A glass of golden neat Scotch in his hand, Jack settled on a stool by the bar and shot the new bartender a winning smile, relishing the flustered blush he received in reply. A bit gruff, the man wasn’t quite his type, but he was certainly trim and fit. Jack could do much, much worse, but that wasn’t what he was here for. Perhaps next week. Pulling a tenner from his pocket, he slid it across the bar, then turned to gaze out at the rest of the pub. It always paid to keep the wait staff happy, especially when you might need them to disavow your involvement later.
The upscale pub was exactly the kind of place that Jack enjoyed most, with gleaming glass panels and golden fixtures, secluded tables designed for privacy, and clientele dressed to kill, but nowadays he rarely indulged in this kind of society. A man in his line of work needed to keep his head down and his trail cold. For the past month, however, he’d been establishing a presence here, so that when people came calling in the near future, looking for clues leading to the perpetrator of certain events, no one would suspect a favourite regular. With practised ease, Jack leant back against the bar and swirled the golden liquid in his glass.
The tables were filled with couples enjoying romantic dinners and businessmen in sharp suits brokering deals and negotiating partnerships. A willowy brunette leant in close to the man across the table from her and whispered in his ear, her predatory smile hidden from his view. Jack raised his glass to her. He’d come to know her quite well over the last few days and she could always wrap a man around her finger to get what she wanted. He’d quite enjoyed their little dance together.
When, years in the future, Jack looked back on this evening, he never figured out why the man at the corner table drew his eye. He sat alone, a tall glass in front of him untouched, but he wasn’t the only loner in the pub keeping company with a liquid friend. His long, lanky form spilled over his armchair like he wasn’t quite used to wearing it and didn’t know how much room he took up. His blue jacket, buttoned closed over a black t-shirt, was long out of style and too snug, and his plain, narrow face was entirely forgettable despite the shrewd intelligence that burned in his eyes. But to Jack’s perception, there was something indefinable about him that emptied his mind of all the other patrons. After all these years, Jack had developed something of a second sense about people. He knew what was special about them, who deserved a second look. Everything outward about this man screamed nobody, common, a pathetic wannabe, not worth a moment’s time. Jack knew better. This man was beyond special. This man was unique.
The man looked up. Their eyes met. Jack hopped down from the stool. He swept his signature gray coat back and sauntered his way between the tables.
The one thing Jack prided himself in was always being in control of the situation, and he wasn’t going to fail now. “This seat taken?” he asked, patting the back of the chair across from the man.
“It is now,” he replied, the tip of his tongue briefly peeking out between his lips.
“That’s what I like to hear.” Jack settled into the chair and set his drink on the glass table in front of himself. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”
“Easy enough. It’s ‘cause I’ve never been here before.” He traced patterns in the condensation on the side of his glass but made no move to drink, the straw floating at a crazy angle at the surface of the liquid.
“It’s a nice enough place, if you like overpriced drinks and snobbery.” He reached a hand across the table in greeting. “Jack Harkness.”
“Of course you are. You couldn’t possibly be anyone else.” His eyes, a deep umber in the low light, studied every detail of Jack’s face.
Not quite sure how to respond, Jack pulled his rejected hand back and rubbed it self-consciously on his thigh. “You seem to have the advantage on me. I hope I can make up some of that lead over dinner?” As he nodded his head toward the bar, he flashed his most enticing smile.
From his lounging posture, the man fixed him with a piercing stare. “Not a chance, sunshine.”
Jack recoiled from the blunt refusal in shock. “What?” he snapped.
“Don’t got the time. You can’t be seen with me here.” He looked around the pub, then leant forward over his drink. “I’ve come to give you a warning,” he murmured.
“And what’s that?” Jack asked, his voice equally low.
His wide brown eyes captured Jack’s gaze. “Give it up. Walk away right now.”
Jack’s brow furrowed in confusion. Why would he come here to warn Jack off when, if he hadn’t come here in the first place, Jack would have never met him?
The man rolled his eyes. “I know what you’re up to, Jack. Your con won’t work. Do the right thing and walk away.”
Ah. He knew Jack’s little project. Painting on a confused frown, Jack kept up the charade. “Con? Not a con at all, buddy. I saw you from the bar and thought you looked nice.”
Not buying a word of it, the man fixed him with a serious stare. “All you’re doing is making a bit of profit you don’t need and throwing some egg on Torchwood’s face. It won’t be a satisfying revenge, and it’s not going to get back anything you lost.”
With a sneer, Jack dropped the ‘innocent’ game. “That’s my business, not yours. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“A friend, Jack,” he pronounced with careful precision. “Someone who knows you, or at least someone very much like you, very well.”
“You don’t know a thing about me, buddy,” Jack hissed.
The corner of the man’s mouth quirked upwards in a dry smile. “How’s East Whiteland Township these days?” he crooned.
Jack froze. “What?” he coughed out.
“Have you been back recently, say in the last century?” He leant across the table and murmured by Jack’s ear, “Or is there a reason you can’t go home?”
