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Safe Harbour? (1/11)

AUTHOR: windsong_icons

RATING: G (one swear word)

This began as (and  may yet turn out to be) my challenge fic for the new community songs_in_time . My brief is to do something on "The Stowaway." It's turned out to be a rather longer story than intended, a meditation on Christmas, friendship, pain and hope.


DISCLAIMER - Falls into the canonical cracks between episodes. No ownership implied or assumed.

xposted at songs_in_time time_and_chips and dwliterotica

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Martin/Blane "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Torchwood wasn’t just 24/7. It was also 365 days a year. So when his phone beeped just as he was sitting down to Christmas dinner with Gwen and Rhys, Jack wasn’t all that surprised.

If the last two years (or three, depending on who you talked to) were anything to go by, it wasn’t just a matter of whether there’d be a call. More likely, when. Year One, the Sycorax invasion. Year Two, the Racnoss and no water in the Thames for a while. Year Three – let’s just not go there, okay?

Not a lot of people had his number, but the ones who did mattered. Downing Street, the Palace, UNIT. Martha Jones.


Yeah, the TARDIS.

“Jack,” he began. The last voice he’d been expecting. “That ship that practically landed on top of Buck House two hours ago. I was steering it. Just thought you might like to know.”

Jack was not quite sure what bothered him more – that he’d missed some major incident, or that it had taken one for the Doctor to call him for the first time in months. “Two hours ago? Why did nobody call me?” he demanded.

“I dealt with it.”

“You did what?” Shit, he knew a thing or two about the way the Doctor dealt with things. He was probably halfway across the universe by now, safely out of the way leaving him with God knows what to mop up.

The reply surprised him. “Last thing anybody wants right now is another story like this getting out. London’s deserted as it is. So……I dealt with it. Press. Downing Street. The works. You’re off duty. It’s Christmas.”

“What about the Royals?” Jack asked, apprehensively.

“Told you. Dealt with it. I’ve known the Palace evacuation code for years. Didn’t stop the old girl standing on the roof and waving to me – she even said thanks. But then, it must have been quite a view.”

“What happened?”

“Someone tried to turn a cruise ship into a bomb. His company had gone belly-up, and he wanted to go out with a bit of a bang.”

“Lose anybody?” asked Jack, cautiously.


“How many?”

Jack had time to count the clicks on the line and mouth something silently to Gwen as she waited in the kitchen doorway.

“Pretty much everyone on board. He was thorough. Installed an army of killer angels and called the ship Titanic just to make his point.” The Doctor sighed. It  occurred to Jack that hanging around and dealing with the formalities to help out a friend was not typical of the Doctor he thought he’d known.

“Who was this psycho?”

“His name was Max Capricorn. That’s all you need to know, he’s dead now. Killed by a waitress who took it upon herself to teleport in and give me a hand. I could have told her to stay out of trouble, but she wasn’t the type to listen.”

Same old story, thought Jack. Another nice ordinary-but-special girl, probably blonde, who wanted to see the stars. “Known her long?” he ventured.

There was another sigh, deeper than the last. “Only just met her.”

Jack had a feeling he’d maybe enlarge on that, but it wasn’t going to happen. The Doctor’s tone when he spoke again suggested a thinly-veiled desire to wrap the conversation up.

“Just call it a favour, Jack,” he said. “I’ve nothing better to do. No casualties – well, not down here at any rate.”

Jack was aware of Gwen hovering around behind him, getting a little anxious, ready to place a dish of roast potatoes on the table. Wondering, no doubt, where duty was about to take him off to.

“Wait,” he said. “About how many people were on this ship?”

“Couple of thousand. Anyway, it’s all been dealt with. Called a rescue ship, they’re on their way home. What happens back on Sto, they can sort out. I managed to save everyone on Earth, that’s good enough to be going on with.”

He sounded gutted, Jack thought. And he understood that. Even a Time Lord couldn’t just write off two thousand people. Not this Time Lord, anyway.

 “Right, I’ll be off then. We’ll catch up some time…..”

“Like hell we will!” Jack interrupted. “We’ll catch up now. Where are you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” the Doctor said quickly.

“I’ll have you tailed. Get UNIT to haul you in. You aren’t getting away with this.”

The Doctor didn’t hang up. That surprised him. “Jack, you must have better things to do, this day of all days. Go back to your turkey dinner. Or whatever you’ve got lined up.”

