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Fic: Gravity

Title: Gravity
Characters: Jack, Nine, Rose
Spoilers: The Doctor Dances
Rating: Mild PG
Word count: 8235 words
Notes: This fic is for maniacalshen, who won an OT3 fic in the help_japan auction... yes, I am terribly late, I am so, so sorry. Real life (and an absent muse) got in the way, I hope you still like it. Thanks for eternal patience also go to my beta xwingace, who endured me and my overly long ramblings so calmly. Concrit is love.
Fic Masterlist: Here, archived at alien_sands


---

A moving body whose motion was not retarded by any resisting force would continue to move to all eternity.

- Hermann von Helmholtz

---


Rose nodded absentmindedly at the Doctor's explanations as they wandered down the streets, taking in the foreign culture. They were apparently on Stormcloud, which was a 'wandering star', a planet with no permanent sun. Exciting as that sounded, there really wasn't much to see. The streets were devoid of anything alien - backwater alleys, she'd found out, looked the same about anywhere in the universe. And no sun meant it was cold and dark. There was nothing poetic about this world -- as Jack was a little too quick to point out -- and even less about how a planet lost a sun., Jack had been quick to mention that, too, probably just to vex the Doctor.

Next to her (but holding a respectable distance, she noticed) Jack was hiding his hands in the pockets of his trousers. He'd given her his coat when she'd started to shiver and now its warmth felt too good to give it back to him. Without it he was looking a little lost in the greenish glow of the streetlamps, throwing disdainful looks at everything in their path. A wandering planet populated by travellers and strays. It wasn't hard to guess what he was thinking and what the Doctor - judging by his mad grin and his Lets Look For Trouble Mood - probably refused to see at all. His temper around the other man probably didn't help, either. She knew from experience how intimidating the Doctor could be, even when he didn't mean to.

"Can we go somewhere warm after this?" she asked, striding close enough to Jack that their shoulders touched. He looked at her in surprise and with just a hint of suspicion. He was definitely coming to the wrong conclusions here. "Somewhere with a beach, maybe?" she added, seeing the gears in his head catch up with what she'd said. A tentative smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "You and your beaches," he said, and kept walking.

They wandered the forlorn streets, the shops mostly closed or dimly lit. The Doctor said that was to conserve energy - it must have been a long time since this planet found a sun to borrow in order to recharge the capacitors. The people were hurrying through the cold and ignoring the strangers. This was not a very happy place, it seemed, and she clung closer to the Doctor. She dug her face deeper into Jack's coat. It smelt wonderful. Jack kept his hands under his arms by now, but wouldn't take the coat back when she offered.

"Only if we'll share it. Naked," he said at last, after she'd asked for the third time.

"Spare me the monkey business," the Doctor said and rolled his eyes, disentangling his hand from Rose's. Something in the sky had obviously caught his eye, and he quickened his step towards whatever he could see in the darkness, Sonic Screwdriver already out of his pocket.

Jack stared at the sky as well, but like her he had come to a halt. As the distance between them and the Doctor grew, he looked at her and at the receding leather-clad back, as if torn between following the Doctor and staying with her. In the end, he shrugged and remained where he was. He was probably trying to keep close to the designated driver, she realised, and wondered what he was thinking of them. Whatever it was, it had to change. She looped her arm through his and pressed close. He could use the heat as much as the company. She felt his muscles relax a little as they worked up a slow trod to follow the Doctor's steps. By now he'd rounded a corner and was well out of earshot.

"Don't worry," she said softly. "He'll cool off eventually."

Jack gave a tired laugh. "You think?"

She smiled and shrugged helplessly. He would probably ask to be dropped off somewhere, if things continued like this, she guessed. He probably expected to be dropped off somewhere. She didn't want him to leave, she suddenly realised. It was nice to have another human around when the Doctor had his Alien Moments and Jack was a fun guy.

---

Jack threw the book on Temporal Mechanics across the room, satisfied by the flutter it caused as it hit a central strut near the console. The Doctor's eyes narrowed in suspicion, but Jack was too tired to care. They were running out of time, and it seemed that every law of physics was against them.

---


"Come here, come here, pretty girl," a shaky voice tore Rose from her thoughts. She stopped, and dragged Jack to a halt as well. An old woman was sitting in one of the many alcoves of the main street, her coarse brown dress worn and faded from its many years of use. Jack's hand wandered towards his blaster, but she batted his hand away. She frowned at his unapologetic stare, but his eyes told her it was a habit he would probably never lose. Boys. She let go of his arm to step towards the beggar.

"Tell you your future, for a credit. I’m a very good fortune teller," the old woman grinned, exposing bad gums and rows of missing teeth. Life on the street must be hard at such a late age. Absentmindedly Rose wondered how much a credit was actually worth on this planet, but decided to give her all of the small plastic pentagonal discs (Universal Credit, the Doctor had called it) she still possessed from their last trip to a commerce world. It wasn't as if she couldn't ask the Doctor to get her new ones.

