The Doctor took in the scene below him. Jack was lying on a table surrounded by equipment, and the rest of the people were clustered together talking. He hurried down the stairs and skirted around them to stand next to Jack, studying him carefully. He looked terrible, and the Doctor picked up one of his slack hands.
Martha answered his question. "I was trying to find out why no one noticed what was happening to Jack until I got here today. This might have been easier to deal with before it got so bad."
"In fairness," the Asian woman said, "we did notice something was wrong, but he was hiding it from us."
Martha rejoined, "And why didn't he feel he could tell you? Because you were still angry at him for leaving."
"We aren’t holding a grudge," the familiar-looking dark-haired woman said, “but we’re not pretending it didn’t happen, either. You see, we'd all just been through some very traumatic experiences. We'd betrayed Jack, unimaginably, but then he saved our lives by sacrificing himself to a monster. He saved our broken hearts by finally coming back to life again. And then he saved our souls by forgiving us everything. We were all pretty raw, and that's the moment he disappeared into thin air. We thought he'd left us. We needed him, and he chose to be with you." She looked at the Doctor accusingly.
The Doctor definitely wanted to hear that whole story, but frowned back. "Nothing to do with me. A bit more communication among you lot might be in order." Though, really, the Doctor knew he was probably worse about that than all of them combined.
The skinny bloke said sarcastically, "We’ll book a nice teambuilding workshop. But we'll need Jack back for that, so if we could get on with fixing him."
"Quite right." The Doctor was ready to focus on Jack, and glad for the change of topic. "Who are you and what do you know?" he asked the room in general.
Martha introduced the team using their full names, and they seemed surprised at how much she knew about them. She told them, "Jack talks about you," which apparently made them feel worse.
Martha went over what Jack had said he was experiencing before losing consciousness entirely. It was quite disturbing, and the Doctor stared worriedly at Jack while he listened.
He heard Toshiko Sato ask, "The Master really is dead? You're sure? Is it possible he's trying to do that mind control thing again?"
"He's dead," Martha said without great conviction. "We all saw it."
"But?" Toshiko prompted.
The Doctor answered, "But it's never that simple. The Master attempted to destroy everything he touched, and took special pleasure in tormenting Jack. I wouldn't be surprised if he found a way to continue trying even from the grave."
"Can you help him?" Ianto Jones asked softly.
"Oh yes," the Doctor said with conviction. "I'll help him. I promise you that." He took out his sonic screwdriver and scanned Jack's body. The readings were entirely inconclusive. "Show me what you've got."
Martha outlined the physical test results, also inconclusive, as Owen motioned for him to look at the computer screen. Now that was interesting! He'd always known there was more to the Captain than met the eye. A bit more than human, in fact. Nice tech, too.
"Lovely scanner, this is. Where did you get it?"
Toshiko said, "We built it, Owen and I, using contemporary Earth tech and an alien artefact that came through the rift. Jack thought it was of Letrian origin."
The Doctor grinned at her. "He was right about that. Nicely done!" True, it was beyond what Earth humans should have access to at this time, but not dangerously so. And knowing Torchwood, they weren't likely to share it.
The woman beamed at the praise.
"Does it help, Doctor?" Martha asked. "Can you tell what's wrong with him?"
"Nope!" The 'p' popped loudly. "Gives me some ideas of where to look, though."
"Look, how?" Gwen Cooper asked.
"Well, I'm going to have to go in, aren't I? Have a poke around. See what's what."
"You're going to operate?" Gwen looked nauseous.
"Oh, heavens no. No need for such primitive things as cutting him open. I'm psychic, me. I'll just have a look in his mind, see if I can find the problem." The Doctor contemplated Jack's position lying on the autopsy table. "First we need to move him. He may be unconscious, but that cold metal table won't be helping him relax at all."
"I have just the thing," Ianto said. "Clear a place on the floor."
As the others shifted machinery and furniture to create an open space, the young man brought out a thick square of vinyl. When he pulled a tab on the article, air hissed into it and it inflated into a common air mattress.
"Will this do?" Ianto asked.
"Yes, that's perfect. Let's move him and get on with it, shall we?"
As they shifted Jack to the mattress, the Doctor asked, "So what ideas have you had for treatment?"
"Not many, I'm afraid, not without knowing the cause," Martha said. "Drugs, maybe. Talk therapy clearly isn't an option."
"We could kill him," Owen said, and the Doctor turned to stare at him, trying to see into the man's soul. "I'm not saying I want to. I really, really don't want to kill him." The young man blanched when he said that. "But it has to be on the table as an option. Anything that's wrong with Jack heals when he comes back to life."
Typical bloody Torchwood. The Doctor told them, "No one's killing Jack. That's final."
