The TARDIS glowed with a bright orange light. It flickered back and forth now, red and green and blue and white. Rose squeezed the Doctor's hand as the light traveled up Jack's arm, spreading very slowly to his chest, and then outward from there.
"He's changing," Rose said numbly, a flicker of hope in her face. "Like you did, Doctor. This means a new body, right? This means another chance for him."
"I…I just don't know," he said, scratching the side of his head, mouth agape. "This doesn't make any sense. He shouldn't be able to do this. It's impossible."
"Of course it is," Rose laughed, getting as close to Jack's glowing form as she could. "Of course he'd do something impossible. My impossible boy."
The glow covered his entire form, and the boy's body began to change. He got taller, his hair shortened, features twisted and shifted and rearranged. "Oh," the Doctor said so softly that Rose barely heard him, "of course. I hadn't even thought of that. I recognize that energy pattern."
"What?" Rose asked.
"That energy, regeneration energy or whatever it is, it looks off. That's because it's not a Time Lord regeneration. Well, I'm sure my genes had something to do with it, but that wouldn't save him."
"Then what is?"
"Bad Wolf, Rose. He's the son of the Doctor and Bad Wolf. It's you. He's drawing the residual energy from your old form to force his own regeneration."
"See? Half-Human, that's nothing to sneeze at. Ha!" Rose yelled. He gave a strange look. "What I'm not allowed to be excited about things like you are?"
"Rose…" the Doctor started, "Look at him."
Rose looked back to the changing form in front of her. Some features had solidified by now, and the glow began to ebb away from his face. The bones structure, those cheeks, that chin…She recognized it immediately. The glow finally left him, a whole new figure with a whole new face, lying motionless and unconscious on the floor next to his parents. She ran her fingers along his face, that familiar, unmistakable face that she knew so well.
"It's…He can't be. This doesn't make any sense," she said, shaking her head slowly.
There, laying on the TARDIS floor, was the body of Captain Jack Harkness.
They were silent for a long minute, certain their eyes were playing tricks on them. Finally Rose blinked, trying to understand. "Why…Why does he look like Captain Jack?" she asked.
The Doctor scanned him with the Sonic Screwdriver carefully. "His vitals read as human. Just human, barely a trace of Time Lord left. He must have burned it out of his mind. Everything is gone up there. No memories, no personality, just empty space. A brand new body and brain with the same soul still attached to it. Incredible."
"But why does he look like Captain Jack Harkness?" Rose asked again, getting more agitated.
"Rose," he said, holding her shoulders. "I should have seen this sooner, I'm sorry. This is going to sound very confusing to you, I'm having trouble wrapping my own mind around it."
"Just tell me," she begged.
"Rose… There is no Captain Jack Harkness. There never was."
"There is," she said, shaking her head. "We saw him five minutes ago, Doctor."
"We saw a man five minutes ago, who said he was Jack Harkness, who believed he was because his memories told him he was. We met him in London in the middle of the blitz, you remember that?"
"Of course I remember that," she said rolling her eyes. "He had just left the Time Agency. He was trying to con them, they were searching all over time for him."
"But that doesn't make any sense. I thought it back then, too, but I didn't think much about it. If the Time Agency wants to find someone, it's not that hard. Plus, he's not exactly in hiding right now, he's opening up a Torchwood base in the middle of Cardiff."
"What are you saying? Why does our Jack look like that?"
"There's only one Jack, Rose. The man lying there on the floor, he is our son, and he is also the man we call Jack Harkness. It's always been him. This whole time, from when we met him in London, when we went to the Game Station, just today when he helped me in the TARDIS –oh! He helped me in the TARDIS, how could I not have noticed that? There's no way he would understand the mechanics of a TARDIS if he was entirely human! How could I not see this? A perception filter maybe…Yes! That makes perfect sense, I would definitely put a perception filter around him to keep him safe. That's why I never noticed what he was, that's why I've never sensed anything Gallifreyan about him; I was tricking myself. You, Rose," he smiled, "do you realize this means you've saved our son's life twice? Once just now, with your genes, and the other on the Game Station when the Dalek shoots him."
Rose was still staring at Jack on the floor, barely looking at the Doctor. "Let's say you're right," she said. "Let's say Jack Harkness was our Jack all along. Then where did his false memories come from? He had a whole life story—he told it to us, remember? The Boe-Shane Peninsula, his Mother, the Time Agency, he even mentioned his name wasn't even Jack Harkness. He had a past."
"All lies," the Doctor said, laying his hand over Jack's forehead. "All of it was just a lie that he believed was true. And I'm the one who has to put it in there. I have to give him a fake past, based on the things he has told us."
"But why?" she cried, pulling his hand away from their son. "Why give him a fake memory? Let's just wake him up and take him with us."
"Captain Jack Harkness met us in London in the forties, Rose. He has to meet us there. It's an established chain of events, a time-locked point. He was part of the reason I fell in love with you—I suddenly realized that you might be interested in other people and it almost broke my hearts. That led directly to me admitting I loved you, and then to us conceiving Jack in the first place. He has to ensure his own birth. And that's not the only reason. There are still traces of Time Lord in there, but they're faint. He doesn't remember us right now, we're strangers to him. If we just told him who we were it would be like starting over from his birth, and he would still be in danger of that consciousness reawakening and burning out his mind. It's an absolute miracle that he survived this time, he would not regenerate again. We already know he lives, we've just seen him a few minutes ago. We could go see Captain Jack, here in the 21st century, anytime we like. You can check up on him, as long as we don't tell him who he really is."
