Beta: The wonderful starxd_sparrow and hence_the_name. Thank you so much!
Rating: PG for angst
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Doctor Who or Torchwood. What a pity!
Characters: Tenth Doctor and Jack Harkness with discussions of the Torchwood team
Spoilers: The second season of Torchwood, especially Exit Wounds
Summary: Jack has difficulty coping following a great loss. This story is loosely based on the five stages of grief.
A/N This was written for the comfort challenge on tw_dw_slashfest.
Denial and Isolation
The vodka didn’t burn anymore as it washed over Jack’s tongue and slid down his throat. Dragging his arm over his mouth, the back of his hand irritated his chapped, worried lips.
It didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right.
The luminescent numbers of the clock blurred in front of his eyes. It was late or rather, it was early – and when was the last time he’d slept?
He thought he laughed, but he didn’t recognize his voice ringing hollowly in his ears.
Sleep. He could handle that. Better to get a few hours of rest than listen to Owen prattle on about how he never takes care of himself.
Jack grabbed the handles of the chair and briefly considering rolling himself down the stairs to his room. So what if he fell? Might be worth it for the laugh.
Tosh wouldn’t be amused. She always noticed the tiniest amount of blood on his coat. Usually she didn’t comment, but she was able to say so much without opening her mouth. The fear of disappointment in her dark eyes kept Jack from doing so many things over the last several years.
What was he doing? Oh yes, bed. The team would be arriving soon. Setting a good example was never his strong suit, but he tried.
He tried and failed because Tosh and Owen weren’t coming back, were they?
Any thoughts of sleep disappeared as clear liquid retraced the familiar path down Jack’s throat.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They deserved better, so much better. He’d been the one to recruit them, to tell them of all the wonders and mysteries the Universe held, to train them how to fight and how to kill. In the beginning, he’d said this job wasn’t for everyone, but even that was a lie because Torchwood wasn’t a job.
It was a fucking death sentence.
In the back of his mind, Jack had always known they were all on borrowed time. Everyone but him, of course. He would live. Forever.
Shaking his head, he brought the glass bottle to his lips.
He’d thought about calling upper management, the people who hid in ivory towers, far removed from any actual danger. The people who crunched numbers about Rift statistics, who gave orders without reason and issued demands without cause. Jack figured most of them had never met an actual alien. Still, he’d wanted to call, to resign, to tell those bastards in the fancy black suits that he’d had enough, and Torchwood was better off without him.
He was more selfish than he was a coward because if he left Torchwood, where would he go? This place, this Hub, these four walls and the silly pterodactyl were all he knew. He didn’t know how to be anything else. Did he want to be something else?
Something on the bottle caught his eye, and his hand raised the glass for a better look. He cocked his head to the side, and it took several seconds for him to recognize the faint image. The bottle slipped from his hand, shattering and sending glass shards scattering across the floor, glittering like crystals underneath the hazy glow of the lights.
He’d give anything not to be the man he’d seen staring back at him.
The walls were closing in. The air was hot, too hot to breathe. Somewhere his phone was ringing, the shrill sound echoing across the Hub. It was probably Gwen. He’d lost count of the times she’d called. She was where she belonged, home, getting the attention and love she deserved.
Ianto had called, and he’d even answered the first few times. The last time Ianto called, he’d tried inviting Jack to Gwen’s for dinner. That was the last time Jack picked up the phone.
They were all hurting, all grieving and clinging to each other through this difficult – no, impossible time. But Jack was different because it was his responsibility. They were his responsibility.
He’d held Gwen while she sobbed into his chest. He’d wrapped his arms around Ianto’s trembling body and whispered words that meant nothing into his ear. He’d sent them home soon after promising to look after the Hub and to alert them to any disturbances if their help was required. It hadn’t been.
Jack had handled everything on his own. He’d responded to all rift activity over the last several days, opting not to bother his remaining teammates. He wanted to fight until his legs couldn’t muster the strength to hold him upright. He wanted to avert some terrible world threat. He wanted to save someone, anyone. Except himself.
If he kept moving, if he just kept moving –
But the Universe had no knowledge of coping mechanisms and held no compassion for those practicing avoidance, and the Rift had fallen uncharacteristically silent, leaving Jack alone once more.
He rubbed his forehead, barely registering the pressure from his hand.
He could do this. If he didn’t think about it, if he pushed it out of his mind –
If he didn’t think of Owen’s caustic humor, about the medic’s peculiar ability not only to see through all his shit, but call him on it. If he didn’t think of Owen struggling to come to terms with his own death, his first death that Jack had caused. If he didn’t think about how Owen climbed to the top of a flat building to spend the night talking to a suicidal woman and eventually helping her to see that there was something out there worth living for, something worth believing in, and that if they were going to be honest with each other, death was overrated.
