There were times in his eternal existence that Captain Jack Harkness confirmed that yes, he was the Face of Boe.
There were others when he denied it categorically.
The thing was, rather surprisingly, he was telling the absolute truth each time, cross his heart and hope not to be resurrected to face another trillion years of immortality
He could feel the question coming - The Face of Boe was used to questions. The Doctor was never one to let something go even if his curious nature might get temporarily overwhelmed by events like the end of everything. Sooner or later he came back to the problem and worried at it because he had some sort of compulsion to know and understand. Admittedly it had been a long time coming even for the Time Lord who played very fast and loose with continuity. He had seen the Earth die, humanity ebb and flow across the darkness of the night sky and watched the cycles of time pulse and throb with the heartbeat of the universe. Even so, when the Doctor approached him, he could not deny him. When he felt the Time Lord's telepathic knocking on the edges of his consciousness, he let him in as his vast mouth was too large to talk vocally for any length of time, but his mind...his mind contained wonders to astonish even a Time Lord now. Bigger on the inside.
There was a hesitation and then he felt the fresh bubbling thoughts of the Gallifreyan peering at him and he laughed mentally projecting his good humour.
~Go on, ask that which you came to ask~ he encouraged.
The Doctor paused again and then said with unusual hesitance ~Captain Jack Harkness, is that you?~
He laughed, the energy of his thoughts making a planet smile with reflected good humour. ~Yes Doctor, yes it is ~
And it was the truth.
But not the end of the story.
Only after the death of Earth, far in the future, the Doctor ran into a familiar figure on Ktalakan Var. A familiar human shaped figure with dark hair, a familiar devastating smile and eyes blue and clear as Earth's lost skies and time swirling around him like matter around a singularity.
And with less premeditation and after a lot more running he asked the same question, "Captain Jack Harkness, is that you?"
To his surprise Jack let him into his mind where he normally had difficulty penetrating beyond surface thought, and he saw a dizzying swirl of time and... not a sign of Jack being the Face of Boe even though he had lived beyond that timeline.
"Sure is," Jack replied with a grin. "I find it easier for you to just catch up where I am by doing that." He paused a moment. "Oh. That was your first time? Always wondered when I'd have to make the explanation. You haven't needed it before."
The Doctor looked at him, trying to grasp the implications of what he had sensed. It didn't make sense. He knew that Jack Harkness was the Face of Boe and yet here he was having lived through the same timelines and was very evidently human shaped. "You, me and a very long talk Jack. After we stop these idiots drilling into a super lava flume and destroying their world."
Jack grinned, still fresh face and with that inviting quirk to his mouth. "More running?" he suggested.
"More running," the Doctor replied and it was just as well he could solve this particular problem with a fraction of his considerable brainpower because a large proportion of it was being dedicated to the mystery of Jack Harkness.
Every now and then, in the moments between things blowing up, imminent death, and bananas, the Doctor considered the anomaly that was Jack Harkness and whether he could do anything to help his friend. Time Lord senses were different in a way that species that did not evolve with a connection to time could not appreciate. They sensed things affected by time in a way that was hard to explain because other races did not have a term of reference for them. If the species had no eyes, how did you explain blue to them? But at the end of the day, the big Time Lord secret was actually rather obvious if you had more than one functioning brain cell, and he was sure most races across the universe had an intuitive sense of the truth. Time was alive -- and once you knew that, everything about it made a peculiar form of sense. Oh of course it was incomprehensible on a lot of levels even for a Time Lord, and not even in their species' wide arrogance would one of them claim to know all there was to know about Time. Part of the whole looking into the Untempered Schism rite of passage was in part a means of awakening exactly what relationship you held to Time. Though it pained the Doctor to admit it, his individual gift was a little strange and one not even really acknowledged by his peers.
