Prompt: # 019 - White
Claim: The Time War
Characters: The Doctor (9), Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler
Summary: Jack doesn't quite believe that Time Lords are anything other than a myth.
Words: ca. 4300
At some point, very early on (it might have been his first day on board of the TARDIS, or the second, after he had found a room for himself and before he had left the box for the first adventure after his con in World War II London), Jack had asked Rose what exactly she new about the Doctor. Where he came from, what species he was, why he thought bananas were superior to weapons of mass destruction.
Rose had told him that she did not know what his planet was called, that he had two hearts and one of them loved bananas as much as the other hated guns, and that he was a Time Lord, and nine hundred years old. Jack had laughed then, and told her that the Doctor was pulling her leg.
“Time Lords are just a legend. It sounds cool, and goes with the time travel, I admit, but they never actually existed.”
Rose hadn't been impressed. “Didn't hear it just from him,” she told Jack. “It's like the entire universe keeps throwing that title at him. Wherever we go, whatever wants to kill us eventually screeches the words Time Lord and then wants to kill us even more.” She had grinned at him and leaned against the table in the dining room, cooking her head at him. “If you're gonna stay with us, you'll see soon enough.”
“Oh, I bet I will,” Jack confirmed and squeezed her hand.
One of the first worlds they have seen together, the three of them, was covered in ice and snow; an eternal winter that hit the planet so quickly and mercilessly that the waves of the ocean have been frozen in an instant, in the middle of a storm, creating monuments of wild, eerie beauty, a force of nature defeated by a greater force of nature. Storms where never meant to be so still.
They climbed around in the waves, Jack and Rose in thick coats lined with fur and the Doctor in his usual jacket. They slid down the smooth sides of the waves, and Rose laughed in delight and wonder, and Jack laughed with her, holding her in his lap on the way down, and did not mention the city just out of sight behind the mountains of ice, just as frozen and just as dead. The Doctor watched them, from a distance, from atop the highest wave, and didn't say anything about the city either. There was no adventure for them there, just a bit of harmless fun. There was no one left to save.
“What happened there?” Jack asked the Doctor later, when Rose has retired for the night and they were alone in the console room, and the planet was still visible on the screen, and the grin was gone from the Doctor's face.
“Someone else's war,” the Doctor then told him. “Imagine you throw a grenade, and the shrapnel just goes everywhere it wants. The planet lost its atmosphere, for just a few seconds. Long enough for the cold to come in. No one was alive long enough to suffocate.”
“No offence, but that sounds like bullshit.” Jack knew that was not something that had actually happened. Hell, even Rose would have known that was bollocks. “You just made that up.”
“Ah, you got me,” the Doctor replied. “How could I possible know what happened, really? I wasn't here.”
“Oh, weren't you? Because you make me think you've been everywhere anything ever happened.” He moved into the Doctor's space then and lowered his voice, testing the water. He wasn't really interested in the planet or the Doctor's omniscience.
“No.” The Doctor moved away and moved a lever on the console and the ice beyond the screen was gone. “I wasn't.”
“Nothing to do with you, then,” Jack observed, and the Doctor said nothing.
Jack has to think of that now, of that planet and its ice and its stillness, when they are standing on another world covered in snow, the TARDIS a fleck of colour so out of place it looks garish. Rose is standing beside Jack, huddling into her coat against the cold, and the Doctor is maybe a hundred meters ahead of them, standing still in the white landscape, a dark spot in the untouched whiteness, like a scar. He isn't walking anymore, just standing there, his back turned to them, leaving Jack to wonder what he could possibly see in the distance. There is nothing there.
There is nothing anywhere.
“So.” They where in the library, the Doctor sitting on one of the ladders going up to the high shelves and Jack wandering the space in the middle, lit by candles on sticks that were completely out of place with the rest of the TARDIS. Music played from somewhere, vaguely familiar but not often heard in the Milky Way, and just as out of place here. Jack liked the library, because there was a lot of empty space, and music more often than not, and he was still hoping for his dance.