Owen had been afraid to die, so terribly afraid. Was he still afraid now? Was he screaming somewhere in the darkness, lost and alone?
Jack had promised he would save him. He’d promised and he’d failed.
If he didn’t dwell on Tosh’s unsurpassed intelligence or the way she pushed her glasses further up her nose when she was working away on her computer long after everyone else had gone home. If he didn’t think about the way she’d loved completely and usually received nothing in return. If he blocked out of the memory of her bleeding out on the cold Hub floor from a bullet that his own brother fired, if he could forget how she stayed strong until the very end.
If he’d only told her that she’d done good. That every single day she did well.
His head knocked against the wooden desk as he fell forward.
This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening.
He didn’t hear the familiar creak of metal grating on metal, or feel the telltale breeze wafting through the Hub. He didn’t hear the faint echo of purposeful strides or the swishing of a long, brown coat. He neglected to notice the pair of warm, brown eyes studying him through open window blinds nor did he hear the soft, compassionate sigh of a man that had been there so many times before.
Jack reached for the bottle, his hand grasping at an invisible object, and falling by his side when he recognized the shimmering remains of the vodka bottle. The broken glass was symbolic, broken yet beautiful, chaotic and dynamic, an iconic image of what his team once was.
He felt something – a presence. Was he being watched? He had prayed for a diversion, but now he hoped for something else. He hadn’t seen Owen die. Could it be? Just once, would it hurt the Universe to give something back? The man was already dead, after all. Perhaps he could cheat death or undeath or whatever anomaly Owen had been once more.
Forcing himself to lift his head, his eyes barely focused on the hauntingly familiar face in the window. It was the last person - last Time Lord - he’d ever expected to see. He would have laughed at his private joke, but he couldn’t find the energy to force the oxygen past his lips.
When he saw that Jack noticed him, the Doctor walked into the room. His strides were leisurely and without hesitation. Settling himself in the chair across from the desk, he steepled his fingers in front of his chest, his gaze locking with Jack’s once more.
Jack didn’t recall asking him to sit down nor did he recall asking him to visit. It didn’t take a Time Lord to figure out what was going on here. Despite his dull senses, Jack knew he looked like he’d spent the last week in the bottom of a bottle of bourbon – and that wasn’t too far from the truth. Jack could feel the Doctor’s eyes cataloguing him, studying each hidden wound, each festering ache that was etched on his soul. Damn him anyway.
Jack glared at the Time Lord, attempting to send the message that this was a private party and he hadn’t been invited. For all his effort, the Doctor didn’t seem to notice, brown eyes refusing to look away underneath Jack’s stern glower.
Forcing himself to his feet, he stumbled to the bookcase. He grabbed onto the ledge to steady himself as he reached up search the top shelf with his other hand. A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips as his fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle.
He turned, the amber liquid swirling as his body moved, and met the Doctor’s gaze. Bringing the bottle to his lips, he pulled the cork out with his teeth and spat it across the room.
It was a challenge.
Jack dared him to say something – anything – to judge him. He brought the bottle to his lips, direct defiance showing in his jerky movements, and swallowed.
His chest was heaving by the time he finished.
The Doctor sat perfectly still; the only movement was his eyes following Jack as he stalked back to his chair.
Jack resumed his earlier position, his movements still precise despite the days that he’d been without sleep.
He’d kept the bottle close; he was going to need it when the Doctor started his lecture. It didn’t matter. Jack was used to tuning people out. He’d heard the speech more times than he cared to remember. It was always the same central theme, just different lips uttering the words.
He had several scathing responses ready if the Doctor decided to tell him how he should handle his grief, and if the Doctor offered his apologies or condolences, Jack swore he was going to find the strength to show the Time Lord to the door.
Several times he opened his mouth to scream at him, to ask him what the hell he wanted, and why, of all times, did he have to show up now? But Jack wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He wouldn’t be the one that spoke first.
So Jack stared into the Time Lord’s warm eyes, seeking out judgment, searching for blame.
He found nothing. The blasted Time Lord was just there. Unwavering and unconditional. Just…there.
Fine, Jack thought, if that’s how the Doctor wants to play it, he could sit there and watch him drink himself to oblivion.
As the contents of the bottle disappeared, Jack’s head lowered to the desk. Time passed, bled away into a blurred background of pain dulled by artificial means.
And then there was nothing.
A headache. A terrible headache. Jack winced, his eyes opening to slits as he pulled the pillow over his eyes.
He was in bed. His bed.
What was more impressive was that he’d actually slept.
Without words the Doctor had come, and he’d left the same way.