You couldn't be a Time Lord without a sense of the eddies and nexuses of Time. It was like experiencing weather inside of your blood, the beat of temporal energy, the gusts and swirls, the crack of thunder of a rift in the space between two hearts. There had been Time Lords who could touch time and weave timelines together like physical threads. There were those who had become one with the flow of time itself, phasing in perfect synchronicity with the vortex itself. His particular talent was a little -- okay, a lot more prosaic. A curiosity perhaps in the eyes of his teachers at the Academy and yet over the course of his existence, perhaps something more powerful and subtle than the ability to handle the raw stuff of time itself.
He had the instinctive knowledge of the best action, best word at the right place and the right time. Not as flashy as those who could twist the raw stuff of Time itself, or those who could channel the powers of Time into destruction to their enemies. In fact he remembered them examining him and not finding anything of note before because it wasn't a skill they appreciated. But it meant time after time his words, his actions shaped the flows of time and he knew what to do even if he didn't always want to do it.
And somehow, of all the things in the universe, all the times he had managed the right thing at the right time for the best purpose the point where it all went Wrong was with Jack.
Captain Jack Harkness was an impossible thing. He was Wrong, any Time Lord would feel that immediately if there were any of them left. He was apparently a walking paradox in being the man he knew and the Face of Boe existing in the same timeline. He lay across the flow of time as something immovable and unchanging and it had taken time for the instinctive flinch when he looked at him to fade. He'd never really worked out why and he was still compelled by a mystery. The real mystery was how long it had taken him to unravel this enigma that was the flesh and blood of his friend.
So here he was about to unravel this riddle in a Ktalakan equivalent to a bar, complete with some rather disturbing blue glittery drinks that Jack swore he had to try.
"So Jack," he said, raising his eyebrows a little at the other man after they had duly saved the day with the aid of some physical heroics by Jack, a sonic screwdriver function he had only ever before used as a form of paint stripper, and some very quick talking by him, and smooth flirting by Jack. Who knew the Ktalakans were susceptible to human blue eyes? Well, he did now, obviously. "Some little paradox going on here hmm? You are and are not the Face of Boe at one and the same time?"
Jack grinned, fiddling with the ch'tos stem that served as a drink stirrer. The Doctor was pretty sure Jack sucked on it in such an obscene way out of some sort of Jack Harkness induced reflex. "That really bugs you doesn't it? A possible paradox and you can't feel it. Relax Doctor, there isn't a paradox."
"I'm serious Jack. " he answered trying for a glare and failing. It was hard to be mad at the irrepressible human.
"You? Serious? Come on." Jack joked, swigging back a mouthful of the blue drink. Rather strangely it made his lips glitter which the Doctor felt was unfairly distracting. "Okay, okay I'll give you the full story."
The Doctor looked at him a little suspiciously. "What do you want for it?" he asked.
Jack smiled and gestured with the ch'tos stick in a way that was clearly pure innuendo. "You've already given it to me," he said and smirked. "Time travel can be a bitch sometimes huh?"
Yeah. Yeah, sometimes it really could and Jack was impossible in more ways than one sometimes. He gestured for him to continue and contented himself with touching the memories of the events that Jack was describing, as the human seemed to be leaving his mind open to him now as if it were a habit, rather than locking everything behind closed doors. The Doctor suspected that was because Jack could now control exactly what he could see.
"I guess this part of the story begins, in the Year That Never Was," Jack said leaning back, never taking his eyes off of him. "Because that was the first time I lost my head. Literally speaking of course."
And there it was, Jack's unedited memories flowing into his awareness, rich with the dark textures of fear and pain even now, even so many years on.
Dying actually was the easy part of being the focus of the Master's attention. It was getting to that point that Jack struggled with and the pain involved as his torturer knew having him alive and in pain was more debilitating in the end. There was a problem in that his body evidently could stand more physical torment than a normal human without dying, and the Master's 'experimentation' had proven that done the right way, things that would kill him initially he grew a little resistant to over time, and lingered on longer. He was a distraction, a tool with which to hurt the Doctor although on some self pitying level, occasionally he wondered if the Doctor might just want the universe to be rid of something so Wrong. The Master could see it too, but reacted as if it was some perversion that entitled him to do whatever he wanted. It made him Not Real to the psychotic Time Lord, a toy to pull to pieces and torment and right now the game was Trying to Find Something that would Actually Make Jack stay Dead. Alphabetically.