"She is very generous," the old woman smiled happily. "All your credits will get me a fine weight of food cubes."

Rose halted, confused. "How did you know -"

"Come here, pretty girl, come here pretty boy," the woman held out her hands invitingly. "I’m a very good fortune teller." She produced a glass orb from the folds of her garment, glowing with a faint light from within, the translucent surface protecting a blue crystal inside. It was beautiful. It must be this planet's version of a looking glass, Rose thought, taking a step closer to get a better look at it.

"Rose, this is probably not a very good idea," Jack said, stepping up behind her, his hand still on his blaster, the other wandering to her shoulder. But Rose shook him off, intrigued by the orb. The crone smiled, holding it up to let her see. Rose shoved the sleeves of Jack’s coat up and reached towards the orb, her fingers stretched out to touch the smooth, glassy surface.

"Rose, let's just go and catch up with the Doctor, he'll--" Jack tried to grab her hand but accidentally pushed it forward just far enough that her fingertips connected with the orb.
An electrical shock went through her arm up to her heart, and as Jack's hand closed hard over hers, the shockwaves travelled through her into him as well. There was the sound of a great storm coming towards her and the world dropped away.

"It isn't supposed to be this strong," she heard the old woman say from a long way away, as she was lost in a maelstrom of colour and sound. "But I knew it would happen."


*

"There you are," the Doctor said, his face stern and his hands on his hips, standing in front of a burning building like nothing was wrong. "Wandering off while I save the day with a stochastic laser pulse." His triumphant smile was telling them he'd done something incredibly clever.

*

The sky was orange, the sun was blue, and the Doctor picked giant green dandelions for them, the blossoms exploding into little green butterflies when he poked them with his finger. It was absolutely beautiful and Rose couldn't help but burst out laughing.

*

"What are you up to? I don't trust you," the Doctor said, his eyes narrowing as he took in Jack's defensive stance, his back against a wall of books.

*

In the control room, the Doctor looked up, frowning. "What's that supposed to be? " he asked, gesturing at Jack. Jack looked down upon his jeans and white t-shirt and grinned. "I’m told it's supposed to look good."

*

They were surrounded by a flock of creatures that were half bird and half man, clacking their beaks angrily. Their leader took out his blaster, aiming it directly at the Doctor. He shot before she could even make a sound. She saw him fall and time slowed down as she stretched out her arms to catch him. But he was too heavy, and he dragged her down onto the dusty desert sand. She could only stare at his unseeing eyes and the large wound in his chest as chaos broke out around them. Then there was silence and belatedly realised that Jack must have shot them all. He kneeled down beside her, tried to staunch the bleeding and checked for a pulse. She wondered if Time Lords even had pulses in their necks, but decided they must, as Jack started beating the Doctor’s chest almost angrily. There was so much blood.

*

"Regenerate, you bastard," Jack yelled again and again, but she had no idea what he meant. The world made no sense to her anymore. Rose blinked, her hands on the Doctor's face, the skin beneath her fingers cool as it had always been, her fingers leaving trails of blood on his cheeks. There was no life in those steel blue eyes.

He was dead, he was gone, he'd been murdered, he'd been killed, it couldn't be - he was dead, he was dead he was --

*

Rose gasped and the world refolded into a sense of order.

She found herself on her hands and knees, hands bloody and cold from the rough street, the freezing air crawling into her jeans where her knees had connected painfully with the ground. Next to her, Jack lay face down in the dirt, unmoving. The crone was gone.

She concentrated on the prone body next to her, her heart fluttering in her chest like it wanted to escape, her head still filled with the visions of a dying friend. She shook Jack as hard as she could, and called his name. It was all just a dream, wasn’t it? She was crying when he finally groaned in reply. He wasn't dead, he wasn't --

"Doctor!" He yelped, scrambling to his feet and promptly falling back down again. He looked as awful as she felt.

"Jack? Jack!" She took his face into her hands, trying hard to look into his eyes. He was still a little out of it, it seemed, his eyes still glazed with unconsciousness. She was still shaky herself, but she needed him functioning.

"They killed him. I'll kill them, I'll---" She slapped him and he snapped out of it with a start.

"Rose?" He hugged her so hard she was afraid he'd break some ribs, but was grateful for the human contact. When both their breathing slowed down to normal again, Jack let go of her and checked his wristcomp.

"We've only been out for ten minutes or so," Jack rubbed his face, still a little too pale. He struggled to his feet, then pulled her up.

"Well, she was right about one thing: she took all my credits." Rose grimaced after a testing pat to her pockets. Embarrassed, she realised that they'd been played like any dumb tourist.

"Let's go and find the Doctor," she said and started towards the corner where they’d seen the Doctor last. They had to get back to the TARDIS, she needed to see that this had all just been a bad dream so that the image of his dead eyes would leave her alone. They walked in silence, both of them deep in thought. Jack was about to speak when they rounded another corner and were greeted by a familiar voice.