Jack took a moment to collect himself, clenching his fists under the table. He straightened and folded his arms on the table in front of him. “How do you know me?” he finally ground out through gritted teeth.
“Later.” The man glanced around the pub again. “As I said, the longer you’re here with me, the more dangerous this gets. We’ll meet again, soon, I promise. Until then…” He reached across the table and grasped Jack’s hand, his cool touch a shock of ice and fire. “Drop the con, Jack. Remember who you are, and find your purpose again. You don’t belong here.” He paused, suddenly uncertain, then flashed a brilliant, nostalgic smile. “It’s good to see you again.”
Toying with his scotch glass, Jack watched the man stand up and weave his way through the pub and out the door. Few people managed to unnerve him, but this man did so while simultaneously drawing him in, snaring his attention, and Jack was quite certain he had no idea he’d done either. Well, he was content to wait. He said they’d meet again; Jack already knew it was inevitable. And if there was anything his life had taught him so far, it was how to wait.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Jack did not have to wait long. Two days after the abandoned con would have been executed, Jack pushed his way through the crowd in the Borough Market. Most alien tech was confiscated and controlled by Torchwood, forcing him to search in some of the strangest places for the supplies he needed for his occupation. Today, he was hungry for a particularly expensive block of cheese, or perhaps it was the delicious deadlock suppressor buried deep within it.
As he waited for the girl to bag his purchase and return with his change, he surveyed the layout of the market and the throngs of shoppers milling about and noticed the man standing in a queue, his arms full of jars of various preserves. He chewed on the tip of his tongue as he waited, his gaze bored and unfocused.
After completing his purchase, Jack packed the cheese cheese into his satchel then, slinging it over his shoulder, circled around the stalls. He came up behind the man and observed with a lilt, “I hadn’t marked you for a domestic.”
The man turned in surprise, then grinned stupidly in greeting. “Me neither. Thought I’d never give up the travellin’ life, but times and people change, I s’pose.” He shrugged. “A man’s gotta eat.” The customer in front of him moved off and he stepped forward to unload his armload on the counter.
“Like your jelly, do you?” Jack eyed the man up and down with quite a bit of approval of his trim form. “I got no idea where you put all that away.”
“I’ve a sweet tooth, yes, but these aren’t for me,” he commented idly as he watched the girl add up his bill. “It’s all, ‘Make sure you get the right brand this time,’ and ‘No one buys that bread anymore.’ I’d not even heard the word ‘artisanal’ before, and I know a lot of words. But she’s got to stay posh. Hard to believe that she used to…” Suddenly sharp, his eyes flicked to Jack. “Sorry. I’ll ramble on all day if you let me.”
Jack had been far more stricken at the mention of a partner than he’d expected and he scrambled to conceal his embarrassment. “No, go on,” Jack coughed out as the girl handed the man the shopping bag. “I’ll take any hints to who you are that I can get.”
The man laughed. “Fair enough,” he replied as he turned to lead them through the crowd.
Jack finally came abreast with him when they exited the packed market and their path was clear. He seemed to be heading past the cathedral toward the river and didn’t care to ask Jack about his destination or plans. It was just as well; Jack was determined to follow him and get answers. “Your air of mystery evaporates in the London daylight,” he remarked.
“Does it now?” he asked with a chuckle. “Had no idea I had one.”
“Says the man who won’t give his name,” Jack riposted easily. “Come on, out with it. Who are you?”
The man stopped and turned to face Jack, who halted with him. “I’m the Doctor.”
Jack stared at him, any attempt at keeping control of the conversation forgotten. “The Doctor?" he squeaked. "Torchwood’s Target Number One? Mr. Bring-Him-in-Alive-at-All-Costs?”
“Well,” he drawled, cocking his head back gaze up at the gray London sky above, “yes and no. I am the Doctor, but to Torchwood and almost everyone else in this world, I’m Andrew Noble. Andy, if you like.”
Astonished for the second time in ten seconds, Jack had no response but to laugh. “You? You’re the Vitex heiress’ boy toy?” he finally gasped.
Andy grimaced at the phrase. “Yes, such as it is. One among many, anyway.”
“Ah,” Jack sighed, embarrassed at mentioning the obviously tender topic in such a callous way. “So the rumours are true.”
“Oh yes. The next pretty face whilst stringin’ along the old ones. That’s always been her M.O.” He shrugged with resignation and turned up the walk again.
Jack fell in next to him. “But it’s always you with her when it matters,” he observed in an attempt to save the conversation.
“Yup-ah. That was the deal.”
This strange arrangement and Andy’s reluctant acceptance of it intrigued Jack, but he knew better than to pry, at least at this point. “You’ve done an amazing job keeping your face out of the tabloids.”
Andy shrugged again. “You underestimate Torchwood’s reach. Told them I didn’t want publicity, and bam, I’m the flippin’ Invisible Man. I’m not even here right now. This is just a hologram.”