Owen held up his hands in surrender. "You'll get no argument from me. You can find a better way, I'm all for it."
The Doctor sat on the edge of the mattress and began preparing himself. If this didn't work, he would take Jack to the TARDIS. His equipment might show something they were missing, and they could try the Zero Room. If this was an external influence, it might help.
"All right, I'm going to start."
Without waiting for any acknowledgement on their part, he placed his fingertips on and around Jack's temples. The Doctor immediately heard a roar, which he couldn't readily identify. It grew in volume and intensity as he moved farther into Jack's mental field, until it crashed over him like a freight train. With a shout, he flew back and landed on his arse on the floor.
Martha knelt by him with one hand on his arm, and the other on his back. "Doctor! Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." He shook himself, then shuddered for good measure.
"What is it?" Gwen asked. "What happened?"
The Doctor had to think for a moment before he could answer, trying to understand it himself. "It's pain. Jack's mind is engulfed in a wall of pain. Quite extraordinary. There's no way he could remain conscious through that.”
Frowning, Ianto asked, "Does that mean you won't be able to go in as you'd planned?"
"No, I will. I'll just have to take a different approach." He re-seated himself next to Jack, and began preparing again, with more focus. Before connecting with Jack this time, he encased himself in a protective bubble, and reinforced the barrier several times over. Replacing his hands on Jack's head, he said, "Here I go."
This time he proceeded carefully as he entered Jack's mental field, ready for the impact when it came. Inside his protective shield he was untouched, but the noise was deafening. The Doctor hadn't experienced anything like this before, and while he was worried about what was causing this within his friend, he was also very curious.
He experienced the pain barrier as resistance, like trying to walk forward in a straight line while being buffeted by a gale. He carefully put one foot in front of another – figuratively at first, then he began to visualize himself physically walking through the storm. There was resistance with each step, but he leaned into it stubbornly. He'd done much harder things; he could do this.
All of a sudden he was through, and he gasped at the cessation of noise. Reorienting himself, the Doctor found himself standing in a corridor he recognized from the Valiant. It bode ill for Jack that this was the internal landscape he was projecting. The more safe, comfortable and familiar the setting, the more peaceful and balanced the mind, and this was far from safe.
From a purely representational perspective, the pre-frontal cortex, which had exhibited the most intense activity, might have been the bridge of the ship. However, the Doctor remembered Martha saying that Jack was seeing himself in the engine room, so he decided to start there.
As he walked down the hallway, some of the rooms on either side were decorated and populated, but he didn't stop to look. Other rooms were shrouded in darkness, as though in those spaces it was the middle of the night. That would be Jack's awareness of past and current events dampening to compensate for the higher energy use elsewhere.
In addition to the Doctor’s unease in this environment, there was something else underlying everything; a hum or vibration. It made his skin crawl. The Doctor recognized it as the Time Vortex being filtered through Jack. He had become accustomed to it as part of being around Jack in the physical world, but in here it was greatly magnified. He consciously muted his perception of it so that it wouldn’t distract him.
Continuing down the corridor, the light grew brighter, making him think he was on the right track. Then, in a grey industrial space lined with steaming pipes, he found what he was looking for.
Jack was standing naked, his arms held out parallel with the floor by thick chains, just as they had so often been during That Year. As he approached, the Doctor saw that Jack's body was covered with wounds. Strips of skin had been peeled off and left raw. Chunks of flesh were missing, as though someone had embedded fish hooks and pulled them straight out. There were lash marks, burns, bruises, and cuts. His face was battered so much as to be nearly unrecognizable, with his eyes swollen closed. The injuries were at varying stages of healing, some looking fresh, while others looked quite old.
Appalled, the Doctor said, "Oh, Jack. What has happened to you?"
The man in front of him gasped a shallow breath at the words, and his eyes opened a crack. Jack looked at him blankly for several moments, then said, his voice weak and cracking, "Wishf'l thinking. Y're not here."
The Doctor wanted to touch him, but didn't dare. "I am here, I assure you. Martha called me, and I've come to try and help. What's doing this to you, Jack?"
A voice came from behind him. "I am, of course."
The Doctor spun around, shocked to see the Master standing there wearing a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a red and black striped tie. Looking as whole and real and smug as the last time the Doctor had seen him on the bridge of the Valiant.
"Oh, come now, Doctor. Why so surprised? This is a contingency plan that I put in place in case should it be necessary." The Master walked forward and the Doctor stepped back, but the other Time Lord continued toward Jack and began carding his fingers through the man's dishevelled brown hair. "During some of our more intense moments, while dear Jack was otherwise distracted, I planted a seed in his mind. So satisfying, to rip his mind open as I ripped his body. I left a copy of myself, dormant, unnoticeable unless activated. Which was only in the event of my untimely death, of course. Wouldn't do to have more than one of me wandering around, would it? I don’t like that much competition."