They were up to D.
"I could've done this at B you know," The Master said as his lackeys chained Jack over an improvised block. "But I really wanted to burn you alive which meant 'beheading' was out, and I suspect if anything is going to kill you it might be this. I'm surprised you haven't tried it yourself Mr get-over-yourself-and-your-angst-of-woe. No wait, that's what I call the Doctor isn't it? You can just be the Freak. Keeps it simple."
Jack was trying not to hyperventilate, because it was possible this might finish him and he might've longed to die before but if he analysed the feeling it wasn't the death that was important, it was the normal life prior to that point. "Maybe I won't be around to inconvenience you much longer," he said as dryly as he could manage.
"In some ways I wish that weren't the case," The Master replied in a musing tone. "I have a very exhaustive list of ways to kill you, many of them haven't ever been tried on a human before. Won't that be fun?"
"Peachy," Jack replied unable to twist his head now. There was the touch of cold fingers over his exposed neck.
"Assuming you survive Decapitation, we'll have a lot of time together. If you do, I wonder how it will work. Maybe you won't revive unless your head is back on your body. Or perhaps you'll grew a new one...or will your head grew a new body?" The Master patted the back of his neck caressing it slightly in a way that made him shiver in a bad way.
"Screw you." Jack said, trying to imagine that perhaps the Doctor was being forced to watch this, and he had to not go to pieces for his sake. If it were just for his own sake, he would scream and beg because the strength didn't rely in being silent.
"Oh please, you're not even remotely as attractive as you think you are," the Master said dismissively. "Perhaps losing your head will be an improvement."
There was no other warning, just the brief sound of sharp metal moving through the air and a devastating blinding pain before he fell into the hungry darkness.
The question was answered when he awoke with a gasp, yanked back into life and dragged back through a familiar pain and looked straight into his own eyes looking back at him.
His severed head had been left so it was the first thing that he saw when he woke. That was disturbing enough to make him recoil. But as he stared, he realised that the eyes, his own eyes were watching him, tracking him, and the mouth moving.
There was mocking applause as he recoiled away.
"Oh you should see the look on your face - oh wait, you can!" the Master crowed from where he was sitting watching him. "Fascinating isn't it? I made sure you couldn't pull yourself together, and look what happened? You did that freakish time trick of your and your head tried to do the same. But all it's done is sustain life. Your head here could keep you company, Jack, but if you didn't feed it or take very good care of it, eventually it would die."
The Master picked the head up by the hair and Jack felt a dizzying sense of movement and a brief moment of disorientation as he seemed to be thinking two sets of thoughts at the same time.
"Now are you ready to find our what I have lined up for the letter E?".
The Doctor grimaced, the images bright and clear in his head. " That was at least one of the things he didn't make me watch," he said to the human sitting opposite him. "But the paradox was undone... ah but of course..."
Of course, if the head had been on the Valiant, then obviously it wouldn't have been reversed, just as none of Jack's experiences had been wiped away from his memory.
"I see you've got it. Yeah, the head was still around. " Jack shrugged as he reached for some local delicacy in a bowl that the Doctor was 93% sure was actually a caramelised bug larvae. "I wasn't at my most stable then, Doctor, you might not've noticed, you had things going on yourself." He said it easily then but there was emotion there for him, for all of them back in that time so long ago. "I didn't realise, and UNIT took the Head and gave it a nutrient jar. Pay me back for the whole hand thing, eh, Doc?" He grinned, but the Doctor could sense a level of bitterness lurking.
"The hand thing ended up indirectly saving the multiverse, so I think I might let you off, Jack." And he had, at the time. But he hadn't actually said anything because, well, it just hadn't come up. They were expert at not talking about things.
"You already have, Doctor," Jack said and laughed at his expression of distaste. "You hate it when the time line paradox is against you, don't you?"
"Yes. It's like an itch I can't scratch. Terribly irritating." He replied honestly enough. "Like certain Captain I can mention."
