Warnings: Angst, mentions of suicide & emotional issues, sex, infidelity (though it's not expressly clear which of them he is actually unfaithful to)
Spoilers: Vague Series 7 references
Characters/Pairings: Eleven/Jack, Eleven/River
Word Count: 4,500
Summary: The Doctor felt like he might never stop falling, if only they hadn't fallen with him. He always runs, the library was always waiting for River, and Jack will never stop dying. He can't fix things, only give them what he can of himself.
A/N: For Mandy (only took me a month to finish the last few paragraphs!)...I was going to write some kinky PWP as an ode to unproductive days, but my kink for angsty emotion kicked in and this happened instead. It's been that long since I have been able to write anything I wasn't going to argue...Also, once again porniness ends up happening on the console...*shrugs* it's a thing.
Chapter titles from When you Come by Crowded House; as the mood of the song inspired this fic.
Now a prequel scene here - I will find you by the sea
~~~Fresh like a daisy chained up in a lion's den~~~
He ran his fingers over Jack's coat where it lay tossed over a chair. The room was spartan. There should be an odd collection of bits and pieces Jack had collected over the years; instead it looked like Jack only intended to stay here a night or two, but he knew this room had already been home for several years. It was on a small planet about as far as you could get from both Earth and the Boeshane Peninsular. In fact there were very few humans in this whole system. Undoubtedly why Jack had chosen to live here, the man had all but shut himself off from humanity for the last few years.
"Good thing I'm not human," he mumbled to himself.
"What?" Jack asked.
"Nothing," he answered, looking up at Jack.
Jack sat in the shadows, staring out the window. "What are you doing here?"
"Was in the neighbourhood. Well...when I say neighbourhood."
"You know I don't just sit around waiting for you to drop by on a whim."
"No, 'course not."
It had been what? Three years, since he had seen Jack, shortly after he lost the Ponds. He glanced out the window at the beach he could barely see in the late evening light. He had sat on that beach for hours until it felt like he could breathe again. Jack had been there the whole time.
He hadn't been back since.
"Sorry, I probably should have called..."
"Or come back sooner." Jack didn't sound bitter, just...resigned.
"Doesn't matter...How's River?"
Jack sounded tired. Anger would have been easier.
"You know...she's River."
Jack looked up at him. "She's not travelling with you?"
Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, both staring out at the deepening gloom as night swallowed the beach completely from sight.
"Been travelling alone," he eventually said, in a half hearted attempt to break the heavy silence. "I did ask her to join me. She didn't think it was a good idea, suggested I find someone else."
"So what? She sent you here recruiting?" Jack asked, the bitterness now starting to cut through the exhaustion. Jack scoffed. "Course not. Doubt she's ever even heard of me. That's the way it works isn't it?"
He flinched. He had never spoken to River about Jack. Though probably not for the reasons Jack presumed.
"Of course not, mentioning us would imply you actually cared. You just keep running, no matter who falls behind." Jack moved, grabbing his coat from beneath the Doctor's fingers. "And River? Will you abandon her too?"
His jaw worked silently, a flood of heated words caught somewhere in his throat as those words hit too close to home. He knew that Jack was falling apart at the seams and wouldn't stop tugging at his own frayed edges if left on his own, but anger got the better of him. Jack walked out and he didn't stop him.
Jack was right, he ran, he always ran. So that's what he did.
~~~Cover the ground with ashes~~~
The Doctor gripped the lever tighter than strictly necessary, poked forcefully at buttons that didn't really need pushing. He could feel his anger twist inside himself, writhing like some sort of feral animal, tearing at his hearts, desperate for the slick feel of blood. He knew that Jack had been deliberately baiting him, seeking a reaction, and he hated that he had given Jack exactly what he wanted.
He slammed the lever down, sending the TARDIS hurtling into the time vortex with no set destination.
Forcing a deep breath into his lungs he tried to let the anger go, it settled somewhere deep inside instead, but at least it didn't feel like it was about to come bursting out of him anymore. The urge to rip apart whatever he could get his hands on fading to a simmering boil he was used to, that he could control.
Another breath and his anger turned cold. He leant against the control panel, hands bracing his weight as his head fell forwards, dimly aware the TARDIS had landed somewhere. He had no idea where, really didn't care, until the doors opened and a familiar voice sounded behind him.