"But why?" the Doctor asked. "What do you hope to achieve? Are you that obsessed with torturing Jack that you would go to these lengths?"
The Master raised his eyebrows. "Do you mean you still haven't guessed? This body, this immortal body, will be my next vessel. I never have accepted death as quite final, have I?"
The Doctor was aghast. He had half guessed - he knew what the Master was capable of, after all - but he had refused to really consider the epic disaster that it would be.
"You can't be serious."
But of course the Master was deadly serious. "Why not? It's a perfect solution."
"Then why," the Doctor challenged, "haven't you done it? Why are you torturing Jack instead of just taking over?"
"It is amusing to hear him scream," the Master said, then pouted. "Oh, well, I admit that he's put up rather a better fight than I anticipated. Very stubborn, your darling companion. Quite irritating," he growled and glared at Jack, then slapped a broken cheek bone quite hard.
Jack barely flinched. He just blinked his eyes back open to continue observing their conversation.
"You can't take his body, can you?" the Doctor asked with some relish. "He's stronger than any of your previous victims. Jack has a high level of natural psychic ability of his own, Time Agent training against mental influence, and there's the Time Vortex itself to consider. You can't take over."
"It's just a matter of time," the Master responded, certainty evident in his expression. "He will break, and then his body will be mine. There's nothing you can do about it. I’ve studied this thoroughly, Doctor. Once his consciousness is replaced, mine will be permanent, unaffected by deaths."
The Doctor shook his head. "You planned this all along. You knew I would defeat you on the Valiant."
The Master grinned arrogantly. "Doctor, when have you ever known me not to have a plan B?"
"And plans C, D, E and F, as well," the Doctor agreed. "I should have expected something like this."
"Yes, you should have. But you didn't, so wrapped up in your pathetic grief. And now it's too late. I all but have possession of this body. Think of it!" he crowed gleefully. "A body that won't be burned out by my powerful presence. One that will be impervious to physical threat, that can survive any attack or natural disaster. No need even for regeneration. I will be invincible! I saw the possibilities the moment I understood what your little pet was, and I had time to prepare for this eventuality."
Pleased with himself, the Master went on, "Besides, I got to know this body quite well while I had it in my care." He slid the palm of his hand over Jack's chest, heedless of the injuries that were aggravated by the action. "I think it will do nicely. If one is going to spend eternity in a single body, it's quite preferable that it be attractive and physically imposing. It gives one so many pleasurable options." The Master's eyes slipped out of focus, as though he were imagining the pain and humiliation he could inflict on others with a more powerful physique.
The Doctor glared. "I won't let you do this. I'll stop you just as I did before."
"Oh, you can try," the Master said. "I'm firmly embedded in his mind, and in the end I am stronger than he is. You know that's true. You might as well accept it."
"Never," the Doctor vowed. He stepped forward and reached for one of Jack's manacled wrists. As he approached, he hit an invisible barrier and had to stop.
"I won't let you interfere," the Master informed him mildly. "And frankly, I don't know why you would want to. It’s for the best, don't you see, Doctor? Don't you want me back, so you won't be alone? I've seen the Freak's memories. I know how devastated you were when you thought I'd died. You need me, admit it."
An ugly smile crossed the Master's face. "And I know you fancy your handsome Jack. Quite a bit, in fact. But you can't get around the pesky detail that he's a mere human, can you? Different species, different thought patterns, not able to join minds as well as bodies. Poor Doctor, doomed to admire from afar, forever denying yourself what you desire."
The Master stepped closer, leaning to speak intently, his eyes narrowed. "And I know how you feel about me, too. Your desperation for the connection to another of your own species, your sentimentality for your boyhood friend. I'm offering you a way to have both. Think about it, Doctor. When I take over you will have me, with the mind and abilities of a Time Lord, with all our shared history, and his pretty body as well."
The Master moved closer again, so that his breath brushed the Doctor's cheek. "Imagine us twined together, those hands on your skin, that body fucking you, my mind melded to yours, with millennia to explore each other, the endless crests of deepening ecstasy. We're moments away from that becoming a reality. Tell him to let go, Doctor. He'll obey you. And then you'll have everything you want."
The Doctor's breath caught as the sensation of how it would feel ran through his body. The Master's unique qualities – his inventiveness, focus and, the Doctor admitted with a thrill, his dominance – coupled with Jack's beauty and strength. For a moment the wave of desire almost overwhelmed him.
