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Better Off a Coward

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Jack woke up with a gasp, heart pounding away in his chest as he was slumped against the wall. He woke up. He was breathing and blinking and was able to see Satellite Five around him. That shouldn't have been possible. He had been surrounded by daleks mere moments ago. He had been cornered and shot. He remembered the flash of light and the searing pain. He should be dead.

He picked himself off of the ground, hand reaching for his chest and feeling his own heart beat. He swallowed, wondering how on Earth (or in this case, Satellite Five) that was possible. Where were the daleks? He glanced around, but found no sign of them. The couldn't have just vanished without him disappearing alongside them. All he saw was a pile of dust on the floor ahead of him. He approached it, gathering a small clump in his hand before allowing it to sleep through his fingers. His mind was abuzz with a million questions, none of which he could answer. Only one person could answer them.

“Doctor.” His head snapped up and he started running towards the next floor, making his way to where he had last seen the Doctor. If Jack was alive, certainly the Doctor could be. The Doctor was better at staying alive than anyone Jack had ever met. If anyone else had made it out, it would be him. “Doctor!” Jack saw the TARDIS sitting in the room where he had seen it last, which didn't make any sense at all. The Doctor had said that he'd sent Rose home.

He approached the doors of the TARDIS and walked inside, seeing the Doctor at the console and Rose paying on the floor, unconscious. His eyes flickered from one to the other, confusion evident on his face. “You said that you sent her home.” He said slowly, his tone almost accusing.

“I did.” The Doctor didn't even look up, tone somber and Jack could almost detect a hint of fear. He couldn't understand why. The Time Lord looked up and offered Jack a small, exhausted smile. “She came back.”

“That shouldn't have even been possible!” Jack protested, approaching the Doctor. “Does she know how to fly on her own? I don't even know how to keep up with all this tech and trust me, I'm pretty good with tech. Did you make a way for her to-” The Doctor winced in pain and Jack dropped everything. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Just peachy.” The Doctor was smiling, but everything about it seemed forced and painful. He was clearly hiding back the pain he was in.

“Doctor, you're clearly not-” He didn't have the chance to protest any further before Rose made a small groaning noise and looked over. Jack dropped everything and ran to her side.

“What happened?” She mumbled, eyes glassy and out of focus.

The Doctor turned his attention back to the TARDIS console “Don't you remember?” He kept his voice light and cheerful, no longer appearing to be in pain if any kind.

Rose slowly sat up with Jack’s help. “Whoa, take it easy.” He warned, rubbing her back. He would quite like to know what happened as well, but Rose’s well-being came first.

She looked lost in thought, trying to remember the previous events. “There was this singing.” She said softly, as if trying to keep the memories from escaping.

“Yeah, that's right.” The Doctor nodded with a smile. “I sang a song and the daleks ran away.” His leg was bouncing around, not escaping Jack’s notice, but he remained silent.

Rose sat up further, as if something had clicked for her. “I was at home! No. No, I wasn't. I was in the TARDIS.” Jack held on to her every word, hoping that some part of what she said would make everything fall into place and make sense. “There was this light and…” She trailed off. “I can't remember anything else.”

“Well, that's alright with me.” Jack tried to reassure her. “It doesn't matter because everything is alright. We're alright. We won!” He hugged her tightly. “We won, Rose! All three of us are getting out of here!”

The Doctor looked down at the console, letting out a small, sad laugh. “Well, we got out.” He agreed, looking at the two of them with such gentle fondness. “Rose Tyler.” He looked at her and smiled. It was a smile that conveyed all of the tenderness and emotion he felt for her. He turned his gaze to Jack. “Captain Jack Harkness.” He smiled in an almost surprised way, but still fond. “I was going to take you to so many places.”

“Well, what's stopping you?” Jack asked, standing up. “We still have a time and space machine, last I checked. There are so many worlds to see, such little time.” He reached forward to clasp the Doctor by the shoulders, but he stepped back.

Rose smiled and nodded, but frowned as soon as the Doctor stepped away from their friend. “Yeah, why can't we go?”

