Actions

Work Header

Leave The Light On

Work Text:

The summer Jack was fifteen, his sister stepped out of the world. "Gone for pomegranates," the note on the kitchen table said, black marker and a backward slant.

 

He'd rolled out of bed with the sun that morning, and the light slanted in through the window, catching on dust motes and casting everything ochre. There was a window open, moist air coming in off the lake at the edge of town.

 

Gone for pomegranates in his sister's neat script; and he stood there for a minute or two, tile cold on his bare feet, before he climbed the stairs to her room. It was neat, clothes in the hamper and blanket pulled tight across her bed, books stacked with clinical precision on top of her dresser; and that was when he knew that she was gone. Her shirts were hung in the closet and only one pair of boots was gone from beside the door, but her paints and brushes were tucked away and he could see her floor.

 

Her room faced east, catching the rising sun like his across the hall caught the sunset. On the middle of her bed was a bracelet, the only thing in the room out of place. He knew before he picked it up which one it would be, links cool against his skin. Pouring silver back and forth between his hands, he stood there, watching the sun rise and the day blossom, until he heard his parents moving about downstairs.

 

The metal had long since warmed to body temperature when he slipped the bracelet on. His parents were sitting at the table, drinking bottled water and eating toast with jam. His mother pushed a piece towards him and he sat barefoot at the table; his sister's note sitting beside the butter and the bracelet glinting on his wrist, and no one said a word.

 

*

 

"Thromla'mnxeiq," Rose says, eyes almost crossed in concentration.

 

The Doctor winces. "Close."

 

"My mother," Jack says, "did no such thing."

 

"Thromnila'mnxiwq," the Doctor says again, patiently. "They're called the Thromnila'mnxiwq."

 

They're on Earth, mid-thirtieth century. Rose and the Doctor are sitting on a blanket, blue checked with green, remainder of the meal sitting forgotten beside them. Jack is lying on his back in the grass, arms behind his head and blades tickling his skin.

 

"Thromnla'mnxeq," Rose says, tripping over the sounds that don't exist in the English language.

 

"Well, you're getting there," the Doctor says, snagging a pastry from the plate at his side and tossing it at her. She laughs, brightly, and Jack watches the cloudless sky (just the wrong shade of blue), high rises of the urban sprawl crowding the edges of his vision.

 

They've been on-planet for almost a week, Rose tearing through the shops, dragging them with her to look at shirts and shoes and dresses and jewellery. It wasn't too long before the Doctor retreated to the TARDIS, muttering something beneath his breath about completing repairs. Jack and Rose spent an entire afternoon in a music store two city blocks long, listening to the oldies for the very first time. He took her to the gardens at the top of the towers where alien and Earth hybrid vines wound their way up to the skylights, to the zoos encased in metal and artificial sunlight two hundred metres below ground.

 

The entire planet is one urban sprawl; grass and trees contained in carefully maintained nature preserves. They're only a century or two away from the Great Decline, and Jack can feel it in the air. There's a building discord amongst the people on the street, a pressure caused by too many billion people breathing the same air.

 

Now, though, they are sitting on a grassy knoll and Rose is twisting her tongue to try to say Thromnila'mnxiwq because the Doctor won't take them until she can pronounce it without insulting anyone's mother or grandmother. The Doctor looks pale in the sunlight and Jack can't imagine what it must feel like to him, the rising desperation and coming fall.

 

They've been here for almost a week, and Jack can feel a familiar restlessness building his skin, a desire for touch or action. He tracks the sweep of Rose's hair, the curve of the Doctor's neck, the way the sun plays over their skin. The shadow of the TARDIS is just starting to work its way over the blanket, and he thinks about the fact that at this very minute, someone is developing the star drive that will carry his ancestors away from this place.

 

"Thromnilly'minx," Rose laughs.

 

The Doctor is watching him, Jack realizes, head tilted and eyes dark --

 

"So, when are you going to tell her they encourage off-worlders to call them the Thromna?" Jack asks, finally.

 

-- but his face is not unkind, and when Rose whaps him, he smiles.

 

*

 

Not much to do growing up on a border moon. School was school -- sums and temporal mechanics, literature and alien languages. Students divided up by year, mainly, but there was a single advanced class. It meant Jack was in a class with his sister even though she was two years older, Julia pressing their teacher with questions that grew more and more difficult as the poor man grew more and more frantic. Jack mainly stared out the window at the planet hanging in the sky above them, tapping his stylus back and forth until someone reached over and smacked his hand down onto his desk.