Only for a moment, and only almost. Because the sacrifice required to achieve that selfish fantasy would be far too great, and he knew it. The Master could not be allowed to obtain an immortal body. The entire universe would be forfeit. The pleasure the Doctor might experience would take place in between acts of unimaginable violence and destruction, which the Doctor would be helpless to prevent. His own soul would be lost if he in any way allowed that to happen.
But most of all, there was Jack. Everything that Jack was, apart from his body, would be obliterated, and that was unacceptable. Jack was a living being, unique and valuable even without the immortality. The Doctor thought of that person, with all of his complexities. At once experienced and guarded while also open and oddly childlike. His frequent lapses into violence were balanced by a warm and compassionate heart. Even though there were many things about Jack that annoyed and angered him, there were many more that made him want to laugh out loud or secretly made him proud. The thought of losing Jack forever effectively quashed any desire for the thing that would bring it about.
He said evenly, his breath now brushing the Master's cheek, "No. Master, you overestimate your allure, and underestimate Jack's. I'm not saying I wouldn't like to have you back. That would be a lie, and you would know it was. But the thought of you looking at me through Jack's eyes, touching me with Jack's hands, is horrifying beyond words. He has a right to his own life, and I won't trade that away, not even for you."
The Master purred, tickling the Doctor's mind as he psychically tried to influence the Doctor to believe his lies, "But think, Doctor. You would have an eternity to turn me to your do-gooding ways. Wouldn't you like to remake me in your image?"
"I did want to help you," the Doctor admitted. "I did want to save you from the mania that so tragically distorted your mind. But that isn't possible in this situation. An act of such evil would never result in good. Besides, I don't think the whole thing would turn out quite as you hope. The hate inside you, combined with the Vortex energy, would soon enough warp and twist the body you inhabited. You'd end up stuck for eternity in a hideous shell. You've already experienced that once, Master. Are you so anxious for more?"
The Master's eyes flashed as he shoved the Doctor and stalked away. Turning, he spat, "Be that way, then. It's your loss, because I will have this body. You could have saved some of the lives you feel are so precious, but no, you'd rather stick to your high moral ground. Once I have control of your Captain Jack's body, the first thing I'm going to do is use it to torture and kill his little friends. You could have spared them. Think about that as you watch me enslave the universe. Think of all the deaths you could have prevented."
"That won't happen," the Doctor stated, "because I'm going to stop you." He motioned to include Jack. "We are going to stop you. You know I can do it, because I always have before. Always. One disadvantage of being monomaniacal is that you insist on believing that you're invincible, no matter how often it is demonstrated otherwise. This will be no exception."
A blast of the Master's will hit the Doctor, as the other Time Lord glared at him furiously. "We shall see, Doctor."
Under the onslaught, the Doctor hastily pulled his shield bubble back into place. He was being pushed backward, and would be pushed out, he realized. Turning to Jack, who was watching them through slitted eyelids, the blue barely visible, he said, "You hold on, Jack, a little longer. Whatever you do, don't give in, because I will be back. Do you understand?”
Jack nodded weakly. That would have to be enough. The Doctor would have to depend on Jack's ability to endure. He urged, "Just hold on. I promise I’ll get you out of this.”
Even as he forced the Doctor backward, the Master laughed. "Oh, yes. We all know how dependable your promises are, Doctor. Now it's your turn to lie rather than admit the truth."
Before he could respond, the Doctor entered the barrier of pain within which Jack's mind was trapped. He grit his teeth and concentrated on maintaining the protective shield as he was propelled through the raging storm.
Suddenly the Doctor was back in his own body, Jack's face beneath his finger tips. He sat up, feeling shaky from the strain, and Martha was there to steady him.
"Doctor, what happened?" she asked.
He took a deep breath and looked around at the people watching him so attentively. "'S not good," he said. "Very not good. It's the Master all right. He's taken up residence in Jack's mind, and is attempting to take over Jack's body."
"Wha'd'ya mean, he's in Jack's mind?" Owen asked. "Not literally, right?"
"Yes, literally. The Master was a powerful telepath. He left a duplicate of himself in Jack's mind, like a time bomb, set to go off if the corporeal Master should die."
"A horcrux," Ianto said, and the others looked at him with bafflement. "From Harry Potter. Voldemort hid bits of his soul in things, so that he could revive himself from them if necessary."
Owen smacked the young man. "This isn’t a sodding children’s story, you pitiful wanker."
The Doctor said, "Actually, it is similar, and quite as dramatic. Jack is experiencing this as a very real attack. He's being tortured horrendously, with little other than his extraordinary stubbornness preventing the Master from replacing him in control of his body. If he loses, he'll be gone forever."
"But how?" Gwen asked. "This Master fellow's dead. He can't just possess Jack, can he, like a demon?"
