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FIC: Last Year's Blooms

Title: Last Year's Blooms
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Fourth Doctor/Sarah Jane (sort of), Jack, the Brig.
Date Written: 2007
Summary: Learning to dance, relearning the dance of the left-behind, and things blowing up.
Rating/Warnings: PG, if only because when things blow up, people often die.
Notes: Unusual for me! A story that is 51 percent or higher lightness and OKness. (By weight, not by volume, no guarantees, check local ordinances, handling fee applies.) Alternating POV.



He doesn’t have a fine-grained enough knowledge of old Earth history to differentiate the culturally desolate, shag carpet-obsessed period he finds himself living through now as all that different from the others… the twenties were swinging and the thirties and forties war-torn and dangerous, the fifties cookie-cutter and shallow, the sixties... well, he enjoyed that period a lot, but it moved on and now everything is brown and orange and slightly dank, and it isn’t the best of times. The music is terrible and even if it weren’t, no one knows how to dance- not really. They move vaguely in time to a beat but they don’t put their hearts into it, don’t dance like they mean it.

And they throw lousy parties.

.o.

Somewhere in the course of regeneration, he’s inexplicably lost his ability to be polite and diplomatic in the face of authority and its often unreasonable demands. It’s much easier for someone to force you into something you’re not keen on once you’ve ticked them off with bluster and ego.

Lesson learned. Not admitted to, perhaps, but learned.

The Doctor has folded himself neatly into a chair in a far corner of the room, slouched, arms crossed over his jacket like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Wallflowers are meant to be inconspicuous, but he’s taking the art to a new level, annoyance radiating off of him in a concussion wave that keeps everyone else at a three-meter radius. He’s meant to be social – it’s the UNIT Christmas party after all, and the adorable monkeys are so very fixated on their holiday rituals – and there are important people here, or so he’s been told. Important! Like they know what ‘important’ really means, on a universal scale. Representatives from some cute new special ops group, named after kindling or some such nonsense. Firewood. Something along those lines, anyway.

It doesn’t really matter. He doubts very much that they’re interested in one grouchy, underdressed Timelord wrapped up in his scarf and irritation in the corner, and he certainly isn’t interested in them.

“You’re being childish again,” comes a voice from the chair to the left of him, teasing and affectionate, but not about to let him off the hook.

Ah. Yes. It keeps everyone at a three-meter radius – except for extremely perceptive journalists, of course.

.o.

He circles the room, in no hurry, meeting and greeting and doing all the things he’s expected to, this junior representative of Torchwood. He isn’t sure if he’s going to stick with them, long term – seems like a lot of tedium with very little payoff, and the decades pass no faster no matter how busy he keeps his hands. Waiting is a lot harder when you’re waiting in one place, for a specific date, for a specific person and a specific answer.

He’s about three-quarters the way around the room when the live band switches to something old – some Glenn Miller, bouncy and lively and it’s vaguely familiar, tickling at the front of his brain like a half-remembered dream. He pauses, trying to place the tune, figure out what memory it’s linked to.

He doesn’t mean to eavesdrop on the locals, in that moment of thought, but some conversations are meant to be overheard.

.o.

“…absurd! The very idea.”

“Oh, come on now, Doctor. I’m hardly asking you to wrestle alligators or pole vault.”

.o.

It only takes a word, the capitalization audible. Distantly, the memory clicks into place.

.o.

“Me, dance. Completely absurd. I don’t know where you get these ideas.” The Doctor pushes his hat further forward over his face, tone casually dismissive, for all that it’s underlined with a sort of comfortable and familiar affection.

Sarah grins broadly, and it’s a hard one to resist, sunny and sincere. A smile to make kings and gods bow to a whim, certainly, but there’s a bit of steel in there too, an uncompromising determination. “Don’t be ridiculous. Anyone can dance.”

The hat comes back up a bit, to allow for a speculative eying. “That’s a terribly unempirical assertion, coming from a trained journalist. You haven’t seen me with my shoes off – how do you know I don’t have both left feet?”

The smile turns teasing and smug. “Two.”

“Pardon?”

“The phrase is ‘two left feet’. And if you did have, I’d say you’re one of the silliest people I know, going about in shoes that don’t fit. Must be horribly uncomfortable.”

