Being almost the Doctor is pretty damn impressive.
Being almost the Doctor is like being no Doctor at all.
The TARDIS dematerialised before his eyes. Good-bye, Sexy, the Doctor thought wistfully.
He forced himself to turn away, to turn his attention back to the attack they were holding off, the door he and Cleaves were holding closed against Jennifer's assault. Gangers, all three of them, but they were still Cleaves and Jennifer, and he was still the Doctor, wasn't he? Still, for a little while. The door felt like a weight at his back. He knew what would have to happen once it came open.
The Doctor clenched his hand around the sonic screwdriver. Putting up a face for Amy and his other self, for Cleaves and everyone else, had been easy. Was easy now. Denying the truth to himself, less so.
Just as the Doctor opened his mouth to cheer Cleaves up one last time, there was a flicker in the corner of his eye, and then a familiar voice said, "Damn. Missed him again."
And the sensation of eternity, painfully incongruous anywhere, suddenly pervaded the room. Time and space were fixed, pinned down, in this one spot, this one person who had just teleported in.
Then Jack Harkness swept his eyes through the cavernous room and fixed on the Doctor and Cleaves. His eyes went wide. "Doctor?"
"Jack!" the Doctor said brightly, and then a loud and forceful thump interrupted him as Jennifer once again tried to force the door open. It buckled under the Doctor's and Cleaves's efforts, barely holding.
Jack's eyes flickered back to the place where the TARDIS had vanished; then they were on the pair of them again, too sharp, too calculating. "You're ..."
The Doctor didn't want to know just what it was Jack was thinking. "Yes, yes, never mind that now," he said quickly, back and shoulders against the door, hands gesturing toward the gun-tool at Jack's belt that peeked out from under his obligatory, anachronistic blue coat. Knowing Jack it was a weapon as well, but ... "Does that thing have a matter-sealant setting?"
Not that the sonic screwdriver didn't, but it wouldn't be able to seal the entire door to its frame all in one go.
Jack's eyebrows went up, but at that moment, Jennifer slammed into the other side of the door again, and once again the Doctor and Cleaves only just managed to keep it shut.
"Hang on," Jack said. He still had that calculating expression, and the Doctor could see only too clearly what Jack must be guessing already. "Step away on my mark."
A quick scramble; then a single shot set the edges of the door to glowing and sealed the doorway tight. Cleaves let out a relieved sigh. Then her eyes went quickly between Jack and the Doctor, and her mouth turned down in that sceptical, weary look of hers. "Miranda Cleaves, foreman," she introduced herself. "You two know each other? Who are you, then?"
Jack took a step forward, looked into her face with a look that was half-way between playful flirting and intent, and said, "Captain Jack Harkness." His forehead crinkled for a moment, out of tune with his usual flirtatious manner. "And you're a ganger."
Cleaves flinched, but didn't deny it. "How did you know?"
"So what if she is?" the Doctor said sharply, at the same time.
The next moment, Jack's intent look was directed his way. "How did I know?" he repeated Cleaves's question, and answered it, jerking his chin in the direction of the Doctor's hand. "You didn't use the sonic." A smirk. "It's obvious what's on the other side of that door. But you didn't use it yet because it dissolves Flesh."
Damn. Of course Jack would realise that. The Doctor grimaced.
It had been difficult enough, watching Amy treat his twin so very differently merely for thinking him Flesh. He really didn't want to go through that again, particularly with himself in that spot. Besides, he wasn't going to let it happen to Cleaves.
"I was going to," he said, his voice low and precise. His hands fidgeted with his braces, snapped one of them. "Didn't see any other option."
He wasn't sure if Jack knew about him. Cleaves, yes. Him? Maybe not.
Oh, who was he kidding? Jack knew.
"Is that how it is?" Jack asked. His eyes fixed the Doctor, too perceptive. "And the TARDIS left."
As it had left Jack, once upon a time. The Doctor made a face. "Yes, well. Someone had to do something."
Jack threw a considering look toward the sealed door. "You have any better ideas now?"
"Jennifer can't be reasoned with," Cleaves said, eyes hard, mouth turned down. "I don't know why it took her so badly, when the rest of us ..." She shrugged. None of them had taken it well; not the gangers; not the humans. But Jennifer's reaction had been extreme.
"Maybe she had more reason," the Doctor speculated. He knew very little about Jennifer's personal issues, and at this point it was much too late to consider them.
Jack regarded Cleaves thoughtfully. "What happened to the original Miranda Cleaves?"