"Why, hello sweetie," River greeted, voice as usual dripping with a strange mix of sexual innuendo and something bordering on condescension, or dare, bluff, he was never really sure.
"Really wasn't expecting you, you should have called," she continued, the perpetual flirt.
A wry smile tugged at his lips despite his mood, or maybe because of it, as her words echoed those he had offered to Jack. He had long since been able to figure out when he was dealing with a younger or older River, and this was a River he definitely knew, intimately.
"Where's the fun in that?" He asked, still not looking up, the words holding little mirth or warmth.
"You're alone?" She asked, that slight hesitation in her voice that he knew meant she was figuring out where they were up to.
He let out a hiss of air by way of reply. He had been alone for years. River had refused to travel with him full time after, well after... and Jack? Jack pissed him off nearly as often as he drove him over the edge with an impossible, aching want for things that were probably never going to be. Between the two was a black hole of guilt and self hatred that saw him running with a desperation he'd never felt before, nipping at his heels, waiting for him to stumble.
"Oh..." she said to herself quietly.
He shifted slightly as she came to stand beside him, lifting a hand to gently caress his cheek, turning his head slightly until he looked up at her. He could see in her eyes that she understood this was after Amy and Rory for him, he doubted she realised how long. He wasn't in the frame of mind for the flash of sympathy, tinged with her own grief he could see in her eyes.
He kissed her instead. Not in the mood for words. He moved quickly, pressing her against the console, leaning into her, lips pressing, tongue insistent. River made a humming noise, clearly caught off guard, but apparently more than content to go along with him.
If she could see the mass of emotions swirling in his head, maybe she wouldn't be so pliant. He slid a hand up her back, running fingers through her hair, getting it slightly tangled as he cradle the back of her head, continuing to kiss her desperately, as if the answer to questions he hadn't even formed yet lay on the tip of her tongue. His other hand slid up her ribs, cupping a breast, thumb ghosting over her nipple, causing her to moan, shifting so her breast pressed more firmly into his hand.
Maybe she wouldn't be arching into him if she could see how as his tongue slid against hers an image of Jack flashed into his thoughts, causing him to groan with lingering anger. He didn't know if he hoped River would mistake it for passion, or see it for what it was. He squeezed her nipple, making her gasp into his mouth, the sound of it hitting him low in the gut, as he wonder if he ever wanted her to know the truth, if he wanted her to slap him, to stop him.
Though he had no idea what he wanted her to stop him from; feeling the ghost of Jack every time he touched her, or from touching her at all?
Growling, the sound thrumming deep in his throat as he tried to push aside his thoughts, he dropped his hands, grabbing River by the thighs and lifting, settling her arse on the console. She wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him close until he could feel the heat of her pushed against him.
His hands impatiently pulled at buttons, glad that for once she wasn't wearing anything tight fitting. He didn't stop kissing her until he had her shirt open and breasts bared to the cool air of the control room. He pulled back, running a thumb over a nipple again, watching as River sucked in her lip when he rolled it between his fingers, squeezing, lowering his head to tease at the other one with his tongue. He could feel her body tense at the slight pain, but she didn't pull away.
They didn't do this often, their relationship a string of random encounters. He could see her surprise at his assertiveness; see the hope in her eyes that maybe in her future this was something they did more. He could never tell her it was all coming to an end sooner rather than later.
He didn't feel like languishing, so he slipped a hand lower, tugging at buttons, and hastily, awkwardly, pulling down her pants. River shimmied her hips, helping him to get them down. He used a foot to roughly drag them the rest of the way off. He lifted one of her knees, using his body to push it up and to the side, he trailed his hand from her breast, over her smooth stomach, fingers digging into her flesh ever so slightly, just enough to make her arch into him, wanting more.
He moved lower, thumb swirling over her nub, he could feel she was already getting wet. He half turned his body, keeping the one leg trapped, as he used a hand to push the other thigh away from him, spreading her, trailing a finger down her wetness, teasing.
River half chuckled as he looked up at her. Jack rarely laughed any more.
He slipped two fingers into her, the memory of Jack's once unbridled laugh causing his breath to hitch. He pushed straight in, as deep as he could go. River tilted her hips, pushing down further onto his fingers, moving so that his knuckles rubbed against her clit. He fingered her gently, deeply, closing his eyes, trying to push the faint memory of the tilt of Jack's lips as he grinned further aside with each stroke.
