He wasn’t sure how long it had been, since he’d last seen the Doctor or since Thames House. He’d drifted around the universe so much that he’d been unable to keep track of himself, and a man who could never die had no reason to measure time.
It had to be over a hundred years, though, he was sure of that. He’d travelled to so many different places that it could have been a lot longer for him personally, but by the time he made his way back to Earth it was no longer the twenty-first century.
It was ironic, really. He’d travelled through space and to a lesser extent he had even managed some minor time travel, and yet he met the universe’s most famous time traveller back on Earth, the same planet where they’d first met.
They did not meet in the same city. He had met the Time Lord in London but found him again in Boston. What the Doctor was doing there, he neither knew nor cared. Perhaps they were chasing the same thing. It didn’t matter.
It surprised him that the man still had the same face. He’d expected the Doctor to have regenerated by now, once or twice. But it was the same familiar face that he’d found again at the end of the universe, a face that was simultaneously the best thing he’d ever seen and something that haunted his nightmares. God, he missed the face he’d first met in London.
Yet this face … it looked just the same but it was not the same. When Jack had first met this version of the Doctor, the man had been obviously haunted and troubled, but there had been a spark there, a hint of the man Jack had once known.
Now, though, there was only defeat. The Doctor looked like he had gone to war with the devil and just barely survived, and for all Jack knew he had.
The two men stared each other down for a few seconds, and it killed Jack. Once he would have simply grinned and thrown his arms around the Time Lord, but not any more. Neither man had that kind of carefree joy left in him and even without words they both knew it.
“Doctor.” Jack let the cold greeting hang between them. “Boston’s not your usual arena.”
The two were silent. Jack didn’t know how long they stood there before the Time Lord smirked and turned away, walking without his usual energy in the opposite direction, still talking as he went. “A whole two minutes, Captain, and a not a single sarcastic comment or attempt at flirting. Something’s definitely wrong in the universe.”
Jack stood still for a moment, and then he could feel the rage fill him. He strode purposefully after the alien, shouting at him even before he managed to catch up. “Wrong in the universe? What does that even mean?” Jack grabbed his friend by the shoulder and forcefully turned him around. “When was the last time anything was right in the universe, Doctor? For either of us!”
The Time Lord didn’t answer, and Jack let his hand slip from his shoulder, but he kept glaring.
“Where were you?” he asked calmly, clenching his fists.
“Where was I when?”
Jack grit his teeth to stop himself screaming at the other man; the look on the Doctor’s face told him that the alien knew exactly what he was talking about.
“London. Thames House. A hundred years ago.” He was spitting the words out and he knew it, but he couldn't stop. “Where were you?”
“Travelling through time and space, same as ever” the Doctor said, the words nonchalant but his tone icy. “You can’t expect me to show up every time, Jack.”
“I don’t!” Jack growled. “I know you can’t be here all the time, Doctor. That’s why Torchwood and UNIT exist in the first place! But sometimes we’re not enough, and that’s when you need to be here!”
“No!” Jack yelled, shoving the Time Lord roughly into the wall behind him. “You always show up! When there’s a kid in trouble or a party or something vaguely fucking interesting, there you are. And this time? The one time I actually need you ... where the hell were you?”
“Does it matter?” the Doctor frowned. “Where I was doesn’t matter, Jack. I wasn’t with you, and that’s all you care about. I’m sorry, Jack. I wish I...”
“No” Jack interrupted, his voice quiet this time. “No, Doctor. You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to say you’d have done things differently.”
“I would have” the Doctor snapped, glaring at Jack with stormy eyes. “If I’d known. Jack, if I had known I would have come! But I didn’t know.”
Jack held the other’s gaze for a few seconds but then he had to look away. His own eyes were becoming watery and he didn’t want the Doctor to see that, although he’d probably noticed already.
“Jack. I’m sorry. I mean that.” The Doctor stepped forward, one hand held up placatingly. “I know you don’t believe me.”
“I do, actually.” Jack blinked twice and looked back up at the other. “I know you’d have been there if I’d called. I know you would have … ”
“Jack, I couldn’t have saved him.” He waited while Jack stared at him in defiance. “Whoever you’ve lost. You would never have called until after you lost him and you know I couldn’t have gone back and changed it.” The Doctor waited a moment for a response, and when he received nothing he sighed and allowed his gaze to soften. “Who did you lose?”
“Someone I loved” Jack murmured.
The Doctor nodded once. “I know how that feels.”
“Rose” Jack muttered. “Or Donna?”
“Both. In different ways, I loved them both.” The Doctor was the one who looked away now. “And I lost them both in one day.”
The two stood in silence once again, but it was less tense this time. It was sorrow and loss that wrapped around them like fog now, not anger. Jack wasn’t sure he liked it any better, though.
There was nothing left to say and they both knew it.
Jack had always known he’d eventually run into the Doctor again. He’d been wrong on two counts, though. For one, it hadn’t been as long as he’d believed it would be. Secondly, he’d thought he would have to seek out the Time Lord, not simply run into him by mistake in Boston.
He’d thought he would have longer to prepare what he was going to say. Now that he’d stumbled through it, he knew it wasn’t going to be enough. It would never be enough.
“It wasn’t just him” Jack whispered, knowing that the Time Lord would hear him despite the two feet still between them. “I lost my grandson, too. If I … if I’d called you, you could have saved him.”
“So why didn’t you?”