 

Not much to do on a border moon on hazy summer afternoons, long evenings with the heat still radiating from the ground. Not much to do but fuck and fight, parties out by the edge of the lake, toxic water rushing up the shore. They lit bonfires against the dark and Jack would slip off with boys and girls and girls and boys, drink homebrew from heavy plastic cups, watch the flames soar and the stars come out.

 

Fight and fuck, but he's always preferred lips and hearts to fists and anger. The press of bark against his hands, his back, to split knuckles and black eyes.

 

Every so often, one of the kids their age (they were kids, he knows now, though at the time they seemed so old, so world weary) would disappear. Catch a flight off world or hop a flitter one colony over, take a long swim in the lake or drink the water.

 

The week after Julia left, they had a bonfire on the beach, building the wood up at low tide, and watched from the grass as the waves came in on the shore, igniting for two seconds, three, every time they brushed the flames.

 

*

 

The Doctor, Jack, and Rose stop the meltdown of a power plant on Europidea 2, help raise a revolution on Wellspone in the 57th century, attend the Festival of 1000 Stars, watch the formation of three stars and one black hole, and narrowly avoid death during the explosion of a candy cane factory. Jack teaches Rose to dance the Flinarian slide in the control room of the TARDIS while the Doctor mocks them because human ears just can't pick up the intricacies in Flinarian quadric tonal melodies.

 

Whenever they are running for their lives, Rose is smiling. Whenever Jack wakes late at night and stumble into the control room with sleep in his eyes and half-formed dreams slipping from his mind, the Doctor will be sitting there, hands wrapped around tea long since cold and eyes focused on something a million years away. Whenever the hum of the TARDIS's engines changes, the Doctor will make some remark about moderately evolved apes, but he will hand Jack a spanner, and they pull at wires and reverse polarities while Rose sits on the couch and sings along with her iPod.

 

The domesticity of it is strange, the ease to their days an unfamiliar quantity he doesn't quite know how to handle.

 

The TARDIS is a labyrinth, all twists and turns and shifting rooms, metal floors giving way to wood giving way to marble so gradually you don't realize one change is upon you until you've reached the next. The Doctor has always said she's slightly psychic and sometimes, when the itch beneath his skin is the greatest, he thinks she spins the corridors for him. Presents him with a new route, maze, a combination of halls and rooms no one has ever walked before.

 

Jack thinks he can almost feel them, the shifts, the corridors that don't exist yet, the changes in the deck plates beneath his feet. Even when they're not traveling, they're never standing still.

 

*

 

Julia always used to talk about getting out, getting away. Seeing somewhere where the sky was bright blue instead of indigo, with no gas giant looming overhead. She'd lock herself away in her room and paint for hours, strange towering buildings and familiar plants in all the wrong colours, stars and streaming nebulas depicting higher mathematics.

 

She was exhausted, always, when she was done, paint dried to her fingers, smudged across her brow, hair plastered to the back of her neck. She would sleep for long hours afterwards, and hers was the first lock he learned to pick. He would leave water beside her bed, fruit and cheese.

 

He used to stand and stare at the paintings he knew she would never show anyone. They unsettled him in some way he could never define, something about the mathematics of the shapes, the mechanics of the light and shadows. Julia's awareness of time had always been as keen as his, and though they never spoke of it, sometimes they would sit side by side and watch the moments pass.

 

Just before his fifteenth birthday, he found out she was painting with lake water.

 

*

 

On Proserpina, they do not have to run for their lives. It's a nice change because on the last planet Jack took a cap to the rear. The Doctor and Rose were fine, of course, but when they got back to the TARDIS the Doctor couldn't hold a straight face and Rose fell over laughing.

 

Proserpina has an indigo sky and a bright red sun. The Doctor parks them on a beach, saying they need a bit of a break, and Rose runs down the bright white sand in a distracting bikini. The waves are a clear and sharp blue, closer to cyan, and he closes his eyes when she splashes in. When he opens them, the Doctor is watching him closely, towel slung around his shoulders. "Coming?" he asks.