“Maybe you will,” He said with a smile. “And maybe I will, but not like this.”

“You're not making sense.” Rose climbed to her feet, looking confused.

“I might never make sense again!” The Doctor exclaimed, his grin growing more forced. “I might have two heads! Or no head.” He laughed. “Imagine me with no head! And don't say it's an improvement.”

The pieces fell in place for Jack and he was horrified. “You're regenerating.” He said quietly, the Doctor’s gaze meeting his. “You're changing.” The idea absolutely crushed him. He didn't want a different Doctor. He wanted this Doctor, the one who hated him and loved him, who loved Rose. The Doctor he had made a family with. Anyone else would just be different and wrong. “Why? That only happens when you're about to-”

The Doctor laughed a tiny bit and nodded. “Yeah, well, I absorbed all the energy of the time vortex, and no one’s supposed to do that.” He cried out, doubling over in pain as a bright, golden light emitted from his body.

“Doctor!” Rose approached him, but Jack held her back, looking away from his friend and clenching his teeth. He didn't want this Doctor to leave him. Rose looked up at Jack. “Tell me what's going on!” She demanded.

“Every cell in my body is dyin’.” He admitted, looking into Rose’s eyes. Rose backed away slightly, horror in her eyes.

“Isn’t there something you can do?” She pleaded, looking between both the Doctor and Jack.

“He’s already doing it.” Jack said, gaze shifting back to the Doctor. “He’s regenerating. Time Lords rewrite their own...everything so that they can survive. He’ll become an entirely new person.”

“A new person?” Rose was clearly so confused and anxious. “What does that mean, new person?”

“It means that I'm never going to see you again.” The Doctor said sadly, looking at her with such pain in his eyes. “Not with this daft face.” Jack held onto Rose tightly, not wanting the Doctor to go any more than she did. “But before I go-”

“Don't say that!” Rose bit out, leaning against Jack’s chest for support, shaking ever so slightly.

“Before I go,” The Doctor continued. “Rose,” He looked at her before looking at Jack. “Jack,” There was almost pride in his eyes as he gazed at the two of them. “Before I go, I just wanted to say that you were fantastic. Both of you.” He smiled lovingly at the two. “Absolutely fantastic.” His voice was dripping with emotion that Jack had never heard from the man before. “And you know what?” He looked from one to the other. “So was I.” He grinned, that goofy grin of his before golden light burst from him.

Jack clutched Rose close to him, shielding her eyes as he shut his own tightly. He tried not to cry as he realized that the Doctor he knew and loved was disappearing forever. He took deep breaths, looking back as a man with dark hair stood in the Doctor’s place.

The stranger looked over at them. “Hello.” He said, looking like the words surprised him. “Oh.” He closed his mouth, feeling around with his tongue. “New teeth. That's weird.” He mused. “So, where was I?”

Chapter Text

Jack held Rose tightly against his chest, staring at the stranger in the Doctor’s place. The new Doctor. That's who he was supposed to be, but that didn't feel right to Jack. He knew the Doctor and the man standing before him was not his Doctor. He knew that Rose would feel the same way.

He watched as the stranger walked towards the TARDIS console, flicking with switches and pressing buttons. “How about Barcelona?” He suggested. “The planet Barcelona. I haven't taken you there before.” He smiled, looking over the screen. “Six PM.” He said, turning a dial. “Tuesday. October. Five thousand six.” He stepped away from the console. “On the way to Barcelona!” He announced, looking back at his companions with a grin. “Now then, what do I look like?” He grinned widely. He held up a hand. “No! No, no no no no no!” He shook his head hurriedly. “Don't tell me.” He looked away. “Two legs, two arms, two hands.” He massaged his wrist. “Slight weakness in the dorsal tubercal.” He reached his hands up to fist in his hair. “Hair!” He exclaimed happily. “I'm not bald!” He played with his hair a bit longer. “Ooh, big hair.” He sounded impressed. His hands continued down his face. “Sideburns!” He said happily. “I've got sideburns!” He hesitated, feeling. “Or really bad skin.”