Jack grinned. “Even better. I’ve always wanted to try some experiments with a hologram.” He allowed himself to enjoy another scan of Andy from top to, well, what was peeking out below the tail of his jacket, and nodded with approval. Looking back up, Jack smiled to himself that Andy had returned the once-over, but played it cool, retreating back to Andy’s last statement. “Oh, I know Torchwood’s power quite well. It’s still an impressive feat. So... you work for them.” Jack couldn’t quite disguise his antipathy in his voice. “And that’s why you didn’t want to be seen with me at the pub.”
Andy held up a finger. “Correction, fly boy. You shouldn’t be seen with me, and that’s unrelated. Mostly. But yeah, I work for them. Exotechnology research and development, as well as field duties when they need me, ‘cause of my expertise.” His gaze wandered to the black rock detailing of Southwark Cathedral, rising high above them as they strolled by on the pavement. “Like this,” he murmured, almost inaudible. “Expertise, but a universe away.”
Jack stared at him out of the corner of his eye for a number of steps. What kind of expertise could this man have about aliens? By definition, they were unknowable, unpredictable. “So.” The word dripped with scepticism. “You’re an alien tech scientist, Miss Rose Tyler’s consort, and Torchwood’s Most Wanted, all rolled into one.”
“Far more than that, boy-o, but yes, if you like.”
Jack swallowed a grunt of frustration. “What I’d like is for you to tell me what all this has to do with me. I know they didn’t send you. I’m not worth their time because -”
“Because they know full well that you’re no threat,” Andy finished for him. “They ripped the most incriminating memories you had of your time there clean out of your head.”
“You’ve read my file then.”
“Actually, no. Don’t got access, and I’m rubbish at snooping through that kind of stuff. Which is odd, if you think about it. You’d think I’d’ve gotten that.” He frowned like he was contemplating the greatest mystery of creation, then shook his head to clear it. “I’ve been watching the patterns and it’s all there. The stolen memories, your peculiar state, and then the con you tried to pull, to get your revenge on your former employer. Minor variations here and there, but the big picture’s the same, and I want to make sure it stays that way.”
With a sneer, Jack rounded on him. “You really enjoy these riddles, don’t you? Well, I’ve had enough.” He poked him hard in the chest. “You are going to tell me who you really are and why you know so much about me. And make it quick, buddy, because there’s not much stopping me from walking away right now.”
Andy favored him with a sly smile, licking his lip with a slow tongue before replying. “If I were the man I was, I’d call your bluff and leave you wondering, but I’m not, and I owe you this.” He jerked his head in the direction they’d been walking and they resumed their stroll. “It begins with the Doctor.”
“Target Number One. You, but not you.”
“Yes. Bit after your time at Torchwood, after Pete Tyler took over the organisation.” Jack snorted at the mention of the name. “Oh, don’t knock him. Pete’s a good man. Been battling the Cybermen since before they were Cybermen, and he’s changed the place for the better. He just hasn’t gotten every nook and cranny yet. Still a bit of the old guard left, doing what they’ve always been doing.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” growled Jack.
“I’m hoping you never get to.” He shrugged. “But the Doctor. He’s an alien, a Time Lord, but he’s not anything like you’re used to dealing with. From a parallel universe, one like this one but different.”
“A parallel universe,” Jack repeated, his tone mocking the concept. “You expect me to believe this?”
Andy smirked. “You spent years of your life battling alien threats right here on British soil and you’re having trouble believing in a parallel universe.”
“The tech boys down in R&D always said other dimensions existed, but we’ve never seen a lick of proof.”
“If proof’s all you need…” Andy slipped a hand into a pocket of his form-fitting jacket and pulled out a pear, tossing it to the astonished Jack, who caught it against his chest. He pulled another one out and bit into it. “You know, I used to hate these, but times change, like I said.” Jack gaped at him, his eyes flicking down to the pocket, still lying flat against his body. “Dimensionally transcendental. I’ve got one more, if you’re hungry. It’s my stash, by the way. Not organic, or some fashionably trendy hybrid. Just pears.”
Regaining his composure, Jack toasted him with the pear and took a bite. “All right,” he said after he swallowed. “The Doctor’s from a parallel universe.”
“Right. And Rose as well. Her dad’s that world’s Pete Tyler, though he died long ago. She was the Doctor’s travelling companion for a while, but she and Jackie, her mum, ended up here.”
Mopping a bit of pear juice from his lips with the back of his hand, Jack wagged a finger at Andy. “Oh, that explains it.”
“How Pete ended up with a second wife who looks exactly like the first and has the same name.”
“Ah, right.” Andy glanced down the road like he thought the pair would walk up it any moment. “They both got second chances, and it worked out well for them. But not so much for Rose -”
“- because she wanted to be with the Doctor.”
Andy tapped his nose and pointed at him. “Why do you think the Doctor was Target Number One, Bring Back Alive at All Costs? That wasn’t Pete’s order. Rose was sure the Doctor would come back for her and had all company assets watching for him. She never understood that the Doctor never looks back, or that he cared more about the integrity of the dimensional walls than he did about a fleeting romance.”