"There you are, " the Doctor said, his face stern and his hands on his hips, standing in front of a burning building like nothing was wrong. Rose stumbled with the sense of an overwhelming déjà-vu and next to her Jack stopped as well, eyes wide in shock.

"... Doctor?" She brought out, not daring to believe her brain or her eyes.

"Wandering off while I save the day with a---

"-- stochastic laser pulse," Jack finished and Rose felt like the world was pulled from under her feet.

---

He rubbed his eyes, the console unresponsive to his touch. It was late, he was tired and certain he had done something wrong. Either that or the Doctor's ship just flat out refused to work for him. He put his hands on the console and closed his eyes. He hadn't done this in a very, very long time, but he was desperate enough to try anything. "Please," he said, swallowing his unease at opening his mind so far for a biomechanoid. From far away, he heard scanners warming up, hard drives humming in response.

---


"You said something about regeneration." She remembered as Jack pulled her further into the TARDIS, away from the Doctor and the memory of his death.
She was grasping at straws to find flaws in the visions, exposing them as mere dreams. Dreams didn’t mean anything. But back there... she shuddered. She hadn’t been able to stop touching the Doctor, hugging him on their way back to the TARDIS as often as she could. Not that he had minded. Back aboard, Jack’s hand had clasped painfully on her shoulder when she had been about to answer the question what had taken them so long to catch up.

Jack laughed, as if relieved by that reminder. He opened the door to the kitchen and ushered her inside. "I remember. Yes. Best way to tell you these hallucinations aren’t real, he'd have to be a Time Lord for --". Her shock must have shown on her face. "No. Really?" He gave a desperate laugh. "I should've known with the luck I recently had. A Time Lord. This is crazy." He slumped on one of the chairs, running his hands through his hair.

"So you think it was real? What we saw?" She couldn’t stop the sense of dread creeping up on her again.

Jack drew a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I don't know. Could be. One vision was accurate, how can we tell the others aren't?" He sounded cold, so detached. That scared her even more than the possibility that this could be real. Didn’t he care? But then why should he? The Doctor and him weren’t friends, and if it hadn’t been for Rose pleading to get back to the TARDIS, back to safety, he would’ve probably waved them goodbye on the wandering planet. Or would he?

"Please, Jack, we have to stop this."

He opened his eyes again, and she saw determination there. She had an ally, for now. "We can't tell him," he said sternly.

"Why not?" She bit her nails nervously. Keeping things from the Doctor never worked.

"Because you never tell somebody about his death. He'll get too conscious about his mortality and it'll end in a giant self-fulfilling prophecy. Trust me, I saw it happen. It never ends well." There was a story behind that cold statement, but she sensed that this was not a proper moment to ask.

"We can't just let it happen!"

"I won't." He paused as he saw the fury building in her veins. "We won't," he corrected himself. Rose nodded. They needed a plan.

---

There were whispers at night and shared looks during the day. His companions were sharing secrets behind his back. No, not Rose. Rose never would. It was that damn Captain, plotting and working for something he just couldn't find out. Whenever he tried to follow the Captain's tracks through the corridors, he ended up in the kitchen. When he finally gave up on tracking the Captain physically and tried to follow him on his ship's internal systems, he found nothing but information on various tea ceremonies. He was losing his patience. He needed to be careful if he wanted to find out what was going on here.

---


"Why don't you go and get rid of that uniform, Captain? There's a wardrobe room downstairs that you might raid for something more fitting for this time period," the Doctor said. Rethinking that statement, he then added "or for any time period other than the 40's, really."
Jack looked away, possibly like her remembering himself in jeans and a white t-shirt. She shivered with the memory. "I’m told it's supposed to look good." Jack’s voice echoed through her brain.

"Actually I quite like this, " Jack said, only his eyes betraying the fake cheer in his voice. The Doctor didn't notice, of course. "I think I’ll keep it," he added defiantly, daring the Doctor and fate at the same time. Rose was swamped with the feeling of gratitude.

"Whatever you like." The Doctor sighed, clearly annoyed by the refused offer. "But you will explain that outfit to Rose's mum," he said, switching dials on the console and punching in what were probably coordinates for her estate. As the dematerialisation sequence started, Jack’s hand crept into hers.

They could change this. They had to change this.


---

Blood welled up between his fingers, dark red and warm, feeling exactly like human blood. Beneath his touch, Jack could feel one heart stutter, then the other.
"No, you bastard," Jack brought out between clenched teeth. "Not today, not today you don’t."

