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.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ianto asked for the third time.
For the fifth time, Jack found himself wondering why he had picked up the phone. Of course he wasn’t okay, and if they were going to be honest, he knew Ianto and Gwen weren’t okay either.
“We’re going to be fine, Ianto,” Jack said firmly, trying to sound like the leader he knew they expected him to be. If he kept talking like that, he might even believe it himself.
“Gwen and I could –“
“No,” Jack interjected, a bit harsher than necessary. “Take a few more days. I’ve got everything covered.” Displaced emotions? Is that what they called it? Jack knew he was the one that wasn’t ready. He was the one that needed more time. How could he put Gwen and Ianto in harm’s way so soon after losing Tosh and Owen? No, it wasn’t time yet.
“If you need anything…”
“Yeah, I’ll call.” He wouldn’t, and Jack knew Ianto wouldn’t buy that for a second, but Ianto sighed and hung up the phone.
“They deserve better,” Jack muttered as he dropped his phone on the desk. He rubbed his hands over his face, the stubble on his chin scratching his palms. He’d promised more than once to be a better leader, to be more open and honest to his team. He’d been trying harder, but it was never enough. Even though his friends never demanded perfection, Jack had only the highest expectations for himself.
Had he really tried his hardest? Had he done everything he could to protect his team? Could he look in the mirror and be proud of what he saw? He couldn’t test that theory if he’d wanted to. He’d destroyed every mirror in the Hub over the course of the past week.
A shrill beeping echoed across the Hub, and Jack surged to his feet. Resentment mixed with relief as Jack trudged to Tosh’s computer station. He stared at the monitor, his eyes unfocused as he reached for the keyboard. He tried not to think about how wrong this was, about how it should be Tosh standing there, not him. He wouldn’t have to think about that for long. Soon he could lose himself in another mystery, in a hunt for a strange alien, in the comfort of distraction.
He paid little attention to the details besides jotting down the coordinates of the suspected alien threat. He grabbed his gun from the desk drawer and the SUV keys from the table. Jogging to the exit, Jack knew he’d have taken his team to task if they’d ever gone on a mission with no preparation and no backup.
It didn’t matter. Jack needed this.
The streets were quiet; most people had been asleep for hours. Jack arrived at the destination in less than twenty minutes. The police were loitering around the vacant building; most of them looked completely confused and the rest looked content to take up space.
Jack saw PC Andy Davidson talking on his cell phone, gesturing wildly while pacing in the car park. Waving to get his attention, Andy nodded an acknowledgment, quickly finished his phone call, and deposited the phone in his pocket.
“Jack, I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” Andy said warmly. His eyes dropped to the ground briefly as if he were struggling to find the right words. When he lifted his gaze, he offered a simple apology. “I’m sorry.”
Jack nodded, his gaze locked on the building visible over Andy’s shoulder. He knew he should acknowledge Andy’s sympathy, but instead, he got straight to business. “So what happened here? And just so we’re clear, Torchwood will be taking over the investigation.”
Andy raised his eyebrow in confusion. “Torchwood already has taken over the investigation. Your consultant has been here for hours.”
“Your consultant,” Andy repeated slowly. “He’s dealt with more than one suspicious occurrence this week.”
“Torchwood doesn’t have a consultant,” Jack growled as he reached underneath his coat for his gun and started walking towards the building. “Stay here,” he ordered, nodding once when he heard Andy stop in his tracks. The last thing he needed was more blood on his hands.
Jack felt a familiar cool breeze on his face as he entered through the front door. He spent two hours searching the building. He found no signs of a struggle, no alien life forms, and no consultant.
Jack stalked outside, the area now empty of all police.
“Find what you were looking for?”
Jack spun around to find the Doctor casually leaning against the Torchwood SUV. “That depends,” Jack returned, moving to stand in front of the Time Lord. “Are you thinking of a career change? Have a change of heart and decided to do some consult work for Torchwood?” His eyes narrowed as he studied a blue substance splattered on the Doctor’s suit.
“I thought I’d see what all the hype was –“
Jack cut across him, sudden worry making his temper flare. “What the hell happened to you?” With trembling fingers, he touched the sticky goo on the Doctor’s collar. “Are you hurt? Why the hell are you doing this? You have no right!!”
The Doctor raised his hand to stop Jack’s tirade. “I was helping a creature in distress. No, I’m not hurt. And yes, I have every right.”
“This is just like you!” Jack jabbed his finger against the Doctor’s chest. “Barging headfirst into battle with no one to look after you!”
“Really?” the Doctor asked, leaning to the side and glancing over Jack’s shoulder. “Who’s here with you?”
“I –“ Jack stood there, temporarily taken back, as he tried to think of a suitable answer. The Doctor was no fool. “That’s not the point.”
“Oh?” The Doctor gestured for Jack to continue. “What is the point then?”
