Just a little warning before the cut: The fic is slashy, and it's pretty dark. Otherwise, if you like the idea of reading about two men boozing and bonding, then by all means read on...
Genre: Introspective Slash
Pairing/Characters: Ten/Jackson Lake
Spoilers: The Next Doctor
Summary: Christmas morning post-dinner from Jackson's POV. He and The Doctor are having a quiet, gentlemanly drink and chat. Angst ensues.
Word Count: 2337 words
Disclaimer: The Doc and Jackson ain't mine, but the bottle of wine certainly is.
Author's Notes: Due credit and thanks to schildkroet's "Imprints in the Snow" (via One Teaspoon) for the creative nudge.
Night reigned supreme over these fair streets of London town, this particularly special morning that welcomed our traditional celebration of Christ’s birth. In sufferance from the wanton excesses of our joyous feast at the Traveller’s Holt, we treated ourselves to accommodation in the lodgings above, which, to our fortune, were available due to unexpected client absence. Rosita and Frederick were long tired and had already taken to bed in one room, quick in their submission to the tranquillity of slumber. That boy’s beautiful little smile as I kissed him goodnight on the forehead was truly a priceless sight to behold, one that I vowed myself never to forget again.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and I dithered away the time in our allotted room playing a leisurely game of piquet, every so often smattered with conversation that added further colour and texture to the light and shade of these otherwise surreal memories inside my mind, bringing the vivid and wondrous pictures to life; of felines who could speak, of exploding suns and dark, infinite vortices that were capable of consuming light and life alike, of other metal beings – the daleks – whose sole wish is to exterminate every other living creature that graces the god-given territories of this mortal plane, our universe. Earthly reality becomes exposed for the sheer absurdity of its cultural perversities and small-minded prejudice when imagining existence on this grander scale, the efforts of which wearied us both as morning arose.
“You look tired, Jackson,” he said, returning his array of cards back to the pile that resided on the table between us. “Maybe I should allow you to get some rest. It has been a pretty long day, after all.”
I collected the pile to arrange my cards as he had done, electing to cast them aside as I spoke. “Tired? Me? No! Regardless of my appearance, I am but a veritable creature of the night. The terrors certainly see to that.”
“I bet they do. Alcohol, I gather then, becomes quite a tempting prospect – not that I condone excessive use by any means, especially now that you’ve got a child to look after-”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” I responded, grinning at his continual verbal entanglements that so often resulted from his improvised manner of speech. “Liquor, though far from an ideal remedy, does provide significant respite, on occasion.”
“Such as now,” he proposed, a twinkle gleaming in his eye.
I spied the half-empty bottle beside his glass. “Indeed. I’d rather not preoccupy myself with the future. Between finding suitable accommodation for the three of us, learning to be myself again, ascertaining employment, and fathering a son, I haven’t a clue where to begin.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Normal life should be a stroll in the park compared to being me.” He smiled.
“I suppose so,” I mused, mirroring his smile. A normal life. Given everything that had already happened, it was a fate I could not genuinely fathom would ever befall me again.
“At least you’ll have Rosita around to help you out.”
“She has given such dutiful and patient service on my behalf, Doctor, that she is truly a blessing. I would greatly prefer to present her with a title more befitting of her qualities. Alas, I cannot. However, there are means of providing for a certain degree of flexibility within the discreet confines of her position. I can only hope she will be satisfied with the arrangement I am able to offer her. ”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that. From what I’ve seen of Rosita, she doesn’t strike me as the type who would just leave you for the sake of her own aspirations. She cares for you. A lot.”
“I know.” Between my thumb and forefinger, I twirled the glass stem back and forth, observing its contents swish and swirl. Words felt strangely hollow; buoyant in their meaninglessness, they drifted away from me. I wished to drown this demented emptiness that grew and welled inside the pit of my stomach, wash away the linear progression of time, obliterate everything alluded to by the prospect of the inevitable that stared me in the face as would a hangman’s noose. All that amounted to the impossible.
