He turns three thousand on a moon, somewhere between the end of days and the hundred-millionth Grand Empire. He ducks into a blade, because there’s a child’s head directly in its path, and somehow the memory of Stephen’s dying eyes, pleading, bleeding, crying, has never truly faded from his own gaze.
Or perhaps he’s just too old and too tired to stand there and watch children cry. Jack is far too exhausted to think about it. And far too alone for anyone else to think about it for him.
But somehow, as his life blinks out between one moment and blinks back before the next, he gasps awake with the certainty that today, today he is officially 3000.
He doesn’t have a soul mark. That used to bother Jack less, growing up. It was unusual, on Boeshane certainly. But by the time he was old enough to worry about such things, his mother’s reassuring love a bitter taste of sand and a scream of grief in his ear, he was out in a universe where such things mattered little, and were noticed less.
And quite frankly, he had more important things to be worrying about.
Centuries in the past, centuries later, he lies in his bunk beneath Cardiff and runs his hand over the empty skin over his pulse point, over and over until his wrist is red and sore.
Because if there’s anywhere that living without a soul mark is a problem, it’s twenty-first century Earth. In Torchwood, home of the curious and wacky and genius.
The Guppies had just loved that little quirk about the “impossible man.”
The Master had…Jack cut the thought off with a growl, rolling off his blankets and snatching up his Wrist Comp. Maybe Ianto would be up for another round of naked Hide and Seek.
Jack leaves Cardiff for good when little Anwen Cooper Williams joins Torchwood, not so little and just as determined and fiery as her mother, tempered with enough of her father’s steady patience that Jack has hope for her beating the mortality curse better than her mother did.
Jack’s had dozens of relationships in his long life, some fleeting, some that lasted for decades, some that went on for centuries. Some that are still going on, if sporadic enough that they can scarcely be called relationships in the first place.
He can safely say that Gwen Cooper remains one of the closest, and one of the best, he’s ever had. He said that at her funeral, even. Rhys’ grip on his daughters’ hands rock steady, not a dry eye in the churchyard.
Rhys had found him after, a fine sheet of rain misting over everything, casting a grey pall to the occasion. Jack had nearly bitten through his lip at the symbolism. Of course it was raining. Of bloody course.
“You’re leaving then? Properly?” It’s been twenty odd years, but Jack is still unsure whether Rhys regards him with tolerant loathing, or loathing tolerance. And that was before he got his wife killed.
“Christ-don’t. Don’t do that.” Jack’s head jerked around, fastening searing blue eyes on Rhys’ crumpled suit and moist yet determined face. “Do what?” He thinks that was a calm tone, a measured tone. He freely admits he’s not the best judge these days, though. Of what’s normal. Or human even.
Rhys’ jaw clenched, his hands scrunching up in his pockets, as if he was physically restraining himself from moving towards Jack. Whether to hit him or hug him, Jack is never quite sure.
“I don’t like you. I never have.” Well, that was honest. “But the way Gwen talked about you, the way they all talked about you-” Jack swallowed, as a moment of silent remembrance passed between him and the only other person alive who had met and remembered the entire team, their old team. “They loved you, every one of them. They’d of done anything for you.” And they did. Jack added that bit himself, the words too painful for either of them to verbalize. Not here, not now.
“Gwen wouldn’t want you to blame yourself. Not for this. Not for any of it.” Rhys doesn’t say whether he blames Jack. Jack doesn’t ask.
He held the gaze of his best friend’s soulmate for a long time though, the rain sheeting down around them. He breaks contact first, his eyes flicking inexorably to the cuff on Rhys’ wrist, to the greyed over words he knows will be there. He clenched his own hand for a moment, his fingers brushing over the cover of his Wrist Comp.
Rhys followed the movement, his gaze turning thoughtful. “Did you ever find them? Your soulmate?” Gwen used to ask that. Every time they saw each other again, through the years.
It was almost like a strange version of hello, by the end. Jack swallowed some rain, savouring the cold lash on his lips. “Maybe I’m still waiting.”
Rhys blinked for a moment, the fact he actually received an answer clearly stumping him. The last time Gwen asked him that, she was bleeding out in Jack’s arms.
The fact he hadn’t had an answer for her, even then, will be one of the many, many things that will haunt Jack to the end of time and back.
Rhys found the words at last. “Waiting for what?”
Jack flipped the cover back, his fingers finding the buttons by muscle memory alone. With one last look at the mound of darkening earth where Gwen Cooper had found her final rest, Jack pressed his finger down, hard.
His words were swallowed in a flash of light and whoosh of displaced water.
But they were heard, all the same.
“For the right kind of Doctor.”
The Doctor didn’t actually say anything, the first time they met. It took Jack a lot of years, and at least three different regenerations to remember that. He remembers his own ridiculously long and ridiculously formal introduction. He remembers his babbled rant.
