Rating: PG for angst and vague discussions of death
Fandom: Doctor Who/Torchwood
Beta: The forever amazing starxd_sparrow and hence_the_name
Characters: The Tenth Doctor and Jack Harkness with mentions of an original companion
Summary: The Doctor returns to an old friend after an adventure goes horribly wrong.
A/N: This is dedicated and written for the lovely hence_the_name.
“Good work,” Jack said, resting his arm companionably on Gwen’s shoulder as they exited the Torchwood Hub. She smiled at his praise, her fingers lightly pressing into his side in a gesture of friendship.
“If Tosh hadn’t been able to make sense of those readouts, we never would have stopped them in time,” Gwen said.
“Well, she did. Another world disaster averted,” Jack replied proudly as he recalled his team’s impressive efforts to stop the most recent threat to his planet. He lifted his gaze to look across the Plass, his eyes seeking and resting on a man with his back to them, a telltale long brown coat billowing in the wind. He froze, his heart pounding against his chest.
“Jack, is something wrong?” Gwen asked, following his gaze. “What is it?”
Jack’s arm dropped to his side as he stepped forward, the need to run to that familiar figure, that man from his past and his future, to run to his friend.
“What?” Gwen repeated, reaching for Jack once more.
“Nothing,” he responded. He’d already started jogging towards the Doctor. “I’ll handle this,” he called over his shoulder.
A thousand reasons for the Doctor’s visit spiraled through his mind, the biggest being that the Earth was under some type of attack, that there was a crisis that the Doctor needed Jack’s assistance dealing with. Why else would the Doctor be here?
Skidding to halt several feet behind the Time Lord, Jack breathed deeply several times. The Doctor’s coat was torn, dust and ash speckled the brown material, and the Time Lord’s normally errant hair was flat and lifeless.
Walking forward, Jack rested his arms on the metal railing. “Hey you.” Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught barest hint of a nod. There were a thousand questions he wanted to ask, but conversing with the Time Lord was difficult on the best of days. From what he could gather from the Doctor’s current condition, today was not a good day.
Still, working for Torchwood and generally being Jack forced him to ask the question, “Is there some alien threat I need to know about? Is the Earth in danger?”
Brown eyes narrowed as the Doctor studied the churning sea. Jack noted the cut above his eyebrow, the scraped cheek, and the expression in his eyes that froze Jack to his very core.
“It’s not the Earth,” the Doctor replied, “and I’ve already dealt with it.” He pulled his arms towards his body. Long fingers wrapped around the railing briefly, and Jack counted each split knuckle. How many injuries were hidden under that tattered coat? The Doctor pushed away from the bar, his coat spinning in the breeze as he turned and walked away.
Jack stood completely still, his mind feeling sluggish as he tried to piece together what was going on. Why must the Doctor always walk away? Still, the Doctor was here, came here for a reason, and Jack wasn’t going to let him leave without getting some answers.
“Doctor,” he called, forcing himself forward. “Doctor, wait!” He found himself running, his arm reaching out, and his fingers wrapping around the Doctor’s arm. One of a thousand questions was perched on his tongue, but the Doctor’s wince froze the impending inquiry in his throat. More injuries. The questions could wait.
“Where’d you park?”
The Doctor eyed him cautiously, but Jack’s eyes never left his. Jack felt a familiar tug in his mind – the TARDIS. “Come on,” he said gently as he walked in the direction the TARDIS had directed him. After taking several steps, he realized the Doctor wasn’t following him. It was obvious that the Doctor’s treasured coat was hiding more than just physical injuries.
Jack reached out, folding his fingers around a battered, bruised hand. “Come on,” he repeated.
This time the Doctor followed.
The TARDIS welcomed them, the familiar tugging in his mind, and was that a sense of relief he felt? He didn’t release the Doctor’s hand nor did he mention the purple sweater that was casually tossed over a strut in the console room.
Jack rounded several corners, the corridors forming as he walked with the Doctor following behind him. He dropped the Time Lord’s hand as he entered the medical unit and set about gathering supplies silently.
“You could take off your coat,” Jack commented without turning around. “At least look like you’re stopping for awhile.” Once he gathered the necessary antiseptic and bandages, he turned to see the Doctor still lingering awkwardly in the doorway. He didn’t say a word when he set the plastic container on the table and walked towards the Doctor. His movements were deliberate and purposeful, and he stayed within the Doctor’s line of sight.
Before reaching for him, Jack stated, “Let’s get that coat off, okay?” He slid his fingers underneath the collar, stepped behind the frozen Time Lord, and slid the coat off his arms. There was a particularly gruesome cut on the Doctor’s shoulder where the skin had been pierced.
“I’m going to have to use the dermal regenerator on that shoulder wound,” Jack said matter-of-factly.
The Doctor’s chin dropped as his eyes slid to the wound with obvious disinterest. “It’ll heal.”