“So?” the Doctor asked, without looking away from his book. Jack positioned himself right beside his ladder and looked up the Doctor's long legs. He wasn't wearing his leather jacket right now, but his jumper of the day was dark grey, as if to make up for it.
“Time Lord,” Jack offered. “Rose said that's what you are.”
“Yup,” the Doctor confirmed lightly. “What of it?”
“Oh, come on, Doctor! Everyone knows the Time Lords are a myth.”
Now the Doctor closed his book and looked down at Jack with an unconcerned shrug. “What of it?” he asked again.
“Well, I guess I can see why you would adopt the name. Gotta admit, it does well with the whole mysterious-traveller-from-out-of-time image. I just want to know where you really are from.”
“Why?” the Doctor asked. He jumped down from his ladder, landed in front of Jack, and still seemed to be looking down at him. “What difference does it make?”
Jack refused to be intimidated, beyond the warm tingle the interaction flooded into his stomach. “I want to know more about you, that's all.” In a move that for the first time in his entire life felt bold, he took hold of the Doctor's hand, and kept it. “Is that so hard to understand?”
“Not at all.” The Doctor did not appear to notice the hand thing, so Jack slip his own hand up until he held the Doctor's wrist, the sleeve of the jumper sliding up to reveal the strange double-rhythm of his pulse. “I mean, I know I'm quite fascinating.”
“And so modest,” Jack added, matching the Doctor's light hearted tone.
“So why is the Time Lord thing so hard to believe?”
“Because I know they are a fiction.” The music changed, and Jack pulled the Doctor away from the ladder. The Doctor let it happen. “Care for a dance, Time Lord?”
“Might as well. I just found my moves again, nothing wrong with showing them off.”
“That's how I like it.” Jack grinned at the Doctor, and the Doctor grinned back, and they moved across the ground with one of Jack's hands holding the Doctor's and the other holding on to his waist, and he moved them closer together than was strictly necessary. Again, the Doctor let it happen, but did nothing to get them there himself, and Jack began to understand that he'd better cherish the dancing because it was all he was going to get. He and his pheromones had charmed his way into the hearts and beds to all sorts of creatures, even some who'd have never thought they'd want him, but he had also come to learn that there were those who simply didn't. Where he came from, people didn't care so much about who they had sex with, but that didn't mean everybody wanted sex with anyone. He'd learned to read the signs. (He wondered if Rose had figured it out yet.)
That was okay, he told himself, while the warm feeling inside him was cooled down (but not extinguished) by the cold reality of disappointment. “For real, though,” he insisted, to hide his emotions. He leaned in and spoke in the Doctor's ear, and trusted him to let Jack know when he was pushing too far. “What are you?”
“Why can't I be a Time Lord?”
Now he was being deliberately obnoxious.
“Because they are the stuff of legends.”
“Oh, and I am not?” And now he sounded offended. Jack chuckled.
“How would I know? Something tells me you're not gonna let me find out,” he teased.
“Ah, so the Time Lords are legends of the bedroom now? I've got to say, that is honestly quite unexpected.”
“Well, maybe that's just me, making stuff up. Since there is so little to go by.”
“Don't you think that's weird, though? That there's this legendary race known throughout the universe, and there is little known about them? Don't you think the universe would have made up the details, if they made up everything else?”
“Well, it's not exactly that well known, is it? I would not have heard of them, except the guys at the time agency liked to blame them for missions going wrong. Whenever there was something they couldn't explain, they'd go Oh, I bet the Time Lords did that!”
There was something in the Doctor's tone that made Jack hesitate before pulling him into another swirl. “Oh, and you would know?”
“Would you? What exactly is it that you think you know about Time Lords?”
“Just the usual. They look like humans, but they are not. Some legends say they are shape shifters that can change their faces. They are supposed to be immortal, and they can travel through time but have no original time of their own. Hence the blame of the Time Agency. That's a nightmare for time agents.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“They say their ships were powered by black holes and were bigger on the inside.”
“Well, look at that!”