---


In his room, Jack woke with a gasp, needing a moment to work out where he was. He closed his eyes, concentrated on his breathing. He was safe. They were all safe (or already dead, a tiny voice at the back of his mind whispered, but he shoved it away). For some reason, he was still here, aboard this impossible ship. This was not his parent’s home and there were no monsters screaming in the dark. This was no dream and no memory, this was real: This was a trans-dimensional space ship flown by a Time Lord. He snorted at that, and the lights came on in response to the sound. He stretched out his hands and watched as the shaking subsided with the last images of the nightmare.

He woke from bad dreams most nights now, the visions of a dying Time Lord and a weeping Rose merging with memories of a Boeshane beach and the screeches he could never forget. Sleep was not an option after one of these dreams. They always came back.
Here he was, trying to save a mystical being from death. He could as well don shining armour and ride out to save unicorns. He rubbed his eyes. When did he come to be so involved with these two? He should've turned and run as soon as he'd found out the visions were real. Heck, he should’ve run as soon as he’d found out the Doctor was a Time Lord. He wasn’t the guy to stay around to watch how things worked out if he could help it. Staring into the face of a temporal jurisdiction court was nothing against this.
There was also no telling how their observation of the future was already changing it. It usually did for the worse, he knew, but that was all that he remembered from his lessons in temporal mechanics.
He was debating another aimless wander through the ship when a hesitant knock on his door reminded him of the other passenger who hadn't been able to find any rest since the wandering star. He shouldn’t care.

"Couldn't sleep?" he asked instead as a dishevelled Rose sneaked in, her messy hair telling him of her own nightmares. She crawled under his sheets and he held her in his arms until she managed to fall asleep again, tears drying on her cheeks. It was a routine they had developed soon after their shared vision of the future, and by now it felt more comfortable than it should without sex. Unbidden his thoughts went to the other inhabitant of this weird time ship, wondering where he was and - most of all - what he was suspecting. The Doctor wasn’t stupid. Sooner or later, this would end in tears. They had to move quickly and surely to change this, if they even could. He would try, he’d promised himself, for Rose. She was growing on him. This life was growing on him, the travelling, the danger, and a comfortable place to sleep at night. The Doctor couldn’t stand him, though, he was quite certain of that. Already he suspected something was afoot, probably already thinking Jack was out to steal both the ship and his girl from him. He couldn’t blame the guy, with his track record. He’d stay as long as he could, but there was always that other way out he hadn’t told Rose about. He’d promised to help her, and that was all she’d wanted to know.

He’d broken so many promises, but he wouldn’t break this if he could help it. He gently disentangled himself from Rose and got up. The library of a Time Lord certainly offered some ideas.

---

"No," Jack said, probably guessing the monitor was the best piece of the console to talk to. "Tell me about Time Lords." In the shadows, the Doctor's hands clenched, watching his ship whisper secrets to a stranger.

---


Jack jolted from a light doze when a soft voice called his name, his movement sending an avalanche of books from his stomach to the ground. He hadn’t even noticed he’d fallen asleep in the middle of reading the terribly confusing 'Gnarfling’s Short Introduction Into Paradoxes And Self-Fulfilling Prophecies'. Not that it offered many insights -- it read more like a cookbook than a guide to temporal mix-ups -- but he couldn’t afford to be picky about the literature. He’d stayed in the library while the Doctor and Rose went to explore a new planet, testing a theory that if only one of them was present, the prophecies could not come true at all. It was a very thin theory, even Gnarfling had to admit. The Doctor had not been happy and Jack had no doubt that an ex-conman who wouldn’t go out to listen to the brilliant things the Doctor had to say and wasn’t helping with saving other civilisations or planets would soon be outstaying his welcome. But if this worked, they were all safest if he was off this ship anyways. And if he couldn’t save the Doctor, if the future caught up with them, he could at least take Rose home. That he was prepared for already. Give her a small memory wipe, leave her happy and clueless in her own time. She’d forget the Doctor and his ship, and she’d forget him. It was a mercy, he knew, even if it left a bitter taste in his mouth. And why did that thought sting so much? He dismissed it with blaming his bad sleep, the couch he’d made camp on in the library stylish but uncomfortable for naps.
He only realised what had woken him when he saw Rose standing in front of him, her voice thick with fear, her eyes wet with unshed tears.

"We were on a planet today that had a blue sun and dandelions that burst into little green butterflies when the Doctor poked them."

A sinking feeling spread in his chest. He let the third edition of 'Philosophy of Time Travel' slide off his legs and opened his arms without thinking. She huddled against him, but didn’t cry. Instead, she picked one of the leather-bound tomes of ‘T is For Time Travel’ up from the floor and began leafing through it. The unhappy curl of her lips told him she understood next to nothing, stopping to stare at the images for a while. He hid a smile. She didn’t look like it, but she was a fighter. They just sat, her head on his shoulder, books in their hands, working together. It felt good. Better than good. Maybe if this was over he could—but no. Best not think about the future for now.

He'd save that bastard, even if it was only for her.