He really had been a terrible conman.
But by the time that interjection came, “What kind of Chula ship landed here?” they were two rooms, one one-sided conversation and a good ten minutes late for that to be considered a proper reply.
Jack repeats that to himself over and over, in the centuries after he first thinks of it, a century and a half stuck in a freeze thaw cycle under a Minotoan glacier. He decides half way through it’s not as bad as the dirt. Well, almost.
He’s pretty sure he frightens the Ice Archeologists who eventually dredge him up half to death with his multi-lingual babblings about the possibility of silent soul marks and the likelihood they even had soul marks on Gallifrey, not that it mattered, cause they did have them on Boeshane, but still…
It takes Jack a day to thaw out, but five days to convince the team he really didn’t need that psychiatric help they were so eager to get for him.
He thinks the Doctor would get a real kick out of that particular story. If only he was around to tell it to.
Grey’s soulmark appears on his fourth birthday. It’s earlier than most, and the entire settlement celebrates it. Halfway through, his little brother had leapt from their father’s arms and rocketed across the sand to Jack’s side, a look of intense worry on his face.
“It’s okay Jack, you can share my soulmate!” His little brother’s fingers and face were sticky with icing, but Jack never forgets how warm that hug was, or how much he loved his little brother.
Or how little, in the face of that, in that moment, his lack of a soulmark seemed to matter.
As executions go, death by drowning is probably on Jack’s list of three least terrible. Suffocation, dismemberment, and acid are a lot higher, for example. And that isn’t counting the more creative options.
Frankly, after the Master, almost anything is tame these days.
Still, being chained to a large rock and dropped into the neon-orange seas of Nuria is not exactly a pleasant experience. Mostly because he’s not alone.
Jack just has time to lock eyes with his fellow prisoner, taking note of the curly grey hair and battered hoodie for the first time. “Hold your breath!”
They hit the water a moment later, the weight of their anchor crushing the breath from Jack’s lungs with enough force to break ribs, but he could have sworn that was an eye roll of all thing-
He opens his eyes to a world of orange, only to slam them shut again as he finally remembered the salt content that went with that rather fantastic colour. Jack braced his wrist against the stone, the Comp fizzling out audible even through the layers of brine and dense water.
He tensed, over three thousand years old and somehow breaking bones deliberately still hurt.
Iron fingers caught his wrist, a buzzing echoing weakly through the water. Jack fought to open his eyes, salt be damned, only to receive a face full of sodden fabric for his trouble.
Don’t be an idiot lad! Are you trying to blind yourself for the next century?
It took every ounce of his years not to jerk wildly, because it can’t be. Surely.
He looked everywhere…
The buzzing stopped, even as the groaning wheeze started, a wash of water splashing loudly against the grating that has suddenly solidified beneath Jack’s shoulder. He imagines the Tardis control room looks a fright.
Jack curls his fingers around the hand still holding his wrist. He’s almost afraid to open his eyes.
It’s been centuries…Even for them, that’s…
Jack swallowed a mouthful of salt he couldn’t entirely blame on the attempted execution.
“D-Doctor?” His voice broke, he wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
A scoff met his ears. “Well of course lad, who were you expecting? Father Christmas?”
A laugh bubbled through Jack’s lungs, ripping water from his mouth in a weak hack.
His eyes hurt. A long fingered hand guided his face to the blessed softness of soggy fleece, and for a long moment, Jack let himself be held, let himself breath in the most soothing smell in all the universe. Doctor.
“You didn’t say anything. The first time we met.” The Doctor’s chalk paused on his chalkboard for just a moment. But it’s a moment that speaks volumes.
“That was a long time ago Captain.” The Doctor still went from forbidding and morose to manic and joyous in a matter of seconds, even at this age, hence the shower of chalk dust in Jack’s hair as an electric guitar screech met his ears.
The Doctor shoved buzzing sunglasses up on his forehead and shot a manic grin Jack’s way.
“Whaddya say lad? Wanna Jam?”
Jack spends his five thousandth birthday on a moon, somewhere between the end of time and the last days of the five hundred millionth Grand Empire.
He shares ice lollies with a man sporting a rather cool bowtie, a fez perched atop each of their heads, licking dribbles off each others cones like giddy teenagers.
Jack pauses on his hundredth lick, tilting his head, considering, casual. “Do they have soulmarks on Gallifrey?”
The man with the bowtie smiled.
The kiss tasted of strawberries and ice, sweet and fresh and perfect.
Jack tangled his fingers through the Doctor’s, snugging his chest to his companion’s, until their three heartbeats almost seemed to beat in sink.
And for a moment, not the first and far from the last, but for a single moment, it was as if all the universe stopped.
And time itself stood still.