She shrugged uncomfortably, gestured toward the Doctor with her elbow. "With other him."
Jack nodded, his mind clearly making connections, figuring things out.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" the Doctor asked, impatiently.
"Torchwood," was the answer.
"What's that?" Cleaves asked. Torchwood - the old Torchwood - had been declassified in the mid-21st century, but then had passed into obscurity, and the 22nd century revived version was still top secret at this point in time. Miranda Cleaves, not exactly a student of history, likely had never heard the name.
The Doctor had never liked secret societies. Particularly not this one. "An organisation that thinks it can -"
"An organisation," Jack talked over the Doctor's incipient rant, "that takes care of alien or out-of-time events." He threw a glare in the Doctor's direction.
The Doctor huffed. "Well, that's not what's the problem here."
Jack gave a sharp nod. "Give me that," he demanded, holding out a hand. After a moment, grudgingly, the Doctor slapped the sonic screwdriver into his palm. Jack flashed him a quick grin. "Don't go anywhere," he instructed, and then his hands were on the controls of his wristcomp, which served as a teleport device, and a moment later he was gone.
The Doctor stared at the space where he'd been, and suddenly realised he wasn't going to die. No need to sacrifice himself now - not with Jack taking care of Jennifer. He ran a hand through his hair, combing it back; it fell back forward immediately. He hooked his thumb into the waistband of his trousers, but didn't last for more than a moment before he had to fidget with his braces again. Cleaves eyed him thoughtfully, lips pressed into a thin line, but said nothing.
Damn. He'd never considered what would come after. Neither of him had.
It had seemed such a clever idea, testing the Flesh like that - testing Amy like that. Watching himself watch Amy watch the two of them. And yes, it had answered the questions he'd come here to answer. No doubt his other self was acting on those answers right at this very moment - but what about him?
They hadn't anticipated the attack. They'd meant to save everyone, humans and gangers. They'd delighted in each other, in themselves - in the brilliant sensation of not being alone, of being perfectly understood. And they'd both forgotten to think beyond the brilliance of the moment.
What was he to do now? Track down the TARDIS, go travel the universe as a duo of identical twins? He scrunched his nose, chewed on his lower lip. Maybe.
Maybe, but as a permanent proposition, it held far less appeal than a single adventure had. Two of him in the TARDIS? Could he - could either of him - adjust to that?
But if not that, what? If not that, he was at loose ends. Well, he still had Cleaves to think of; he could hardly abandon her to Torchwood's tender mercies. Or rather, of course he could. He might even have, in another life. But he wouldn't; not just now. Not just yet. Not when it gave him something to do.
"Seriously, Doctor. Who is that guy?" Cleaves broke into his thoughts, and when he looked up, her lips were pursed. She was clearly not best pleased. And why should she be?
The Doctor blinked, his thoughts yanked back to Jack. How to explain Jack? He couldn't even attempt to begin. "An old friend," he finally settled on.
Cleaves nodded. "Friend," she repeated. "How nice. And what do you think he's going to do?" Her hand made a short, eloquent gesture between them. What's he going to do with two gangers?
"I don't know," the Doctor admitted, and the words left a sour taste on his tongue. He might have said more, might have tried to reassure her, but at that moment, with a flash and a rupture in space, Jack reappeared.
"Sorted," he reported succinctly.
The Doctor tilted his head to the side, considering. He'd taken much longer than the moment it would have taken to dissolve Jennifer. "What kept you so long?"
"Can't you guess?" Jack asked pointedly. His blue eyes were fixed on the Doctor, expecting something. Demanding something.
The Doctor blinked, forcing his brain back into gear. "Oh! You did, didn't you? Of course you did." Of course Jack hadn't stopped at Jennifer; of course he'd taken care of that terrible heap of Flesh, living, feeling, yet unable to act, unable to do anything but suffer. Of course Jack had offered it mercy. The Doctor broke into a relieved smile, but a moment later, it faded into something more scornful. "All that poor Flesh just lying about, suffering. Seriously, what's wrong with your species?"
Jack's expression closed up even further. "Nothing that isn't wrong with every other species I've met, too." It wasn't an excuse. "Time Lords included, for the record."
He nearly flinched. "What do I care?" He tried to make it sound unconcerned, and failed. "No, actually, point to you." He poked his index finger in Jack's direction. "But even the worst of that lot could never deserve something like this."
"What, not even the Master?" Jack's tone was light, and entirely fake. Right, of course - Jack was, less directly, doing what the Doctor's other, original self had done. Testing just how much a ganger could be the Doctor. Just how much the Doctor was himself.