River arched, caught up in what his fingers were doing to her, thankfully oblivious to his train of thought, as his breath caught in his throat, realising how much he wanted to see that smile again, to hear Jack laugh.
River opened her eyes, looking up at him with questioning concern. He forced his lips to twist into a wicked smile, leaning down to suck a nipple into his mouth.
"I'm going to make you come, twice, right here on the console," he said, looking up at her as he flicked her nipple with his tongue.
At the moment he didn't want to understand what he was feeling. He just wanted to push River over the edge, see if she would join him on the downward spiral. He doubted it. She probably didn't even realise he had leapt off the precipice years ago, and had been free falling ever since. He ignored the voice in the back of his head that told him Jack would unthinkingly swan dive over the brink with him. Barley heard the even smaller voice that said maybe Jack already had, and the two of them would never hit bottom.
He pushed his fingers into her harder, feeling her arousal. He pulled out, causing her to sigh at the sudden emptiness. He rolled his thumb across her clit, using her wetness to slick his fingers before entering her again, this time with three fingers. He pushed into her faster this time, harder, the sudden switch in tempo making River moan, arching up off the console, urging him to go even faster, deeper. He obliged, fingers making slick, wet noises as they slid in and out of her, knuckles hitting against her on every in stroke.
River's moans grew louder, more uncontrolled. He kept up the pace, not giving her any choice except to come. His cocked twitched, aching against the fabric of his pants when she did, feeling her convulse onto his fingers, he didn't stop fingering her hard and deep until she was though the other side.
True to his word he made her come again, this time leaning down to suck and lick at her as his fingers worked her to climax again.
River half sat up, leaning up to kiss him as she unbuckled his pants, reaching in to pull his hard cock out. He didn't bother pushing his pants all the way down, just pushed her back onto the console and entered her in one hard thrust. This wasn't going to take long anyway with pent up frustrations fuelling him. He bit his tongue as he came a few hard strokes later to keep from gasping Jack's name.
He may not be what River deserved, but he tried to give as much of himself to her as he could. He'd just never realised before how little there was left to give.
He helped River stand. They dressed. River flirted. He smiled. The whole time all he could hear was white noise.
River eventually left. He waved at her from the door, tight smile fixed in place. He turned around, closing the door behind himself, fingers lingering over the lock as his breath hitched. He leant his forehead against the coolness of the door, trying to steady himself as everything felt like it was spinning out of kilter.
He wondered if he would ever be done with fucking up the lives of those who got too close to him. How long would it take for them to realise he did nothing but burn away everything good until there was nothing left but ashes. The blame for Jack's eternal existence lay firmly at the Doctor's feet, and it was only a matter of time until River found herself at the library.
He turned, looking around the empty control room. His back hit hard against the door as his knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor. His breaths coming in rough gasps, hearts pounding, and all he could taste was ash.
~~~With your kisses hard like armour~~~
He had seen Jack down before, knew all too well the toll of his longevity. He knew Jack walked into danger without a second thought, but he didn't think it had ever been like this before. Or maybe it had and he just hadn't seen it, hadn't wanted to.
Jack breathed in, a reluctant soft flutter of air out again as life returned.
He didn't say anything, didn't reach over to offer comfort. What he wanted to do was wrap Jack in his arms and kiss away the pain, the horror, but his arms felt like lead weights and wouldn't move. He felt like he couldn't breathe as he watched Jack's chest rise and fall again, body knitting back together to its perpetual state of being. Jack opened his eyes, staring blankly at the grey sky above, no spark in them, no relief, or will to embrace life, life that went on and on, punctuated by countless deaths.
This was his third today.
Watching Jack kill himself, over and over, begging for this death to be the last, knowing it wouldn't be. He didn't know what to do, how to stop it, how to get the Jack back who was all smiles and flirtatious energy. Loyal, beautiful Jack, before he had broken him.
He rubbed a hand over his face, finally finding the ability to move again as Jack rolled to his feet, and reached for a half empty bottle of whiskey that was sitting with his coat the Doctor had folded up while waiting for Jack to revive. He idly wondered if Jack's body had rid itself of the booze Jack had been drowning himself in all day when it came back to life.
Jack was standing with his back to him. Shoulders slumped, the hand that loosely held the bottle shaking.