“You seem troubled, Jackson. Penny for your thoughts?”
Thankfully, his enquiry broke the silence that served to bury me deeper in my own lamentation.
“Duty bids you away shortly, onwards and upwards, as you have already mentioned. Nor would I harbour any desire for your progress to be delayed as a result of my own selfish indulgences. Yet without your presence here I feel that I will be entirely confined in my own mind, alone. I know not whether I can bear it again.” Shuddering at the sudden dark turn of thought I held my tongue until I could regain my composure, preferring to sooth it with the smooth red fluid from my glass than to give that mere contemplation form and reality it did not deserve. “You understand me better than anyone else I know. Even Rosita.”
Sadness tinged the Time-Lord’s countenance as he rose from his chair to collect the bottle between us and deliver yet another serving of liquor into each of our glasses. “If you’re feeling that this knowledge is too much of a burden for you to handle, there is something I can do to help…remove those memories.”
“In all honesty, despite my lapses into regret and melancholy over what serendipity has bestowed upon me, I wouldn’t resolve to change these circumstances. Never in a day would I wish to lose all these wonderful insights that I have gained. I’d sooner be sent off to Bedlam.”
To witness the glass poised to his lips in a paroxysm of anguish, etched upon his features illuminated in the harshness of candlelight, ached my very heart. I recalled our previous exchange that had culminated in us being together, here, wherefore that same anguish had revealed itself, a monster which posed a greater threat than any creature or foreign being he would encounter.
“My sincere apologies, Doctor, for upsetting you. I did not intend to cause you any offence.”
“No need to apologise. I’m fine, really,” he urged, planting the glass forcefully upon the table, as if the gesture would lend further authority to his statement.
“As we all are, I’m quite certain of it. Or so we conspire to tell ourselves, some more convincingly than others,” I remarked. “Nevertheless, the truth always seems to find its way out from behind the facade we present to the world, through dreams, moments of reverie, as well as in our reactions to events that, while understandable from our own viewpoint, are entirely incomprehensible to others around us. Now, if I may insist, for the sole purpose of avoiding offence to your sensibilities in future, I would dearly wish to comprehend what had just disturbed you.”
Contemplation sparked in him intense agitation, the pile of cards at our side affording too great a temptation for his wandering hands to resist, vanishing promptly in his clutches. “You reminded me of a friend that I once knew.”
“A friend who didn’t want to forget you,” I suggested, failing to realise the significance of my phrase until startled by the sharp tapping of those same cards upon the table.
For that instant I was captured in his distant gaze, unable to liberate myself from the maelstrom of despair, of guilt, of sorrow, that had enshrouded him in recollection of this experience; suddenly he averted his gaze, concentrating on his wine glass. His tapping became a pounding that ruminated endlessly inside my ears, its echoes dissolving all logical thought and process; I could not think beyond the maelstrom, these images of unspeakable terror and death flowing through my mind, of Caroline - dear, precious Caroline! - her life draining away right before my eyes, and I, utterly powerless. I longed for it to stop. I must make it stop.
Immediately, as if by instinct, that sound became enveloped in my grasp, the fear in that tremulous hand frightfully cold as the skin I touched, its surface of a delicate, so very fragile nature that belied the ancient soul it served to conceal. Dare I conceive of a shared likeness to this otherworldly being, in thought, in feeling, in sheer essence that transcended mere ‘facts’ and ‘figures’? Surely he would believe me to insult him by the suggestion? Yet it was a mirror I beheld, a tear for each cheek of his, bitter, like those that came to end upon my lips.
“I’m sorry...I’m so sorry.”
It would be profoundly fitting in this moment of mutual reflection that his words would come to resonate through my utterances. With a thumb I endeavoured to draw away those tears, render him once again in the brilliant and heroic light carved in the depths of my memories. He kept still, the maelstrom beginning to calm within him as it did within I, visibly extinguished by the sealing of his eyelids. The curvature of his face flowed like quicksilver into the palm of my hand, each stroke softening his features to emulate the joviality that could enliven even the most diffident heart.