The stranger took his hands away from his face and looked down at his body. “Bit thinner- that's weird.” He noticed. “Give me time, I'll get used to it.” He paused, realizing something. “I have got a mole.” He announced. “I can feel it.” He moved his shoulders around. “It's between my shoulder blades.” He looked thoughtful. “It's a mole.” He shrugged and stood up straight. “That's alright.” He smiled. “I love the mole.” He faced Rose and Jack again. “Come on, tell me. What do you think?” He grinned. He looked at Jack. “Well, it must be pretty bad if you haven't made a comment yet.” He joked, but he looked nervous.

Jack opened his mouth to make some sort of witty comeback, but nothing came out. His mind was empty. He had nothing to say. Sure, he could recognize that the stranger was certainly quite attractive. He had a very nice face and Jack could tell just by his build that his bum must have been great, but he honestly didn't care about that now. All he cared about was the fact that his Doctor was gone. This stranger wasn't him and could never be him.

“Who are you?” Rose whispered, still pressed against Jack, almost trying to hide behind him. He kept a firm arm around her waist to stabilize her.

“I'm the Doctor!” The stranger said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Jack couldn't imagine what was running through Rose’s head. She hadn't even known that he could do this.

Rose shook her head a tiny bit. “No.” She said quietly, looking the stranger up and down. “Where is he?” She stood up a tiny bit straighter. “Where's the Doctor?” Her voice gained more power. “What have you done to him?”

The stranger looked confused. “You saw me- I changed.” He pointed to where he had been standing when he had erupted into golden light. “Right in front of you.” His voice sounded sad. Jack could imagine why, but he understood being on Rose’s side more.

“I saw him sort of...explode.” Rose said slowly, studying the stranger. “And you replaced him. Like a..a teleport or a transmat or a body swap or something.”

Jack sighed, deciding to step in. “No.” He said gently, keeping his arms wrapped around the blonde. “It was none of those things. That man there, he's,” He hesitated, looking at the stranger. “He has the same memories as the Doctor.” He explained. “He's technically the same- well, he's not the same person, but he's the same being.” He knew that what he was saying made absolutely no sense.

“What?” Rose looked at Jack. “What does that mean? That's not the Doctor. I know the Doctor.” She shook her head. “That's not him.”

“He's not our Doctor.” Jack gripped Rose by the arms and tried to squeeze them reassuringly. “He's the new Doctor. A different person, but the same memories. Time Lords do that so that they don't die.” He cupped Rose’s face so she would look at him instead of freaking out. He tried to ground her in the moment, in this reality. “He's just changed, but it's him, or at least some version of him.”

Rose slowly turned around to look at the stranger, shaking her head. “No.” She insisted, unable to believe it. She must have been in so much shock. “No, it's not. That's not-”

“Rose, it's me.” The stranger slowly walked towards her. “If I wasn't me, how could I remember this?” He looked into her eyes. “The very first word I ever said to you.” Jack stepped back to give them space. He wasn't meant to be a part of this. “Trapped in a cellar, surrounded by shop window dummies.” He looked off. “Oof, such a long time ago.” He looked back at her. “I took your hand.” He slowly took her hand into his own. “I said one word. Just one word. I said “run”.”

Rose looked into the strangers eyes, a sort of fear on her face. “Doctor?” She whispered.

The stranger grinned, looking overjoyed to hear that name from those lips, directed at him. “Hello!”

“Oh my God.” Rose fell back and Jack quickly caught her, pulling her into his arms.

“I know. I know. I've got you.” He said gently, rubbing her back and holding her close.

“And we never stopped, did we?” The stranger had run to the other side of the console, a grin on his face and a skip in his step. Jack honestly found that it felt a bit inappropriate, given that Rose was currently freaking out. “All across the universe! Running, running, running! Remember that time we-”

“Not now.” Jack snapped, a glare in his eyes. He was liking this new stranger less and less by the second. How dare he act like everything was fine when his Rose was on the verge of a mental collapse?