---

"What did you do that for?" Jack snapped and got his leg out of the swamp. His shoe was already drenched and the bog clung to his trouser leg like honey. In reply, the Doctor simply pointed at the narrow path, exactly at the point where Jack’s next step would’ve taken him if not for the shove and the resulting ungraceful stumble. A Sargasso Viper eyed them carefully, then slid off into the brackish waters, her deadly fangs still unsheathed.
"That could’ve killed me," he said, unable to hide the surprise from his voice."Thank you," he said. For the first time, he meant it.

---


Something was wrong, he could tell.

Jack was certainly up to something and if he added all the little clues he’d collected over the last weeks - the reading, the nights spent in the control room, the secret glances he shared with Rose - it added up to an image he liked less and less. Recently Jack had even been digging in the more remote sections of the TARDIS that held the spare parts, no doubt trying to fix his blaster and wristcomp. Another piece to the picture that was Jack Harkness. He’d thought the man had potential (and he certainly had his moments, he had to admit), but lately he wondered if it had been the right thing to let him stay on board, if only for Rose.
Truth be told, the former Agent got on a little too well with his ship as well. He’d watched the human and he knew the look on his face; the frown of a soldier preparing for battle, testing his ground, relaxing on the eve before a fight. The Doctor had never liked that frown on anyone and recently he'd spotted it once or twice on Rose as well. Something was going on and it certainly couldn't be good. Something had to happen soon. He certainly wouldn’t wait for their first move.
The other man had been fiddling with the data banks lately, thinking he'd been clever enough so he wouldn't be noticed. Just what was the Captain up to? And why did the TARDIS let him? He'd had so many people inside of his ship that had tried to steal her, but never before had the TARDIS done nothing about it. Jack posed a risk, he’d told her every day when another clue surfaced, yet all she told him in return was some gibberish about tea.

His temper for playing games was at an end. He gave the unresponsive console a smack and decided to take action himself.

He found Jack asleep in the library, covered in several volumes of 'Temporal Mechanics' and a handful of smaller books that all added up to an uncomfortably complete reading list of TARDIS mechanics. Anger stirred in his guts. All these books should be unreadable for passengers, but the Captain had somehow managed to convince his ship to translate them into Proto English. No doubt he’d gotten Rose on his good side with all kinds of promises as well, there was no other explanation for the strange camaraderie those two had developed. What he’d offered her he could only guess, but Gnarfling’s 'Introduction to Paradoxes' that peeked out from the pile atop the human gave him some idea. Not that this book would offer much help, he had to admit. But this was no time to discuss the finer nuances of time travel. His focus switched back to the sleeping human in front of him. He looked tired, even in sleep and buried under an armour of books. The Doctor supposed a life of temporal crime must have that effect on anyone. Unperturbed by the Doctor's stare, he continued to snore softly. Time for less subtle tactics. The Doctor kicked the other man's feet off the small library table, inducing an landslide of reading material. It was almost comical to watch Jack wake to that with a start, but he didn’t smile.

"Why, hello to you, too." Jack stretched, gave a yawn and tried to seem unconcerned by the Doctor's narrowing eyes. He failed miserably.

"What are you up to?" The Doctor asked, offering a last chance for long overdue confessions. Jack blinked, his eyes absent for a moment as if remembering something half-forgotten. He seemed... scared. Just what was going on here?

"Sorry, déjà-vu," the Captain shook it off, gave a fake grin and got up from his resting place. "It’s late. I should go to sleep.” He tried to pass the Doctor to reach the door, but he wouldn't budge. This had gone far enough.

"I don't know what you're trying to do," he hissed, invading Jack's personal space. It was almost surprising to see him retreat in defence, his back hitting a bookshelf with a soft thud.

"You didn't forbid me from using the library, " he replied defensively.

"But I forbade you to fiddle with my ship, and yet you do," he snapped, tired of the little dance they'd been dancing since 1941. The Captain stayed silent, caught red-handed in a pile of corroborating literature.

"I don't trust you," the Doctor said, his eyes narrowing as he took in Jack's defensive stance, his back against a wall of books. He didn't argue, which wasn’t what the Doctor had expected. The sort of man he took Jack for usually had apologies for everyone and everything. Instead his shoulders slumped and he nodded tiredly.

"Then I should leave, don't you think?" He said, not meeting the Doctor’s eyes. It was the logical conclusion, of course, but he was surprised the Captain went without a fight.

"Yes," he finally said, turning around and leaving the room without waiting for an answer.

---

"You can't just run away!" She was so terribly angry she couldn’t even manage to keep her voice down. All those books, all those nights when she’d seen the Doctor die in her nightmares and now her only chance at stopping this was leaving her alone because he thought it was the logical conclusion.

"Rose, think about it;" Jack said, still calm and serious while she was moments away from slapping some sense into him. "If I'm not there, the whole future might change. You will probably never visit that planet with the bird people and he'll -"

"And what if we still do and they kill both of us because you're not there?" She yelled, tears making her vision blur.