"All part of my charm, and you can scratch my itch any time," the Captain answered with one of his patented inviting smirks, leaning forward into his physical space. "Okay, so a long time later I find out about the fact they had it, and by then my vortex manipulator was functioning so I liberated JackToo who had been growing steadily over the time he had been in his UNIT Jar. And you know, that whole telepathy thing? Turns out given nothing to do for decades but think, I got good at it."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "I could've told you that, Jack."
Jack smiled at him over his glass, sipping at the blue liquor and making his lips glitter as they curved. "You have no idea, Doctor."
"Hmm, I am a Time Lord, Jack." The Doctor said reprovingly. Really, he was a born telepath with a millennia of experience "So, you retrieved your head and...?"
"Well I couldn't kill him, though I was tempted because the concept of my own head in a jar freaked the hell out of me, Doctor. I'd had my fill of death after the Boraxian Wave," Jack said and shrugged a little, eating another caramel bug larvae. "UNIT had given JackToo, as I called him, a life support system, and he'd grown as well, in the way that I was not growing. I would only get older up to the point I died, then I would snap back, although I spent a bit of time with white hair back in the five hundred thousands somewhere. That was more caused by a peculiar form of stress. You laughed a lot when you saw that."
"As if I would Jack," the Doctor said and caught a flicker of something behind that memory, something involving him. He was connected with whatever had resulted in that particular aberration.
"Oh you would, will, have and did," Jack said tossing tenses around carelessly, as he signalled the rather attractive Ktalaxan to bring him another. "Anyway, by then I had my vortex manipulator working again so I... took JackToo to the Makers of Goresh'yvar.
"Oh lovely people," the Doctor approved thoroughly and enthusiastically. "They loved taking things apart. Someone of them were a little zealous about that. Whenever I turned up they'd cluster around the TARDIS and drool under the door."
Jack chuckled. "They made him a body, Cybernetic based and we set up a nice little planet in the back waters of the Aurielian Galaxy."
"The mythical origin of the Face of Boe." The Doctor mused. "Well, I did wonder about that because there isn't exactly a survival advantage in being a disembodied head. Well, not an obvious advantage, but there's no obvious advantage to being a banana either."
"Not everything is about bananas, doctor," Jack said with a smile.
"If it were the universe might be a better place," he said sentoriously. "And a lot richer in potassium and a bit more bent."
Jack laughed in a way that the Doctor recognised as being unusual for him and he caught a glimpse a past memory that held him spellbound.
Jack looked at his mirror self, distorted by age. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?" he asked JackToo.
"I've got a voice again," JackToo replied as he looked at himself, both of them searching each other's expressions in the same way. "And I'm able to move. That's a start. "
"Look, I'd say come with me, but there's that whole thought echo thing which is.." Jack hesitated and tried to put it diplomatically. "Disturbing."
Painful, tearing with resonance and harmonic mental feedback.
"I'm not you any more," JackToo said looking at him with a gaze he realised other people might find a little intimidating. "I stopped being you, Jack, at the point we had our own parting of the ways courtesy of the Master. From the time I spent in the jar. That's an experience you've never had."
Jack felt the reproval then and drew back. "If I'd known..."
"You probably would've killed me. And I can die... eventually, which is the upside to being me, not you. I will age, and die at some point but we don't know when. I just..." JackToo hesitated, and some of that hard edged look vanished and he recognised the reflection of his own emotions.
"Don't want to be alone, I know." And he did. It was a fear that deepened with every loss because he couldn't stop feeling, though there had been times that he tried. "Look, It'll happen again, bound to considering the sheer time I'm going to be around. I'll bring them here to you at intervals so I don't cross my timeline. We're what... several million years back before my time?"
"Give or take a hundred thousand," JackToo answered with a wry grin. "You know, that sounds like an idea. If nothing else I'll have someone to have sex with."
"Technically it's masturbation," Jack said and grinned back, appreciating the thought. "It's a deal. This is a good place; it's got a natural ionised nebula creating interference. No one is going to find you here or any other of my... things."
"Yeah, well... heads."
