Ninth in the dystopian!verse. From Jack's POV.
House of Wolves
Just because you're breathing doesn't mean that you're alive. He knows this all too well.
When: Pre-Ground Zero
Jack is not a nervous man. He is not prone to flights of worry, or fretting or going over things again and again. He is decisive, and when he makes calls, he knows what he wants and how to get it. It is a good asset and a lethal weapon to wield in his position as a Handler, and he knows he uses it well. He is a master chess player, and he plays the game of life like a veteran. In many ways, he is.
But despite all the qualities that Jack knows he possesses, the clenching in his gut tells him that he has just been outmaneuvered by a far better and more experienced player of the game. He has met Section Director Harriet Jones a handful of times before, and the things he has heard said about her set his teeth on edge. Oh, the Director? She’s sharp. Razor-sharp. Harriet Jones? Ambitious, that one is. The lady upstairs? Yeah, she’s cunning. Very cunning.
He knocks on her office door, and enters when a muffled voice tells him to. The controlled order and rigid hierarchy of their world exasperates him. She waves a hand at the chair in front of her desk, and he takes a seat. It is uncomfortable. Her gaze is piercing, the kind that makes you feel like you have been judged, and will be perennially found wanting.
“Handler Harkness. We are both busy people, so I will cut straight to the chase.” She leans forward, and he finds himself thinking of Venus flytraps and spider webs and sticky fly paper. “I understand that you oversee Watcher Tyler.”
His eyebrows furrow, and his spine straightens a little. “Rose?”
“Yes. Watcher Tyler – Rose Tyler, I believe. What can you tell me about her?”
Something is wrong, he knows, but he cannot put his finger on it. She is too interested, a little too invested in what he has to say. He weighs his words, and tries to find the ones that will say enough but are as little as possible.
“She’s the best.”
She relaxes in her seat, and leans back. The smile on her face is satisfied. “Excellent. That’s wonderful to hear.”
It is abrupt, the way she dismisses him after that. It leaves him reeling at their bizarre, unusually peculiar exchange.
He cannot shake the feeling that he has been outplayed and outmatched, and he doesn’t like that he has no idea why.
Later, much later, he will look back at their first meeting in the Director’s office, and he will hate himself for how easily he played into her hands.
They are bringing Rose in today, he knows, and his stomach is sickened at the thought. The labs on sub-level nine are quiet for now, the calm before the storm. There are so many questions he has that remain answered, niggling thoughts that plague his waking moments and convinces him that they haven’t told him everything.
Little Red, he thinks, and snorts a little. The contents of the file on the project that they passed to him had been laughably brief, consisting of basic programme schematics and general expected outcomes for the subject. It cold and impersonal, and he hates it.
He had not wanted any of this to happen. None of this was supposed to happen. The pieces of the puzzle hadn’t clicked until he had entered the stronghold conference room scant minutes before Rose. Background research, they had told him when he spotted the glossy photographs they had secreted away like over-zealous paparazzi.
He blames himself for this, for being the recommendation behind Rose’s selection to be the sacrificial lamb. He hadn’t known. The guilt tears him up from inside.
They assure him that the procedure is perfectly safe, that they have circumvented Watcher biology and psychological quirks, that her memory will be fully restored once this assignment is over. Everything in him screams to do something to stop this. He leans against a lab door, and the metal is cool through his shirt. The hallway is empty and white and sterile, like hospitals or morgues or mental asylums, and he wonders which one of the three it really is. Maybe, he thinks, it really is a bit of each.
Deep breaths steady him, and he closes his eyes as he tips his head back to rest it against the door. There will be no forgiving himself for what he has done, even if he hadn’t known. You don’t throw a knife out a window and act surprised when it kills someone down below.
He hears a hum of voices some distance away, and steels himself for what is to come. He has gone through plan after plan in his mind, searching and seeking ways to save her from this, but none of the measures he has come up with leave both her and the Doctor alive. He knows she would never forgive him, even if he already is unable to forgive himself, if he lets the Doctor die in a bid to save her.
They call her a volunteer, but the armed escorts around remove all semblance of conscious choice. This is no willing participant, he knows, this is a lamb being led to the slaughterhouse, and the butchers that wait are only too happy to slice her up and serve her on a platter. She does not look him in the eye.
They lead her past him, into Laboratory 10. He notes that the key that used to hang around her neck on a delicate silver chain is gone, and his heart breaks a little at what she had to do, what she will do, and what she will continue to do for love. He finds himself wishing that someone would love him that strongly and fiercely and absolutely.
But this part of the story is not his, he knows. He is merely the silent bystander, the traitorous condemner in this horror-tragedy of a play that unfolds before his eyes. She is the lead character who never wanted the part.
He trails after them into the lab, and she remains silent throughout, even as they explain the procedure to her in muted tones. He hates their voices, the mock-soothing, calming-patronising, fake-warm voices that they use, like this is a routine medical checkup, like this is something she had a choice in. He wants to scream and rage. No, he wants to shout, use me instead. This is the one time he wishes she isn’t so good at what she does, that she is anyone other than Rose Tyler, that she sleeps with anyone other than the Doctor. It is a deadly combination, these three things, and he is the one who has pulled the trigger.
They strap her onto an examination table, and secure her wrists and ankles. Section Director Jones enters the observation room, and he is sure that he does not miss the self-satisfied glint in her eye. He wants to shake her, to convince her to end this madness. But Jack Harkness has always known he was a coward, hidden underneath his bluster and charm, so he does none of those things. Besides, he reasons, and hates himself for doing so, he can watch over Rose and the Doctor better as a Handler. Rose would want that, he tells himself, and ignores the tiny voice that shouts at him to stop lying.