“She must have been miserable.”
Stopping to collect the leftovers of Jack’s pear and toss them in a bin, Andy sighed as he scuffed the toe of his trainer on the pavement. “She was. She tried to figure a way to go back, despite all of the warnings not to try. And she did it. She made it there, round about the time the stars were going out, and the Doctor sent her right back.” He strode off toward the bridge over the river, and Jack jogged to catch up.
“With you, who’s the Doctor but not really.”
“Right.” Andy strolled on in silence, his gaze fixed on the buildings on the opposite bank. Jack watched him out of the corner of his eye, wondering what he was running from, what he was afraid to see trailing behind him. With a shake of his head, Andy finally continued, “There was a biological metacrisis -”
“A biological metacrisis. Take two people, mix ‘em together, and pull ‘em back out into two new people.” He tumbled his hands in front of himself and pulled them apart into two fists. “That’s me. I’m mostly the Doctor with a bit of his companion Donna Noble.”
“That’s insane!” gasped Jack.
“I might be, at that.” Andy stopped abruptly, moving to the side of the walkway. Leaning on the concrete wall, he gazed out over the water, the tip of his tongue tracing his upper lip.
Jack took a similar stance beside him. “And she got a bit of the Doctor?”
“You know, if you told this to anyone else, they’d lock you away.”
Andy grinned, his eyes and attention still distant, probably a universe away. “Nice soft walls. Always sounded so comfy.”
Jack sniffed. The walk down memory lane told him a lot about Andy, but it was time to push him toward the point. “So of course, I’m somewhere in this parallel world, aren’t I? Friend of yours, cursed with this never-ending life and memories that were stolen from him?”
“Exactly. You’re both brilliant as well. But...” He hesitated a moment, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You also both lost your way. No wonder, couple of hundred years and unusual abuse by your mates. You got to break out of it, Jack. Find your purpose again. Don’t let them distract you from it. You do, and you’re lost, wasted.”
“Is that what happened to him?”
Biting his lip, Andy turned to look Jack over, his eyes sad and dark. “He got out, he did. That’s why I found you. You was going the same way, and I thought, ‘Not you, too.’ Can’t bear it.”
Leaning in, Jack tapped himself on the chest. “But I’m not him. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Course I do,” he declared airily. “This kind of thing, parallel worlds and all that, that’s just Tuesday to me. You’re not the Jack I know.”
“But did you ever stop and think that I wouldn’t want you interfering with my life?” Jack demanded. Passersby stared at him, shocked by his outburst, and he glared back, daring them to interfere. “You don’t even know me. You’re just making assumptions about me based on a man a universe away. I’m where I want to be. I spent a year setting things up and I had Torchwood right where I wanted them.”
Shaking his head, Andy stared him with an incredulous smile.“You’re fooling yourself, flea boy, biting the big nasty dog. They’ll barely feel it, you know. All it’ll do is bring their attention down on you.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted.” Jack punctuated his statement with a firm stab with his finger on the concrete wall.
“A war with Torchwood?” Andy shook his head. “That’s bollocks, that is. Blimmin’ futile and you know it. Not your style at all.”
“Maybe not the style of a man from your universe,” Jack retorted. “You don’t know me at all, buddy.”
“I don’t?” Andy’s tone was oily, sending a shiver down Jack’s spine. “Then let me ask you, why’d you leave East Whiteland?”
Jack opened his mouth to demand that Andy mind his own business, but he snapped it shut as a realisation hit him. Leaning into him, he sneered, “This is what you do, isn’t it? You just decide for people how they should live their lives. You did it for Rose Tyler, sent her back here even though it was obvious that’s not what she wanted. And you’re doing it to me right now.” Andy blanched, and he took a step back. “And that other half of you, what was her name, Donna? I bet you did the same thing for her, after you infected her with yourself. How did you decide she should live, huh?”
Andy turned away, his hands in his pockets and his shoulders curved. When he turned back around, he still hadn’t quite regained his composure. “I don’t know,” he murmured. “We came here before before anything could be done. But I suspect you’re right. I suspect he didn’t give her any choice in the matter.”
“Well, I’m not your friend Jack.” Jack prodded him hard in the chest with two fingers. “I’m not your friend at all, and I don’t care about anything you have to say. We’re done here.” He turned and started back the way they had come.
Andy ran after him. “Jack, please,” he called, the desperation heavy in his tone. “Let me try again, properly this time. No assumptions.”
Jack stopped, whirling to face him. “No. We’re done. Don’t try to follow me”
“Then take this, at least, so you can find me.” He fished in his breast pocket and pulled out a card, which he held out between two long, slender fingers. “In case you change your mind.”