.o.

He does his best not to stare, but it’s excruciating, his gut instinct being to study with all undue intensity, to gawk and gibber and just generally act like a gobsmacked fool. Another part of him wants to buy it without a second look, to suspend his disbelief for the first time in far too long, to put aside the need for analysis and proof and just believe in something, something absurd and ridiculous and magical.

He wants to believe that that really is the Doctor sitting over there, arguing about a dance like a petulant child. The same Doctor, not just some random grumpy physician with an aversion to socialization, a knowledge deficit regarding common earth phrases, and freakishly familiar eyes.

The eyes are what’s cinching it for him, really. You don’t often see them able to put out more light than they take in, or dance with quite so many ghosts and sparks of joy, dangerous and innocent and he’s seen himself in them too many times to not know the person behind them when he sees him, no matter the mask.

.o.

The Doctor thinks, looking casually around at nothing for a moment, eyes unfocused. He gives a frustrated sigh, muttering to himself. “That’s no kind of proper logic.” A blink, turning to look to her. “Is it?”

She nods, smiling rather like the proverbial cat with the canary.

“Can’t be,” he mutters, seeming to be taking this awfully seriously all of a sudden, expression all deadly earnestness. “I’m very good at logic, I’ll have you know. And that can’t be right.”

“Doctor,” she says resolutely, standing from her chair and turning to face him where he sits slumped. There is a tone of finality to it- she’s had enough of arguing with the five-year-old, and is requesting audience with the friend. She puts her hands out in front of herself, palms up. “Come on. Just one.”

Wide eyes stay locked on hers for a moment, serious - then he smiles, self-deprecating. Takes her hands. “All right then,” he grumbles, pulling himself to his feet, all disordered clothes and jumbled limbs. “But I’m not joking around, you know. I haven’t danced a step in three hundred- well, a human step. They have some lovely dances on Praxel Seta, but the best you or I could do is approximate them, you rather need six legs and-”

“I’ll show you,” she cuts him off, still smiling – clinging to his hands a touch longer than is justified, in the context, and covering it with a laugh. Determined. “This is an easy one, and what are best friends for, right?”

He doesn’t respond – just studies her for a long moment, then drops his hat onto the chair and follows her, conspicuous and self-conscious, out onto the floor.

.o.

It’s cold in this room in December, colder outside, and amongst all the grey-tan uniformed soldiers and their conservative wives, they look like nothing so much as the last flowers of autumn, struggling and fading and fighting to the end amidst the gathering frost.

He stands, and watches, and it's clumsy and stumbling and beautiful. In his mind he's just stepped into an impossible space for the first time, all blue-green light and jumbled cables and the smell of ozone and cinnamon and tea. The dancers in his head are more confident, practiced - movements smooth, the tread of black boots and white boots against the wire-grate floor barely audible over the music. He watches, smiling in that wistful way he manages when he remembers the good and home and belonging and forgets to remember the anger. Or remembers to forget.

Remembers to forget is closer.

“Never would have thought I’d see that,” comes a voice from the side, and he looks up to regard its source. A military man in UN tans, young, hiding that youth away behind a severe mustache and the even more severe uniform, grinning crookedly and lightly out at the Doctor and his friend. He turns to speak directly to the other man, offering a handshake. “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Haven’t seen you at any of these before, new?”

“Captain Jack Harkness. Good to meet you,” he says, accepting the handshake with a guarded grin. Not answering the question, but he’s good at that. “Never thought you’d see what?”

“Oh. Just…” The Brigadier glances back out into the crowd, as the song starts to wind itself down. A fleeting look of embarrassment, as if he’d said too much, for conversation with a stranger. “Never seemed like a dancing sort to me, that fellow.”

Jack smiles, a touch too warmly, watching the dancers. Too much fondness, too much familiarity. “Never can tell.”

“I suppose not,” the military man replies, eying Jack with sudden, subtle suspicion. He’d caught that warmth, and it didn’t fit. Things that don’t fit, however subtly, throw up red flags in this business. “What department do you report to, Captain?”

“I don’t, actually,” Jack replies, tearing his attention away from the floor and back to the man in front of him. “Torchwood liaison.”