"I'm afraid he can." The Doctor explained, "The Master has done this before, I don't know how many times. Normally all he has to do is touch a person - he slips into their bodies and they cease to exist. The last time he did it that I'm aware of, he animated the ashen remains of his cremated body by turning it into a thick, mobile sludge, after having been thoroughly and painstakingly executed by the Time Lord High Council. Then he slithered around in that form until he chose a victim.”
He went on, "If the Master's consciousness was strong enough to do that, this should be child's play. Jack should already be gone. I don't know why the Master hasn't simply displaced him. It's very much to Jack's credit that he's been able to resist, but ultimately the Master will win." The thought haunted the Doctor. "I don't know if I would be able to withstand the assault he's experiencing."
"Doctor," Martha said, and he turned to face her. "You're bleeding." She motioned with her hand. "From your nose."
He touched his fingers to his upper lip and they came away red. "Oh, yes. The Master is quite…formidable. We mustn't waste time; I need to get back in there and rescue Jack."
Toshiko asked, "How will you do that?"
"That's the problem. I have no idea."
Martha didn't like hearing that; she counted on the Doctor to know what to do. She was worried about Jack, but the Doctor looked exhausted as well, after only a few minutes of the mind link.
As Gwen brought the Doctor a towel for his bloody nose, Martha asked, "What do you need, Doctor? Just tell us."
"Thank you, Martha, but I don't believe there's much you can do. You, Dr. Harper," he said, and the medic sat up straighter. "Can you keep Jack hydrated and supply nutrients? He needs all the strength he can get right how."
"Yeah, I can do that," Owen said, scrambling to his feet. "I'll start him on an IV."
"Get him a blanket," the Doctor went on, "and keep his body as comfortable as you can. I don't know if it will help very much, but just in case. If he should recover quite suddenly, be prepared to restrain him any way you need to, until we can be sure whether it's him or the Master. Your lives and many others would be forfeit if you should fail."
Martha saw Jack's team exchange uneasy glances. This was all strange to them, and it couldn't be easy for them to trust Jack's fate to a man they'd known only by reputation. But the Doctor had a way of winning over even the most resistant, so they voiced no objections.
"And what will you do?" Martha asked the Doctor.
"I need to meditate. There is an answer, I'm sure of it. I just need to sort it out in this busy old noggin of mine. Is there a quiet place I could be alone?"
"You can use Jack's office," Toshiko said. "It has a door that closes."
"That will be fine." The Doctor began to stand, and Martha helped him. She was concerned about how drained the Doctor appeared.
"I won't be long," the Time Lord said. "Jack doesn't have much time. It moves differently there, time does, inside his mind; the Master's doing I suppose. Every few minutes will seem like an hour to him. I promised I would be back."
"Then Jack will wait," Martha assured him. "He believes in you."
The Doctor sighed. "I hope his faith is well placed."
She and the Doctor moved up the stairs, with Ianto accompanying them, while the others tried to make Jack comfortable.
As they entered Jack's office, Ianto asked, "Is there anything I can get you, sir? Something to eat or drink? Do you have any, er, unusual dietary requirements?"
"Some babies would be nice.” The Doctor smiled at his expression. “Jelly Babies that is. No? In that case a cup of tea would be just the thing. Or whatever's about. I'm not fussy. No pears."
When Ianto was gone, Martha and the Doctor shared a long, serious look, all humour gone from the room.
“Martha, I don’t know how to fix this.”
“You’ll figure it out. I believe in you, too.”
Unfortunately, the Doctor didn’t look convinced.
Settled comfortably, the Doctor's mind was drifting, weaving toward a meditative state, when a slight tickle in his awareness brought him back to the room. Looking around Jack's office, his eyes fell on the cluttered desk.
He leaned forward in surprise and slipped on his glasses. "Well, hello!" he said, as he peered at the piece of coral sitting on one corner. The Doctor had some serious misgivings about finding a piece of TARDIS coral in Torchwood's hands, but not enough that he felt the need to take action. It would be hundreds of years before that piece of coral matured, and who better to care for it than Jack? He was sure Jack knew exactly what it was.
Ianto came in carrying a tray. He set it down on a side table, poured the tea and offered the Doctor a plate. The Doctor removed the glasses, accepted the sandwich gratefully and motioned to the other chair. "Sit," he offered.
Ianto did, and for a few moments the Doctor concentrated on eating, until he realised that he was being watched. He looked up to find Ianto studying him carefully.
"Nothing, sir. Sorry."
"No, go ahead. You're thinking something."
"It's just," Ianto started, and the inexpressive mask dropped away, leaving him looking very young, "I was thinking about what an important role you've played in my life, and yet I'm only meeting you for the first time."
