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.
It should have been easy to lose himself in the simplicity of physical exertion, in the rhythm of his swinging fists, in the sound of bare skin pummeling leather. Sweat stung his eyes, but Jack refused to allow his concentration to break. Torchwood had paid the ultimate price for his carelessness.
Damn Torchwood, anyway. He’d given his life for this place more times than he could count, but at least he came back. Tosh and Owen, they wouldn’t ever come back.
Hadn’t he told them to be careful? Didn’t they know he didn’t expect them to die? Sure, it was part of the job - putting yourself in harm’s way came with the territory - but there had to be another way!
There was a time when he had loved Torchwood, loved the mystery and the unmitigated power of being outside the government and beyond the police. Now? Damn Torchwood. Damn his self-sacrificing team members.
Jack swallowed, refocusing his attention to his previous task. The suspended leather punching bag swung wildly as he found an unsteady rhythm.
Jack had seen the Doctor – well, heard him – enter the room. Again, Jack refused to acknowledge the Time Lord or consider the reasons behind the Doctor’s uncharacteristic behavior. He couldn’t allow himself the reprieve. He stayed focused, his eyes never leaving the target, his fists never slowing, his attention never wavering.
He heard the telltale sounds of trainers slapping against the concrete floor, and soon long fingers wrapped around the middle of the bag, holding it still.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jack spat, giving in to his irritation and stepping away from the bag. He finally noticed the dark red smudges streaking the worn leather. When had he started bleeding?
“Helping,” the Doctor replied.
Jack was going to inform the Doctor his help wasn’t required or necessary, and it certainly wasn’t wanted. Instead, his eyes narrowed, his weight shifted to his right foot as he retracted his arm and swung, putting his full strength into the blow. The Doctor was forced to step back to keep his hold on the bag, and Jack was surprised to find a feral grin on his own lips. The Doctor returned to his previous stance, his fingers pressing into the leather, his gaze locking with Jack’s. There was no judgment or condemnation in those familiar brown eyes.
His eyebrow arched when Jack didn’t move. “Well?”
Jack shrugged indifferently and resumed his onslaught. The sounds of his fists repeatedly slamming against the battered surface resonated through the Hub. To the Doctor’s credit, the bag barely registered the attack, remaining almost perfectly still despite Jack’s best efforts. Heaving breaths mingled with the incessant drone of skin pounding leather.
Minutes ticked by as Jack pushed himself past the point of simple pain and bone-crushing weariness. “Help?” he ground out, ignoring his quivering muscles and aching hands. “You want to help?”
“That’s what I said, yes.”
“And you’ll do whatever you can to help me?” Jack asked, his fists blindly connecting with the bag.
“If it’s in my power, I will.”
Throwing himself forward suddenly, Jack wrapped his arms around the bag, his face sliding across the battered, worn leather, as one eye peered around the bag to glare at the Doctor.
“Bring them back.”
The Doctor didn’t move, his gaze meeting Jack’s evenly. “You know I can’t do that.”
“Bullshit,” Jack yelled, shoving the bag roughly as he stepped away. “You’ve got a time machine, Doctor, in case you’ve forgotten!”
“It’s already happened. It’s an event, a fixed point, and I can’t change that. You know how this works, Jack,” the Doctor explained.
Jack’s fists clenched at his sides. Droplets of blood slipped between his fingers and dropped on the floor. Struggling for breath, he forced the air through his lungs. There was only one person in the Universe who could repair this, who could restore his team to what they were before Captain John, before Grey, before he’d fucked up so terribly.
“I’ve never asked for you anything. Not once, not in the entire time I’ve known you,” Jack whispered, attempting to control his trembling voice. “I’m asking you, Doctor, just this once -” His eyes silently beseeched his longtime friend. “Please do this for me.”
The Doctor remained perfectly still. “I’m sorry, Jack. I’m so very sorry.”
“I don’t want your damn apologies!” Jack barked, rage seeping into his chest as he stepped towards the Doctor. “Do you want me to get down on my knees and beg? I hear you Time Lords get off on that sort of thing.”
The Doctor slipped his hands into his pockets, his posture remained nonthreatening, but he didn’t back away.
“I’ve died for you,” Jack growled, his voice dangerously low.
“Yes, you have.” Those three little words were shrouded in regret.
