Fandom: Doctor Who
Beta: The forever amazing starxd_sparrow and souleswanderer
Characters: The Tenth Doctor, Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler
Summary: "You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else." -Albert Einstein
A/N: This was written for the 2009 OT3 Ficathon. I'm writing for callme_al0
The Doctor’s earlier statement that Ineokajith was known for its nightlife and hospitality was validated when the crowds poured from the wooden stands and surrounded Jack. People spilled onto the dirt packed streets and the celebration ensued. By the time Rose and the Doctor bullied their way to Jack’s side, he was sitting at a table with a mug in each hand, a bandage covering the cut over his eye, and a silly grin on his face.
Rose immediately tilted Jack’s head up and turned it side to side to inspect the covered wound and look for other injuries. The Doctor had already noted Jack’s torn trousers, battered and dirty knuckles – two on the left hand and three on the right – and counted the women and several men hovering extremely close to their newfound hero.
Rose resisted the urge to slap him on the shoulder, remembering multiple tumbles he took while fighting. “We’ve been looking for you for ages,” she said, hooking her foot around a chair and pulling it out.
Jack raised his eyebrow, gesturing with a mug of ale to the surrounding crowd. “Was I that hard to find?”
She thumped him on the arm, albeit gently. “How are you feeling?”
His smile widened. “Try the ale. It’s incredible!”
Rose took the offered mug. “It sounds like you’ve had enough for all of us.”
“Well, being such a compassionate man, how could I refuse? They were offering, after all,” Jack pointed out.
The Doctor stepped forward, resting his hand on Jack’s shoulder and inspecting the mugs scattered across the table. “How much have you had, really?”
“About half a pint,” Jack replied honestly, his fingers idly circling the rim of one of the mugs. “I’ve been waiting for you to show up.” The Doctor’s fingers tightened on Jack’s shoulder for a fraction of a second before he plopped down on a chair next to Rose.
Rose reached for Jack’s hand, squeezing briefly once their gazes locked. “We were told no one’s ever won a challenge before.”
Jack leaned back, smirking. “Well, I don’t like to brag.”
“Since when?” the Doctor asked, raising his eyebrows.
“I wonder if there are more games today,” Rose mused.
The Doctor was thrumming the table. “I’d hardly call those –“
“The king has declared that the games will continue tomorrow! Tonight we celebrate our traveler’s victory!” The man who jovially made that statement raised his brimming mug and sloshed half his ale onto Jack and Rose.
“The king told you this?” the Doctor asked, pushing away from the table and standing up.
The man shrugged, finding his ale suddenly interesting when he noticed the Doctor’s heavy gaze. “Everyone’s talking about it.”
“Was the king at the games today?” the Doctor persisted.
“I didn’t see him, but I’m sure he was watching.”
The Doctor seemed to notice the man’s discomfort and handed him one of the full mugs on the table. “Well, enough questions, then. Enjoy tonight’s celebrations!”
“Thank you, sir! Same to you!” With a final look of admiration in Jack’s direction, the man disappeared in the crowd.
“Something on your mind, Doctor?” Rose asked.
“When isn’t something on his mind?” Jack replied, shaking his head. Like Rose, he was intently studying the Doctor who was unfortunately facing away from them. Even though the Time Lord had a self-proclaimed big gob, it was the subtle nuances, the slight shifts in his behavior that shed more light on what he was thinking.
“We could leave,” Rose suggested, pushing her chair back and standing. “I remember an offer of a sunset on Carseng.”
“Only if I get to apply the sunscreen to the two of you,” Jack said, smiling.
Rose nodded and reached for the Doctor’s hand. “Okay.”
When the Doctor turned to face them, the wide grin on his face didn’t reflect his previous tone. “Wouldn’t want to miss the fun, would we? It’s like the Olympics or gladiators! Not that I was a huge fan of the gladiators, mind you. Wasn’t their fault, I suppose. It was the animals that -” The Doctor paused when he noticed Jack and Rose’s curious and slightly concerned looks. “You two don’t have to stay. On second thought, you probably need to rest, Jack. The TARDIS is –“
“Don’t be stupid,” Rose interjected, tugging on his hand.
“Yeah, we’re not leaving,” Jack confirmed as he stood and moved to stand across from the Doctor. “Anyway, I was just getting used to this hero gig.”
When the Doctor smiled, it was warm and genuine. “You were always a hero, Jack. Both of you.”
Jack coughed and reached for the forgotten mug on the table. “If this keeps up, we’re going to need more ale.”
Rose smiled, taking Jack’s hand and pulling him and the Doctor down the street. “Come on. If we’re going to be staying, we might as well enjoy the great nightlife and hospitality you two keep going on about.”