“This is my job, Doctor! I’m supposed to protect the Earth. I’m supposed to be the one that – “ His jaw snapped closed as he forced himself to breathe through his nose. He wasn’t going to go down that road.
The Doctor turned his head thoughtfully to the side. “The one that what, Jack?” Warm eyes searched Jack’s face, and after several moments, the Doctor seemed to find what he was looking for. “Not today.” He reached out to pat Jack’s shoulder.
“I’m not doing anything you wouldn’t do,” Jack muttered, stepping back and crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “Always running, right Doc’? Losing yourself in the next adventure. Never stopping to think or deal with the consequences. Never pausing long enough to remember.”
Out of everything the Doctor could have said, Jack certainly didn’t expect the Time Lord to agree with him. “Yes, that’s what I do, but that’s not you, Jack.”
Jack responded with what could only be described as a grunt. “Maybe I should start.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You won’t.”
“Yeah, what makes you so sure?”
Without hesitation, the Doctor replied, “Because you’re better than me.”
Jack felt his jaw drop. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? He never got a chance to refute the Doctor’s admission.
“Come on, then,” the Doctor said, pushing away from the SUV and clapping his hands once before opening the door. “I’m hungry. Any place to get chips at this hour?”
“I didn’t realize you needed an escort,” Jack grumbled, pulling the keys from his pocket and walking to the other side of the vehicle.
“Pick a side, Jack. One minute I need someone to look after me and the next you’re expecting me to brave the streets of Cardiff alone.”
It was an unfamiliar sensation when the corner of Jack’s mouth lifted upward to form a half smile. “I suppose I could work on my continuity.”
“You’re a work in progress, Jack,” the Doctor returned. “We all are.”
Jack fell silent, the scenery blurring past the window as the Doctor idly fiddled with the radio. Due to the later hour, there were few places open and none of them offered what Jack would describe as a culinary feast. The SUV rolled to a stop in front of the take-away, and Jack felt the need to stubbornly add, “You do realize I’m not hungry.” The Doctor could lead him to water, but that didn’t mean he could make him drink.
The Doctor was already out of the vehicle. “I don’t recall asking,” he said over his shoulder. Shaking his head, Jack followed him inside.
The Doctor walked to the counter, his eyes wide as he scanned the menu overhead. A man appeared to take their order and gave the Doctor a curious once-over, but didn’t comment on the sticky blue substance covering his suit. Jack figured he’d seen worse.
The Doctor ignored the man’s curious look and proceeded to order a medium pizza and large chips while Jack stared blankly at the menu.
“And for you?” the man asked when Jack didn’t look up.
“A glass of water will be fine,” he said after dropping his gaze from the menu when nothing looked appealing. He watched the Doctor pat his pockets, shook his head, and pulled several crumpled bills out of his wallet. He briefly wondered if this counted as buying the Doctor a drink, but those thoughts were soon lost. Even flirting seemed to require energy that he didn’t posses.
“A glass of water?” the Doctor repeated, collecting his tea and leading the way to a table next to the window.
Jack glared, linking his fingers together and resting them on the wooden surface. “I told you I wasn’t hungry.”
“So you did,” the Doctor said, the table wobbling as he leaned forward. “This won’t do,” he complained, pulling his sonic screwdriver out of his coat pocket and disappearing underneath the table.
Jack rolled his eyes, again marveling at the predictability of the Time Lord. Saves the planet and fixes rickety diner tables in the same night. “So would you like to tell me what exactly you think you’re doing?” Jack asked conversationally.
The Doctor’s muffled voice lifted from beneath the hard surface. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m fixing a table, Jack.”
Jack wondered what the Doctor would say if he plucked his precious screwdriver from his fingers and tossed it out the front door. “Yeah, I gathered that. I was talking about earlier. You were posing as a consultant for Torchwood.”
The Doctor reappeared, flashing a pleased grin in Jack’s direction. “Fixed.”
“Congratulations. Now answer the question.”
The Doctor shrugged. “I pose as lots of things.”
Jack verified that the man that took their orders was no where in sight. “This is Torchwood’s territory, Doctor. That was a mission that Torchwood was supposed to investigate.” He pulled off the straw wrapper and rolled in between his fingers.
The Doctor sipped his tea and didn’t answer. Jack tossed the crumpled piece of paper in his direction.
“Oi! That almost landed in my tea!”
“Forget your tea,” Jack replied heatedly. “I asked you a question, and I think I deserve an answer.”
“Do you now? Why’s that?” The Doctor pulled several napkins out of the holder and started cleaning the blue slime off his suit jacket.
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why do you have to be so damn frustrating?”
“You just answered a question with another question.”
“Let’s try this again, shall we?” Jack said, knocking on the table to verify that he had the Doctor’s attention. “What were you doing at that building tonight?”
Jack cut across him. “I swear if you say helping I’m going to jump across this table.”
The Doctor’s head tilted to the side. “Assisting then.”