Puzzled, the Doctor asked, "Oh? What do you mean?"
"You've been part of everything that has happened to me for years now. I was still at University when I was recruited to work for Torchwood in London."
The Doctor's eyes narrowed and he looked at Ianto critically, but the young man didn't react to his scrutiny.
Ianto went on, "The first thing they told me about was you. The great enemy of humanity. If it weren't for you, Torchwood wouldn't exit – I sometimes wonder what I would have done with my life otherwise." He smiled wistfully. "If I'd have an office job, eat my sack lunch in the park, go back to my flat in the evening to play video games." He shook his head. "Never mind.
"Torchwood did exist," Ianto continued, "and there I met Lisa, and we fell so very much in love. For that alone I thank you. I wouldn't give up the time with her for anything, even considering…" Ianto's face saddened. "We were there at Canary Warf the day the Daleks and Cybermen came."
The Doctor stopped eating and frowned in sympathy.
"We were captured," Ianto said simply, but with profound emotion. "But you were there, and saved the day. At the moment you sent them away, they were in the middle of converting Lisa, and she was left like that. Half woman, half cyber. Not dead, but not alive either, really. Had you acted one minute earlier or one minute later it would have ended there."
The food turned to lead in the Doctor's stomach, imagining what that would be like. "I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. I'm aware that you lost someone that day as well. So many did. The next period of my life revolved around Lisa, because, you see, I couldn't let her go. I tried to save her. That's how I came to be here. I convinced Jack to hire me so that I would have access to Torchwood's resources. I hid her in the lower levels." He sighed. "That ended badly.
"But then there was Jack, who not only forewent the pleasure of killing me, as I deserved, but who went rather out of his way to bring me back to life. He became my anchor. And imagine," he shook his head, "as I got to know him, I realized that you, of all people, were his anchor. He didn't say, but I put the pieces together. The hand, his disdain for Torchwood's mandate, certain comments he thought I wouldn't understand. His focus always came back to you."
The Doctor wasn't comfortable with that piece of information, but he listened attentively, having the impression that the young Welshman didn't often unburden himself this way.
"There have been times," Ianto said philosophically, "that, though you weren’t there, it seemed you were more real to him than I was. And since he found you again, that's even more true. Still, I can't imagine my life without Jack, and now you're the one who will save him." He finished, "It's amazing how the threads of one's life are woven so closely with another's, when they've never even met."
The Doctor had to agree. Until the young man had politely invited the Doctor to accompany him into Torchwood earlier that day, he hadn't even been aware of the existence of Ianto Jones, other than as a faceless member of Jack's team. That didn't make the threads any less tightly woven.
"And," Ianto said, "if you can give Jack back to us, I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life."
The Doctor saw the strands of time twist and cross into the future, and warned, "Gratitude pulls the web tighter, Ianto Jones. I would go easy on it, if I were you."
Drawing back into himself, Ianto nodded his acknowledgement, then stood up. "You should be preparing, not listening to me prattle. I'll leave you to it."
After Ianto closed the office door behind himself, the Doctor finished his sandwich and the salt and vinegar crisps that accompanied it. He resisted the urge to savour the rest of the small pot of tea, refocusing himself. More lives were at stake today than just Jack's.
The Doctor’s mind processed the information he had into neat boxes on a graph; what he knew about the present situation, what he knew about the Master, what he knew about Jack. He shuffled the boxes around, looking for patterns, waiting for connections to spark. There were unknowns, too, and they got their own empty boxes.
The graph became three dimensional, exploring the depths and overlaps of the data. Adding Time took it to a fourth dimension, and he consciously avoided looking at the possible futures. They were capricious, and only served to frighten or entice.
Then he went beyond, to the fifth dimension that was native only to the mind of a Time Lord. The Master also had access to it, even in his current state, but the Doctor doubted that he was capable of suppressing his demons long enough to make full use of it. It was, perhaps, the only advantage the Doctor had.
In this heightened mental state, information was more fluid, yet more tightly bound. It circulated in complex interlocking wheels and twisted into shapes that could not be imagined in the physical world. The mechanism that formed attracted and generated Energy, Light, Sound, Emotion. It crept close to something that could be called Truth.
When the process concluded there was a solution, clear and full of potential. Potential for catastrophic failure as well as success, but that was irrelevant. One had to act. He had to act. When had he ever had a choice about that?
With an acknowledgement of thanks to the Dimension that made this permutation possible, the Doctor dismantled the construct and returned to the world of the everyday. He steeled himself a moment before rejoining the others, because he did not want to do this. He Did Not.
Martha looked up in surprise as the Doctor slowly descended the stairs. She was seated with Jack’s head in her lap, carding her fingers through his hair. She didn’t know if it helped him, but it made her feel better.