Jack didn't answer, didn't seem to acknowledge the words at all, as he lifted the bottle to his lips.
He finally found the will to move his feet, reaching a hand up to Jack's shoulder. He could feel Jack tense; his whole body seemed to be trembling. Jack pulled away before turning and flinging the bottle at some nearby rocks with a strangled scream, shoulders heaving with choked breathes from tears or more screams that wouldn't come as he fell to his knees.
He dropped down beside Jack, hands hesitantly reaching out, not sure if he should touch him again. Jack looked up at him, eyes raw with emotion, seething rage, desperate pleading, all drowning in an utter, pervading exhaustion.
"I can't, do...this," Jack whispered, the words broken as he moved his hand in an aborted wave, as if to indicate his whole existence.
There was nothing he could say. There was no end in sight for Jack. Nothing either of them could do. Jack just...was, and he would keep on being.
He could feel tears falling down his cheeks. He rubbed roughly at them. His tears were useless.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as he finally laid a hand on Jack's arm.
This time Jack didn't pull away, didn't move at all. He leaned in and kissed Jack, the only thing he could think to do. Jack didn't react at first, until his body shivered and he let out a desolate moan, the sound ripping at the Doctor's hearts at the utter hopelessness of it.
His fingers dug into Jack's shoulders, pulling him closer, tongue sliding into Jack's mouth, tentative, seeking, soothing. Jack leaned into him, as if the effort to stay upright was beyond him, the fingers of one hand curled in the Doctor's jacket while the other splayed against his chest where he could probably feel the pounding of his two hearts.
He reached up a hand to caress Jack's cheek, fingers brushing away tears. He pulled back slightly; Jack's eyes were closed, eyelashes fragile against his cheek, his expression a study in grief and suffering.
"I'm sorry," he whispered again.
"Why?" Jack asked, sounding confused.
He didn't know if Jack remembered ever blaming him, which only made it hurt more. He wanted to use his kisses and touches to piece Jack back together, build some kind of armour against the pain. He knew it would never be enough, but could only try anyway. Soft drops of rain started falling but he didn't care, just stayed where he was, on his knees holding Jack, their warm breathes mingling as rain turned the world around them grey.
~~~I'll know you by the thunderclap~~~
River eyed the man, taking in the overcoat. He looked startled, like he hadn't expected her to acknowledge him. This was a back water planet full of mercenaries and people who didn't want to be found, yet she was pretty sure that somehow, this man had just saved her. Though she wasn't quite sure how.
She had heard the shot. Too late of course, had spared a thought for her husband, hoping he would forgive her for getting killed over some random archaeological trinket from a race pretty much no one remembered, had closed her eyes as she turned, expecting the shot to end her.
It didn't. She had no idea where it had hit, but it hadn't hit her. Instead, the two of them had fought off the remaining mercenaries.
The man was looking at her oddly, though for the life of her she couldn't place the emotion that flicked across his face before fading behind a resigned mask that was even harder to decipher.
The stream of flirtatious banter that she would usually fill situations like this with died on her tongue as he barely acknowledged the words. There was something about him, something familiar. He continued his silent, strangely apathetic scrutiny of her, before finally shrugging his shoulders and looking away.
"Anytime," he replied blandly.
He turned and walked away. "Hey!" She called after him. "Who are you?"
He paused looking back at her. He smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Sometimes I barely remember. I'm just a ghost, falling through the universe and I'll never stop."
She didn't stop him this time when he walked away without looking back, though she watched until he was out of sight. It wasn't till she holstered her gun that she realised what had been familiar about him. It wasn't the face, she was pretty sure she had never seen him before. It was something in his eyes that reminded her of the way the Doctor sometimes looked. Eyes that looked like they had seen planets die and stars turn cold.
River never noticed the pool of blood where he had been standing, nor the trail of it left in his wake from the bullet he had taken that would have killed her.
~~~Pouring like a rain of blood to my emotions~~~
The Singing Towers, he had dreaded them for so long, and now it was over. He knew that right now, River was preparing for her mission to the Library, that she would soon realise he had always known how and when she would die. He wasn't really surprised when Jack turned up only hours after he had dropped her off. Of course he would be here. River might not have known why he was crying as they danced, but Jack did.
Jack didn't say anything, just sat down next to him where he was slumped against the console.