“I gotta admit, the dimensional transcendence is a nice touch,” Jack gave him. “But there's also the bit where the Time Lords were like gods, literally untouchable, and never mingled with the affairs of mortals, like proper mystical creatures.”
“And yet the time agents use their influence as an explanation for their failures.”
“Ah, but that's just the usual excuse for personal incompetence.”
“You would know,” the Doctor pointed out, and Jack stepped on his feet on purpose and they lost track of the conversation after that.
The place is silent. There is no wind; if not for the decided lack of suffocation, Jack would say there isn't any air at all. There is cold, though, and the sound of snow creaking under their boots.
“Where are we?” asks Rose, her cheeks pink in a way that complements her hair.
“No idea,” Jack tells her. He stops for a moment, listens. Isn't there a voice somewhere, like a scream carried on the wind? Except there is no wind, and no one who could be screaming. “Do you hear that?” he asks, just to be sure, and Rose looks at him blackly.
“Never mind.” Jack starts walking again, and the voice gets louder, joined by another one. “I take that back: mind. Someone's screaming.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don't hear anything?”
Jack is a few steps ahead of Rose. He walks back now, expecting the screams to lessen again, but they do not. Another voice joined, and another.
“The Doctor might know what's going on,” Jack says, raising his voice to hear it over the screams.
They are haunting, distorted, and somehow he is glad that Rose apparently can't hear them, as if they would give away some terrible secret that he does not want to share.
“You don't need to yell at me, you know?” Rose says, and he can barely make out her words.
“I was yelling at myself. Maybe you should go back into the TARDIS before whatever this is gets you, too.”
“What, and leave you two alone out there? I don't think so.”
Jack could have pointed out that there doesn't seem to be anything for her to miss here, but he knows her well enough to know that she wouldn't go. (There also doesn't seem to be any danger here, but that's an impression he has learned never to trust by now.)
The screams make it hard to think. Do the voices seem familiar? They all blend into one, and he cannot tell. He thinks that once he gets to the Doctor, it will all make sense.
The Doctor doesn't react when they come closer, snow crunching under their feet. He hasn't moved at all since Jack stepped out of the TARDIS, and Jack thinks that it's more likely, somehow, that he can hear something, like Jack, rather than that he can't, like Rose.
“Hey, Doc,” Jack calls out. “Where did you take us this time? No offence, but you've picked better locations.”
Still, the Doctor doesn't react at all. “I don't think we landed here on purpose,” Rose says beside Jack, and he really wishes she would raise her voice a bit more so he doesn't have to guess every other word.
She's probably right, though. They rarely end up where they wanted to go.
“Doctor,” Rose calls now, when they are barely behind him. He still doesn't react, so Jack' ego is saved. However, Jack worries a bit, until he touches the Doctor's shoulder and the Doctor turns and looks at him and is, for all Jack can tell, completely okay.
“Where are we?” Jack asks again. “What's going on here?”
“First question; A planet called Alotima,” the Doctor replies, his voice somewhat louder than Rose's, thankfully. “And second: Not much, for all I can tell. Unless you mean the screaming.” He's looking at Jack's face with more attention than Jack's face usually gets, which Jack would consider something good and right if not for the impression that it really is neither.
“I was talking about that, yeah.”
Now the Doctor's attention shifts to Rose and she shakes her head. “No screams for me.”
“I figured,” the Doctor tells them.
“What's going on? Why can't she hear it?” Jack wants to know.
“Because she's a better person than you,” the Doctor says without much infliction. “This is not really a world. It's more like a prison. It's telepathic, gets inside your head.”
“I hear those screams with my ears,” Jack points out.
“No, you don't. You just think you do.”
Rose walks another few steps into the white void. The Doctor doesn't stop her, so Jack doesn't either. She's turned away from them and Jack can make out her words even less than before. “What's out there? Is it dangerous?”
The Doctor doesn't reply. He goes on with his explanation instead: “This place is meant to hold prisoners and punish them for their crimes. Murderers in particular. It makes you hear screams for all the people you have killed.”
