Immortal's servant: No, actually, he was. 300 years ago.
It was cold and wet and dark. Yesterday, today, tomorrow - always the same. And Jack thought it might be killing him.
If he closed his eyes he could still call forth his home - dusty and dry and bright. Could clearly remember the constant threat of sandstorms lurking in a hot blast across his face, the softness of the white-white-white desert fabric on his skin, the rich fruit juices his mother would prepare every morning... experiences as alien in this time as his wrist strap.
But he had left his home. Had lived through things that should have killed him; had skipped across the universe like a pebble across a pond; had met people who had changed him more than he thought possible... until everything had stopped.
Jack felt as though this place was now seeping into him - like hope and life was being smothered, day by day, inch by inch, by the low clouds that never seemed to lift. He had never felt so trapped in his life, not even when facing certain death.
Jumping back through time 200,000 years and he’d only been out by a century. One. One hundred years, and it might as well have been a million.
He stared down into his drink - something these people referred to as ‘beer’ although it had the flavour and colour of dishwater - and slowly became aware of the noise and dirt and general unpleasantness of the drinking tavern he was in. Drowning his sorrows... that had been the plan. Except of course it didn’t work - it never worked - it just made him feel cold and miserable on a different level.
He could cope - had coped with far worse - but the relentlessness of it was getting to him. He remembered once coming across a cult that wanted to change humans back to what they had once been... He wished he could have shown them this place, where decay preyed on people with sickening results. For a moment he looked at the toothless old man next to him, bent and crooked and, judging from the rattling breath, suffering from something Jack couldn’t begin to guess at - he’d not paid much attention during their lecture on ‘ancient ailments’. After all it wasn’t like they didn’t get vaccinated against everything anyway. Infections on the other hand were something he was pretty terrified of - medicine in this era was so primitive. He tried his best not to shudder. Would he end up the same way in 50 - 60 years time? All withered gnarled and... worn? No, he’d commit suicide first.
As often happened now his thoughts drifted back to his beautiful Chula ship, and again he felt like crying at the accidental destruction. It seemed a somehow more manageable loss than the Doctor, Rose and the TARDIS. The ship, the technology, the nanobots - all that he could mourn. The rest...
“Hey there handsome - what’s troubling ya?”
He looked up at the plump barmaid and sighed. He was hovering on the edge of spilling secrets that he knew he shouldn’t mention, but thankfully found that he was still sober enough to infuse truth with vagueness.
“I... lost the people I love. Or rather they lost me - left without me. It’s... it’s a long story.”
The girl looked like she was about to speak when the old man nodded solemnly.
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. But He comes for us all in the end.”
Jack turned to him, suddenly desperate.
“Are you sure?”
The old man nodded, and Jack wished he could somehow latch onto that surety he saw in the red-rimmed eyes. He had a terrible feeling that he might live out his whole life in this sprawling grey town without ever being found.
Rome, some years later
It was evening, but still hot, and the setting sun made the whole sky blaze golden. Jack stood still for a moment and closed his eyes, letting warmth caress his skin.
If he could, he’d bottle the sensation. He knew he was taking a risk in travelling away from the Rift, but on the other hand he didn’t want to throw his whole life away, waiting. Earth wouldn’t have been his first choice of planet to settle down on - not even the tenth - but beggars couldn’t be choosers. And the hunger for warmth and light had driven him further and further south, until here he was in this ancient city.
Having spent most of the day walking around St Peter’s his feet were sore, but his mind rather overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and magnitude of what he had seen. He had some basic, scattered knowledge of European history from his Time Agency training, but somehow he’d never actually set foot in Rome - he had never been sent there, and there had never been a scam that would benefit from this location. With hindsight his previous existence seemed very shallow; the ability to just admire something, without calculating its worth or how it could best be utilised, was one of the things he was most grateful to the Doctor for. And yet another thing he’d never told him. Hopefully one day he would be able to...
But until then, he had to make do - which reminded him that he had no money left and finding somewhere to stay for the night might be problematic.
Suddenly he heard a loud exclamation, and turned to see a handsome, well-dressed young man running towards him.
“Master! It is really you! I cannot believe it - it is a miracle!”
Jack looked behind him, wondering what was happening, but the other made a beeline for him, before stopping at a respectful distance, face beaming. He had gorgeous brown eyes, Jack couldn’t help but notice, and the wide joyous grin on his face revealed dimples that made him look younger than his real age, which Jack estimated to be around 20.
As he took in these factors, Jack automatically discarded the ‘You’ve got the wrong guy’ that was at the tip of his tongue. Couldn’t hurt to hear what the kid had to say, and besides he looked like he was about to faint or explode. Jack didn’t want to have either on his conscience.