Decision made and it was a plan of sorts. If there could be said to be a plan involving decapitation.
Flicker, flicker memories, visit, and a visit, and a visit each time with a severed Head in tow. Jaythree who seemed pensive and depressed -- something to do with a bad run of decades, Jayfour, the explorer and risk taker from his days exploring the unknown in one of the prototype Jump Ships. Jayfive and Jaysix, disturbingly close together and like twins in their mutual dependence and products of more torture.
And it went on, and on, the planet populating from all over the time stream until Jack finally stopped visiting...
The Doctor leaned back, a lot of things explained in that rush of thought. He'd always wondered how the Boekind came into existence, and how they reproduced as the Face of Boe was reported as being 'pregnant' on frequent occasions. "You created a species, Jack. I always wondered how that worked. In your own image. Ambitions of godhood?"
"Not really, Doctor Oncoming Storm," the immortal human said in a good-natured riposte. "Believe me, it was just one of those things. Maybe it was a wrong thing, but it was happening to me. A lot of things have happened to me. I always seem to be right there in the middle of it -- usually with you, come to think of it. But a lot of those things haven't happened to you yet, have they?"
"No." The Doctor frowned a little and looked at Jack again, without withdrawing away from the sheer intensity of the time forces around him. Yes, Jack was a fact, a fixed point but he wasn't blocking anything. He hadn't been thinking about it fourth dimensionally, that was the problem, which was a stupid mistake for someone of his level of intelligence. A large part of a Time Lord's subconscious effectively intersected with the Fourth dimension and that was the reason why Jack felt 'Wrong' to him -- he made his instincts prickle in the way any enormous Time anomaly would. However, if life was a quality of time, and time was a quality of life in a not dissimilar way to time and space being one and the same, and Jack was a fact, it was the old paradox of an immovable object and an irresistible force. And everyone knew what that meant. Well, maybe not everyone but Time Lords understood the principles fresh off the loom. It made Jack something that shouldn't exist, because the two things, should not, could not exist in the same universe together, unless...
Unless something had torn the fabric of time so badly apart that those rules were twisted and it needed to stitch itself together with something. Irresistible force meeting immovable object made an infinity loop with Jack at the crossover point. He caused an instinctive revulsion because he was a stitch in the wound of living time. Something inert and painful to contemplate, but in the end something healing.
"Doctor?" Jack was leaning forward and now as clear as day he could feel the man's trips through time and space like sutures in a wound. His presence at multiple disaster not a cause of trouble but a solution, sometimes a tool to be used.
"You're a stitch in time, Jack!" he blurted out. "That's amazing! Well, more amazing that I knew but didn't understand. I mean I can see what you are, but that's different to understanding what you are for. On one level they shouldn't be there, and on the other, they are wonderful things, holding things together."
Jack started to smile and the Doctor found that slightly disconcerting. "Oi, don't give me that look."
"C'mon doc, don't deny me one of the rare times where I know more than you do."
The Doctor nearly spat out his drink, which would've been unfortunate as it would have been a deadly insult in this sector. "You know more than me? Never!"
"I'm... quite a bit older than you now." Jack pointed out, shrugging as he was brought his second drink. This one was a pearlescent purple. "Look, if it makes a difference, at some point you go back and you explain it to me then and I can seriously say that day was one of the high points of my life. And that's saying something."
The Doctor was a little amazed at the expression that was on Jack's face as he explained that and then took a shot of new drink. "Why?" he asked even though he knew better than to try and find things out about his own timeline.
"Because..." Jack exhaled a little, his expression becoming serious. "Okay, being alone, being abandoned is one thing. It's happened before, I've been through things before I met you, Doctor, and hey, maybe I was a little screwed up but I was getting on with life. But feeling and knowing that I was something different, impossible and in your own words, Wrong, well..." He shrugged little. "One thing to feel different, another to know that essentially you are a Universal mistake that the fabric of time and space apparently cries out against."