Jack instantly regrets having said anything at all. He feels exposed, although as a rule he refuses to feel any shame for the things he has done. “They had it coming,” he finds himself saying. The Doctor throws him a look.
“What if the person doing the killing had no choice? Or it was self-defence?” Rose asks over her shoulder. “Doctor?” She turns and comes back to them when the Doctor ignores her question.
“I'd like to know that, too,” Jack says, and when the Doctor looks at him with the hint of a frown, he adds, “What she said. Not all killings are murders.”
“The planet doesn't care about that. It's not a perfect system. It's effective, though.” The Doctor steps back and spreads his arms. “It's not just a prison, it's also an interrogation method. If the authorities didn't know if you killed someone or not, they'd drop you here and watched for your reaction.”
“But how did they know if it was the person whose murderer they were looking for?” Rose wants to know, still sticking close to them.
“They didn't. Usually, they didn't care. If you ended up here, it meant you were guilty of something.”
Rose shudders, and Jack instinctively pulls her closer, glad she can not hear the voices in the air. “So this doubles as a torture chamber?”
“Among other things. You see, the more people you had on your conscience, the worse the screams. Imagine someone had committed genocide. This could actually kill them, eventually. And even the ones who made it to the end of their sentence usually came out on the other side not entirely sane.”
“Sounds charming,” Jack remarks dryly.
Rose looks away. “Why did you bring us here?” she asks, almost too quietly for Jack to hear. He would have liked to know that, too, but the Doctor offers no explanation.
“It's empty now,” he says instead. “Everyone's gone. The planet itself should break apart eventually. That's why it's so cold. It's drifting away from its sun.”
Jack looks up. The sky is full of clouds, giving off diffuse light, reflected by the snow. His and Rose's breath freeze in front of their faces, the Doctor's doesn't. “We got here by accident?”
“Yepp,” the Doctor confirms. “And now we should go. It's not the most hospitable of all places, even without the screaming.” He turns and leads them back to the TARDIS, Jack and Rose following eagerly.
It seems weird, that they have ended up here for no reason at all, but sometimes the TARDIS just goes to places at random. Jack could have done without this one.
“I wonder what drew the TARDIS here,” he says to the Doctor's back. The Doctor says nothing.
Jack tries again, when they have reached the time capsule, standing blue and reassuring in a field full of nothing. “Who created this prison, Doctor?” he asks, taking the other man's arm and making him look at him, even as the Doctor pushes open the doors. “Was it your people?”
“Oh, no,” the Doctor answers, as if he were surprised by the question, yet Jack feels that he's not. “We're so long past your time, Jack and Rose.” He grins briefly, inviting them to enter the TARDIS before him. “Past the year three million, from your perspective. It was your people who built this.” And his voice is biting when he adds “Humanity has come so far.” He pulls the doors closed behind him. The screaming stops in time for Jack to hear them click shut. The Doctor collapses, like a doll with its strings cut.
The TARDIS has moved the Doctor's room right next to the console room. Rose says that's a good sign, because the last time the Doctor fell over in here, she placed the infirmary right in front of them. It was a hint about the Doctor's state more than anything else, Rose tells Jack now, because no matter how close it was, there was still no way she could have gotten him there on her own. Back then, Rose just took things that looked useful out of the infirmary and used it to take care of him right there on the console room floor.
It's a story Jack would love to hear at some point, but at the moment he's more concerned with the state the Doctor is in right now. He doesn't stir at all when Jack picks him up, completely limp, his long arms dangling just above the metal ground as Jack pulls him into an upright position, and eventually, when that accomplishes nothing, places him across his shoulders.
The Doctor is not as muscular as Jack, seeming more bony than ever now that those bones are digging into Jack's flesh, but he's tall and heavy as the dead weight he presently insist on being.
At least the bedroom indicates that he is just in need of a good night's rest, not actually dying – at least that's what Jack tells himself as he carries his motionless friend over to his bed.
“What's wrong with him?” Rose asks Jack, as if he would know that any better than she does.
