([identity profile] wrote in [community profile] wintercompanion2012-04-30 10:17 pm

magic_7_words: Cardiff, 1869 [G]

Yikes, down to the wire. I may have to revise this later, but here it is on-time and intact, mostly.

Title: Cardiff, 1869
Author: magic_7_words
Challenge: Episodes
Rating: G
Pairing: unrequited Jack/Nine, I suppose*
Spoilers/Warnings: The Unquiet Dead, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways
Summary: A missing scene set just after "Parting of the Ways" and towards the end of "The Unquiet Dead." Timelines are funny like that.

*Like so much of my fic, I realized belatedly that this one had managed to sidestep any actual slash. However, it is very much centered around Jack's (unspoken) feelings for the Doctor, so I hope you all enjoy it nonetheless.

He should take it in two jumps. The 21st century is a long way from the 2001st, and satellites' orbits always muck with his navigation. He should jump through space to the planet's surface, then back in time. But a landscape flattened by Dalek bombs is the last thing Jack needs to see right now. He needs to find the Doctor, see his face, kiss him hello (Guess I’m stuck with your big ears a while longer, he’ll say), spare a moment for giddy relief that they did it, they survived, the three of them pulled through again, what a team. Jack will tell the story of how he was cornered by Daleks, facing certain extermination, and instead of his life flashing before his eyes he saw a vision of Rose in golden light, holding off the Daleks with an upraised hand. Rose will laugh and probably blush, and the Doctor will say something gruff about Jack's transparent attempts at flirting. Then Jack will catch the Doctor's eye and grin, and the Doctor will fight a smile himself, and this will be how Jack knows he's come home.

Later they can work up to more serious, confusing matters: what the Daleks did to the Earth and its timeline, why Jack found the Delta wave generator still humming with unspent energy, how the Daleks were reduced to dust, how Jack and the Doctor survived, why the Doctor left without him.

He tries not to dwell on the last question. He'll know the answer soon enough. It had better be a good one, though, because Jack intends to never let the Doctor live it down.

His Vortex manipulator flashes a warning: coordinates out of range, it says. Jack overrides the message. But Jack isn't completely reckless. As a Time Agency cadet he learned about the North Star—a regular pulse of temporal energy, set up as a homing beacon of sorts, all standard-issue manipulators programmed to latch onto it in the event of a malfunction mid-jump. Jack disabled that feature when he left the Agency. He re-enables it now, entering new emergency parameters, selecting his own North Star. In its current proximity, the Cardiff Rift will be strong and steady enough. He might not make his year exactly, but even in a worst-case scenario he won't be cast adrift in the Vortex.

He jumps.

His feet touch down on rough cobblestones; knees buckling under a slight correction in velocity, he falls into something wet and icy. Winter night, he thinks dizzily, fighting the disorientation of a long jump without a capsule. No immediate physical threat, no witnesses gawking at his appearance—so far, so good. Jack scrambles to his feet and brushes snow from his clothes as well as he can. Dressed only in fashionable-not-practical vest and trousers from the Game Station, of course he would land somewhere like this. Winter in a temperate clime, and judging by the architecture—he spares a glance for the buildings around him—damn, he's missed his target by at least a century. His Vortex manipulator, beeping and flickering plaintively, confirms that he's locked onto the Rift. Coordinates out of range after all. Damn.

Jack squints again at the display from the manipulator’s scanner function. It’s giving him nonsensical readings regarding Rift activity. Something must have shorted out—no, that can’t be right. He needs the scanner function to locate the Doctor. He needs that scanner. Jack knows firsthand how cruel the universe can be, but for a faulty piece of technology to keep him from the Doctor, that won’t happen. Can’t happen. Something in the fabric of the world would have to break, to let that happen now.

A standard diagnostic check on the manipulator returns a list of critical errors and aborts when it tries to scan the teleport. Swearing, Jack takes the defunct systems offline and restarts the diagnostic. Never mind the teleport or om-com, he won’t need them; he’ll find the Doctor nearby, that’s all. You owe me a new Vortex manipulator, he’ll joke, knowing full well the Doctor never pays up. But he does need that scanner—

A resounding boom rattles every window on the street, as shadows flare into sharp relief and then subside.

Jack is running toward the sound before his conscious mind fully registers: explosion, trouble, help, Doctor. He splashes through puddles of slush and icy water, ignoring the way it soaks into his shoes, ignoring the occasional startled shrieks of passersby, shoving one or two aside and barking breathless apologies over his shoulder. He skids around a corner and comes on it suddenly: the blackened shell of a house. Small flames lick at what’s left of its skeleton. A dumbstruck crowd has gathered, gawkers with no urgency to their movements. Whatever its cause, that explosion must have obliterated anything and anyone caught inside the building. There’s nothing Jack or anyone else can do, which means... the Doctor must have already left the scene. Jack doubles back and cuts sideways down an alley.