Jack glanced at the card in contempt and made no attempt to take it. “I know where to find you. But I won’t need to.” Spinning on his heel, he strode off back toward Borough Market, the tail of his duster flaring out behind him.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Earth defense is a particularly specialised occupation, and Jack knew that crossing paths with Andy was inevitable. As it had happened in Southwark, Jack saw him first, barely visible under a dim streetlamp on the edge of the abandoned, weedy car park with his hands in the pockets of the same blue suit, rocking back and forth on his heels. He watched a small squad of infiltrators heading toward the Battersea Power Station, which had spawned the Cyberman army years before. Torchwood had cleaned the place out not long after the bulk of the Cybermen had vanished from the world, but apparently they’d missed something and a small cell of the remaining silver soldiers had returned for it.
Slinging his rifle over his shoulder as he circled around, Jack studied the black van that had brought the team to the site. One of the team was undoubtedly inside monitoring their progress, but no more than one, and he or she would have eyes for nothing else. He glanced back at the power station. If he went in, he’d probably just get in their way, and he’d prefer to avoid contact. Biting his lip, he stepped out of the shadows.
At the sound of movement, Andy looked over his shoulder and nodded at the familiar sight. He eyed the van, then strode toward Jack. “‘Allo,” he called softly.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Jack replied. “What are you doing out here? I figured you’d be in there, leading the team, getting everyone into and out of trouble.”
Andy pursed his lips. “Not allowed. Barely talked them into letting me come this far. If they’d their druthers, I’d be back at HQ watching the action on a feed.” Andy’s tone was bored and detached, but Jack noted the man’s clenched fists and jealous gaze toward the power station.
“Why? I thought you were their expert.”
“Too dangerous. I’m too valuable, or some rubbish,” he grumbled.
“And you’re going along with that?” Jack prodded. “You don’t strike me as the type who listens to anyone else.”
Andy‘s eyes flicked to Jack. For a moment, he seemed about to stomp off in a storm of piqued pride, but he guffawed heartily, his tongue peeking out between his teeth as he tugged at his ear. “You’ve got me pegged, all right. But no. Gotta keep my eye on the big picture. My job is to live as long as possible. Everything else is secondary.”
Jack eyed him with confusion, then shrugged. “You and me both.”
The door of the van slid open and a head topped by a cap and a headset popped out. “Doctor? Everything all right out here?” She eyed the stranger, and her shoulder twitched, an obvious sign of unhooking the safety strap of her holster.
“I’m fine, Janet,” Andy replied. “Just catching up with an old friend.” Even though Jack had known Andy for less than a half an hour, he could tell from his tone that he kept his relationship with her and the rest of the team distant, all business.
The woman frowned as she gazed around at the dark expanse of forgotten industry, obviously wondering what sort of friend turns up in such a place in the middle of the night. “Are you sure, sir?”
“Course I am. He’s keeping me company. Go on, get back in there.” Andy flicked his hand at her. “Shift. You’re to be watching your team.”
“Yes, sir.” With a last hard stare at Jack, she retreated into the van, the door sliding closed behind her.
“Now there’s one with her head on right,” Andy remarked to Jack. “Observant and resourceful. Asks the right questions. And she calls me ‘Doctor’. She’d have made a good companion. But they’ll never let her out of ops, because… Well, that’s neither here nor there.”
“Ops is often the most important part of the team,” commented Jack as he walked over a few steps to take a look at the van. “If she’s that good, she’ll keep them alive and get them out safely.”
“True, true.” Andy grinned at him. “And why aren’t you in there yourself?”
Looking back over his shoulder, Jack shrugged. “Your team seems to have things well in hand.”
“Yup-ah. So efficient, they are,” he drawled. “Stepping on your toes, aren’t we? Deploy was tomorrow, but ops changed their minds and sent us out early.” He grinned at Jack. “Probably ‘cause you scooped us up in York. Heads are rolling ‘cause of you, you know, beating us at our own game, and in only two years.”
“It’s not just me. I’ve got a team now, if you can call the three of us a ‘team’.” Jack stood a little taller as he thought about Tosh and Owen. He’d groomed up the MI6 castoffs into resourceful and dedicated partners. They could do things that would take six better-equipped Torchwood veterans to accomplish. One, maybe two more of their caliber and they would give Torchwood a run for its money.
“Glad to hear it,” Andy was saying. “With support, you could move mountains.” He sniffed. “You know, Torchwood’s not going to just give up.”
Jack planted his feet in a defiant stance. “Good. Because Earth needs its defenders, and if a bit of not-so-friendly competition is what it takes to get them to turn their considerable power in the right direction, then I’m happy to be the target.”
Andy kept his silence with a sly smile.
“Oh, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right,” Jack sighed. “I thought about what you said. Not at first. After I saw you last, I laid low for a while, crossed the Channel for a change of scenery. I told myself I was touring the continent’s brews, but I spent most of that time under the tables. It was in Madrid, in this bar with walls built of glittering Spanish glass, and I was drooling on the floor, thinking of a hundred different ways to reduce the place to sand. You predicted it perfectly. I was drifting and miserable, and it wasn’t going to stop until I stopped it myself. So I thought about East Whiteland.”