"Stop it," the Doctor snapped. "You know that, better than anyone else." Jack, after all, had been there when the Master had refused to regenerate, had seen how the Doctor had reacted to that. The despair that had engulfed him at the loss.
And it might be cruel to rub Jack's nose in it, but it was nothing but the truth. If Jack had to test him, he'd better be ready for that.
Jack gave him another long, intent look. "Fine," he said, grudgingly. He tossed the sonic screwdriver back in the Doctor's direction with a grin and a wink. The Doctor, uncomfortably relieved, snatched it out of the air and put it in his breast pocket.
Jack smiled briefly, then lifted his wristcomp to his mouth. "Guys, make some space - I'm coming aboard. Two passengers."
The Doctor narrowed his eyes, hearing Jack so unceremoniously dispose for all of them, but he didn't protest, merely rubbed his hands together nervously, then picked his sonic screwdriver from his pocket again, fidgeting with it.
Keeping it ready.
A woman's voice confirmed; then Jack held out the arm with the vortex manipulator. Not broken any more. The Doctor thought for a moment about scanning it, to see if the temporal circuits were functional as well, but for once didn't feel on sure enough ground to simply grab Jack's arm and do it.
This time, Jack might not let him.
"Put your hand on his arm," he instructed Cleaves instead, leading by example. Jack's forearm was solid and steady under his nervous fingers, his impossible nature affecting the physical reality not one bit. Once Cleaves had joined them, Jack activated his device.
A moment and a disorienting flash of displacement energy later, the Doctor looked around himself on an unremarkable hovertransport. It looked like any large vehicle of that type - not military, the Doctor was pleased to see. There were two people aboard besides Jack, Cleaves and him - one shock of bright purple hair in the pilot's seat, and a woman standing in the back, eyeing them cautiously. Remarkably for this century, the slightly scaly structure of her skin spoke of Csiltonian heritage.
"Jack?" she asked, her hand hovering over her belt.
Weapons. Bah, Torchwood.
"Long story," Jack said simply, waving her down. "Let's go home, there's nothing down there but work for the clean-up crews." He made a face. "Acid spills everywhere."
"And them?" asked the woman, pointedly looking at Cleaves and the Doctor.
Jack shrugged. "They're with us for the moment."
She gave him a dubious look. "Jack, are you sure what you're doing?" Clearly aware just what the new passengers were, the Doctor diagnosed, and not entirely comfortable with it.
"Never." Jack flashed her a cheeky grin that seemed to reassure her, because she laughed and turned around, going up to the front to sit next to the pilot.
Cleaves stepped up to the window and looked out, down onto the island they'd just been on. "Huh," she said. And then the vehicle turned, and they were speeding away. She turned toward Jack. "Where are you taking us?"
Very good question. Even if the Doctor rather thought he knew the answer.
And sure enough, "A Torchwood base," Jack said, repressively, raising a quelling finger towards the Doctor. "And not a word from you about that, all right?"
He sounded irritated enough that the Doctor actually decided to back down. Resentfully, of course, even though he knew he was here only because he hadn't chosen to walk away. Even here, aboard this vehicle, it would be easy enough.
Would it? a niggling voice in the back of his head asked. Against Jack?
He suppressed a shiver. Yes, damn it, it would be. There was no one better than him at running. But then, where would he go? The TARDIS, his home for a dozen lifetimes, was lost to him.
Beside him, Cleaves's eyebrows had gone up at Jack's remonstrance, and her mouth had turned down.
Jack noticed her reaction and turned his smile on for her. "Better you two keep out of sight for now," he said lightly. "Your other selves are still out there, after all. Pretty prominently, in your case, if I'm guessing right," he added with a nod toward Cleaves and a questioning look toward the Doctor.
The Doctor nodded. Yes; Jack was right about where his other self would take the survivors. And if he'd paid attention to his history lessons, once upon a time in the future, he knew this was where the Flesh laws started.
Cleaves, though, flinched at the suggestion, clearly wondering what that meant for her. The Doctor knew, because he was wondering the same. Keep out of sight? For how long?
Well, he'd just have to break them out if Torchwood got too unpleasant. Right?
He huffed, then took a seat on one of the benches lining the hovertransport's sides. After a moment, Cleaves and Jack followed suit.
For a while they sat silently, looking out of the windows as they flew over the open sea while the Doctor restlessly twirled his sonic screwdriver between his fingers.
"What are you doing on Earth anyway?" he asked Jack eventually. He'd thought Jack was in space during this period. "In this century, I mean." He ignored the way Cleaves's eyes widened at the words.