“You’re in pain,” Jack said.
“Does that matter?”
“It matters to me.”
Jack caught the Doctor’s gaze once more, his eyes pleading with the Doctor, telling him that if he couldn’t find the strength to love himself, to care for himself, he would do it for him. Gladly.
“I’ll do all the work,” Jack added, a ghost of a smile appearing on his lips. “You just have to lay there.” The unspoken message was sent and received: I’m here for you.
Stepping forward, the Doctor sat on the edge of the bed. He lifted his fingers to unbutton his shirt, flinching as the intricate motion of his hands stretched the skin on his frayed knuckles.
Jack wrapped his hands around his wrists effectively stopping his movement. “I’ll get it.”
The Doctor nodded, and Jack gently removed what was left of his shirt. “Lay back,” Jack instructed.
He used the TARDIS’ advanced medical equipment with precision and ease. The smaller scrapes and cuts, he carefully cleaned and bandaged. If they were totally honest, it wasn’t necessary with the Time Lord’s superior healing abilities, but the Doctor wasn’t complaining. If anything, it was an excuse to be close to another person, to be with the one individual that might just understand.
Sliding the stool around the bed, Jack picked up the Doctor’s hand. He felt the calluses underneath his fingers. How many hands had those fingers wrapped around? How many lives had been saved? How many lives had he lost?
Jack worked in silence as he cleaned each knuckle. He carefully dabbed antiseptic cream around the abraded skin. There was solace to be found in the simple act of caring for another.
Finally, every injury had been cleaned and bandaged, and the impressive wound on his shoulder had been closed. Jack stood, moving to the sink against the wall. The shiny metal was tinged with red as the warm water trickled down Jack’s hands.
The Doctor’s gaze never left the ceiling. “Her name was Anna.”
Jack froze as the Doctor’s voice drifted across the medical unit. He noted the past tense. So he’d lost someone, a companion. With sparkling clarity, Jack realized what happened to his friend.
“There was a refugee planet filled with innocent humanoids,” the Doctor continued, his voice a thousand miles away. “The Sycorax had found another slave race. I had to get involved, had to try to stop them. Anna, she – she –“ His eyes closed as fresh, painful memories bombarded his mind. “Caught in the bloody crossfire,” he said bitterly.
Jack sat on the edge of the bed, taking the Doctor’s hand in his.
“She was brilliant,” the Doctor said, his trembling voice sounding unnatural. “You’d have liked her, Jack. She was so brave and stubborn, so very kind.” Glassy brown eyes shifted and caught his gaze once more. “She reminded me of you.”
“Have you told her family?” Jack asked.
“There’s no one to tell,” the Doctor whispered, dark eyes shifting to the ceiling once more.
“She didn’t have a family?” Jack persisted.
“It was her planet we were fighting to save.”
That time, it was Jack who winced.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally. It was woefully inadequate, but he had to say something, had to do something. If it had been one of his team members, a soothing hand to the back, a few days off, a stiff drink, and a gentle hug could help tend to those invisible aches that burned inside a weary soul. Unfortunately, this was the Doctor, this was a Time Lord that had lived through more death, experienced more loss, and had more blood on his hands than anyone Jack had ever known.
Even though Jack figured he already knew the answer, he had to ask. “Is there anything I can do?”
The Doctor squeezed a weary breath from between parched lips. “You’re already doing it.”
“Come on,” Jack encouraged, tugging on the Time Lord’s arm. The Doctor lifted an inquiring eyebrow, but didn’t comment as Jack lead him out of the medical unit and across the hall into his bedroom that the TARDIS had moved to provide easy access.
The Doctor didn’t speak as he collapsed in to the inviting bed. He folded one arm behind his head, his expression once again studying the ceiling. Jack tossed the covers over him, smoothing the creases out of the blanket.
The Doctor’s gaze shifted, meeting Jack’s eyes in a silent exchange.
Jack kicked off his shoes and lay on top of the covers, folding his arms to mirror the Doctor’s position.
“It never gets any easier,” the Doctor sighed after the TARDIS dimmed the lights.
“Hopefully it never will,” Jack replied. His voice wasn’t particularly gentle or soothing. He was merely speaking the truth. He figured he owed the Doctor that much.
He spared the Doctor the speech about these things take time, how the pain would ebb and the memories would bleed into the background, about how he had to go on, had to live and fight another day. The Time Lord had heard it all before, and most likely given the same speech a thousand times. Words were cheap, anyway.
The darkness nearly swallowed the soft-spoken response. “Yeah.”
Several minutes passed before the Doctor tried to speak again. “Jack, I –“ The words were thick on the Time Lord’s normally expressive tongue.
They lost themselves in their thoughts, in the memories of those they had loved and lost, of battles waged and long since forgotten – some had been won, but many had been lost.
Nimble fingers sought out a familiar warm hand in the darkness, and together, they simply remembered.