 

Jack knows he should, that he should slip into trunks and flirt and swim, make Rose blush and the Doctor roll his eyes, enjoy the feeling of water against his skin. This moment, like all moments, is transitory and impermanent, and if he misses it now it will never come again. He should lie on his back in the sand, watch the clouds pass across the sky and listen to the moments pass. "Nah," he says, and turns his head as Rose dives beneath the water. "Got some things to take care of."

 

The Doctor looks at him strangely, looks as if he's about to ask a question, but he stands silent as Jack brushes by him and back into the TARDIS. Jack half hopes the Doctor will reach out to stop him, but he says nothing, does not touch his skin.

 

The sound of waves lapping against shore carries into the control room, sea birds and laughter, and the TARDIS twists corridors beneath his feet, leading him further and further away.

 

It takes him through rooms, this time. Bedrooms that are almost like (and nothing like) his, dust on the floors and bedspreads and dressers. He sees Victorian poster beds, drapes faded with time, hammocks, piles of pillows with blankets folded by their sides, beds just like his, but with crocheted blankets or rough home-spun wool or fading silk. He sees dressers scattered with cosmetics or vials of coloured liquid, dressers with pistols or swords or axes across their tops, dressers that are meticulously neat. It's the ones with drawers half-open that bother him the most, the beds that are forever unmade.

 

There's a book by his bed and he has the sudden, irrational need to finish it, so that when he's gone it will not remain, propped open and half-read, while the pages yellow and the print fades.

 

*

 

When Jack was about 26 (you tended to lose track of the exact number of days, of hours, you'd experienced when you spent so much of your life outside of time) he woke up disoriented and realized he was actually about 28.

 

There wasn't a huge gap in his mind, a hole he could look at and recognize as a space where something important used to be. He went to bed one night, and when he woke up the next morning his sister's bracelet was gone from around his wrist. There was a feeling like jet lag, like the moments as they passed were newer than they should have been.

 

Discreet inquiries led to not-discreet inquiries led to a shouting match between himself and the Director of the Time Agency.

 

"Classified," they said, and "for your own good." Bland faces and blank computer screens, and even with all of the connections he's built up over the years he can't find a single concrete word. TW-GAL is the notation on all his files, and the security clearance required to access those files won't exist for another hundred years.

 

*

 

New York, 2023. The Doctor takes them to an underground club in the early morning hours. 24-hour bars are still new and exciting, and the entire city is in a retro phase. They play Billy Joel and The Beatles and Nirvana and 50 Cent, techno remixes of Bach and Beethoven, electric rock covers of Dar Williams and Sufjan Stevens. It's a perfect excuse for eyeliner and jeans that are one size too tight, and he helps Rose pick out a men's suit with a flamingo pink tank top beneath. The Doctor wears his jumper and his leather jacket and watches from a table as they dance.

 

"Come on," Jack says, and "Please," Rose wheedles, but the Doctor crosses his arms and does not venture onto the dance floor until they drag him bodily.

 

It's 6 AM by the time they leave, laughing and exhausted, and what's visible of the sky between the buildings is starting to lighten. Streetlights and neon and the headlights of passing cars are bright, and Jack grabs three pomegranates from one of the venders set up outside the park.

 

"Catch," he says, tossing them, and they wander through the urban sprawl, staining their fingers and lips with the juice. Rose eats the seeds, the Doctor spits his out. Jack eats his slowly, carefully, and Rose laughs at his concentration. "You'd think," she says, "you'd never had one before."

 

Jack just shrugs. "Maybe I haven't."

 

"Really?" Rose asks, walking backwards in front of him, face still flushed. "Why, Captain, an area in which my experience is greater than yours?"

 

He grins. "If you'd ever like to get any of those other areas up to speed, you know where my room is."

 

Rose grins and whaps him. There is pomegranate juice on her fingers, and it transfers to his shirt, vivid against the white. "What, they don't have pomegranate in the 50th century?"

 

"I happen to know they do," the Doctor says. "Pomegranates, like bananas, are good."

 

"Oh, they have them on Earth," Jack says, pulling more seeds from the flesh and tossing them into his mouth. "Not on Bansworth Colony, though. Something about the water."

 

"Wait," Rose says. Stops walking. "You're not from--"

 

"Nope," he says, and drops a kiss to her forehead. "Colony brat."

 

"Tell me all about it," she says, eyes bright.

 

"Not much to say," he tells her. "Not too terribly different than growing up anywhere else." Towns were isolated from each other by forest and empty space, and he and Julia used to run as far into them as they could, before the brush became too thick, before Julia discovered art and Jack discovered girls and boys.