“There. All better,” I murmured, affecting to ease him from my caress.
His was merely a casual glance. Through eyes that inevitably spoke with greater clarity than our muted exchanges could ever permit, it was all that I needed in order to fully understand. Right from the very beginning, I had been privy to the truth that resided inside this chest of mine, where his hand finally came to rest. I simply refused to see it for what it was.
If sins were of mortal flesh, then what would He make of my candid admission in the face of this ethereal revelation? Perhaps it was merely human weakness that I had succumbed to, that would compel me to drink eagerly from the cup of temptation, savouring its delectable juices that awakened the most primitive recesses of my being. This same humanity, which lent itself to the creation of society according to His behoved lore, that, for all its flaws, dictates and contradictions I now sought to castigate, was nonetheless a lore that ruled over my mind, body and soul, for perpetuity.
Conscience flared at this apparent act of moral degradation which had me engulfed in its desirous whimsy, smothering the fire that had raged within; I yielded, abrupt in withdrawal. “Doctor-”
“It’s sin. I know.”
Without speaking another word, my focus drifted towards the bed, where I would soon come to perch upon its edge at a distance from him, hands folded in a steeple underneath my chin. Our subsequent minutes together would pass by agonising increments suspended in silence, jointly reluctant to confront the sole resolution to this impasse.
“Perhaps it finally is time that we parted company,” I pondered, vaguely intrigued by a portrait to his rear, of red and white roses in a glass vase, so rich and vivid in its detail I could feel the soft, velvet-like texture of the petals from the canvas.
It was a thought I had not intended to express openly, certainly not in the blunt manner which sprang forth from my lips. The Doctor, remarkably, appeared unperturbed in his approach toward me, affected by an unearthly calmness that captured my envy. At arm’s length we sat, side by side, adhering to the proper and restrained civility with which gentlemen generally conducted their business.
“Can I ask you a question?” he asked.
“Suppose I don’t manage to return here again. That for us, being here and now is the one and only opportunity we have to spend time in each other’s company.”
I sighed, pushing the terror of that prospect aside, towards the fringes where it deserved to belong, forever unconsidered. “Your point being?”
“Would you still see fit to object?”
At once, upon heeding his expression, it became frightfully clear that he did not aim at idle speculation. Moreover, I could not, in my right mind, fully conceive of the desolation that swirled in the deepest, darkest pools of his eyes, nor the haunting pallor of a man who knew his end was close. Like that of my own father, on his death bed. The precipice beckoned, whereupon I stood as he stood, overlooking the bleak, infinite expanse beyond, in which there existed nothing, and memories and emotions turned to dust.
Thus were the terrifying inevitabilities of life that awaited me. A future which would be decimated by loss and loneliness, Rosita and Frederick, the people I most cared for, gone, and me alone, in the end, as he, whose path would come to intertwine so intimately with mine. These similarities and mutual reflections were but signs of this strange and wonderful symmetry, its message finally dawning upon me as burgeoning twilight unveiled the morning. Our essential natures were always drawn to chime together, as would our collective paths, alike, in unison, as if by fate, or the measured hand of the Lord himself. The Doctor was nearing the end of his path, one which I would now be destined to follow through in my own uniquely mortal way, our intersection a fixed point in history, never to be altered or faulted.
“You understand now why this needs to happen?”
United in mutual tether, his fingers aft at the nape of my neck, mine aloft upon his jowl, we hovered as apparitions, estranged from the outside world.
“Because it was always meant to be this way...between us.”Fear would ultimately drive us to escape, here, to this humble room, whereby it was possible for time to be lost, the past, present and future dissolving into oblivion at our will. A sanctuary immune from the impositions of the Master, or the Shadow Proclamation, or even the eternal realms of Heaven and Hell, and the notion of sin was precisely that; a notion, and nothing more.