“Oh Master - how could we ever have doubted? ‘But how can anyone know the future?’ my sister asks, but I tell her that The Immortal can do anything, of course. Three hundred years are nothing to someone who has eternity, even if we mortals have been waiting with trepidation and great elation.”
He stopped to catch his breath, and, seeing the somewhat puzzled look on Jack’s face, tried to pull himself together.
“My apologies your Benevolence, I am afraid I let excitement get the better of me. A simple, unmarked carriage awaits just as you specified in your instructions.”
He pulled out an ancient-looking document and handed it over eagerly, and Jack opened it, feeling like he’d come in halfway through a play without knowing his lines. Ornate writing covered the paper, and slowly he began reading.
‘I, The Immortal, make this document for the benefit of you, my dear servants of the future, and beseech you to follow my instructions to the very letter.
I trust you will recognise my fair countenance anywhere, but be warned that I will come in disguise, dressed in simple clothing...’
There followed notes on getting the house ready for occupation, which carriage to use and various other things, then the day’s date and to ‘look for me at sunset in St Peter’s Square’.
Jack raised an eyebrow, feeling a little spooked, but then the law of averages dictated that there had to be someone like him around - the kid had obviously just latched onto the one best fitting the description. Then he read on, and couldn’t help but chuckle as he took in the final paragraph:
‘Make sure to send your handsomest boy to fetch me. I have every confidence that you will not disappoint me in any way.
Whoever this ‘Immortal’ guy was, he had clearly had his priorities in order. And he didn’t seem the type to begrudge a weary traveller taking a little advantage...
“Well then, ‘handsome boy’, shall we?”
The boy coloured very prettily, and Jack smiled. Someone up there liked him.
Trying to cover his shyness, the kid turned all practicality and business. “Master - please allow me to take your luggage. The carriage is down this way.”
“By all means, lead on. I am in your hands.”
As they walked a narrow side street, the boy introduced himself as ‘Antonio’:
“...Of the Esposito family, of course - we have been faithfully tending your residence for all these years, and know how blessed we all are to live in this time, so we may see you Master.”
Jack made what he hoped was an appropriate reply, but as they drove though the streets a little later he covertly tried to extract some crucial information about who he was supposed to be - a lifetime of having to adapt to new situations and new identities coming in helpful. And this one looked to be a challenge.
In a short while he had found out that in 1596 the man calling himself ‘The Immortal’ had disappeared on some round-the-world-trip, and very kindly left his servants with plenty of money to see them through the next 300 years. He had clearly been an extraordinary sort of guy, since the devotion he inspired had been so strong that it had passed down almost unchanged during the intervening years. Despite not really being a con man anymore Jack could feel all his old instincts re-awaken - the opportunity too good to turn down. He didn’t plan on stealing anything, cause he wasn’t that guy anymore, but this could mean free lodgings whilst he stayed in Rome... And who was he to disappoint these poor servants, who just wanted their master back? It was a win-win situation all round.
And... if things went wrong there was always Retcon. Technology might be almost non-existent in this time, but at least the apothecaries were well stocked - and he had always been a dab hand at chemistry. Getting the dosages right was tricky without better equipment, but having that tiny, simple tool in case of emergencies made him feel a lot better. He was very pleased that it was pretty much the norm for travelling gentlemen to carry their own miniature medicine cabinet.
He was thrown out of his musings by Antonio.
“Pardon me for asking, your Benevolence - but did you see the mountains of Tibet? It has been passed down that you wished to seek enlightenment amongst the monks who dwell in the everlasting snow, and to climb the tallest mountain on Earth.”
“Oh yes, enlightenment. Wonderful thing. Spent a hundred and fifty years in a monastery - very tranquil. And Mount Everest was quite something too...”
Antonio nodded, wide-eyed and impressed, as Jack described mountaineering feats worthy of someone named The Immortal, and he thought to himself that this still left him 150 blank years to fill in. He was used to creating a history out of nothing, but never a history quite this long. He’d have to be careful.
“Your English is very good,” he complimented Antonio a little later, being grateful for not having to try to get by on his still rudimentary Italian. If only the wrist strap hadn’t burnt out so completely, conversing would have been a lot easier.
“Oh, but it is thanks to your generous schooling stipend, of course. Everyone in the family has been educated in the English language, as well as the more common subjects.”
No wonder they had stayed faithful, Jack thought, this Immortal had clearly been a great benefactor. He wouldn’t mind one of those himself...