Jack sighed. "I wasn't going to," he admitted. "But I was tracking some rogue Sontarans, and they ended up here." He gestured toward the Csiltonian. "I met Scsann and her team in the middle of that. Torchwood, of course." He shrugged. "Decided I might as well stick around."
A sharp intake of breath from Cleaves had both of them turning to her, but she wasn't reacting to anything Jack had said. She was pressing her fingers against her temple, eyes squeezed shut. Right. He'd almost forgotten about her parietal clot. Inoperable, in this century on this planet.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Just a headache," she said, forcing a smile as she opened her eyes.
His other self would have cured other Cleaves, of course, but he didn't have the TARDIS's resources. The Doctor wondered if he should tell Jack.
But the pain seemed to be subsiding already, and the Doctor said nothing, and Jack let himself be distracted. For now.
Cleaves stared outright, and even the Doctor's eyebrows went up in grudging appreciation. The island base had clearly been built into and around a backup command bunker from the Thousand Day War, but those 21st-century remains were fused with structures reminiscent of a 59th century self-hatching colony dome, and the originally cramped spaces had been expanded into a wide-open domed layout that reminded the Doctor a little bit of the old, long-gone Cardiff Hub. There was not a bit of Canary Wharf in the atmosphere, and that was something of a relief.
People were working in various parts of the structure. Most had taken a look at the new arrivals, but no one of paid them any particular mind. Jack and Scsann had had a wordless conversation conveyed entirely by looks and smirks, and then Scsann and her pilot had left the three of them standing in the entrance.
No doubt someone was keeping an eye on them, but they weren't conspicuous about it; the Doctor had to give them that.
"That's all just here under the island?" Cleaves asked, impressed. "How do you even build something like this?"
"With hatch expansion, if I'm any judge," the Doctor said drily.
Jack only laughed. "Spot on," he agreed. "They had a broken 59th century colony hatch in a lab here, and when it accidentally triggered we had to channel the formation or have the whole thing come down on our heads. My first try at architecture. Not too bad, huh?"
The Doctor snorted. Cleaves, face still turned upwards, said under her breath, "That's a bit of an understatement." Then she winced, grimaced, and rubbed her fingers over her temple again. "Damn," she whispered.
Jack's attention was on her immediately. "That's not just a headache," he said, reaching for her elbow. "Come on, let's get you to medical."
"No point," Cleaves snapped, her brow furrowed with pain. "It's inoperable."
"Inoperable," Jack said flatly.
"Yes," she hissed, glaring at him. "What do you expect me to say? It's a deep parietal clot. Just forget about it, all right? Nothing you can do."
The Doctor scratched himself under his collar, then tugged at his bowtie.
Jack looked at her with incomprehension, then at the Doctor. His eyebrows drew together as he recognised the obvious fidgeting. A moment later, he was focused on Cleaves again, his expression turning to pity. "You're Flesh," he finally said.
"And?" Cleaves raised an impatient hand.
"You can fix that," Jack said, almost gently.
Cleaves's eyes went wide, but before she could build up too much hope, the Doctor intervened. "She can't, actually," he said. "She doesn't have that kind of control over her biomatter."
Jack threw the Doctor a glare full of baffled contempt. "So what? Flesh is malleable; that's its nature." He shook his head and turned back to Cleaves. "If your mind is too human to affect your body on a cellular level, a localised biostructuring field will work just fine."
True enough. That kind of energy field was generally used for structuring standard bioplast, adjusting it to different uses and different individuals. But it would work on Flesh, no problem. In fact, a strong enough field could probably dissolve a ganger entirely. The Doctor suppressed a shudder. But Jack would save Cleaves's life, after all. And that meant something, even if he wasn't sure what.
A corner of Cleaves's mouth turned down, incredulously. "You're serious. Just like that?"
Jack nodded, smiling sincerely. "Just like that. Come on, Miranda Cleaves - let's get you fixed."
Jack had explained the situation quickly, and Benning's eyebrows had climbed up towards his receding hairline. He'd thrown more than one dubious-yet-reluctantly-fascinated look at Cleaves and the Doctor. One more for the list of people uncomfortable with gangers. But to his credit, he'd thrown himself into preparations for the procedure with no real hesitation.
Finally, Jack looked up, across the room, straight at the Doctor. It was a glare. The Doctor lifted his hands wide in pointed innocence. Jack's blue eyes did not relent. Eventually the Doctor shrugged, conceding.