The Brigadier grows suddenly colder, more distant. Nods shortly. “One of those, then.”

Jack grins regardless, ignoring the sudden chilling. “Here to make connections and abuse your open bar,” he quips, hoping for at least a chuckle in response.

He doesn’t get one. The other man just stands, silent for a moment, eyes back on the crowd of dancers, unnerving in his stillness. Jack feels the smile die on his face by gradual degrees.

“You’re going to leave him be,” the military man finally says, not deigning to look Jack in the eyes.

“Pardon?”

“The Doctor. You’re not going to go after him. I understand that your organization has the full backing of the British Crown, but the United Nations outweighs her just a bit, I’d say.” Severe eyes finally flicker back to Jack’s face, uncompromising. “He’s in our service and under our protection.”

Loyalty. Palpable and powerful, permeating the air around them like the hum of overloaded electric lines. It is obvious and without guile, and so heartbreakingly familiar to Jack, standing silent, momentarily dumbstruck by the force of it.

He remembers that.

Brain catching up with his ears, Jack shakes his head, rushes to clarify. “Look, that’s not why I’m h-”

The opposite wall would, of course, choose this exact moment to explode.

.o.

Dust. A lot of dust, plaster particulate and insulation, filling the room. It hurts to breathe but the part of Jack that is used to this sort of thing by now calculates in an instant that it’s not truly dangerous, not fatal. The blast, on the other hand, will certainly have claimed casualties. You’d expect screams and chaos and everything you see in the movies, but the reality is much more chilling - a terrible noise and then silence. People blinkingly trying to decide whether or not they survived. Breath filling the vacuum left behind by the blast, punctuated by the occasional bit of plaster or detritus skittering to the floor. The blood-pound of deafened eardrums struggling to come up to task.

After a few still and disoriented moments, there’s a rustling of movement around him as people start to stumble to their feet, helping others do the same. There’s suddenly a hand under his elbow and one grasping his forearm just above the wrist and he’s pulled gently upright, the world spinning out in a wide and lazy arc before he finds himself regarded by those wrenchingly familiar eyes. In a stranger’s face, to be fair – but in this haze and chaos, technicalities can be forgiven.

“There we are now, are you hurt? Can you stand?” the not-stranger asks, detached, ready to leave Jack be and move on to another person.

Jack nods, and his brain is swimming, giddy from the concussion wave of the explosion, voice hoarse from the dust choking his throat. He’s not thinking clearly enough to keep the familiarity out of his response. “Yeah Doc, I’m fine. Thanks.”

There’s a moment where those bright, pale eyes narrow in consideration, eyebrows pursing. “Do I know you?” The question is speculative, innocent curiosity out of place amidst the urgency of explosions and destruction and far more people than he has the time to help, coming around slower than they ought to.

Jack just takes a breath, smiles the most winning smile he can muster under the circumstances, and shakes his head. “Not yet.”

Simple question, simple answer, but there’s something in the tone that makes his meaning clear, beyond just a dizzy jumbling of ‘nice to make your acquaintance.’ Time travel is awkward like this, mixing the ends and beginnings and all that. Jack is considered for a moment longer; then the Doctor nods, all seriousness. “Ah. Well, best if you stay here then, I’d say. Sarah?” he asks, louder, starting to turn away. He drops his hand from Jack’s arm, takes a step, and sweeps the discarded hat up from the nearby chair in one uninterrupted motion.

Jack stares, half-insensate, as the two of them disappear hurriedly into the dust and noise, becoming silhouettes, then blurs of motion, then gone. Two and one. Two and one, but never three, and Jack’s been abandoned. Again.

It’s no one’s fault.

It’s no one’s fault and it’s only natural, given the circumstances and the demands of timekeeping. He understands this well enough, the Time Agent in him knows it logically, but his head feels like an overfilled balloon and the pinprick hurt of the left-behind is far too comfortable and familiar a sensation to shake, as the last flowers of the year fade and disappear and leave him with nothing but another long, empty stretch of winter and waiting.

Waiting, he’s good at. Winter though, with its loneliness and chill and half-life lived with the dying sun - that’s one thing he’s never gotten the hang of.

*

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