There was something about his tone of voice that rubbed the rough edges off Jack’s mood and smoothed them into a cautious compassion.

“What about you?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m all right. Didn’t even know it was Christmas until the Titanic came crashing into the control room about twelve hours ago. Believe me, I don’t go looking for trouble.”

Jack smiled. “You don’t have to. What happened? Some kind of time crash?”

“Yeah, I met myself. Not on the Titanic, though. That was before. Looks like I’ve a few diagnostics to work through.”

“Which one did you meet?” Jack asked. “The last one?” He remembered the reports of his Doctor – well, his first Doctor - showing up on the ill-fated liner.

“Number five. Cricketing whites. 'I can save the universe with a kettle and a piece of string.' ”

“Always rather liked the look of him,” said Jack.

“Oh? You’ve met?” He seemed surprised.

“Met most of you. Not usually to speak with, though. So, what happened?”

“Oh……Long story.” Jack imagined him combing his fingers through his hair as he talked, and realised he wanted to see him again. There were things about their last meeting that he could have handled better. If he’d known at the time how soon Martha was going to quit, he’d have been less abrupt.

But at the time – much longer ago for him than for the Doctor, he suspected, it had been enough of a challenge not to punch the guy for practically proposing to the Master after all that Martha and him had just gone through.

Still, it was Christmas. Not the time to be harbouring grudges.

“Did you eat yet?” he asked.

There was a hesitation, and for a minute Jack put that down to unfamiliarity with his American idiom; then he realised there weren’t many languages the Doctor wasn’t fluent in. Five hundred, he’d told the Dalek Emperor, hadn’t he? A long time ago.

“I’ve been busy,” the Doctor replied. Jack wondered whether the Master had left any supplies behind. Probably not, if the rations on board the Valiant had been anything to go by.

“How does Christmas dinner sound?” Jack asked. “I’m at Gwen and Rhys’ place. 84 Tredeager Terrace. You can sing for your supper. Sounds like you’ve a good story to tell.”

“Oh……I dunno. I don’t think I’m good company. Maybe some other time. Thanks, all the same.”

“Right, that settles it,” Jack replied. “Get your stiff-upper-lip on over here now. That’s an order. I’ll have Gwen lay an extra place.”

For a moment, the Doctor seemed uncharacteristically lost for words. When he did speak, his voice lacked its usual bouncy insincerity.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” he agreed.

Ten minutes later he was at the door, wearing a tux and bearing a bottle of vintage champagne from a far-future century.

“You wouldn’t have guessed to look at him that he’d just seen all those people die,” Gwen whispered to Jack in the kitchen, as she pulled a spare turkey dinner from the microwave.

Jack begged to differ. Even as he was recounting some story that reduced Rhys to fits of laughter, there were hollowed semicircles under his eyes, and something about the set of his shoulders inside his immaculate dinner jacket spoke of resignation.

The Master had left his mark on him. Hardly surprising really. With the passage of time Jack found he could assess the Doctor’s behaviour around that business more kindly.

“How long’s it been for you?” he asked, and there was silence around the table as Gwen, and more particularly Rhys, struggled to grasp the reality of a time traveller’s life. Rhys’s involvement in Torchwood policy was a comparatively recent event, and not one Jack had been particularly comfortable with. But he understood what the lack of meaningful relationships could do to you, and Gwen was too valuable to lose.

“Just a day or two. No, not even quite that long.” The Doctor piled his fork high with turkey and stuffing. “You know Martha left?” he added.

“Yep.” Jack considered mentioning she was about to join his team, then thought better of it. First, more information-gathering. “Did she give a reason?”

He rolled his eyes, nodded his head a little. “Just family. Finishing her course. The usual human stuff.” Jack noticed the dead look in his eyes, emotion throttled in. He figured that was all they’d hear about it.

He was wrong, though. Maybe it was the wine talking, or what he’d just gone through, but when the Doctor enlarged on that answer it came as a real surprise.

“She wanted something I didn’t have to give.” His fingers rolled the stem of his wineglass as he gazed blankly across the table. Then he rubbed the side of his nose. “I told her she’d never replace her…and I suppose if I’m honest, I hoped she would. And I call humans illogical.” He pulled the moment back from the brink and smiled chirpily at Gwen. “Lovely dinner, by the way.”