"I promised I wouldn't change a thing," he said quietly a long time later.
Part of him wanted to, he didn't know if that made him feel worse or better. He ran his hand through his hair. The tears were gone, and he just felt empty.
"I know," Jack answered.
The air felt heavy, everything seemed just that little bit hazy in the half dark control room. He didn't move, just closed his eyes and tried to remember how to breathe without it hurting.
"I met her once, you know," Jack said.
He looked up at Jack surprised. Jack wasn't looking at him, just staring across the room, the muted lights from the console splashing across his face.
"She was all hair and smiles, even as bullets were flying all around her," Jack said softly. "She looked extraordinary."
He looked back down at his hands, wringing them together as he drew his knees up.
"She was amazing."
He could feel the thrum of the engines through the floor, the heat of Jack beside him. Neither of them said anything else, but Jack sat with him through the rest of the night.
~~~Pulled up heaving from the bottom of the ocean~~~
The TARDIS drifted amongst the vast tendrils of a nebula he knew the name of, but couldn't be bothered remembering. He could feel the gentle shift and flow of gravity from nearby protostars mixed with aftershocks of a nova long past, the birth and death of stars creating uneasy currents at war with each other. For the first time in what felt like decades, he let himself be lulled by the seemingly unending majesty of the universe, closed his eyes and let that push pull of creation and destruction flow around him. It felt like somehow, without him noticing, he had started breathing again after his lungs had been starved of air for years.
He felt the slight shift of air behind him accompanied by the smell of ozone from Jack's vortex manipulator. He smiled at the thought that Jack was like a thunderclap, the crash of air molecules after their violent parting, a rush of sound that reverberated through his very bones and left goose bumps, an electric thrill that traced its way across his skin, leaving him waiting breathless until the next flash of lightening.
It had been almost seven months since he had seen Jack. He had missed him, but it felt comfortable, that knowledge that it didn't matter how long it was Jack would always be there.
He didn't look around, just smiled when Jack moved to stand behind him, hands slipping beneath the Doctor's coat to rest on his hips as Jack leant in and brushed a chaste kiss on the skin just below his ear. He looked at Jack best he could without really moving, his whole body going lax as his peaceful mood deepened.
"You know this nebula is hell on my navigation?" Jack asked, lazily lifting the arm the manipulator was fitted to.
"Rubbish way to travel."
"How else am I meant to find you?"
He turned so his back was leaning against the door frame, letting Jack lean into him for an unhurried kiss. Jack pulled back eventually, turning his head slightly to look out the still open door to the nebulous vista.
"It is beautiful." Jack said quietly.
Studying the other man's profile in the glow of newborn and dying stars, he couldn't help but agree.
He had lost count of how many years it had been since he first met Jack in London. Had even less of an idea of how long it had been for Jack, though his best estimate put it at least three thousand years, probably more. Jack hadn't changed a lot physically, but there were a myriad of difference if you knew where to look. There was a fine web of lines at the corner of his eyes that hadn't been there, they were old eyes now, ones that had seen too much. The hold of his shoulders was different too, as the weight of all those years rested on them.
He lifted a hand to trace his fingers over those lines. Jack leant into the touch, smiling sadly as if he knew what the Doctor was thinking. People had called the Doctor a lonely god before; looking at Jack he knew they were wrong, because this is what a lonely god looked like. Jack was more at peace with himself now, but that may not last, where would he be in a thousand years, in a million? How empty would the universe look to a man who endured, a man who would still be here to see the new stars forming outside the TARDIS turn to dust, who kept living whether he wanted to or not?
"Are you ever going to get rid of that coat?" he asked, trying to shake his thoughts away as he ran his fingers along the collar of the coat Jack somehow still had.
Jack laughed, it was only a small huff of air, yet it tightened his throat. He knew he would never tire of making Jack smile, even if it only lasted for the short time they spent together. The thought of Jack's perpetual life bringing a pang of sadness and guilt, but he pushed those feeling aside, reaching up to drag Jack in for another kiss instead, rolling his tongue across Jack's as filthily as he could until Jack groaned.
Their bodies rolled together, the motion languorous, a sweet torment he didn't want to ever stop. He guessed that in the end, if you kept falling for long enough, sooner or later it became flying.
Read companion piece When Fleeting Shadows Meet...