For a good while they drove through cobbled streets, past villas and ancient buildings whose windows changed from black to glowing amber as evening fell. Finally they pulled up in front of a small palace, and as Jack got out of the carriage he studied the architecture, wondering how old the house could be. He had a feeling he might be called upon to know stuff like that, and there was only so far he could get on luck. Why hadn’t he feigned amnesia?
Then Antonio walked past him, opening the front door with the particular air of ownership and entitlement that comes from long service, and announced:
“Immortal - welcome home.”
The words caught Jack unguarded, and he almost faltered. What the hell was he doing? But it was too late to back out now.
Knowing how to make a good entrance - no matter the occasion - and always ready to play the part required, he strode through the doors as though he was indeed a centuries old living legend.
There was a long moment of total silence as ‘his servants’ just stared at him in mixed disbelief and astonishment, before Antonio - relishing his role as The Immortal’s first contact - carefully introduced everyone, starting with his mother, who was also the housekeeper and very clearly the person in charge.
Jack - who had once spent an interesting three weeks pretending to be a Senator from Sto in a convoluted scam that had gone rather badly wrong - smiled his best million Watt smile as he shook hands and tilted his head sympathetically, asking questions designed to charm and disarm.
He half expected the real Immortal to show up at any moment, fuming because he’d not been picked up as he had asked... But there was no need to let that possibility stop him from enjoying himself.
As the shyness faded, so they began asking him questions in return, clearly as star-struck as Antonio - which wasn’t surprising since he’d just fulfilled their ancient prophecy.
Then a woman’s voice cut through - and in an instant the voices died down as the housekeeper glared around.
“Stop! Stop! But what are you doing? Master, please forgive - they are but excited and have clearly forgotten that it is their duty to serve, not to talk! You must be famished and your clothes-” she tutted in the way of women anywhere, “is terrible! Ah, it hurts my heart to have you looking thus, even though it is wonderful disguise. Come now. Maria! Loretta! Antonio! Get a bath ready for his Benevolence, and find the best clothes. Pietro, Renata, Mario, Julio - in the kitchen, pronto!”
There followed what were obviously more specific instructions in incomprehensible Italian, and immediately the servants scattered to their different jobs. The housekeeper then turned to him, smiling and a little apologetic.
“Immortal - it will be a little time before things are ready. Why you not go to your study? I shall bring refreshments, because dinner will be a while...”
Without waiting to hear his reply she indicated that he should follow and he obediently did so, trying not to show how much he adored the way she ‘managed’ him - it had been a long time since anyone had done so, and he was relishing it very much indeed.
As they walked up the ornate staircase and through the house she carefully pointed out all the places where changes had been made - all for the better she hoped, and he readily agreed. He could tell that she was still nervous, but she was obviously one of those people who channelled nervousness into action. It was a shame she wasn’t 25 years younger...
Just as they reached the study one of the girls appeared, telling of some domestic catastrophe or other, and Jack’s guide frowned deeply, anger flashing in her dark eyes. He immediately told her to just go and sort it out, without worrying about him - he’d be quite fine in his own house. Sending her a dazzling smile she nodded in acquiescence, promising to return as soon as possible with a drink.
Shaking his head and chuckling to himself Jack entered the study - and found himself rooted on the spot in pure shock. The wall opposite the door was dominated by a large portrait - clearly a masterpiece, rich in detail and almost inhuman in its realism.
And it was him.
Except it couldn’t be... it had to be a coincidence. At least it explained why Antonio had so readily welcomed him.
Slowly he closed the door, heart beating, then walked over and studied the picture before carefully touching the surface. It was definitely real - the paint a little cracked in the way of older paintings. Letting his eyes travel over the image, he couldn’t help but smirk a little, since he - or The Immortal, rather - looked rather dashing in the puffy sleeves and tight breeches that the fashion had dictated. And then something caught his attention - both wrists were bare.
This made him feel virtually convinced that this was really all just a case of mistaken identity and accidental look-alike-ness, but still he opened the wriststrap to do a basic scan. It couldn’t hurt to check for anything out of the ordinary.
Just in case.
A swift check proved that the painting really was genuine, and then he started scanning the rest of the room, discovering that there was something hidden behind one of the smaller paintings. A moment later he was looking at the door of a built-in safe, but the lock was no match for his training and abilities, and in no time at all it sprang open with a satisfying ‘click’.
His eyes widened and he let out an involuntary whistle at the riches contained within. Mr Immortal was clearly as loaded as the palace would indicate, if not more so. Trying to tell himself that he was definitely not stealing anything - well at least not much - Jack began to sift through the contents, now and again stopping to admire some of the treasures, before discovering a simple piece of paper without an envelope - as though it had been left inside by accident. As he pulled it out and looked at it properly he suddenly felt faint. It bore a single line of writing in the Time Agency code that he could still write and decode in his sleep.