“Rhys does the cooking,” Gwen said in her lilting Welsh accent. She smiled warmly at her partner. “Man of many talents, he is.”

“I do my best, cariad,” Rhys smiled back, and he took Gwen’s hand and squeezed it, looking deep into her eyes. Amazing, Jack thought, the way a near-death experience could pull a doomed relationship back from the brink.

The Doctor watched them, his face momentarily betraying a loneliness that it pained Jack to see. Suddenly, Jack was tired of all that wasn’t being spoken.

“Nobody will replace her,” he said.

“Replace who?” Rhys asked in innocence, and Gwen’s face froze into an anxious frown.

Jack felt as if he was watching the life that was lived in the unseen seconds, between the beats of the heart, the ticking of the clock. The flip of a coin, that moment when a choice was made, and a new universe budded off from the old one.

“Rose,” the Doctor said, softly. “I lost her at Canary Wharf.” He looked at Jack. “Or perhaps that should be, we lost her.”

Jack couldn’t look at him for a minute. He’d not expected that.

Rhys, bless him, handled roast dinners rather better than bruised emotions. “Oh yeah, Canary Wharf. Bad business all round, that. Wasn’t that where Ianto’s……?”

Gwen nodded rapidly, biting her lip. “Yes. Lisa.”

“What happened to Lisa?” The Doctor set down his glass of wine and looked right at Gwen with a look in his eyes that could have melted concrete.

Gwen’s eyes flickered down to the table. “Oh, they were engaged to be married. She was…she was Converted.”

“Cyberized,” said the Doctor, without a blink.

Jack took command of the conversation. “One of the last conversions, the quick and dirty ones. They were using stuff from this side by then.”

“He thought he could get her fixed.” Jack realised Gwen needed to talk about it as much as Ianto did, and wondered if his PTSD strategy needed a review. “He hid her away and found someone to look after her….”

“Daft beggar,” Rhys frowned. “Gwen’s lucky to be alive.”

“Oh, we needn’t go into all that,” Gwen said, quickly. “It’s Christmas Day, for the love of God. I’ll bring the pudding in.”

“No, wait.” The Doctor reached out and laid his hand over her wrist, and she sat back down. “You needn’t protect me. Not after what I’ve seen today.”

“So what did you see?” Rhys probed, mercilessly. All this was still enough of a novelty to him for him to forget, sometimes, how soon the rest of them had wearied of it.

“Rhys, don’t,” Gwen begged.

“That Canary Wharf incident,” Rhys went on. “It was all covered up, you know. Don’t think anybody knows everything that happened, not even you, Jack.” His eyes probed Jack’s face; Jack blanked it out and earned himself a frown.  “Or maybe you just aren’t saying. Got a job to do, and all that.”

“So, why do you want to know?” The look in the Doctor’s eyes froze Jack to the bone but Rhys seemed impervious to the chill falling on the gathering. “Public interest, is it? Would it make you feel any better to know? Because if it would, I’ll tell you.”

Rhys could be sulky at times, the little boy still left outside. His jaw pushed out. “Go on, then.”

“I opened a breach,” the Doctor said. “A hole between two universes. It’s not like a wardrobe, though. You don’t just smell a few old fur coats and pop through to the lamplight and the snowflakes on the other side.” The clearly enunciated consonant was expelled from his lips and seemed to rattle around the room like a cheap wind-up toy before falling to the ground.

“It’s called the Void, that space between the worlds. It’s the vast emptiness, the howling space that goes on for ever, everyone’s worst nightmare. Some people call it Hell. It screams.”

Silence fell around the table.

“I watched her get pulled in. She screamed. I’ll never forget that scream. I couldn’t save her.” Jack noticed the ripples in the wine as the glass began to absorb the force of his fingers clinging round the stem. “Just like I couldn’t save all those people on the Titanic, and Astrid, and Bannakaffalatta and Morvin and Foon and my own fucking people and……”

The stem of the glass snapped and a red stain crawled across the tablecloth. “I’m sorry,” the Doctor said, and stared at it, seeing nothing in front of him.

“Somebody saved Rose, though,” Jack reminded him. “Does it always have to be about you?”

“I don’t think I can do this any more,” said the Doctor, quietly.