Jack would have punched the other man in the face if he hadn’t heard the genuine confusion in the Doctor’s tone. The Doctor wasn’t accusing him of anything, and he was maybe even hurt that Jack hadn’t called him for help.
Jack almost felt bad at his honest reply. “Because I didn’t think you’d care.”
The Doctor breathed out roughly, as if someone had hit him in the stomach, and the sound was watery. Jack took a perverse sort of pleasure in that, in knowing that he wasn’t the only one that those few days in London had scarred.
The Doctor didn’t reply, and Jack sighed heavily. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re not” the Doctor said quietly, and in his eyes Jack could see a glimpse of the pain that he knew his friend worked so hard to conceal; it hurt even though he’d known his words would cause it.
“I am. I meant it, but still. I’m sorry.”
“Jack, stop it. I wish you’d called me. I didn’t know about your grandson.” He paused for a second. “I know what it’s like to lose a grandchild. What was his name?”
“Steven. What was yours?”
The two stood in silence for another moment, pain at their own and the other’s losses making it impossible to find the right thing to say.
“You’d have liked him.”
“No. Ianto.” Jack’s lips widened into a pained smile. “He was good. You’d have liked him a lot.”
“I wish I’d met him. I only saw him the once.”
“Yeah” Jack grimaced, turning away so the Doctor wouldn’t see the lone tear that escaped without his permission. “He died in my arms.”
“Jack, I’m so sorry.”
The Doctor stepped forward and put one hand on Jack’s shoulder, slowly sliding it around so he held the other man in a slightly awkward, one-armed embrace. Jack leaned into it but didn’t put his arms around the other.
“They poisoned the air and we both died. I came back, and he didn’t.” Jack shut his eyes, knowing all too well that there were tears slowly falling now but realising that it wasn’t worth hiding them. Of all the people in the universe, the Doctor wouldn’t judge him. Now that he’d mentioned Ianto, he found he couldn’t stop talking. “It was stupid, but I … I begged him not to leave me. That was selfish, he didn’t have a choice...”
Jack trailed off, and he felt the Doctor’s arm tighten around his shoulders.
“What did he say?”
“He said...” Jack gulped down a sob that would have given away the depth of his grief, not wanting to inflict that on the Time Lord who had himself suffered so much. “He said he loved me.”
The Doctor nodded, and Jack was slightly surprised that he even noticed the alien’s thumb stroking soothingly against his shoulder. There was a moment of quiet before the other said anything.
“Did you say it back?”
Jack huffed out a watery gasp, leaning more into the other. “No.”
“Neither did I.” He continued only when Jack looked at him in confusion. “Rose. She said it, and I took too long. Never got the chance.”
“I did” Jack hissed. “I did tell him. Sort of. After he died. And that made it worse. If I could say it then, I could have said it before, and I didn’t.”
“He died thinking I didn’t love him. He died thinking I would forget about him.”
“But you haven’t” the Doctor murmured, leaning his head against Jack’s; it surprised Jack that the gesture felt completely familial. “How long has it been? For you, I mean.”
“I don’t know. Over a hundred years, I think. Probably longer, but you can’t expect me to keep track of the years, can you?”
The Doctor smiled a little, the expression pained but welcomed all the same. “Jack, you haven’t forgotten. Over a hundred years later, you still miss him the same way.”
“I don’t know if I’ll always remember, though. There have been some people that I cared about once that I know I must’ve forgotten. I’ve lived too long, Doctor.”
“I know. But you’ll keep living, and you’ll keep finding new people to live for. And Jack?”
“Have you forgotten anything about Ianto yet?”
Jack thought for a moment. He could still remember every detail of Ianto’s face, his body, his voice. He remembered the way the man would curl into him in his sleep, the taste of his kiss, the feel of their bodies rocking together at night. He remembered the always lingering scent of coffee and the feeling that he was loved.
Jack smiled a little and for the first time tonight there was no misery in it. “No. No, I don’t think I have.”
“Then I doubt you will. If he’d been forgettable, the little details would have faded already. If they haven’t, then there’s a good chance you’ll always remember him, Captain.”
Jack nodded, not entirely sure he believed him but too tired to argue the point any longer. Instead he just sighed and finally turned so he could hug the Doctor properly. He wrapped both arms tight around the other’s skinny body, and was pleased to feel the other return the embrace with just as much force. Maybe he needed it just as badly.
In another lifetime, this would have been the moment when Jack would have said something entirely inappropriate, and the Doctor would have pushed him away indignantly and laughed in despair. But right now didn’t seem like the time for it.
Instead the two just held onto one another for a minute and then released each other.
“Where will you go?” Jack asked.
The Doctor smiled and nodded his head to the left. “About half a mile that way. There’s a Hoix that I’ve been following for the last two days, causing a bit of trouble.”
Jack grinned and shook his head in disbelief at the way the universe had organised this whole damn reunion. “Typical. That’s my Hoix, it nearly bit my head off last night!”
“Hey, I’ve been following it for two days.”
“So what? You’re calling dibs?” Jack grinned incredulously.
“Yes” the Doctor said in an indignant voice, but he smiled back. “Yes I am.”
“Well, I’m calling bullshit, you don’t get to call dibs. Especially when you’re going the wrong way, it’s off that way” Jack said, pointing to the the Doctor’s right.
“No, it’s not. It’s...”
The Doctor was suddenly interrupted by a loud scream, unmistakably human.
Both men glanced at each other in mutual realisation - the Hoix must have startled someone, and hopefully not hurt them.
Jack grinned at the Doctor, and the Doctor grinned back.
And then they were running.