“Bring them back, Doctor. Just two people. Two little inconsequential people.”
The Doctor didn’t tell Jack he knew better than this. He didn’t say that with Jack’s training and experience, he knew the far-reaching effects of meddling with a fixed event in Time. He didn’t tell Jack he was disappointed in him or blame him for his moment of weakness. He just said, “No.”
Jack swallowed. “No?”
“No,” the Doctor repeated without a hint of indecision or remorse.
Rage washed over Jack’s body, his mind disappearing further into the abyss of irrationality, and he dove for the Doctor, his arms swinging wildly. The Doctor ducked, Jack’s vicious right hook sailing over his head, as he pivoted with his coat circling behind him.
The Doctor rose effortlessly to his full height, his hands still jammed in his pockets. Jack spun around, his ragged breathing echoing in his ears.
“Do your worst,” the Doctor said, opening his arms in silent invitation.
Dropping his shoulder, Jack charged again. “Damn you,” he growled, a glancing blow sliding past the Doctor’s cheek.
It was a short, sorry excuse for a fight with the Doctor only lifting his hands to deflect Jack’s fists.
At some point during the brief altercation Jack’s sweat had been replaced, and now salty tears burned his eyes. He stumbled. An arm appeared out of nowhere and wrapped around his chest. He was eased to the floor, and somewhere in his jumbled thoughts, he knew he should have been angry. The stupid Time Lord was helping him, taking care of him!
“Damn you,” he repeated, his voice now reduced to broken sobs.
The Doctor’s breathing was perfectly even, the only visible sign of their quarrel was a pink blotch on his cheek. He was only standing a few feet from Jack, his hands deep in the pockets of his coat.
“Why are you still here?” Jack asked, finding his voice once more. He struggled to his feet, his weary muscles screaming in protest.
The Doctor tilted his head to the side, his eyes assessing Jack’s movements. “I’m not afraid of you, Jack.”
“You should be,” Jack growled.
“And why’s that?” the Doctor asked.
Jack stepped forward, forcing himself not to wince as he clenched his fists and the skin stretched painfully across broken knuckles. “I could hurt you.”
The Doctor didn’t seem concerned nor was there any hesitation in his reply. “You won’t.”
Jack shook his head. Why couldn’t the Doctor see the danger he was in? Damn, foolish Time Lord. “Then what the hell was I just doing?”
Warm, brown eyes met Jack’s haunted gaze once more. “Pain management.”
Jack opened his mouth with a scathing remark ready, but the words died in his throat. He closed his eyes, his cheeks flushed with emotion, and for the first time in several days it wasn’t anger.
He prayed the Doctor wouldn’t come to him, wouldn’t offer comfort. His frayed mind and tattered heart couldn’t take it, not now.
“Next time you decide to have a go at that bag, do me a favor and wrap your hands.”
Jack nodded dumbly, his eyes remaining closed. He didn’t know what to say, didn’t have the energy or the mental capability to form a decent sentence. For the first time in several decades, Jack felt foolishly young.
He listened to the sound of trainers padding across the floor and several minutes later the sounds of TARDIS engine filled the Hub.
His breathing began to slow, and he forced his eyes open, his gaze drifting to the bag hanging in the middle of the room. Jack stepped towards the bag, his arm reaching out to shove the object aside.
He needed to shower.
He turned the water past hot; the searing heat soothed his aching muscles and stung the split skin on his hands. He rested his forehead against the glass as the water cascaded down his back. His legs trembled, his body finally succumbing to exhaustion that he’d been fighting for days, and he slid down the wall. Hugging his knees to his chest, he rested his head on a bent arm.
He watched the water run red, his thoughts jumbled beyond coherency as he tried to remember walking to the bathroom and getting undressed.
There were no words to describe what he was feeling; there was no way to quantify his grief.
Broken thoughts and blurry memories faded on the wings of slumber as the water continued to pour over his bruised body.
For the second time since he’d lost two of his beloved teammates, he woke up in his bed, his body tucked beneath the heavy duvet.
The skin on his hands itched. Pulling his hands from beneath the blanket, he saw several white strips closing the frayed skin on his knuckles.
Rolling to his side, Jack noticed a glass of water and several hand wraps sitting on the bedside table.
Strangely enough, Jack didn’t feel like punching anything today.