Watching a Watcher, he thinks, and his smile is brittle and bitter on his face.
He is ushered into the observation room when they inform him that the procedure is going to begin. The room is small, but he is sure that his hatred and fury fills the room well enough. There is only the Director and him here, and he wonders just how under wraps this programme must have been.
They plug Rose into some sort of monitoring device, beeping and whirring and sending them images that only lab rats and scientists like them can comprehend. They slide a needle under the fragile skin of her wrist, and it attaches itself onto her Watcher implant, glowing faintly beneath the surface. There is a brief pause in their activities, and they turn to the Director for the go-ahead.
She nods, and they flick a switch on a panel.
That is when, Jack will reflect later, all hell breaks loose.
He pays a visit to a not-quite-friend, hours after he leaves the lab. He is black and blue and bruised within an inch of his life. He had tried to stop them, after all. Jack Harkness, the savior, he thinks, and snorts derisively.
He raises a tired hand to pound on a beat-up coral blue apartment door, but it is wrenched open before his knuckles can connect with the surface. The Doctor glares at him, eyes ablaze and hurting and livid.
“What is it?” He demands this in a quiet tone, but Jack hears the undertone of rawness and bitterness and lack-of-understanding, and it paints his voice in broken diamond-chips and shattered razor blades and fragments of happily-ever-afters.
He swallows hard, and exhales in a long, long sigh. “Can I come in?” The Doctor pauses for a moment, before moving to allow him entry.
Jack moves to stand by the window. He can’t sit, not now. Sitting is resting, and resting is one step closer to sleep, and he doesn’t think he will ever sleep again. He doesn’t think he can. The windowpane is grimy, and a thick layer of dust rests on the sill. It is a neglected house, but not an unloved one. Rose, he knows, loved it here. He winces at her memory.
“So,” The voice from behind him is impatient, as if letting him in was a courtesy move that is a precursor to throwing him out. “What is it, then?”
He forces himself to breathe. “It’s Rose.” The Doctor stills behind him, and there is a sharp inhale before he speaks. “I don’t want to hear it. Look, she left me, alright? So take your –”
“Stop, okay? Just stop. You don’t – I can’t tell you much, but she did everything for you, so don’t you dare write her off like that.”
There is a long pause, and Jack can almost feel the temperature in the room drop several degrees. “You knew? She told you she was going to leave me?” The Doctor is furious, so far beyond simple anger and fury that there are no words to describe the depth of emotions he feels. “How long has she been planning this? What, has she gotten bored of me already? Found some new –”
“Shut up. You have no idea what you’re saying, so I would suggest you just shut up for one moment. Rose loved –”
“– oh, so we’re using past tense now? Why, she send you here to let me down easy? To –”
“– I can’t believe you’re so blind, you selfish bastard. You’re so caught up in your own problems that you don’t even –”
“– me, selfish? I save the world with my blood and I put my life on the line every single fucking day and –”
“ – you save the world, but you never have the time to save her, do you?”
They are both panting now, harsh and abrupt exhales of breath that ring like gunshots and falling mirrors in the silence around them. Jack’s fists are clenched at his sides, and he notes that the Doctor’s jaw is tight and gritted. It gives him some small satisfaction to see that he is not the only one hurting here.
“Get. Out.” The Doctor’s words are flat and hard, full of loathing and hate. Jack thinks that it isn’t all directed towards him, not really. It assuages his fractured soul a little, to know that the Doctor did care for Rose, even if maybe Rose loved the Doctor more in the end. Jack walks to the front door.
He turns at the doorway. “Do me a favour. Answer one question. Just one.”
The Doctor is facing out the window, his expression shrouded by the shadows and dark from outside. Jack takes his silence for consent, and forges ahead, through the haze of hurt and pain and guilt.
“Did you ever tell her?”
The Doctor is silent for drawn-out, wrung-out seconds. “Tell her what?”
“That you Marked her. That you put the Mark out, and that she was yours.”
The man silhouetted by the window freezes, and his next words are ice-chips that cut harder and deeper than any knife or blade. “How did you –”
“I knew it,” he whispers, and it echoes in the expanse of the room. The man at the doorway departs, leaving behind a broken figure by the window.
He stops by the safehouse that they had put her in next.
She is lying on the bed; her prone form pale and colourless. She is almost a ghost, and he finds himself wondering if she will slip away. The light blue-green veins running down her arm are stark against the whiteness of her skin, and her breathing is shallow and fast, but she is asleep.
Not dead, he assures himself, and casts his mind back to mere hours before, when they had revived and killed and revived and killed and revived her in their sick attempt to create the perfect Watcher. Her heart had stopped three times, and he could have sworn he had seen the shadow of a scythe hover in the corners and edges of the lab.
This is an imperfect subject, the scientists had groused to the Section Director. Something in her psychological makeup is different. It hinders the wipe process.
He had been too battered and bruised to do anything to stop them by then; the armed escorts had kept him trapped and beaten in the viewing room when he had tried to halt things the minute Rose began to spasm and keen on the table.
The Mark, he now knows. It was the Mark. He wonders what the Doctor would say if he knew he was the one who had unintentionally killed her thrice. It is not Jack’s place to tell him, but he cannot help but laugh at the bitter, cruel irony of the world. Like flies to wanton boys, he thinks, are we to the Gods. They kill us for their sport.
Rose stirs a little, and her eyes flutter open. His breath lodges in his throat.
“Oh, hello,” she says, and her voice is soft, hoarse from screaming and crying.
She frowns, as if faintly puzzled.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?”
Part Eight - Heartbreak Warfare; Part Ten - Fear in A Handful of Dust