,” Jack said, leering, “if you really do not have the time, Mr…”
“Oh never mind that,” the man said. “We’re in a hurry, make yourself useful, whoever you are.”
For Jack it was an ancient system. He knew all about the tech, had studied it several times. The stranger was working on it so fast that Jack could barely watch, but after realizing what the problem was, he had no trouble figuring out that even the madman did not have enough hands to be fast enough for this he worked. He helped.
Because there was no point in dying in a catastrophe that had not been supposed to happen. More than anything, Ja'kk wanted to live.
“Nice work, man-with-the-psychic-paper.”
“Yeah, nice work, madman, what now?”
“Oh?” the man said and was already was halfway out the door. “Now we save Andorian civilization from being wiped out.”
“Alright.” Jack was intrigued.
* * *
All time agents he’d met so far thought themselves far above the rest of them. Ja’kk did, too.
But how could he now?
They were all just human spies playing games for their own gain, or the gain of the agency.
And Jack wasn’t sure he wanted to be a pawn for the rest of his life.
In just a short adventure he'd been reminded the universe was much bigger and much more mysterious than even most time agents realized. In their games of politics, power and personal gain they were not seeing the bigger picture.
* * *
He found traces and legends, but never the truth. He dreamed of meeting a Time Lord who would be able to tell him about Gray.
Then the agency took all of it. Two years, just gone without a trace.
* * *
* * *
He was changed again from young man, to old, but the eyes always gave him away. Not that he’d need any more prove for the man’s identity. He'd know the Doctor anywhere. But the new face... The new face was familiar.
“There is a Tardis parked in my living room,” he remarked with a raised eyebrow, studying the clothes, the hair and the eyes.
“Yes, yes, don’t nag,” the Doctor said. “Although… Maybe the nagging is what I need.” He gave Jack a once over. “But you’re not usually that kind of companion.”
“That kind of companion? No,” Jack agreed. “Something wrong?”
“I was travelling with someone. But I’ve forgotten… And I said my good-byes to someone very dear to me. Had a sort of long date. Long night.”
“Ah, and now you come to me?”
“I could have waited till our paths crossed again, but this was easier.”
Jack chuckled. “I’m easy, all right.” His posh 56th century apartment seemed empty and there was the chance beckoning to see the Tardis and be with the Doctor again. “You only pick me up for dates when nobody else is interested.”
The Doctor shrugged. “We met not just 5 years ago. That’s like every other day!”
“That was 375 years for me.”
“And you looked very different.”
“Yes, yes, details. Are you coming now?” The Doctor opened the door of the Tardis and his living room was suddenly full of the familiar sounds of the time ship.
“I get at least a dance and a dinner this time.”
The Doctor had already stepped back into the Tardis. “You can have tea and some running,” he called over his shoulder.
“Good enough for me.” Wasn’t it always? “But you do know that it’s not like my whole life revolves around you?”
* * *
“The deal is that I saw that exact same power casket before and I know… It vanished. And somehow it got to Gol’kok at exactly the right time to save the city.”
“I understood the implication,” the Doctor said, face sour and closed off. Jack had not yet figured out this one, the new one, who was also the old one. Things never got boring if you knew a Time Lord. “You are saying a time traveller took it and brought it there.”
“Do you have a better explanation for a Boshane power casket to pop up about 9400 years down the line, completely functional?” He grinned, because for once he knew more than the Time Lord.
“No,” the Doctor admitted and not grudgingly. The piercing eyes settled on him and Jack enjoyed the moment. The face was older. But then the last time he’d met the Doctor he’d seemed incredibly young to the untrained eye. He’d liked that one, but he already knew that he liked this one too. After all this was still the same man. And he was very familiar. “So, you’re telling me a time traveller took it. And you think that time traveller is me, Jack?”
“I have a feeling, yes.” He made sure to make his smile especially flirty.
The Doctor frowned, stared, did very decidedly not flirt back in any obvious way. But when he finally rolled his eyes, Jack had a feeling that he’d won this round. “Alright, tell me. What did I do?”
Jack grinned. “I fear you owe me this one, in more ways than one.”
* * *
He would roll his eyes and say nothing about it.
“Have you ever been do Andoria?”
Jack shook his head. “I had an affair with a cute Andorian once, though.”
“Time for a vacation,” the Doctor said and pulled the lever, catapulting them into the Vortex.
Jack sometimes complained that he wasn't dancing. Even after a thousand years the man hadn't learned that this was the best dance of all. They had time. Jack would understand one day.