“Yeah?” Andy peered up at Jack under heavy lids, his eyes dark with carefully guarded interest.
“How did you know about that?”
“Traced you back through all the identities you created for yourself. Jack Harkness. Jack Harper. John Hart. John Harris a couple of times. Even a Jason Harrington.” He ticked each name off on his fingers. “Bit of a pattern, don’t you think?”
“Made it easy. I didn’t need to replace all my monogrammed handkerchiefs.” Jack winked. “But I thought I did a good job of covering my tracks. ‘JH’ isn’t much to follow.”
“For an Earth boy, yeah. But you can’t help but leave temporal trails, especially you, and me, I can spot them. They’re barely there, like a whisper in a hurricane, but they all traced right back to a smith that disappeared from East Whiteland back in 1777.”
“I didn’t disappear. I joined up with the Colonial Army.” Jack didn’t like to think back to those times, because it usually brought an unwanted tear to his eye. He cleared his throat. “When the Redcoats were knocking on your door, the only thing you could do to protect your family and your town was to pick up a musket and fight back.” He hugged himself against the memory of the war and his Sarah, lost across a sea of time. “But it didn’t matter, not a bit. I’d never fought before and it showed. I didn’t last a week. I got caught up in the massacre at Paoli Tavern and took a musket ball to the chest. I didn’t make one bit of difference.” He fell silent. For a moment, he was alone, nothing there in the darkness, not Andy nor the van nor the Cybermen factory. Just the silence of the abandoned battlefield and the smell of blood and coarse gunpowder.
“And then I woke up.” His voice was little more than a whisper. “The battle was over and I was lying in a ditch between two corpses, and my chest wasn’t Swiss cheese, though my shirt was. I knew right there that I couldn’t go back.” He peered up at Andy, regret and embarrassment plain on his face. “It’s gone, you know. East Whiteland. I couldn’t find a trace of it. Even the graveyard is long gone. I’m outliving it all. You see why I’m running?”
Andy grasped Jack’s shoulder. “You’re not a runner, Jack,” he urged. “You’re a fighter. You stood up for your people and you did your best to protect them. That’s what you’re doing now, except you’re a far sight better at it.”
Jack wrenched his arm out of Andy’s grasp and backed a step away. “That’s the purpose you think I need to embrace, isn’t it?”
He crossed his arms across his chest, his shoulders curving self-consciously. “That’s up to you. I just said you need to find one.”
“How can you know what I need?” Jack demanded.
“Because I’ve been there, Jack,” Andy replied, his tone suddenly tender. “I’m a Time Lord. Well, what’s left of one, anyway. I spent longer than you’ve lived on my home planet, withering away, one slow day after another. It’s only when I found a reason to live that the centuries became bearable.”
Jack stared at him, a surge of hope swelling in his chest. “You’re like me?”
Andy shook his head, a sad, frosty smile curving his lips. “I was. Not anymore. I never was actually immortal, but the metacrisis robbed me of millennia.” The tension in his neck broadcast his fear of his mortality, though he tried to hide it with a flippant smile. “I’ve maybe forty years, if I’m lucky.”
Jack’s eyes clouded over. “Damn. I thought for a moment…”
“No.” All of Andy’s regret filled that one word. “But I can still help you. I can help you to understand, to cope, to find what you need.”
“Can you really?” Jack didn’t dare believe him, couldn’t stand to have hope dashed twice in as many minutes. “Then prove it. Tell me what I’ve always wanted to know. How did this happen? And why me?”
Andy flipped the hems of his jacket up and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “That all comes back to Rose.”
“Rose Tyler?” Jack frowned his disbelief. “What does she have to do with it?”
“She’s the source of it all.” Andy began pacing as he talked. “During our travels. Got into a bit of a tight spot, well, more of an inescapable trap, so she looked into the heart of the TARDIS -”
“The what?” asked Jack.
Andy turned toward him. “The TARDIS. My time travel capsule,” he explained as if it was a perfectly normal, common possession.
“You’re a time traveller.” Incredulous, Jack stared at Andy, a half-smile frozen on his face.
“Right there in the name. Time Lord. Now pay attention,” Andy admonished him.
“Where was I? Oh yeah, Rose. She looked into the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed the power of the time vortex.” He fixed Jack with a glare, and Jack stayed silent, deciding that the detail wasn’t important enough to interrupt him with it. “That’s cosmic power, that is. Bad Wolf, it was called. Got us out of the trap, then she brought Jack back - he’d been killed a bit earlier - but she was too eager. One thought, and she brought all Jacks in all times and universes back forever.”
Jack grunted, “Me.”
Andy nodded, his lips pursed in sympathy. He twiddled his fingers as if he felt directly responsible. “Yeah. And who knows how many other Jacks.”
“But that was two hundred and fifty years ago,” Jack protested.
“As I said, cosmic power. Corrupting power. It nearly killed her, and it certainly changed her.”