Rose was crying again, stroking the boy's face. "Centuries. Captain Jack said he waited for us from the eighteen hundreds until today. If we do this, our son is going to wait for us for such a long time. I didn't even ask how he was still alive, I was so busy worrying."
"He can do it, we already know he lives through it. He can do amazing things. When you save him on the Game Station, Rose, Jack Harkness becomes immortal. Our son will never ever die, because you save him. But in order for you to save him, you have to let me rewrite his mind, and send him back to the forties. He won't be alone long, I'll give him just enough time to find the Chula Warship and the Chula Ambulance, and then the younger versions of you and me will show up to help him."
Rose kissed her son's forehead. "Okay. Okay, do it. Give him the memories."
The Doctor laid his hand on his son's forehead, closing his eyes and focusing very hard as he put everything he knew about Captain Jack Harkness into his son's mind. "I'm not giving him everything," he mentioned, partially to himself. "I'm keeping two years away from him. He'll think the Time Agency took those yeas—that's what motivates him to con us in the first place. I'm putting up a low level perception filter too, that will stop the younger me from realizing the signs of Time Lord consciousness in him." The Doctor pulled a little electronic box from his pocket and strapped it to Jack's wrist. "Vortex Manipulator," he said, "I swiped it from Captain Jack's desk earlier, I didn't want him to be able to pop around time, but it was already broken." He used the Sonic Screwdriver on the device. "That should get it working."
"What now?" she asked, trying to sound braver than she was.
The Doctor and Rose laid Jack down gently on a bed in the hotel room they'd rented for him in London in 1943. They paid for a full month, just in case he needed it. They put money from the time period into his pocket, enough to last until he met the younger versions of themselves. He was still wrapped in that military coat he'd picked from the wardrobe, and looking at it now Rose could see that it was very similar to the one she'd seen the Captain in before.
Rose squeezed his hand, pulling the covers up and tucking in her child one last time. "This isn't goodbye, Sweetheart. You'll see me again in just a little while, but I won't recognize you. We get to dance in front of Big Ben, I know you like music. We'll take you on the TARDIS, you'll help us fight a Slitheen, and eventually you'll find yourself fighting a Dalek. Don't worry, though. Mum will save you. It will be a while before you see me after that, but don't worry. I'll always come back. I love you, Jack," she said with a sob, trying to hold back her tears.
She pressed her face against the Doctor's chest and he held her for a moment, rubbing her back. "Can I have a moment?" he asked her.
"Yeah," she nodded, slipping away into the TARDIS, hiding her face from him. He was alone with Jack.
The Doctor knelt by the bed, placing one hand on Jack's forehead again. "Just one thing," he whispered. "Jack Harkness is not your real name, and you'll always know it's not your real name. Your name is Jack A. Tyler, and Harkness is just an alias you took from a fallen soldier around this time. You won't ever tell anyone what your name really is, it's a secret, but I want you to know it." He took the watch from his pocket and slipped it into Jack's coat. "You keep that, Son. Just in case you need to get to sleep. Be safe. I love you."
He took one last look behind him, then walked into the TARDIS, closing the door. Jack lay there alone, with the little blue box in the corner of the room. If he had been awake, he would have heard a woman go to shreds inside the box, crying on the shoulder of the alien she loved, knowing her son was about to start on a long, rocky path, without her there to protect him. The sound of the TARDIS engine drowned her out, and the wind from the vanishing box blew across his silent face.
The man woke with a start. He had been having such a strange dream. There was a wind in his hotel room, and a blonde angel kissing him goodbye. He had seen some strange things in his life at the Time Agency, but something about the gravity of this dream weighed on him. He looked down at his clothes.
"What? Oh, come on, I slept in my clothes again? How drunk was I last night?" he asked himself, hopping out of the bed and rushing to his mirror. He stared at his own reflection, feeling at his jaw. He had seen his face a thousand times before, of course, but something seemed new about it. He couldn't quite place his finger on it. He didn't feel drunk, or even hung-over, but the strange feeling would not go away.
He felt something heavy against his leg, and pulled the object from his pocket. It was a pocket watch, an old one. "That's my pocket watch," he told himself. "I've had it forever."
Then where did you get it? Something deep inside him asked.
"My father gave it to me," he answered quickly to no one. "Years ago, when I was just a kid on the Boe-Shang Peninsula. Yeah, I remember that. Of course I do."
You don't. It insisted.
"No, I don't remember," he said finally. "I bet it was in the two years the Time Agency took from me. I must have gotten it then."
Captain Jack Harkness sat back down on his bed, pulling off his outer clothes to get more comfortable. Something wet fell on the knee of his trousers. He felt his face. There were tears there, but he did not know why. He thought of his mother, someone he had not seen in years, and the tears fell harder. She had been a wonderful woman, and he knew he would not be as sharp as he was today without her.
However, as hard as he tried, he could not remember what she looked like.
By morning, he had forgotten the dream.