"As far as I understand it, it doesn't work like that," he said softly, enveloping her in a hug. He was wearing his coat again, the scratchy wool bringing back more memories of the wandering planet. He let go of her sooner than she liked, but then there was an irate Time Lord waiting for them in the console room.

He was leaving and her heart broke. The kiss he stole from her lips did nothing to quell her pain.

---

The ship was trying to tell him something, but he was running out of time and in no mood to dabble with the quirks of a sentient ship. "No, no, no. Don't tell me about tea, tell me about Artron energy."

---


He landed the TARDIS a little rougher than was strictly necessary, but he was angry and wanted both of them to know it. He hadn't asked what planet or time the Captain would prefer as a departing point. Most curiously, he hadn’t asked for one either. A quiet place in the Doctor's brain not drenched in anger wondered about that, but ultimately he didn't care. The sooner they got rid of him, the better.
He opened the doors to the glaring midday suns of Cristatus and strode out. A flock of the native avian humanoids narrowly avoided the opening doors and cackled angrily, but he didn't care. He was well past the point where ruffling some feathers bothered him. Cristatus would be quite a challenge to depart from, he knew, which was just the kind of lesson the human needed. Sooner or later, a freighter would probably touch down. Until then Jack could work in the guano mines for all he cared. He turned around to say as much, only to find both humans still standing on the TARDIS threshold, eyes wide and both pale as ghosts. This departure seemed to come out more emotional than he'd planned.

"Not here," Jack got out, breathing hard, his eyes firmly on him. Was he actually begging?

"Please," Rose added, "please let's leave right now."

"That's not your decision to make," the Doctor answered, turning his back to stare at the centre nesting building while the humans made their goodbyes.

---

He'd expected a great farewell scene, but in the end the Captain left without another word to him, stealing away like the thief he was. Rose was shattered, but that was nothing they couldn't fix with exploring Cristatus a little - Rose had never been to an avian world before, and the feather bazaar would certainly take her mind off. He took her hand and pulled her towards a rickshaw.

---

He'd wanted to visit the library again, to read those books one more time in case he'd missed something. But no matter how he turned, the library was gone. The door it had been behind now opened into a cupboard with a collection of teapots that would put Royal Doulton to shame. Another door he tried nearly landed him headfirst in some sort of cargo hold. The sackcloth bales were all marked 'Ceylon'. So he wandered the empty corridors at night, the darkness calming his thoughts and steering his mind away from the nightmares. Jack sighed, letting his fingers slide over the rough surface of the TARDIS walls. It would be hard to leave this place when the time came.

---


The city was perched between sandy cliffs, devoid of colour. Every passer-by kicked up clouds of dust. It reminded Jack so much of home that he downed his glass of moonshine in a single gulp. Above, the delicately weaved huts of the natives looked more like nests, but they also merged with the colour of the sandy ground, making this city as uninteresting as any other backwater world he’d ever been on. He’d roamed the streets for a while, avoiding the avians, faded signs telling him of grocery shops and little bars. There wasn’t much more to see around here, but it wasn't what he was looking for. The moonshine made his mouth burn with the memory of thorn berries, but he was not drunk enough to go there. Not today. There was nothing here he could use, the only transportation the squat little mammals used as mounts bringing him to cities even more underdeveloped than this one. He was well and truly stuck. He couldn’t run from this, not even if he tried. Not that he would. He'd known this was coming and he wouldn't go without a fight. He ordered another round to get that thought from his head. It didn’t help.
He breathed in deeply, collecting his thoughts. There was still a chance. There was always a chance (except when paradoxes were involved, a tiny unhelpful voice in the back of his head complained). The blaster beneath his coat was a welcome safety net. He could do this. And this time, he wouldn't fail. Another desert world, another chance. He checked his wristcomp, paid his debts to his plumy host and traced his steps back towards the TARDIS.

He knew this path from there from memory, knew that it would open up between the cliffs to reveal an open space between the rocks. He'd come to the conclusion that they had unwittingly disturbed the avians in some crime, possibly smugglers hiding their operations in the less reputable parts of town. They'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they wouldn't be again. He'd make sure of that. In his mind, he heard his father yell and Rose scream. Only one of the sounds was real, the other a memory he could never shake. This he could still change. A strange calm settled over him. He pulled out his blaster and looked for another way in.

They all had an appointment with destiny. At least this time he knew what was coming.

---

She was singing to him, Jack realised. The ship was singing to him in a voice he could barely perceive, but it was beautiful. He closed his eyes and opened his mind further. Time stopped.