Benning came forward with a hypospray. "We'll have to sedate you, I'm afraid," he told Cleaves. "Not safe to affect the brain, otherwise. But don't worry - you'll be up and about in no time."
Cleaves nodded, a little hesitantly. A moment later, she was unconscious. Then the field activated, and everything was done.
"I'll monitor," Benning promised. "It looks good, but I want at least a few hours to be certain the Flesh won't try to reassert its familiar pattern."
"Good," Jack said coldly, glaring at the Doctor. "Then you and I can have a talk." And he physically crowded the Doctor out of the room. The Doctor let him, though he returned the glares in equal force.
"Why didn't you tell her?" Jack demanded once they were alone in the corridor - not one of the open hallways leading to the dome, but one from the original bunker, all concrete and too-cold light, entirely out of sight.
"What did you want me to tell her? When? Oh yes, certainly, no problem at all to cure you, except we'll be dead before I can get you anywhere near!" The Doctor grimaced. "Didn't want to get her hopes up."
Jack's eyebrows narrowed further, and the Doctor was treated to a look that was realisation and disgust all in one go. "On the hovertransport, still?" And when the Doctor didn't immediately answer, "What, you thought I wouldn't help?"
The Doctor bared his teeth. "How was I supposed to know how you feel about Flesh?" he asked, precise tones covering his guilt. "What you were planning to do with Cleaves and me?" He shrugged, eloquently, tapping his sonic screwdriver against his chin. "I still don't know if you're planning to keep us here."
"Really?" Jack threw his hands in the air. "This again? You're never going to get past the Torchwood thing, are you?"
The Doctor flinched. "It isn't like that."
"The hell it isn't." Jack took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself. "Cleaves's double is out there right now, no doubt becoming a celebrity. You want her to walk into that? And as for you, if you find being here so intolerable, why don't you just leave?"
The Doctor looked away.
"Come on. Really?" Jack gave him a bitter look. "You should know better. You do know better. I don't care what you are." He huffed a humourless laugh. "If it's sentient, that's always been good enough for me."
"Doesn't matter," the Doctor said, mulishly. He clenched his fists, dug his fingernails into his palms to stop himself from fidgeting.
"Doesn't it? Do you really think that little of me?"
He squared his shoulders, looked Jack in the eye. "Of humans," he corrected. Jack was Jack, but he was still human, after all. But he regretted it as soon as he'd said it. Humans were brilliant, and Jack in particular was nothing less than fantastic. Didn't Jack know that?
Jack rolled his eyes. "I'm sure the Time Lords were all wonderfully indiscriminate in their superiority over other species."
The Doctor winced, then ran a hand over his hair, trying to smooth over the reaction. "Touché." Damn; he really shouldn't have let it get to this point. Why was he arguing with Jack? What were they even arguing about?
Jack glared at him for a moment longer; then he sighed, his anger deserting him. He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, suddenly looking very tired. "What's this about, really?"
He looked away. Jack had given him no reason to distrust his reaction. But it wasn't enough - couldn't be enough. Jack had saved Cleaves; so what? Amy wouldn't have wanted his other self dead either, but she still hadn't been willing or able to see him as him.
The Doctor studied the top of his shoes - not his usual polished black ones, but the brown boots he'd got from his other self. He scuffed them on the floor.
"You don't call me Doctor," he muttered eventually. And Jack hadn't; not after he'd understood he was talking to a ganger. He'd spoken to him not much different than he always had; he'd referenced their past without hesitation; but he hadn't used the name.
It might mean nothing. But then again, it might mean something, after all.
Jack's eyebrows went up, and his arms unfolded. He looked the Doctor up and down. "Feeling a little inadequate, are we, Doctor?" Teasing - it was meant to be teasing, the Doctor was sure, but it still stung.
"What do you want me to say?" he demanded. "I know what I am. I know what I'm not!" I'm not who you want.
"Mm." Jack tilted his head to the side, and a hard smile curled the corner of his mouth. "What aren't you, exactly?"
He waved his hands eloquently. "Why do you think," he asked, voice carefully controlled, "I was the one down there, facing down Jennifer, while my esteemed twin left with the TARDIS?"
In the end, when it had come down to which of them stayed and which of them went, there had been no question. In the end, whatever he might have told Amy, he was still only almost the Doctor, and the TARDIS wasn't his.
Trust me, I'm the Almost Doctor. No, it didn't have quite the same ring to it, now did it?