 

"But you couldn't grow pomegranates, right?"

 

They could grow pomegranates, because pretty much anything would grow from the ground water. Only catch was that the same thing that was wrong with the lake was wrong with the groundwater. Chemical balance wasn't quite right to start off with, and then came the mines. They grew most of their own food from purified water. Fruit imported from offworld was ungodly expensive, and his parents, like everyone else's, were just miners.

 

"Something about the water," he says again. They are standing on a sidewalk with cars rushing by them and people flowing around them, neon signs and headlights casting their faces in sharp relief, and Jack feels the sudden need for motion.

 

"Come on," he says, scooping the last of the seeds to his mouth, and he grabs Rose by the hand. Their fingers are sticky and tangle together, and they dart off towards the TARDIS.

 

The Doctor follows behind, more slowly, and Jack can feel his eyes burning into his back.

 

*

 

The summer Jack was seventeen, he stepped out of the world. He didn't leave a note on the kitchen table -- his sister's had been for him, not for their parents -- just took off for the spaceport one evening. Hung around until he found a pilot who liked the curve of Jack's neck, and didn't look back.

 

He would wonder, sometimes, how long it took his parents to notice, if the party that week had a bonfire in his honour.

 

*

 

"Who?"

 

Jack is reading in the control room, legs pulled up onto the couch. "You're up late," he says, placing his book face down beside him. He's three-quarters done, and he thinks he knows how it will end.

 

"Late implies some sort of reference time," the Doctor says. He's leaning against the wall, arms crossed. "I'm familiar with the history of Bansworth. You lot poisoned your own well."

 

Jack's shrug is cursory.

 

"Shouldn't have settled there in the first place, with the water like it was. Jujan mines just made it worse."

 

"Psychoactive and addictive," Jack says. "Don't have to tell me. But if you closed the mines, the colony would die."

 

The Doctor's face is cast in shadows in the muted light of the room. Everything is tan and green. "You died anyway," he says.

 

Jack feels his hands fist against his thighs.

 

"Adults, children," the Doctor says, walking into the room, steps measured and even. "By the hundreds, by the thousands. Just ... wasting away."

 

"You think I don't know that?" Jack snaps, finally. He's on his feet, pacing, and the Doctor leans back against a railing. "You think that I don't know?"

 

"Who?" the Doctor asks again, quietly this time, and Jack feels the anger leave him in a rush.

 

"My sister," he says, because he's gone over the spaceport records more times than he cares to recall, the birth and death records for the entire colony, and he's never found one trace of her. (He can see it now, the water absorbing into her system as the paint dried on her skin, the way her drawings contained more and more of what she should not have been able to see in this world, the dreamy look in her eyes that last evening when he was fifteen and stupid and hadn't realized she was saying goodbye as well as good night.)

 

"You've been angry for a very long time," the Doctor says, and Jack will not meet his eyes.

 

Jack braces his hands against the central console and hangs his head. He can see it now, see her standing in the trees at the edge of the lake as the sun rises and catches in her eyes. See her make her way across the rocks and kick off her shoes, the way the hem of her white skirt would have soaked up the water as she stepped forward, hair twisting around her in the breeze. "I haven't thought about her in years," he says.

 

"Uh huh," the Doctor says. Rests a hand on his back. "Thing is, if you don’t allow yourself the anger, it builds up."

 

"There's no point in it, though," he says. "If I knew -- if I knew what happened to her, if I knew what I did that they took from me, it wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't undo it." He's still staring at the console before him, and the wires trailing out of panels and winding to the central column. "All you can do is take each day and live it."

 

"Jack," the Doctor says. Quietly, so Jack can hear the hum of the TARDIS below his voice. "Jack, it wasn't your fault."

 

He knows that, he does, but -- "Sometimes," he says, "I think I spend so much time letting go that I forget about everything else."

 

"Well, that's no good," the Doctor says, hand still on Jack's shoulder, warm through his shirt. "You have to hold on to some things," he says. "Or at least, let some things hold on to you."

 

Jack bows his head, and he can feel the weight of it all on his shoulders, in his neck. The familiar restlessness is building beneath his skin, but the Doctor places a hand on top of his, and Jack turns his palm up so that their fingers can lace together.

 

And he holds on.