“No idea,” Jack admits, as he carefully places the Doctor on the bed. Rose helps, holding the Doctor's head as Jack lays him down and then has her fingers linger in the close cropped hair for a moment.
“Do you think he's gonna be alright?” She can't quite keep the worry out of her voice, and Jack knows she's not thinking about the fact that neither of them can steer the TARDIS away from here.
Jack is better at sounding unconcerned when he tells her that he is absolutely convinced that the Doctor will wake up soon. It's the truth. He isn't so much worried as he is unsettled. And he would like to talk to the Doctor, alone, as soon as he opens his eyes, but something about the way Rose tugs the blanket around their friend tells him she's not going to leave his side any time soon.
Well, neither will he. At least they can keep each other company, and Rose can tell him that story about the last time the Doctor passed out on her, if only to remind them that this could be worse.
The Doctor's bedroom is a lot like his leather jacket. Simple, practical, and giving off the air of a weathered loner who likes to hold the hand of any person standing close to him that he even vaguely likes. Jack has had his hand held on an adventure or two, simply on account being within reaching distance when they started running. He doesn't mind, but sometimes he wonders what the Doctor gets out of it.
There isn't much to the room. A closet, a cabinet, a completely out of place antique wash basin, a trunk Jack can't get to open (he knows he shouldn't but he tried anyway, obviously), a washed out rug on a dark wooden floor. And of course the bed. It is utilitarian, not very board, and Jack doesn't think it sees use all that often. In fact, the entire room gives off an air of standing empty, even now.
The Doctor wakes up after one day exactly. Or so it feels. When Jack checks his watch, he sees that in fact not quite one Earth day has passed. It's still enough sleep for one session, it seems, and the Doctor sits up so suddenly that he nearly knocks Rose, half draped across him, off the bed.
“Woah there.” Jack reaches for his shoulder. “You okay, Doc?”
The Doctor looks at him, his eyes wide and without recognition and suddenly Jack has the desire, no, the need to be somewhere else. His hand falls away and he finds himself two steps further back before he is done wondering if this is what the Doctor's enemies see when he looks at them.
The Doctor doesn't even look angry, or hostile. He just looks alien.
Then he blinks and looks like a person again, though his impression never again quite settles as Human in Jack's mind. “Oh, I see,” the Doctor says, unconcerned. “So that happened.”
“What happened, Doctor?” Rose asks, even as she is hugging him. The Doctor allows it for a moment before he gently pushes her off and climbs out of the bed as if it were a prison he needed to escape, or an enemy. He slows down at the door, waiting for them to follow him.
“Nothing, really,” he explains, or rather entirely fails to explain anything. “Everyone needs a nap now and then. I mean, you guys pas out at least once a day, and so far I've never made a fuss about that, have I? Now get out of there, will you? Seriously, who taught you manners? No, don't answer that, Rose. Knowing Jackie, I'd wager a guess and say no one.”
“You're utterly useless,” Rose complains, playfully slapping his arm, and the Doctor chuckles as he ducks away from her, apparently fully recovered, and together they walk back into the console room, and towards whatever lies at the next push of a lever.
Jack follows more slowly, watching them with a kind of unease that refuses to entirely go away. The door falls shut behind him and is gone when he looks around. Later, he will remember the moment in the bedroom, a moment during which nothing actually happens, as the first time he considered the possibility that the Doctor was telling the truth about being a Time Lord. They are impossible, but so is this man. Something about him, for reasons Jack will never be able describe, does not quite fit in with Jack's sense of reality.
It is as if the Doctor has opened a door and stepped out of the world just a bit, into something strange and terrifying and beautiful, and already Jack can tell that he will spend the rest of his life trying to follow.
Then the moment passes (yet never entirely goes away) and Jack starts jogging to catch up with his friends. The lever is pushed as if the screaming prison had never happened, as if Rose weren't even now wondering who Jack has killed and how many (she didn't ask yet; Jack almost wishes she did so it would not be left to her imagination) while the Doctor is not wondering at all, and the TARDIS moves, and minutes later the three of them step into the light of another unknown planet, leaving all questions behind.
30 August 2018