Enjoy the alias.
It was signed with his own Time Agency number.
He stared at it in mute befuddlement for a long moment, then turned over the paper to see if there were any hidden clues. But no matter how hard he looked he couldn’t find any other message - no microchip, no invisible text, no other paper containing the clue to unravelling the message... Slowly he lifted his eyes and looked at the smiling face beaming down on him from the wall. Was it really him? But how?
Carefully he closed the safe, then sat down at the desk and rested his head on his hands, staring at the mysterious piece of paper.
Time Agency Code... that could mean several things. Had he finally discovered part of what the Agency had wiped from his memory? In which case - was this something they had set up, and if so what was the plan? There was also the possibility that it was another Agent who’d arranged all this... Jack found himself smiling as he thought of a certain ex-partner who’d truly revel in the opulence of the place. Although why he’d bother with such a backwater was a mystery. Maybe it was a hideout? Although Jack couldn’t imagine him abandoning so much money...
Of course there was also the possibility that he had set this up himself, sometime in his future - that he would be a time traveller again, and had gone back in time to create this new life. But why?
He picked up a seal from the desk and studied the ornate ‘I’, surrounded by trailing flowers. ‘The Immortal’ - a ridiculous name, or title... just like a Time Lord name.
His eyes narrowed. Could it all be a ploy to attract the Doctor’s attention? Make up a person who sounded like a Time Lord, in the hope that the Doctor would hear of it and investigate? But what if it had worked? What if the Doctor had found him because of the name, and had then helped him go back and set it all up in the first place?
His head began to hurt as he tried to work out what was the most likely explanation. The one thing he was sure of was that he hated whoever had written the note, even if it was his future or past self - he had hardly seen anything less helpful in his whole life. It implied that the only purpose of the whole thing - house, money, servants - was to have fun. In principle he of course agreed with this wholeheartedly - but in reality it was infuriatingly vague. If it really was from himself, then he was probably trying to avoid changing history, but a tiny pointer would have been nice. He didn’t like being in the dark.
And if it was the Time Agency, then there was the distinct possibility that it was a code for something else - something he now didn’t know.
Then the housekeeper returned, bringing a glass of the most wonderful wine he’d had in years, and also let him know that his bath was ready.
Hours later, sitting in front of a roaring fire, clean and content after a magnificent meal and wearing fabulously expensive clothes, he thought to himself that he could get used to this...
- Not the fact that running around calling himself ‘The Immortal’ was as stupid as painting a giant target on his chest. (Not to mention that ageing would be a rather obvious give-away.)
- Not the fact that, the name apart, the chances of running into the Doctor in Rome were extremely low.
- Not the fact that he was deeply uneasy with not knowing why he had set the thing up - presuming it was his own work.
- And not the discovery of a whole underworld full of demons and magic - both of which were very real, and very unsettling. (What were the demons? Aliens who’d crashed millennia ago and ‘gone native’? Creatures from another dimension? And how and why did magic work? It shouldn’t, but it did. He was absurdly grateful that The Immortal had a reputation for scorning it.)
These all played a part, of course, they were the logical reasons he had to leave, and they were what made him tell his servants to keep his stay a secret.
But the main thing - the thing that he couldn’t live with, in spite of the luxury - was the way they looked at him. Somewhere between awe and worship and love... the same way he and Rose had looked at the Doctor.
Except the Doctor had been the real deal - a Time Lord, the last survivor of the most brilliant race ever to grace the universe, a man more gifted and extraordinary than Jack would ever meet.
And to have that look turned on him made all his bravura somehow fade into nothing.
‘I’m not who you think I am!’ he wanted to tell them, yell at them. ‘I’m just an ex-soldier/Time Agent, sort-of ex-con man time traveller from the future (which is impressive, OK, but not that amazing, honestly), and now I’m stuck. I’m just a regular guy, not your benevolent Immortal (even though I am very handsome and charming and smart and pretty spectacular in bed, to say the least); but I am not a great, mythical creature unchanged by time. Time is undoing me, time is vanishing every day, and I’m scared I’ll run out without ever finding what I’m looking for!’
Except he couldn’t say that of course - they had all been waiting for The Immortal, generations of them existing just to be there when he needed, and he couldn’t take away their dream.
So he told them that he wanted to travel some more. Just to see America - he hadn’t been there yet.
As he walked out the door, in a wonderful caped coat that he had really taken to, and with enough money hidden away in the pockets to see him through a decade or two, he felt more of a traitor than he ever had before in his life - but what else could he do?