“That didn’t take long,” she observed.
“Genius, me,” he said with a suspiciously bright smile. “I did mention that, didn’t I?”
She played along. “May have done, a time or two.”
The others gathered around expectantly. The Doctor didn’t keep them in suspense.
“I know what to do,” he informed them. “There is some risk involved, to Jack and to me. If I fail, all I can do is apologize in advance. If I fail, you’ll be left to clean up the mess, which won’t be pretty.”
“Mess?” Owen asked cautiously.
“Oh, I don’t mean here, in the room. Won’t be any blood or splattered viscera, I shouldn’t think. At least I certainly hope not. No, I mean that the Master in Jack’s body could be one of the greatest dangers ever to exist in the universe. You would want to keep it contained quite as long as you can manage.”
“Right,” Tosh said, nonplussed.
“But!” the Doctor went on brightly. “Won’t happen, everything will be fine and dandy. Shall we get started then? No use standing about chin-wagging when there’s work to do, handsome captains to rescue.”
They shifted to give the Doctor room beside Jack, and Martha managed a quick hug and a whispered, “Good luck.” She was startled when the Doctor responded by tightening his arms around her firmly.
“Thank you, Martha Jones. And trust me. Whatever happens, don’t let these well-meaning amateurs interfere.”
“Count on me.”
“I always do.” His eyes were warm with affection, which made her feel happy and worried at the same time.
The Doctor walked down the familiar ugly corridor, the item he had created feeling heavier in his pocket than its size and density accounted for.
Jack was where he had last seen him, looking even worse. Fresh blood pooled on the grating around his feet, and he looked like he was standing through will alone rather than muscle coordination. But he was still there, and that was what counted.
“Jack,” he said.
The other man shifted and peered at him listlessly. “Y’c’m back,” he said through swollen lips.
“Told you I would. Thank you for waiting.” He wouldn’t have blamed Jack if he’d given up. For him to have endured such evident pain on no more than his faith in the Doctor was humbling. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have cause to doubt.
“Isn’t that sweet,” the other voice said from the side of the room. The Master sneered, “Come to say goodbye to your pet, did you?”
The Doctor turned to face his old friend/nemesis. “No, Master. I came to stop you.”
“Oh,” the Master clapped, “this should be good. What clever scheme have you come up with? You always are entertaining, I’ll give you that.”
The Doctor thought that the less he engaged in conversation with the Master, the better. He needed to stay focused, and couldn’t afford to be distracted or manipulated by someone he knew was fully capable of both. He removed the item from his pocket and raised it, pointed at the Master. He kept his eyes on the other man’s face, rather than acknowledge the object more than he had to.
The Master stood up straight with surprise, and even bounced a bit on his toes. “Oh, Doctor! Noooo. Not really. Really? You? A gun? You hate guns, quite obsessively and irrationally. You must be so, so, desperate.” He was starting to look smug again, and not frightened in the least.
“Needs must,” the Doctor answered curtly. The surface of the gun felt cool and oily in his hand.
“Do you even know how to use it?” the Master asked with sadistic pleasure. “Have you fired a gun before? Have you ever killed a man with a gun?”
Of course he had. The Doctor had done many reprehensible things in his life, mostly because he hadn’t been bright enough to find another way. None of those instances were among his finest moments. The older he got, the greater his aversion to firearms, but they declined to leave him be.
The Doctor was intensely aware of Jack’s gaze. After all the times he had stopped Jack from using a gun in what most would consider entirely reasonable self-defence, what must he be thinking? The Doctor was not unaware of the irony.
When the Doctor didn’t respond to his taunts, the Master gloated, “I love it, I really do. Oh, the pathos! The irony! Like the famous gun that could kill Time Lords which turned out to be fake, because the Good Doctor would never resort to such barbarism.” His voice filled with false sympathy. “My own incarnation so recently cut short by the gun in a woman’s hand; oh how you cried. Poor, poor, Doctor. I’ve driven you to betray everything you believe in, haven’t I?” He frowned exaggeratedly.
Then the Master tapped his chest, spread his arms in invitation and brightened maniacally. “Well, go on, then. Take your best shot, as they say. Find out if it makes the slightest bit of difference.”
The Doctor held the stance for a few moments, then sighed and lowered his arm. “Chance would be fine, but no, that wouldn’t work, would it? You’re not really substantial enough, are you? Your appearance is mostly a projection of Jack’s imagination; you’re not physically here.”
“Oh, Doctor, don’t be sad! Have a go anyway, I insist. It’ll make you feel like you made the effort, and maybe cut down on the pouting I’ll have to endure later.”
The Doctor shook his head. “No point in that. Especially as that wasn’t actually my plan at all.” He turned to face Jack and raised his weapon to the new target.