“And I’m left to suffer the consequences,” Jack growled, the phrase dripping with all of his anger and frustration.
“Yeah. Nothing to be done about that.” Looking up, Andy caught Jack’s gaze. “Knowing why doesn’t make it any easier, does it?”
“No.” Striding away, Jack swept up a rock and flung it out into the darkness. “So, what does make it easier?”
“Taking it a day at a time, and focusing on what you believe in.” Andy cleared his throat. “And having friends.”
“I’ve had hundreds of friends,” Jack growled.” Most of ‘em are dead now.”
“There’s the rub. You sound like me, the other me, remembering your friends for the moment they said goodbye, rather than for all of the brilliant moments before that.” Sighing, Andy hugged himself. “But I can’t do that now. I can’t afford to live the few days I have left like that, and I wish I’d learned that centuries ago.”
Centuries. Andy spoke of centuries like regular people spoke of months of years, and it highlighted how alien his perspective was. Jack shivered against the whole of eternity stretching out before him. “If I can ask,” he murmured, “how did the other Jack cope with this?”
Andy peered at him. “Hard not to wonder about him, isn’t it?”
Jack shrugged. “Well, I have to admit, it’s intriguing to know there’s another version of me out there somewhere, living a whole different life.”
“You and me both,” Andy mumbled, and Jack knew he was thinking of his other self, the pure Time Lord, in the other universe and life that he’d been forced to abandon. “Jack, well, he’s got a bit of an advantage on you because he’s from the future, a good thirty centuries from now. A bit better equipped to handle your predicament and he’s always lived for the future. Not saying he’s any stranger to death and loss, but by nature, he looks for the possibilities rather than dwelling on the failures.”
“I guess that’s what I’ve got to learn.” He eyed Andy sideways, afraid to ask his next question. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. “What was he like?”
A nostalgic light brightened Andy’s smile. “Much like you. Clever, resourceful, driven, compassionate. A bloody’ fantastic leader. And charming as all get out, probably too much for his own good.”
There was no way Jack could pass up that opportunity. “I’m charming, you say?” He winked.
Andy clouded over. His eyes closed, and he dragged a hand down over his jaw as he turned away.
Jack stepped back, his hands up in surrender. “Hey, it’s okay. I guess I read you wrong. I’m usually spot-on telling what other people want, but I’m good at laying off when you say so.”
“It’s not that.” With a heavy sigh, Andy looked back over his shoulder, his eyes dark and sad. “You’re so like… like him. He understood, you know? He knew what it was like to be me. I loved having him around. For just a bit, I wasn’t alone.”
Jack frowned in confusion. “I thought Rose…?” he proffered.
“Pfah!” Andy paced off, his face twisted in a mask of disgust. “Rose couldn’t help, not in the least. That’s so clear now. She was a diversion, a great ego-stroke. ‘Hey, look, this pretty bird’s hangin’ all over me!’ She never truly cared. She just thought it was a blast cruisin’ around the universe with me at her beck and call. She never even tried to understand. I tried to explain it to her, and she just brushed me off. All she wanted was to get me to say that I loved her.”
His eyes turned wistful. “But Jack. He already understood, because he was another me, just human this time. He wanted someone who knew what he was going through, and that’s exactly what I wanted, too. Well, he also wanted to get me in bed, let’s be honest here, and that was tempting as well. But I couldn’t do it, couldn’t even let him know. I never did, ever, with anyone I cared for. I never allowed myself to get that close. I kept telling myself that I was the Doctor, and I was above all that. Well, I’m not the Doctor anymore.”
Andy strode up to Jack and, grabbing him by his coat’s lapel, pulled him close. Their eyes met, and for one moment, his heartfelt desire engulfed Jack, stunning him. Then Andy’s face twisted into a mask of self-loathing, and, shoving Jack away, he whirled and stomped off. “See? See? I still can’t! I’m human and I’m capable of love, and I am still not allowed!”
Recovering himself with a shake of his head, Jack followed him and grasped his shoulder. “Faithfulness is a virtue among humans, you know,” he soothed.
“Faithfulness has nothing to do with it,” Andy shot back. “You don’t know what Rose is like. She doesn’t want me. She wants the Doctor, so she’s keeping a tight rein on his photocopy. As long as I’m under her thumb, she won’t go looking for him. That’s why I can’t leave her.”
“But isn’t he in the other universe?”
“That didn’t stop her before,” he snapped. “Remember the climate changes a few years ago? The temperatures rising and the icecaps melting?”
“Of course. What’s that got to do with anything?”
Andy yanked out of Jack’s grasp and rubbed at the touch like it had burned. “That was Pete Tyler’s dimension hoppers. He used them to get across to the Doctor to warn him about the Cybermen crossing the Void, but they were causing the universe to melt. He sacked them when he found out, but the moment Rose got stuck here, she got Pete’s tech and built a dimension cannon from it to punch holes in the walls of the universe and get back to the Doctor. She didn’t care that it would destroy this world.”