The stranger looked completely taken aback by Jack’s words. “Oh. Okay. Alright, then.” He stared, looking like he was slowly realizing how things were so wrong as he looked at the way Rose stared at him from behind Jack’s strong arms.

Rose stared at the man in front of her. “Can you change back?” She asked quietly.

“Do you want me to?” The stranger asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” The stranger looked heartbroken.

“Can you?”

“No.” The stranger stared at Rose for a moment before looking away. “Do you want to leave?” He sounded almost panicked.

Rose hesitated long enough to make the stranger look resigned. “Do you want us to?”

“No!” The stranger said immediately. “But, you know,” He looked down and back up again. “Your choice. If you want to go back home.” He looked over Rose before returning to the console. “Cancel Barcelona.” He decided. “Change to London, the Powell Estate. Uh, let's say twenty-fourth of December.” He looked at Rose. “Consider it a Christmas present.”

Rose moved out of Jack’s grasp slightly and walked closer to the stranger. She studied him, as if wondering if he was even real. The TARDIS moved and the stranger stepped back from the console. “Thank you.” Jack said before turning to Rose. “You're going home. We can decide what we're going to do once we get there, okay?”

Rose nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.” She looked almost numb, like she still wasn't able to process everything that was happening.

The stranger nodded. “Exactly. It's up to you.” He looked between the two of them before his gaze settled on Rose once again.”Back to your mum. It's all waiting. Fish and chips, sausage and mash, beans on toast- no!” He looked almost frustrated with himself. “Christmas!” He remembered. “Turkey.” His head turned. “Although, having met your mother, nut loaf seems more appropriate.”

Rose smiled the tiniest bit, hiding it into Jack’s chest, almost like she didn't want it to even be happening at all.

“Was that a smile?” The stranger looked absolutely overjoyed.

“No.” Rose said quickly, continuing to hide her face.

“That was a smile.” The stranger said proudly.

“No.”

“You smiled.”

Rose shook her head. Jack had never seen her act this shy before. “No, I didn't.”

The stranger looked defeated. “Come on, all I did was change, I didn't-” He cried out, doubling over and stumbling back. He stood up straight again, a wild look in his eye.

“What?” Rose looked confused.

Jack put an arm in front of her, using his body to shield her. He could feel that something wasn't right. “Stay behind me.” He warned, not willing to allow her to be hurt.

The stranger seized up again. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh? What does that mean, uh-oh?” Jack demanded sharply, not risking anything if it meant Rose was in danger.

The stranger exhaled and golden light poured from his mouth and into the air. Rose stared at it and watched as it drifted up. “What is that?”

The stranger shook his head. “The change is going a bit wrong.” He cried out and doubled over again, sinking further to the floor.

“Wrong?” Jack asked. “What do you mean, wrong? I need answers!”

“Answers? Who has time for answers? I have questions.” The stranger said, looking at a switch on the console. “I wonder what this one does.” He switched it, causing the TARDIS to lurch, everyone flying towards one side.

“What are doing?!” Rose cried out, sounding terrified.

The stranger grinned maniacally. “Putting on a bit of speed!” He flipped a few switches and pressed a few knobs. “That's it!” He sounded like a madman. “You beautiful ship! That a girl, faster!” He looked at Jack and Rose, the glint in his eye maddening. “What do you think, faster?”

“Absolutely not!” Jack tried to tackle him away from the console. He couldn't risk a crash.

“Stop it!” Rose demanded at the same time.

“Come on, don't be so dull!” The stranger protested, trying to avoid Jack's swipes at him. “Have a little bit of fun! We're going to rip through that vortex!”

Jack managed to grab him and push him down. “Oh, my head.” He grimaced before struggling against the American.

Bells started going off and alarms started ringing. Rose looked around frantically. “What's happening?!”

“Crash landing!” The stranger announced gleefully.

“You're going to kill us!” Rose looked around for something she could do.

“You better hold on tight!” The stranger exclaimed, grinning wildly.

Jack ran back to the console, but it was far too late. They were going to crash.