Long Time Coming
PG, 1700 words
Summary: Five scenes from a life spent waiting.
Notes: Mostly set within Doctor Who canon, with a bit of Torchwood thrown in. Spoilers ahoy! And please, don't hesitate to point any canon or historical inconsistencies.
Jack landed roughly, crashing into a wall. Pale and shaking, he bent over, retching for a moment or two before pushing himself painfully upright. He looked around, and groaned. Women in petticoats and bonnets bustled through the cobbled streets, and he had to dodge to avoid a horse and carriage.
Two men on the other side of the street were turning curiously to look at him, and Jack stepped into the shadows, conscious of how out of place he must have looked. He hastily grabbed his wrist, but the manipulator felt hot, too hot, underneath his fingers. He fumbled to get it off, pushing at the controls, and he nearly had the co-ordinates set before with a soft fft the display dimmed out. He shook it wildly, cursing under his breath, but to no avail.
He ripped a newspaper out of a passer-by's hands, and with slow, sinking horror, noticed the date. 8th April, 1869.
Jack sat down on the steps of the town hall. No technology, no contacts, no plan. He found himself caught a moment of self-pity, before being forced to laugh at the stupidity of it all. Still, he'd got out of straits a hell of a lot worse than this before.
He worked as a street cleaner, then a blacksmith, then a flower seller on the market – a Jack of all trades, as he told the women he sold posies to with a smile. He got together the means to get himself to Cardiff, and ensconced himself in the city centre, under a sweet old landlady who was willing to overlook haphazard rent payment.
Every spare moment, he was scouring the streets of the city, sure there must be some kind of underground organisation he could use to his advantage. The Rift must have garnered interest from some quarters.
On Christmas Eve, he gave himself a moment of indulgence, sitting in a music hall audience and listening to Charles Dickens giving a reading of A Christmas Carol. He smiled, reciting the words along under his breath, a few memories from his schooldays resurfacing.
Then suddenly there was a blue, ghostly light, an old woman moaning, and the audience screaming. Jack was pushed out in the pandemonium. The crowd carried him along, his attempts to fight against the rush of people useless.
Then he crashed into a man in a leather jacket. The Doctor looked at him blankly for a moment, before continuing to push his way through, Rose following just behind. Jack was spat out onto the street in the surge of people, reeling. He watched in amazement as Rose ran back out soon after, approaching a hearse. Amazement quickly turned to fury as she was bundled into the carriage, and it was all he could do not to go to her. He watched intently as the Doctor emerged with Dickens himself, quickly jumping into a carriage.
He moved among the lingering remnants of the audience, trying to reassure and smooth over what they saw, managing to convince a fair few it was merely a theatrical effect that went a little wrong.
Then, he couldn't help it, he spent the rest of the night on the street of the undertaker's, nursing half a bottle of whiskey and wondering what on earth was going on inside. He had to make a hasty retreat further into the shadows when Dickens suddenly appeared from out of the house, looking panicked, and Jack watched in wonder as a blue spirit followed out after him. A mystifying series of events followed, until Dickens disappeared back inside, and Jack resigned himself to waiting once more.
It was dark, and very cold, and time moved slowly. Then suddenly, everything happened at once. They ran out of the house, the Doctor diving in front of an explosion, and Jack laughed with delight. He stayed hidden, more listening than watching, drinking in their voices – a familiar sound in a place still so strange and lonely.
They walked away, all three of them, and Jack chanced a glance out. The Doctor was clutching Rose's hand, and Jack smiled. He forced himself not to follow them, instead making a slow retreat to his room, the lights long since extinguished. He lay awake for a long time, a mix of delight and a low, aching sadness. Eventually, he told himself to take this as the fortuitous coincidence it was – a blessing, almost. Just something to keep him going.
"Merry Christmas, Doctor," he muttered, before finally falling asleep.