---


When silence fell, he opened his eyes and rolled off Rose, quickly checking her over for wounds, more for his own sanity than real danger. His body should have been shield enough. She was fine, he repeated to himself, maybe apart from a bump to the head when he’d toppled her to the ground. The renegades had not hit her or him with those energy rifles, he knew a split second later.
That was a surprise - they’d been aiming directly at him, after all. There was no time to think about that now, they had to get away. Rose's eyes were screwed shut and only gentle coaxing got her to open them again. As soon as she did, she grabbed his shoulders and clung to him fiercely, sobbing and repeating "you're alive," over and over. She nearly pulled him back down on top of her when she wouldn't let go. He looked up, the ubiquitous dust settling around them to reveal Jack, his blaster's muzzle still glowing faintly. Around them was carnage, dead avians scattered, feathers being blown off in the light breeze. It seemed like the Captain had saved the day, wherever he had come from all of a sudden. He was about to say something about unnecessary killing when, as if in response to his thoughts, Jack whirled around and shot a prone avian again. He opened his mouth to protest when he saw the figure on the ground spasm with the blue energy of Jack's weapon, an unused energy rifle sliding from its claws. Silence fell again, only disturbed by Jack's heavy breathing.

"That is quite a weapon you have there," the Doctor said, a little more sarcastic than strictly necessary.

"I want to be buried with it," Jack replied coolly and collapsed, blood welling from his chest.

---

When he woke, he was alone in a bed among medical monitors asserting his health. Or so he guessed. He made it out of bed and as far as the door without fainting. That was quite a feat he thought, before he slid down against a wall when it wouldn't open. Around him the TARDIS hummed and he closed his eyes to stop the world from spinning. A tingling warmth spread through his limbs and for the first time in weeks, he didn't dread the dreams that rest might bring.

"Thank you," he said and sagged against the hum. He finally let go.

---


Someone was checking his pulse, which woke him from the doze he'd been in.

"You should've told me," a deep voice said as he blinked sleep away. The Doctor's silhouette loomed above him and Jack realised that he was still sitting on the med bay floor. Rose had probably done a lot of explaining since he’d been shot. Good. Jack didn't think he could recount this tale in any way that made sense. He’d need at least five books on the topic to come up with the proper words.

"Would you have believed me?" he asked, too tired to launch into the list of reasons why they hadn't. The time for games was finally past. No more pretending. It should feel like a liberation, like a martini after a long con, but he only felt tired.

The Doctor hesitated. "I would've believed Rose," he finally admitted, helping Jack up from the floor and manoeuvring him back towards the bed. Jack thought about resisting, about demanding to be left alone, but then had to admit that he was going nowhere for a while. This was not right. He should either be dead or gone. He never meant to deal with all the explaining.

"Why did you do it?"

Ah, there it was already. If he was honest, he really didn't know himself. He breathed in deeply, which sent a stab of pain through his chest. He doubled over and would have fallen off the bed hadn't strong hands held him up until the flood of pain faded away again.
Why did he do it? It was certainly not his style, the Doctor saw that well enough. How could he ever make the Doctor understand? Would he even be interested? Would he understand about bad dreams, about guilt and old wounds? He probably would, but Jack had no desire to talk about any of that. He had no idea which of these thoughts showed in his eyes, but the Doctor nodded and didn't ask again.

Jack laid down carefully to avoid that stab of pain again. Seemed like he didn't need to explain at all.

---

She still sang to him in his sleep, but he closed his mind to her when he was awake. Her designated driver would certainly not endure his presence for much longer. His thoughts felt empty without her. He already missed her song.

---


"I think I should be off." Jack said, watching the Doctor monitor his heart rate. He'd been declared healthy and fit to run for his life again, it was only the logical thing to get off the ship as soon as he could. He'd not been welcome here anyway.

"And where do you think you're going?" The Doctor asked absentmindedly, fiddling with his Sonic Screwdriver. Jack closed his eyes, concentrating on the dull pain still nestling in his chest if he only listened hard enough. He wasn't sure it came from the blaster wound. There were so many options, but nothing but this damned ship felt right anymore.

"Jack," the Doctor interrupted his thoughts with a heavy hand on his shoulder, "that was a rhetorical question."

---

His thoughts circled around the wandering planet more often than not nowadays, memories mingling with dreams the TARDIS brought. He found himself there, staring up at the sky, yearning for the sun.

---


"What do you have there, child?" The Doctor asked, opening his hands, wordlessly asking for the orb. The old woman laughed, a toothless grin spreading over her face but hiding the orb closer to her fallen chest. Just seeing the crone again made Rose uneasy, but after the Doctor had heard about the orb, something in his face had hardened, and no amount of pleading had swayed his determination to go back to where this nightmare began.

"He calls me child, when my hands are wrinkled and my hair is grey." She hesitated for a moment, then gave the orb away, as if glad to be rid of it. "I know you will ask, but I dread the answer." Tears rolled down her cheeks, splashing against her sleeves, the darkening spots spreading.
The Doctor looked hard at the orb, deep in concentration. First, Rose had to squint to see the change in the crystal, but then the azure flower inside folded into directions her brain couldn't properly fathom. Then, with a wink, it was gone, as if wilted from existence. The Doctor gave the orb back to the crone, who clutched it eagerly, shook it and then started to sob.