He'd understood - he'd agreed, damn it; they were the same person after all, the Doctor and the Doctor. There was no difference between them except which of them had been there first. So yes, he'd agreed, but it still smarted. If he hadn't watched Amy with his twin, if he hadn't seen that she couldn't tell at all - if his other self hadn't put himself in that position willingly, the position he would otherwise have been in - he wasn't sure what he would have done.
Imagine a Time Lord's fury animating the Flesh. He shuddered inwardly.
"Good question," Jack said, unimpressed. "Why?"
The Doctor rubbed his hands over his biceps, the jacket's tweed suddenly not warm enough. "He has something to take care of," he admitted after a moment. "Something rather important. He was right to go." For Amy. After all, he knew what his other self had been about to do, after checking out the Flesh. The Doctor worried about Amy for a moment, then forced himself to set it aside. His other self had that well in hand, he was sure. He'd find Amy, and bring her home. Her, and the baby she'd give birth to soon. Starting right about now, by his calculations.
Yes. For Amy, it was worth it. But he was still the one left behind. Sorry, Jack. I didn't know how it felt. And you didn't even know why.
"Two Doctors in the TARDIS, though," Jack said, brightly, cheekily. "I really wouldn't mind."
The Doctor scowled. "That's not how it's going to be, though, is it?" It was an accusation, an admission, he didn't know what else. It was the truth.
"No?" asked Jack. "How is it going to be, then?"
Two Doctors in the TARDIS, yes, that might have been possible. But he'd stepped back - and not just because someone had to leave, for Amy, and someone had to stay, to stop Jennifer. Not just because of which of them was the original. He had to admit it, even if only to himself - he'd been more than a little afraid of the TARDIS's reaction. If she had preferred the other one, he wasn't sure he could have dealt. Amy's rejection had been hurtful; that would have been devastating.
Who was he, without the TARDIS?
The Doctor's shoulders hunched inward. "I don't know," he admitted.
"Hey." Suddenly Jack was right next to him, and a hand closed over his shoulder. "Come on. You look like you could use a drink." His blue eyes twinkled. "I'll buy you one."
That roused his spirits. "Can you never be serious about anything?" he demanded.
Jack merely smirked and pulled him along the corridor. The Doctor let him.
Jack busied himself with a bottle, then pressed a glass into the Doctor's hand. The Doctor looked down on it, dubiously, but it was only hypervodka, not some strange 22nd century cocktail. Making a face, he took a sip.
Jack laughed. "So, this is what it took to actually let me buy you a drink?"
The Doctor stiffened.
To his credit, Jack immediately realised what he'd implied. "Doctor," he said gently. "You know that was a joke, right?"
Now he was using the name. For emphasis. The Doctor scowled. "It's not a joke," he said repressively.
Jack took a sip from his own drink, turning away. "If you think I think you're going to sleep with me just because you're Flesh," he snapped in the direction of the mirrorplast wall, "don't worry, I know better."
That wasn't what he'd meant. "You're an idiot," he said. Shouldn't Jack know better by now?
The glass clanged down onto a table more forcefully than strictly necessary. Jack stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. "Don't you think I know that?"
"Nothing's changed," he said gently.
Jack whirled around. "I didn't expect it to! Trust me, I know. You don't need to rub it in, Doctor."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "Oops." Jack didn't know. Hadn't lived through those events yet, apparently. Of course Jack thought -
Jack blinked. "Oops?"
He made a face, then waved Jack's question aside. "Never mind, never mind." Should have checked, he thought. Really, why am I never meeting anyone in the right order any more?"
"Never mind?" Jack's voice had turned hard. He came across the room to stand directly in front of the Doctor. "That's not going to do, you know. Not this time."
They looked at each other for a long, tense moment; then the Doctor sighed. He hadn't meant to bring it up, but ... "Jack, we've been meeting out of sequence."
He moved a little closer. "We already have, you and I."
Jack's eyebrows shot up.
"Well, not you and I, strictly speaking," the Doctor continued before Jack could say anything. "I didn't exist then, did I?"
Jack shook his head, more to clear his thoughts than in denial. "They're your memories," he said eventually. "So, yes, you and me." His grin came back. "And him and me. That's not fair, you know. Two of you, and I didn't even get the benefits." He made an exaggerated pout, and the Doctor had to laugh. Jack's expression softened, and he cupped the Doctor's face in his hands.
The Doctor closed his eyes, letting himself lean into the touch. "Hasn't happened yet," he muttered without opening his eyes.
Jack actually jerked away from him at that, letting him go. When he opened his eyes, Jack was staring at him with incredulous, comically widened eyes.
"What?" Jack finally asked, blankly, after a long pause, as if all his words had deserted him.