Despite the strange “games,” Ineokajith continued to warrant its reputation for hospitality. That evening everyone opened their doors, even doors that didn’t belong to pubs and eateries, and people conversed, drank, and were generally merry. From speaking with the villagers, the Doctor learned the games occurred every year and typically lasted three days. For whatever reason, people loved to watch even though those who participated were never seen again. That was until Jack accepted the challenge and emerged victorious.
No money was accepted during the games by order of the elusive king. They planned on returning to the TARDIS for the night, but after declining the sixth offer for a place to rest, Jack decided they should be polite. After all, wasn’t traveling about immersing yourself in the culture of the place you were visiting?
“Isn’t this special,” Rose muttered, rolling over on the grass mat and reaching for a particularly ruthless piece of straw that was poking her shoulder.
“I believe the word you’re looking for is quaint,” the Doctor replied, fidgeting underneath the makeshift blanket. He was using his coat as a pillow. Rose was conveniently using Jack who certainly wasn’t complaining.
“It’s not so bad,” Jack said before taking a deep breath and blowing Rose’s hair off his nose. “I’ve certainly slept in worse places.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Rose teased. She felt Jack’s laughter reverberating underneath her. The Doctor who was normally quick to continue poking fun at Jack was uncharacteristically quiet. “Doctor, what’s on your mind?”
Jack managed to poke him with his toe. “Come on, Doc’. This is where you tell us all the brilliant things you’ve managed to work out, and we applaud your unrivaled intelligence and tell you how generally clever you are.”
The Doctor flopped onto his back, kicking the blanket off in the process. “Something isn’t right.”
Somehow Jack’s toe managed to poke him in the ribs without unsettling Rose. “And you think this because…”
“If the king’s so fond of these games, where is he? Let’s not forget the snake you were fighting, Jack. If the people who normally compete end up disappearing or dying, why is everyone so quick to watch the games?” The Doctor folded his arms behind his head, a thousand more questions lying unanswered in his head.
“Morbid fascination, I suppose,” Jack said quietly. “The more morbid, the more entertaining.”
“So what are we going to do?” Rose asked, reaching out in the darkness and folding her hand around the Doctor’s. “I know you’ve got a plan.”
“Get a better look at those games,” the Doctor replied.
Rose lifted her head. “When you say get a better look, do you mean you’re going to participate?”
Despite the darkness, the Doctor’s wide smile was still visible. “Unfortunately, I don’t know how they choose the contestants. I can’t exactly walk up to the announcer, jump up and down and say ‘pick me’, can I?”
Rose smiled and resettled against Jack, her hand still wrapped around the Doctor’s. “Right, that would be silly, wouldn’t it?”
When Rose and Jack woke the following morning, the Doctor was gone. They shared a grim look before starting towards the arena. There were only a few people milling about in the streets. From the gossip, they were able to gather that some deranged idiot actually walked up the announcer and demanded to be the next challenger. Since he was the first person who actually volunteered and was making such a fuss about it, the announcer agreed just to shut up him.
Jack and Rose pushed themselves through the crowd who were pointing towards the ring and muttering about the lack of services for the mentally afflicted. Jack didn’t stop at the edge, lifting the rope for Rose and striding into the ring.
“Might I have a word with today’s challenger?” Jack asked the announcer with a nod in the Doctor’s direction.
“Maybe you can get through to him,” the man muttered. “Be brief. The games will start soon.” He spun on his heel and stalked away.
“What are you doing?” Jack asked flatly.
“Playing, obviously,” the Doctor replied, raising an inquiring eyebrow. “You got a turn. Seems only fair that -”
“Immortal,” Jack interjected quietly, his jaw clenched.
“So does that mean you have the market in heroic sacrifices? Really, Jack, learn to share.”
Rose touched the Doctor’s shoulder, running her fingers down his arm. “You realize we’re going to help you.”
“I suggest we knock him out and drag him out of the ring. Everyone already thinks he’s insane,” Jack said.
The Doctor grinned in a way that made Jack think everyone was at least partially right in their assumption. “The way I see it, if I take up this challenge, someone else doesn’t have to.” He shrugged. “Might not be a planet, but still worthwhile.”
The announced approached them again. “It’s time.”
“You don’t have to sound so ominous about it,” the Doctor said.
“It’s your funeral,” the announcer muttered. He focused his attention on Rose and Jack. “You two must leave the ring.”
“Just don’t get yourself killed,” Jack ordered, grabbing the Doctor’s shoulder and squeezing hard.
“Or maimed or hurt,” Rose added, standing on her toes and kissing the Doctor’s cheek.
They exited the ring but stayed just on the other side of the rope. The Doctor was whispering something in the ear of the announcer, grinning when the man nodded.
Tossing his hands in the air, the Doctor yelled, “Let the games begin!”