"How many suns have you seen, child?" the Doctor asked gently once the sobs subsided into sniffles.

"Two," she said and Rose heard Jack gasp.

"Ten standard years," he whispered to her. This couldn't be right, could it?

"It fell from the sky. You found it in a crater," the Doctor assumed and the old (or young?) woman nodded tiredly.

"Me and Nara, we collected asteroids. Selling the metal got us enough credits for mountain berries. The orb gave me strange dreams and one night it showed me how Nara died in the radiation fields. I tried to tell them, I tried to tell her, but everyone laughed and then she died, run over by a harvester, exactly like I saw." The woman looked up at the sunless, empty and eternal night sky as it traveled in between solar systems. Rose shivered. This planet was no place for children.

"She couldn't let it go," Jack said softly and sat down next to the Doctor on the dirty street. By the stiff way he moved Rose could tell that his stitches still hurt, no matter what he said when she asked. They'd been so incredibly lucky. She had to remember to hug them both once they were out of here, just because she could.

"It changed me, it told me you'll call it radiation poisoning even though I could still pass all the security doors... I couldn't let it go, I couldn't. It told me everything, it whispered the future to me. They would take it away, so I ran, I ran and I forgot who I was, I only remembered who I was going to be and I--"

"It's okay now," the Doctor said, rocking the aged child in his arms, letting her cry. But Rose could see from the look on his face that nothing was okay. She knew that look, had seen it in Jack's eyes when the first vision had come true, had seen it reflected in her eyes in the bathroom mirror every morning after a night of bad dreams. They'd been lucky, they had changed the future. They couldn't fix the past, she knew that only too well.

"Hush now." The Doctor smiled. "Listen." The girl wiped the tears from her furrowed face, listening intently.

"I can't hear anything." she said, clearly disappointed. When the Doctor raised an eyebrow, her mood suddenly picked up and she grinned broadly. "I can't hear anything! " She said a little too loud, scrambling to stand up and hobbling away down the darkened alleys of Stormcloud.

"Will she be okay?" Rose asked as she watched the aged girl disappear, more animated than she'd ever seen her.

"I don't know, " the Doctor answered, his mood still dark. "But neither does she. And that's just like it's supposed to be. They'll reach a new sun soon and things tend to look less grim in the light of day."

He got up and stalked off, not waiting for her helping Jack up from the floor. Already nearly out of sight he turned again, a leather-clad silhouette against the night.

"A child’s toy," he said, shaking his head. "All this because of a child’s toy in the wrong child’s hands."

---

He still walked the corridors late at night, letting his mind wander and let the TARDIS decide where his feet would take him while him. She nudged him gently towards the little kitchen more often than not, and he wondered how that would help.

---


"The TARDIS. She helped a lot," Jack admitted, scratching his head and ready for the rant that admission would bring. Annexing the designated driver's ship was never a good move to get on the good side of people.

"So you and my ship conspired against me."

Jack shrugged helplessly. "It was just me, Rose had nothing to do with it." It was funny, he thought, that he’d tried to cling to this for so long, and now he couldn’t let go.

"I see," the Doctor invaded his personal space, squinting at his face as if he could pry all the answers from his eyes. Jack took a step back. Time Lords were telepaths, he’d learned, so it was a safe bet to assume that the Doctor actually could. The Doctor took another step forward, and Jack steeled himself for the impact of a psychic assault. Instead, the Doctor opened his arms and enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug. Jack froze. A Psi Grenade couldn't have stunned him more.

"Very well done," the Doctor added, patting his shoulder once more as he let go.

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, desperately searching for something to say. "She was telling me about tea all the time. What did she mean?" He stammered, just to get the conversation away from the hug and whatever that had meant.

"I don't know." The Doctor smiled, the first genuine smile Jack had seen since that fateful night in 1941.

Behind them, Rose sighed. "Men." She said, taking both their hands and leading them towards the kitchen. "Always need the longest time for the simplest solution."

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
maniacalshen
Nov. 10th, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
I absolutely love this! It flows beautifully and terribly, like watching a gorgeously choreographed car wreck - and I mean that in the nicest possible way. You drop in those little moments that freak out Rose and Jack, and the reader just winces, because it shows that the walk to the finale is inexorable.

I love how Rose and Jack quickly get closer to each other, closer than Jack intended, and I agree with your characterization of Nine - he'd so be suspicious and blame everything on Jack, at least at this point in time.

And yay TARDIS!
dune_drd
Nov. 10th, 2011 11:58 am (UTC)
I am so happy to see you like this - and again, I am so sorry I took so long... I honestly have been writing on this since June, maybe, so thank you once again for bidding on me and helping Japan with your donation!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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Dreaming of alien sands

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