Gwen stood up for a second time. “I’ll put coffee on,” she said. “Help me in the kitchen, Rhys.”

“What about the pud?” he demanded. “My mam’s best, that is.”

“I don’t think anyone’s hungry,” Gwen snapped. Rhys took the hint at last, and the two of them retreated, leaving Jack alone with the Doctor.

 “I’ve no right to ask anything of you after what I did to you,” said the Doctor, after a difficult silence. “But……”

Jack waited. He knew this had to come from him. Besides, when you were this close to a breakthrough, you didn’t rock the boat if you could help it. Gwen and Rhys’s low voices, tense at first, drifted in from the kitchen. “I wasn’t to know,” he defended himself, “was I? No-one tells me anything.”

“What do you want me to do?” Jack asked, at last.

The reply was barely audible. Every word of the Doctor’s came out separately, and as painfully as a fingernail ripped from its bed of flesh.

“Help. Me. Get. Her. Back.”

<img src='http://miranda.icons.ljtoys.org.uk/mi/dot.gif' border=0 alt=' '>


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 27th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)

He's right, he doesn't deserve it. But Jack isn't, so far as we can tell, the type of person to hold grudges (even when no-one would blame him for it if he did).

This is intriguing, it's good, and I'm looking forward to more.

Dec. 28th, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, I got the feeling that Jack wasn't so much nursing a grudge - after all, it all happened 140 years ago for him - but did need time away to reflect. There's a story to tell there.
Dec. 27th, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)
Ooh! this is a really good start, and your characterizations are wonderful. I could really hear Gwen's voice, and the Doctor's pain was really palpable. Can't wait to read more if there is any. :)
Dec. 28th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much. I feel a little rusty on all my TW characters. There'll be a couple more chapters, although it's not a fullscale reunion fic.
Dec. 27th, 2007 10:51 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I like this. The characters' voices all ring so true, and you have a great setup here. I can't wait for the rest. :D
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.
Dec. 27th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm hooked! You definitely captured my attention with the set-up. I like the idea of Gwen and Rhys inviting Jack for Christmas dinner (actually, I like the idea of Rhys getting a bigger role, period; poor guy got a raw deal in TW S1; I liked him) and I like the idea of the Doctor finally losing control of his facade in the face of everything he's gone through in such a short time. That's something that's easy to forget, watching the episodes as they air -- that VotD came immediately on the heels of the end of S3 and all the trauma that it involved. Poor Doctor hasn't had more than a moment to catch his breath, let alone get his defenses in place.

Looking forward to seeing where you take this. And if it goes where I think it might ... hey, there are never enough reunion stories as far as I'm concerned. *g*
Dec. 28th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
I felt that of all three Xmas specials VOTD was the most stand-alone; the Doctor really could have walked in from anywhere.

Rhys had to be one of the most unrewarding roles in any series ever, and I hope they'll make more of him in TW2. Surely he'll have to be brought into the inside circle now if he isn't going to break up with Gwen completely, and her reaction in EoD suggested that wasn't what either of them really wanted.
Dec. 28th, 2007 12:05 am (UTC)
“Help. Me. Get. Her. Back.”

Thank you for writing what RTD will never let us hear! This is spectacular!!! Can't wait for more!
Dec. 28th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
The strange thing was, it was going to be a story about Jack taking ages to persuade the Doctor to say those words. But I felt that VOTD took the Doctor to a place where he could, just about, say them unprompted, and that would be an interesting story to write.
Dec. 28th, 2007 12:37 am (UTC)
So this is terribly addictive, isn't it?

Your Gwen voice is ridiculously perfect. You somehow make her better than she is on the show!
Dec. 28th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
I've been told that before (re Second Chances, specifically. I was pretty disappointed by Gwen in TW S1 and hope she'll buck up in S2.

Writing is certainly addictive.
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:38 am (UTC)
Ooh, you did write a post-VotD story! And I like this. Jack knows the Doctor better than anyone at this stage, and who better than him not only to realise that the Doctor needed company, but also to insist and get away with it. He's probably the one person in the universe who knows the Doctor best these days, the Brigadier aside.

I loved the concession the Doctor made here:
“Rose,” the Doctor said, softly. “I lost her at Canary Wharf.” He looked at Jack. “Or perhaps that should be, we lost her.”

Jack couldn’t look at him for a minute. He’d not expected that.

