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The Line is Better Off Dead

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She's barely said his name aloud and already Steven's shouting "Uncle Jack! Uncle Jack!" in the background.

"What is this, the third time this week?" Alice says, and Jack can't make out if she's annoyed or pleased. Some of that's because his daughter had to learn to play some of her cards far closer to her chest than most. The rest of it is probably the blood rushing in his ears. "You're up to something," she says.

"Oh, come on! Can't a guy call home once in a while without being accused of something nefarious?" He forces a smile to make himself sound jovial. It nearly works.

"Not if it's you. You haven't called in months, and now it's every other day. What's wrong? And wait, what do you mean call home? Where are you?"

Under her voice Jack can still hear Steven talking, hushed and excited. He looks around his sparse starship cabin and tries not to think about what century it actually is. Engine vibrations hum up through the soles of his boots. "It's a figure of speech, Alice. Everything's fine. Now come on, just put the poor kid on before he explodes."

Poor Choices of Words – 1, Jack Harkness – nil. He feels sick just having said it.

Alice sighs loudly enough that he can tell she's doing it for his benefit. "Fine. Whatever. But if you get his hopes up and then disappear," she says, and he doesn't need her to finish. They've been through this more times than even he can count.

"You sound just like your mother."

There's some muffled noise and then Steven's voice comes over the line loud and clear. "Uncle Jack!" he crows like they're his two favorite words on Earth.

"Hey kiddo." Jack's empty hand tightens into a fist. He digs his nails into the heel of his hand. "How was school?"

"Boring. We had a test in maths, and one of my teachers took away my toy Spiderman because I wasn't supposed to have it out in class, but it was in my bag and it fell out because I was looking for a pencil so she gave it back to me after."

"Spiderman likes maths," Jack offers. "I'll bet he even likes maths tests. He'd beat up Doctor Platypus and then do GCSE maths just for fun."

Steven giggles. "It's Doctor Octopus, Uncle Jack. Not Doctor Platypus."

He smiles in spite of the tears in his eyes and swallows, hoping to loosen the knot in his throat. "Yeah, Doctor Octopus."

"Are you okay, Uncle Jack? You sound funny."

"Yeah, I'm okay. I've just got to go now. Important grown up work to do. Be good for your mother, okay?"

"Okay. Bye, Uncle Jack."

"Bye bye, kiddo." Jack presses a button and the line goes dead. He turns the phone over in his hands before he shoves it down the incinerator chute.