Jack’s eyebrows jumped, showing his surprise, and he made the effort to stand up straighter.
The Doctor kept his eyes on Jack, but heard the confusion in the Master’s voice. “That’s your plan? Have you decided to speed things up after all? Anxious to get your hands on my new body, are you?”
“This is how I will defeat you, Master. You gave yourself away without realizing.”
“Oh,” the Master said, a hint of concern starting to creep into his voice, “how so, exactly?”
“We’ve been here before, haven’t we, manner of speaking. On the Valiant, Jack in chains, you enjoying a bit of recreational torture. I know your style. For you, the best part was killing him. You got so much satisfaction from watching the life fade from his body, and from watching it return so you could begin again. Yet all the time you’ve had him here, you haven’t killed him once. Why is that?”
“What makes you think I haven’t?” the Master asked defensively.
“Some of the wounds on him are new, others old. Some are a week old, at least. If you’d killed him, they would have healed cleanly.”
“I can’t believe you are objecting that I haven’t killed your pet often enough!”
“You know what I think, Master? I think that if this Jack, his inner self, dies here then he’ll be restored and you’ll be gone for good. You had to be compressed and hidden to weather his physical death, but now you’re too deeply embedded in his mind to survive. The Time Vortex won’t let itself be taken by force. You need him to yield voluntarily, but he’s stronger than you expected.”
Suddenly calculating, the Master crossed his arms and leaned back against a pipe. “Interesting theory, Doctor. Are you so sure of it that you’re willing to risk everything? If you’re wrong, you could be responsible for my final victory. Your precious Jack snuffed out forever, and,” he emphasized, “by your hand. I would ask if you could live with that, but we already know that you had no trouble exterminating every last being in the universe that you cared about. Really Doctor, don’t you think this is getting to be a bit too easy for you? Casual murder; sounds more like me, doesn’t it?”
The Doctor couldn’t say that he’d had no problem exterminating every last being he cared about, but he had done it. And he had lived - with the permanent pain of it in his hearts. Trust the Master to use that now.
“Not the same,” he asserted.
“Not so different. But then perhaps living with it is not an issue, because you are in here, too. You’re also entwined with the Freak’s mind. If you kill him, you could be wiped from existence. No regeneration.”
Without moving the weapon away from his friend and target, the Doctor turned his head to look at the Master. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take. It would be a kind of poetic justice; the last two Time Lords swallowed by the Vortex. Worth it to keep you from becoming immortal.”
Then the Master resorted to bargaining. “I’m not saying that you’re right, but this has gone far enough. Let’s consider the alternatives. Together we could extract me from here. We could find an alternate host. Say, one who is recently deceased, so you won’t have pangs of conscience about my taking their life. Surely you have no objection to that? I just want to live, Doctor,” he pleaded. “you can understand that.”
The Doctor had expected that tactic, and was prepared for the painful temptation he experienced. But the Master would soon escape the Doctor’s best efforts to contain him, as he always did, and the cycle of horror would begin again.
“No,” he said. “You’ve had more chances than you deserved. You used all your regenerations and were given more. You took innocent lives to buy yourself more time, and it’s all too clear that you’ve not changed. It ends here. It has to end.” The affirmation was as much to strengthen the Doctor’s resolve as it was for the Master.
The Master’s face flared with anger. “I forbid you to interfere,” he snarled. A wall of psychic energy flashed toward the Doctor, who was ready and raised his shield against it.
Untouched by the assault, he said sadly, “Goodbye, Master. I am sorry.” Turning to look at Jack again, he repeated, “I am sorry. I don’t know if this will work, but it’s the best I can do.”
Jack’s face was expressionless, but his eyes met and held the Doctor’s and he nodded once, bestowing consent and sharing the responsibility. The Doctor heard Jack’s voice in his memory, ‘Never doubted him, never will.’ Jack was trusting his own existence and billions of innocent lives to the Doctor’s judgement. It both lightened his hearts and burdened him further.
“What? No. I won’t allow it!” the Master shouted, and the barrier between Jack and the Doctor pulsed with power.
The Doctor drew the sonic screwdriver from his pocket with his free hand; it was symbolic in this setting, but comfortingly familiar. He activated the algorithm which had been generated from his meditative analysis. It cycled through and found the frequency to disrupt the field, which fell for the briefest moment before the Master re-established it.
Over the space of a split second, the algorithm did its work again, and again. After the field was disrupted several times there was a hiccup, a fleeting pause before it re-formed. At that moment the Doctor pulled the trigger and watched a projectile speed in slow motion toward Jack’s head. The bullet hit, slamming Jack back in his restraints, and then there was nothing.