“Assisting with what?” Jack asked through clenched teeth. “Whatever it was, it was Torchwood’s job to deal with.”
“Oh? Do you know how to deliver an O’niaesun child?”
Jack was glad the man reappeared and started waving the pizza box at them because he was speechless. The Doctor bounded to the counter and collected his order. The man fixed the Doctor will a curious look, but quickly disappeared after verifying they had everything they needed. Jack figured he thought they were both nutters and didn’t want to get involved…or make any sudden movements.
“Are you sure you don’t want some?” the Doctor asked after he opened the box and started pulling apart the pineapple covered slices.
Jack shook his head. “I said I wasn’t hungry.” He rubbed his temples briefly before clarifying the Doctor’s previous statement. “You delivered a baby?”
“Actually O’niaesuns are born fully grown although they still have the mental capability of a human infant. It’s a complicated process. Very messy, if you hadn’t noticed.”
Jack opened and closed his mouth several times. When he realized he had no idea what to say and didn’t want to look like an even bigger idiot, he grabbed a slice of pizza and started eating.
The Doctor continued to babble about the O’niaesun birthing process as Jack started picking at the forgotten pile of chips. It would have been easy to loose himself in the Doctor’s incessant chatter, in the surreal feeling of having a late night meal with an old friend, but it was still there, that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“When it is going to stop?”
Jack froze when he realized it was his voice talking.
“I don’t know, Jack.”
Jack snorted, forcing himself to swallow the food in his mouth that suddenly tasted like cardboard. “You don’t want to know what happened?”
The Doctor set his cup down on the table. “Do you want to tell me?”
“You answered a question with a question.”
“So I did.” Apparently the Doctor wasn’t going to force anything out of him tonight. Jack didn’t know why he was surprised.
The Doctor carefully selected another large piece of pizza, cut it down the middle, and pushed the other half towards Jack.
Somewhere in the middle of half eaten pizza slices and soggy chips, the sad, painful tale of the last few weeks came tumbling out. The Doctor never said a word, only getting up to retrieve more water when Jack had drained his glass for the second time. Jack continued talking, he described his vague recollections of his beloved younger brother, and the new, vivid memories of what his brother had become. He told the Doctor about being buried alive, and why he figured he deserved it. He told the Doctor about things that didn’t matter, about the ill-fated love between his two fallen teammates, and how it felt to hold Tosh in his arms as she died.
“It should have been me,” Jack whispered, rubbing a hand over his face. “I’d give anything…”
Jack fell silent, drained, exhausted, and alarmingly full. His eyes drifted to the empty pizza box and chip container. “Did I eat all that?” he asked, recalling that the Doctor barely picked at his food.
“Come on,” the Doctor said, standing and stretching his arms over his head. Jack didn’t comment when he felt a familiar hand pressed between his shoulder blades.
“Thanks for the meal,” the Doctor offered after they’d walked outside. He paused, jamming his hands into his pockets, and looked up at the sky, a peaceful smile slipping into place.
“I don’t know why you’re thanking me,” Jack replied, following the Doctor’s line of sight. Sometimes it was nice just to look at the stars. “I ate most of the food.”
The Doctor shrugged in response.
There was one question Jack had to know the answer to. “Did you save them?” When the Doctor gave him a confused look, Jack clarified, “The O’niaesuns. Were you able to save them?”
“One happy mother and one fully grown offspring were returned home.”
Jack smiled; giving the Doctor a nod of approval that he knew wasn’t needed or required. He tried not to think about how the situation might have turned out if he had shown up with guns blazing. There were times when you needed a solider and there times when you needed a doctor.
The Doctor grinned in response before clapping his hands together. “Back to the TARDIS, then.”
Jack tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “You’re not coming back to the Hub?”
“Nah,” the Doctor replied, opening the SUV door and climbing inside. “Got the whole Universe out there. I’m sure someone’s in need of a Doctor.”
Jack resisted the urge to tell him that yes, someone was need of a Doctor, and that someone happened to be sitting right next to him. More than anything, the last week had rekindled his trust in the Time Lord, and if the Doctor thought he was going to be okay on his own, then he’d have to trust that.
“No parting thoughts?” Jack asked curiously after he pulled into the still-vacant car park.
“There’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know,” the Doctor replied, opening the door and stepping into the hazy fog.
Jack wasn’t sure if he was pleased or frustrated by the Doctor’s response. “That’s never stopped you before.”
As if he was the final authority on the subject, the Doctor said, “You’re going to be okay, Jack.” With a nod, he closed the door and walked away.
Jack watched him as he disappeared around the corner, and he didn’t leave until the strewn trash settled after the wind stopped.
“Baby steps,” Jack said aloud before putting the SUV in gear and pulling onto the deserted street.
The sun was starting to rise when Jack found himself finally falling into bed. Although he didn’t actually sleep, he figured a full stomach and getting into bed of his own volition a step in the right direction.