“That’s crazy,” murmured Jack.
“Bonkers, she is. I’m the only thing keeping her from trying again.” Thumbing toward the power station over his shoulder, he swallowed hard against the anger swelling in his chest. “That’s why I’m not in there,” he growled, “leading that team and fighting the Cybermen. Rose set the rule that I can’t go on missions, something about worrying too much for me, but that’s bollocks. I’m only going along with it because I have to live. I’m keeping Rose bloody Tyler from doing something stupid.”
Jack stared at him. “And you’re saying I’m the one who should find a purpose?”
Andy whirled on him. “What does that mean, Earth boy?” he sneered. His eyes flicked toward the van to check if he’d caught the attention of the woman inside.
“Just that that’s the stupidest reason I’ve ever heard for sticking with someone you obviously don’t love.”
Straightening to his full height, Andy lifted his nose in the air and gazed at Jack with a supercilious smile. “It’s what I have to do -”
“- to save the universe,” Jack finished for him in a mocking imitation of his raspy London accent. “No, it’s not. You’re not responsible for this world, or for anything that Rose Tyler or anyone else does. You’re only responsible for yourself. And even if she does go over the edge like you say, there’s plenty of ways to deal with it then.”
“I can’t take that chance,” Andy insisted. “Not when I can prevent it from ever happening.”
“By throwing away your life.” Laughing heartily, Jack paced a circle around Andy. The man was right that he, Jack, had needed to find his purpose in life, but he himself had taken the concept too far. “You know, here you are, dedicating yourself to defending the Earth from Rose Tyler and tracking me down to help me deal with her mess. That’s noble of you, but you really need to be a bit selfish, to look out for number one, to live your own life. You haven’t yet learned how to be human.”
Andy bit his lip as he pondered Jack’s words. “You’re saying I should leave her.”
Jack stopped directly in front of him. “If that makes you happy, yes. Stop living for other people. Leave her to her own problems.”
He looked dubious. “That’ll take some doing. She’s not one to let a man go.”
“The real question is, are you willing to let her go?.”
“Yes,” came the slow reply, like he was baring his soul with great reluctance. “I did it once before. Well, it was him that done it, but I would have just the same.” Biting his lip, Andy gazed absently at the toes of his trainers. “Getting myself out will be tricky. We live in a house on her father’s estate.”
Jack smirked. “That’s another part of being human that you’ll have to learn: rent, taxes, and grocery shopping.”
“Already do the third, but at least I won’t need to buy artisanal butter anymore,” he observed with a smile, spitting out the sour adjective. His eyes wandered to Jack’s face, then twitched away in embarrassment. “I guess that’s the deal, then? I teach you to be Jack Harkness, and you teach me to be Andrew Noble.”
“I think I can agree to that.”
“Okay. My first lesson, I s’pose, is to leave Rose.”
“If she’s holding you back, then yes. Figure out how you really want to spend your life and make it happen. You may even want to leave Torchwood.” Jack allowed a sly, enticing smile to dimple his cheeks. “I hear there’s a team of alien specialists that could use an exotechnology expert.”
Andy smirked. “Nothing selfish in that offer, I’m sure.”
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.” Andy scrubbed at his jaw as he thought. “I can’t,” he mumbled. “I can’t, not just yet.” Sighing, he pinched at the bridge of his nose. “We were supposed to live happily ever after. I’m not quite ready to give up that pipe dream.”
“That’s fair.” Putting an arm around Andy’s shoulders, Jack patted him, then leant in to murmur his support. “These things take time. I’ll be here to help when you’re ready.”
“Yeah. So, what’s lesson number two?”
“Well, if you’re not ready to revolt, I’d say a minor rebellion.” Jack punched him lightly on the arm. “Let’s show those greenhorns in there how to take out an army of Cybermen. Whaddaya say, Doc?”
An eager grin spread across Andy’s face. “Ohh,” he breathed. “I thought you’d never ask.” He spun away toward the van, then stopped. “Oh, she doesn’t need to know. She can find out when she sees us on the feed.” Without another word, he dashed out into the darkness.
“Hey!” Jack called. “Don’t you need to get your equipment?”
“What equipment?” came the reply. Andy emerged out of the shadows, his arms spread wide. “What do I need?”
Jack patted his rifle.
“Nah.” Andy tapped his temple. “Don’t need anything except this.”
“In a fortress of Cybermen?” He shook his head. “You’re crazy.”
Andy flashed him a manic smile that confirmed Jack’s psychological assessment. “That’s me. Watch and learn, old man.”
Jack walked up to him. “First chance I’ve had to say this in two hundred years, but,” and he prodded the man in the chest, “you’re the old one. Try and keep up,” he crooned in his face.
“Ohhh,” Andy breathed, his shining eyes inches from Jack’s. “We are going to make an excellent team. Oh yes!” He bounded off, Jack hard on his heels. “Come on! We’ve a world to save!” The darkness swallowed them, leaving the lone van still and silent in the dim lamplight.