The Doctor waved his hands in a vague well, yes gesture. "I didn't think you'd object to being shared," he said drily. "Or am I not me enough, after all?"
Jack stared at him for a moment longer; then the corner of his mouth began to twitch. "Only you, Doctor." His chest shook with suppressed laughter. "Every one of you, damn it."
And he leaned forward for a kiss. Barely a kiss - a brief, heartfelt brush of lips against lips, accompanied by a smile that showed everything he was feeling. For once, Jack's barriers were almost entirely down. The Doctor's hearts clenched.
Impulsively he reached out, combed his fingers into Jack's hair and reeled him in, mashing their mouths together with more urgency than skill. Teeth clacked. Ouch. But he wasn't going to be deterred now. He bit Jack's lower lip, then sucked on it. Mmm. Swept his tongue into Jack's mouth, tasting human and vortex, 51st century pheromones and 22nd century coffee. Second-hand coffee molecules. He wanted to taste everything. His hips, of their own volition, surged against Jack's body, and finally, Jack's arms came around him, pulling them together.
"Well," Jack said eventually, incredulously, breathlessly, "I suppose I did buy you a drink." His eyes were a little glassy, and he seemed stunned.
The Doctor huffed. That silly line he'd tried on Jack, centuries and regenerations ago, still following him around. "Ganger, remember?" he said lightly. "Wasn't me."
"Oh no," Jack said, grinning evilly. He'd clearly found his balance again - strange, when the Doctor felt so off-balance. "You're not getting out of this on a technicality."
Was that what it was to Jack? Yes, of course it was. The Doctor's hearts ached with it, and he couldn't help it - he had to kiss him again.
They ended up on Jack's sofa, clothes dropped unceremoniously on the floor. Jack wore braces too, didn't he? He'd always known the man had taste.
The Doctor looked down at Jack, propping himself up with palms squeezed between Jack's shoulders and the sofa. Skin on skin felt amazing. Jack was grinning, pulling him down for another kiss.
"Tell me something," Jack breathed into his ear. "Just how well can you control your Flesh?"
His eyes widened for a second. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
The Doctor ground his hips down against Jack's, distracting him. But his mind had caught on the idea. He was used to new bodies, though his changes had been smaller than some people's. Still, for any Time Lord, this would be the most unusual thing they'd ever be. The thought made him smile.
Part of him thought he really should get his Flesh stabilised, sooner rather than later. It was a vulnerability, after all. But it was also an opportunity, wasn't it?
And just now, it was really tempting to do something with it. To use it, and maybe shut Captain Jack Harkness up, for once.
He concentrated, feeling out his Flesh, examining its responses. Oh, yes. This was easy.
"Don't tease, Doctor," Jack was saying. And then a hand closed over his mouth.
"Was this what you had in mind?" the Doctor asked innocently.
Jack stared up at the third arm that had grown from the Doctor's chest. For a moment, everything was completely still. Then he snorted against the Doctor's palm, and his entire body was shaking with laughter.
The Doctor felt himself react, laughter bubbling up his own throat, irrepressible. He collapsed onto Jack's chest, absorbing the extra appendage back into his Flesh as he fell. Jack's arms came up around him, and for a while they just lay there, new laughter erupting every time it seemed it might have stopped.
"Only you, Doctor," Jack managed eventually, the same thing he'd said before. "Only you."
And that was true, wasn't it? Ganger or not; Jack would never see him as anything other than who he was. His hearts ached. He should reward that, shouldn't he?
The Doctor pulled his hands free, cupped Jack's face between his palms and kissed him again, then pulled back to look at Jack, smiling.
He concentrated. His Flesh obeyed. His smile widened.
Jack gasped, still grinning, as multiple appendages grew along the Doctor's torso, all reaching for him. He really should have known Jack would love this.
And it felt amazing, too. Strange, but amazing. His mind wasn't set up to process more than the usual number of extremities, but he was a Time Lord - with concentration, he could manage them for a while. Stroking Jack's skin with not just two hands, but eight tentacles as well, was nearly overwhelming. He closed his eyes, unable to deal with vision on top of it.
Jack moaned as two tentacles reached down, curling around both their cocks. Oh. Oh. The Doctor's hips thrust down hard against Jack, into his own grip.
"Doctor," Jack gasped, his humour not lost - never lost. "Wouldn't have thought you had it in you."
He huffed a little, for show. "Be quiet, you. I'll show you in you." And one of his tentacles moved across, curling its tip between Jack's lips, pushing inside.