Halfway through a wide circuit around the explosion site, he hears an unfamiliar voice.

“—huge and wonderful notions, Doctor! I am inspired! I must write about them!”

Jack flattens himself against the building’s side, Time Agent instincts taking over—to look and listen before making himself known.

The next voice, while not the one he expects, is achingly, tantalizingly familiar all the same. “Do you think that’s wise?”

“I shall be subtle at first. The Mystery of Edwin Drood still lacks an ending. Perhaps the killer was not the boy's uncle. Perhaps he was not of this earth. The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Blue Elementals! I can spread the word!”

The Doctor says something then, but Jack doesn’t catch it, because he’s heard this story before. The Blue Elementals, they called themselves the Gelth. The explosion—that was caused by a match struck in a gas-filled room. A servant-girl saved the world, and no one will ever know. The man going on about his books is Charles Dickens, who's going to die next year, and if Jack steps out from hiding now he’ll change an established timeline and create a paradox.

“Oh, my dear. How modern. Thank you. But I don’t understand—in what way is this goodbye? Where are you going?”

No. Void take the paradox; Jack is stepping out. Let the Time Lord clean up the mess.

The Doctor’s voice, playful and a little smug: “You’ll see. In the shed.”

Jack puts a foot forward, commits his weight to it—then rocks back until his head hits the wall behind him, heels of both hands digging into his eyes. He’s been a Time Agent too long. He knows the risks, knows what the Doctor would say, and even if an “I’m sorry” gets him off the hook, any contact with these earlier versions of Rose or the Doctor will alter their timeline, unpredictably. If they meet Jack now, he might very well never meet them at all. Jack can’t put that meeting in jeopardy.

“Right! Shed! Come on, Rose.”

“In—in the box? Both of you?”

Jack gives hiccupping laugh. And Dickens from the Victorian Era, to boot—

—a small click that can only be the TARDIS door closing, shutting the Doctor and Rose inside and everyone else out with the cold.

Jack draws a ragged breath, his first in what feels like forever. He takes a second, third, fourth, fifth in quick succession, feeling suddenly oxygen-starved, the cold air driving needles into his chest cavity. Colored spots explode in his vision, either from the pressure of his hands over his eyes or from the hyperventilation... and that’s bad. He takes control of himself then, counting to five on each exhale, keeping quiet to avoid detection by the man who stands around the corner, still watching the TARDIS. Jack could move closer now, steal the briefest of glimpses, see the TARDIS once more if nothing else... but he can’t. It isn’t a matter of risk, this time. It’s a matter of his feet freezing in place, knees locking up, the wall at his back supporting him in a world that reels through the blackness behind eyes clenched tight.

But even in the dark, with his head spinning as if with drink and the Cardiff winter seeping into his bones, even as Jack hides himself in these things, he can’t quite drown out the sound of the TARDIS disappearing a second time.

“And a merry Christmas to—I say, young man, are you quite well?”

Jack lowers his hands. Charles Dickens, he notes, has the most ridiculous beard Jack has ever seen in his life. “I’m fine,” he replies in a voice that barely quavers.

“Are you certain? Pardon my intrusion, but you look very pale.”

I’m stuck on 19th-century Earth with no means of transport or communication, Jack doesn’t say. Even if he decides to come back for me, the Doctor won’t know where to look. Now he’s gone, and I’ll most likely be stranded for the rest of my life. I’m going to die here. And I've let him go.

Instead, he smiles shakily. “Shouldn’t have drunk so much. Merry Christmas, Mr. Dickens. Excuse me—” He lurches to one side in a fair facsimile of a drunken stagger, released from his paralysis now that it’s too late. Behind him, Charles Dickens’ footsteps recede.

Five hours later, in the cold pre-dawn, a light snowfall begins. Jack sits in the alleyway still as death and watches it dust over three sets of tracks—a man's shoe, a woman's, and the flat square imprint of a box.

(Anonymous) 2012-05-01 08:14 am (UTC)(link)
Excellent story, full of pathos well written: poor Jack he did the right thing and look where it got him.

[identity profile] 2012-05-01 04:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Poor Jack....:(

[identity profile] 2012-05-02 01:33 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, poor Jack... Great story! :)

[identity profile] 2012-05-02 04:44 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, ouch. Poor Jack. This was really well done.

[identity profile] 2012-05-02 02:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Heartbreaking. I hero no matter the cost. I wish I could hug him.