He's learning - and opening up. So much the better :)

Looking forward to more!
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Jack's was the untold story of "Two Doctors". This is something of an attempt to redress that balance. It's not a reunion story as such - at least, if it is, the reunion is between Ten and Jack.

It might turn out to be a bit of a TW/UNIT reunion fic, too. After all, the Doctor seems to be in the Queen's favour again. I love taking RTD's throwaway lines and calling him in on them, don't you?
Dec. 28th, 2007 04:07 am (UTC)
The reply was barely audible. Every word of the Doctor’s came out separately, and as painfully as a fingernail ripped from its bed of flesh.

“Help. Me. Get. Her. Back.”

I think you just broke my heart a little bit. This fic snapped off just a piece and gobbled it up, pulling it into itself. It's wonderful and awful all at once.

I thought the way you wrote from Jack's perspective really worked for this, anything else wouldn't have been as poignant. It also allowed me to assess the Doctor's reactions from what Jack knows about him and from how deeply he knows him which leads them to be scarier than they would be to the casual observation. Just a fantastic piece of writing.

I can't wait for its continuation. Hope it's soon.
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. I don't write much from Jack's POV because so many people do it better, but that was how this story sprang to life. So much was left unaddressed after LOTTL between them.
Dec. 28th, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)
Mmmmm, intriguing.

Dec. 28th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Dec. 28th, 2007 06:28 am (UTC)
Ooh, that was bitter and very well-written. I'm hooked. :) Nice use of Rhys as a catalyst. And I do approve of you having Gwen happily together with him, since, holy crap, someone on Torchwood needs a healthy relationship. You've got Gwen to a tee, and the ending of this chapter was stirring.

Random: "Did you eat yet?" is an American idiom? Jeez, it's a good thing I express my openness to Brit-picking in my fics; I'm bound to get myself in trouble with something silly like that someday. Again. (Apparently "spaz" is an offensive term over there, oops >_<)
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
It's always useful to have someone around with the sensitivity of an ox, when you're dealing with an emotionally bound-up Doctor.

Re US vs UK idiom - our normal equivalent would be, "Have you had anything to eat yet?" Although, to be fair, Jack's had time to become pretty Anglicized by now.
(no subject) - dannightshade - Apr. 23rd, 2008 12:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 28th, 2007 08:20 am (UTC)
This looks interesting *hugs Doctor and Jack* Can't wait for the next bit!
Dec. 28th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
Ah, hugs - but I think Rose got it right in my last story. He needs a huge hug, and then a good talking-to. Apart from anything else, he's been lying about his age, bad boy.
Dec. 29th, 2007 05:24 am (UTC)
the last line gave me a shiver :)

its good to see gwen and rhys in a DW fic. i hope we get to keep thm :)
Dec. 29th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
This ia a fantastic start. Chilling dialogue from the Doctor. Keep it up!
Jan. 1st, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, intriguing! (I just finished watching VOTD last night.) I hadn't realized quite how abruptly everything happened, with the Master's pyre and Five and then the ship breaking in, and Astrid being a dead ringer for Rose (my sister thought she was Rose.)

You convey the Doctor at the edge of his self-control very effectively. Jack was absolutely right to insist that he come over. Jack is really his best hope of having a healthy friendship with another being right now -- someone who knows what the Doctor is, cares for him greatly, can't take permanent harm from Doctor-related collateral damage, and won't die of old age in the time it takes the Doctor to turn around. And I was thrilled by the end -- even after so many reunion fics, yours can still get me excited at the prospects they imply.
Jan. 4th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
Jack is really his best hope of having a healthy friendship with another being right now

Word to that. And, as with most of my reunion fics, the journey and what he learns on it tends to be as important as the destination.

Thanks for commenting.
Jan. 2nd, 2008 12:06 am (UTC)
Holy crap! How on earth did I miss this amazing story? Yep, I'm always the last to the party. ;)

Let me just say that I love your Jack!

“Right, I’ll be off then. We’ll catch up some time…..”

“Like hell we will!” Jack interrupted. “We’ll catch up now. Where are you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” the Doctor said quickly.

“I’ll have you tailed. Get UNIT to haul you in. You aren’t getting away with this.”

It's great seeing Jack take charge in a situation. You wrote some great interaction between him and the Doctor. I'm off to read more!
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