Jack, the bastard, opened his mouth to it and sucked. Then he scraped his teeth against it, for emphasis. The Doctor gasped, and nearly lost control of himself.
Control. That was it. He needed to be in control, or this would all fall apart much too soon. With an effort, he curled two of his tentacles around Jack's wrists, holding them down. Only then did he dare squeeze the ones around their cocks again.
Jack surged up against him, but he had him in too firm a hold; he couldn't move much. Good.
"Jack," he breathed. It was overwhelming - their bodies against each other, Jack's skin under his, Jack's mouth on him, and their cocks, hard and dripping, straining between them. His hands were on Jack's shoulders, his thumbs stroking soft skin on his throat.
"Hold still," he gasped, forcing his eyes open. "You have to hold still, or I won't -"
He held Jack's gaze until he was sure Jack understood; then he carefully, slowly uncurled one of the tentacles around their cocks, pushed it further down. Jack moaned around the appendage in his mouth, his muscles bunched in an effort to keep still, and damn, didn't that look amazing?
Then the freed tentacle was nudging between Jack's arse cheeks, thrusting against his entrance. Jack gave a strangled gasp. It was too much; the Doctor knew that. For Jack, for him. They were too close. No time for taking their time -
He squeezed his eyes shut again, and with a single, strained effort, pushed himself deep into Jack. His other tentacles clenched, convulsively, and Jack was coming, and he was coming, and he collapsed, spent, physically and mentally exhausted.
The last thing he thought before he blacked out was, Oh, but worth it. Definitely worth it.
The Doctor smirked to himself. Lucky for Jack, too - the Doctor would never have done any of this if he'd thought there might be.
Again. The Doctor contemplated the idea. Well, if there was time. Was there time?
Cleaves was sitting up on the bed when they arrived, talking animatedly with Dr Benning. She still looked a little stunned and incredulous at her quick cure. Benning had lost his discomfort in talking to a ganger; apparently chatting with one for a bit had taken care of that. The Doctor smiled. Good.
Cleaves raised her eyebrows at him. "Doctor Benning says I could learn to shape my Flesh deliberately." She shuddered. "I don't know. I keep thinking about Jennifer. What if that's why -"
"What," the Doctor asked, only slightly mocking, "you think she went homicidal because she shifted her form? Sorry, Cleaves, but that's not how it works." I should know.
And Jack was thinking the same thing, if the sudden gleam in his eyes was any indication.
One corner of Cleaves's mouth turned down again. "So how do we prevent it?"
"I'm sorry," Benning told her gently, "but we don't know what happened to your colleague. We'll monitor you, I promise. You've come to the right place."
The Doctor snorted, rudely. "Torchwood," he said scornfully, then relented. "Don't bother. She's not going to go that way."
Benning turned to him. "Are you sure? How do you know?"
"She's Miranda Cleaves." It wasn't an answer, not for them, but he couldn't put it in words they'd understand. He knew her. She wouldn't, that was all. He scowled at Benning's sceptical look.
"You can trust him." Jack broke the stalemate calmly. Then an impish smirk broke out on his face. "Trust him. He's the Doctor."
And damn if he didn't want to kiss the man again for that, mockery and all.
"Maybe not just yet." The Doctor could see that Jack wanted to ask him why, but held back. So he added, "I could go anywhere! Why go where I already am?"
Jack rolled his eyes at him, clearly aware of the deflection. But he didn't push. Another one of the best things about Jack, the Doctor decided. He knew when to leave things be. Not always, but when it mattered.
"Then what are you going to do now?" came the next question.
And, the Doctor had to admit, he knew how to push when it mattered, too. Damn the man. He put down his screwdriver and leaned back against the lab bench.
"I don't know," he admitted. Bluntly, because there was no point pretending now. Not about that.
Jack, incongruously, smiled, coming over to lean next to him. He nudged the Doctor with an elbow. "Why don't you stick around for a while? Just until you figure it out." A playful leer. "You know I wouldn't mind the company."
The Doctor pouted at him and shoved back with a shoulder. He considered, rolling the thought around in his mind. Staying? In one place? And Torchwood, of all places?
But the practiced contempt in the thought was merely habit, by now. Really, this wasn't Canary Wharf. And if he could have worked with UNIT for years, surely this version of Torchwood was possible, too.
And Cleaves would be here. And Jack. And there would be time for again. Actually, it might be kind of fun.
He turned toward Jack, let himself show the smile that had been growing behind his eyes and under his skin. "Why not?" he said lightly. "Just until I figure it out."