The doctor knew he wasn't particularly good with sympathy. It was a failing of his race or a strength maybe. Telepathy would do that, you didn't need to express sympathy as such, because you knew how they felt and they knew you knew. No need to say anything or say things that were empty and useless like 'that must be terrible'. What sympathetic responses he had were entirely due to his connection with his various companions and their attempt to make him adhere to some social conventions.
Jack held up a hand. "No, it's okay Doctor, this is in the past for me. You've got to remember that for...well, I guess if you count the time I was buried alive for over a thousand years it was probably 1300 years I firmly believed I was an abomination, a freak in the most literal sense of the word... Not only that but if I was painful to your senses I was potentially damaging the timestreams. You gotta remember, doc, I had been a Time Agent and I had just enough knowledge to know about the myths and legends of Time Lord relationships with Time."
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing Captain," the Doctor replied but he did understand now. "And you humans specialise in that." He looked at Jack and the pair of them grinned and raised a glass, not needing telepathic contact before they said in unison,
Jack smiled clinking his purple glass against the doctors before downing all of his drink, and grimacing as the potent liquor obviously burned as he swallowed.
"Anyway..." Jack cleared his throat. "One day you turned up, and I'd had a pretty shitty time coming up to then. Losing people, being rejected, dying in some very creative ways -- and you told me I was impossible, but that wasn't the same as being 'Wrong'. That I had a reason to be like this, that you should've realised that Rose had a reason greater than just a passing whim to keep me alive."
Of course! Of course, the vortex, the Bad Wolf would've been using Rose as much as she tried to use it. Even a moment of omniscience would've been enough to see consequences of the Time War and take steps. Jack was a creation of the vortex as much as anything else. It seemed so obvious now because the Tardis had adjusted to Jack's presence after its initial shock of contact.
"I can't believe I didn't realise it until now." He'd been too ...prejudiced to use Jack's word, too hurt from losing Rose, from losing the Master, from being alone, from sending Rose to another dimension, losing Donna.
"Lot of things on your mind," Jack replied with a shrug as if millions of years didn't matter to him. Maybe they didn't anymore.
"I still can't believe you were the Face of Boe." The Face of Boe had been its own legend. Forged federations, brokered treaties, influenced large swathes of history and saved countless worlds. Actually he shouldn't have been that surprised, that did sound like Jack, but perhaps with less sex.
"He was a great guy, JackToo. They all were." Jack said with a rueful shrug. "Their memories sort of flowed back to me when they died. It usually wiped me out for a while until I could get my head together. The Face of Boe... was very glad you were there when he died."
"You are not alone," he murmured aloud.
"It's still true Doctor." Jack said looking directly at him with his intense blue eyes. "Always will be."
It would be for Jack, he knew that much. He didn't answer immediately, lost in his own thoughts.
"So, your curiosity satisfied, Doctor?" Jack asked eventually. "Maybe you should go back and tell that earlier Jack a few home truths, hmm? Perk me up a little. Or go and find your next Companion, you've been alone too long. You're getting squirrely.. Of course if you want some company..."
"You never give up do you Jack?" The Doctor said.
"Nope." Jack grinned. "Time is on my side. Besides..." He gave a leer at the Doctor.
"Noooo. No, no, I haven't," the Doctor denied. "Have I?"
Jack just laughed at him. "For me to know and you to find out, Doctor."
For all Jack's mind being open to him, he was suddenly very sure the immortal was letting him see what he wanted him to see. He still couldn't tell if he was serious or if flirting really was that congenital in Jack's nature, that innuendo just appeared in every other sentence. Still, if the rest of the evening was anything to go by, he didn't take offence at being turned down, and could still make him laugh in a way that made him miss a Companion again. Just having someone there to show him that everything he took for granted could be wonderful, someone to make laugh, to adventure with and share things with. He sworn not to do that any more, but now... maybe he'd been alone long enough. But first things first...
"Well then, old girl, lets go back to Earth shall we?" he said as he initialised the Time rotor and the familiar cranking sound of them entering the vortex sang like music to his ears. "I think I want to have a conversation with Jack that might just make his millennia... And this time, I'll be the one who knows everything. And quite right too!"