New Year's Eve, 1899. Jack sat in a bar in New York, listening to doomsayers all around him. They told him it was all over, humanity had achieved everything possible, and the next century was looking bleak. It pained Jack to listen to, and he tried to give them hope, but his sentiments sounded unconvincing before he could even finish them, tainted by knowledge of war to come.
Stumbling into the bathroom a while later, and he blinked at his reflection in the grainy light of just-acquired electricity. Thirty years, and not a day of it on his face. He had to laugh at that – clearly, whatever quirk of the universe had done this to him had a sense of the finer aesthetic values.
Cheers floated through the door, and it was midnight. Jack wondered if the Doctor was out there, somewhere, celebrating. He liked to think so. But as he walked back out into a new year, he couldn't avoid one fact. It was going to be a very long century.
You can learn a lot of things, through living so long. Jack learnt about blending in – though never enough not to be noticed, no, that would be of no use to him at all. But how to convince people of your sincerity without telling them a thing, how to be in the right place at the right time, how to make sure you're always the one holding all the cards. Jack settled into new rhythms, ones that always needed to be changed as the decades turned endlessly on.
He wove himself into the fabric of the century, found friends, lovers, enemies. And now he understood what the real cost of living forever was. These 20th century humans, their lives seemed to flicker out, claimed by diseases Jack had barely heard of outside of history books.
Then came the wars, of course. By the time the Second World War rolled around, Jack felt a strange sense of homecoming. He fought, and he died, and he got up again, time after time. He moved between divisions, always trying to shake off suspicion, avoid uncomfortable questions, and trying to fight an almost irresistible urge to return to London, to try and glimpse the Doctor, just for a moment.
Deep in the trenches of France, they received news of the Blitz sporadically, if at all. The men under his command clung onto every word, and letters from home became gold dust still more precious than ever before. Jack plied them with whiskey, taught them war songs, and it cheered him nearly as much as them.
So when they teasingly asked him who he had waiting back at home, he casually responded with Betty Grable, then proceeded to spin them a yarn about how he was responsible for her divorce the previous year – well, all right, that bit was true – and that they were madly in love and to be married just as soon as the war was over. He laughed with them, then sent them packing to their bunks.
He took to the outside, patrolling the trenches, and listening to the intensity of the silence. Somewhere, bombs were falling, a girl was hanging off a barrage balloon, and his life was changing, both at that very moment, and a lifetime ago.
Yes, Jack understood a lot of things, now. And today was a day he wished he knew none of it.
It was September 2006, and Suzie stood in front of Jack's godawful hand in a jar, frowning.
"Owen?" she yelled. "The mutant hand thing's vibrating."
"What?" he ran over, staring at it alongside her. "Oh, bloody hell. That is sick." He shook his head and went back to his autopsy, but Suzie continued staring at it. Jack had taken an unprecedented day off today, with little to no explanation as to why. Suzie saw no need to press, but she sensed this was no coincidence, somehow.
Up above, a blue box had appeared, containing a Jack Harkness who looked just the same as the one Suzie knew. Just the same, as Jack noted with a small gasp, staring at his former self from a safe distance.
And there was Rose, and Mickey, and the Doctor, and Jack allowed just a moment to stop, to stare, before running like hell. He spent the day driving out to the coast, putting as much distance between himself and himself as he could. But he had seen the Doctor, and today, that was more, much more, than enough.
Next time the hand glowed, he'd be gone in a heartbeat. For now, he pressed on, and all the while waiting. He signed himself up for the long game what was now lifetimes ago, and if he'd learned anything at all, it was how to wait. Soon, soon the TARDIS would be here again.
It's strange, the things that run through Jack's mind as he leaps for the TARDIS. He worries that he's got it wrong, that this is the wrong timeline, and the man will have no idea who he is. But as he's dragged screaming through the time vortex, he feels young, and thrilled, and not a little reckless.
Solid ground comes flying to meet him, and he feels his body take the hit. But in his dying thoughts, he's confident that when life rushes back into him once again, this long, long wait will be over.