Beta: The wonderful starxd_sparrow
Rating: PG for angst
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Doctor Who or Torchwood. What a pity!
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Jack Harkness, and Martha Jones 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.
The Doctor left at the first light of day and did not return. Jack supposed he should count himself lucky that the Doctor stayed at all.
Hours turned to days and days soon bled into weeks. There was some sense of normalcy returning to Jack’s life. It wasn’t that it was getting easier – no, it would take decades for that, if it ever happened at all. It was just getting tolerable. He no longer strained to hear Tosh’s agile fingers tapping away at her keyboard. He didn’t wait for Owen’s acerbic retort after he issued an order to his team. He’d even managed not to burn the personnel files of prospective replacements. Ianto had put them on his desk a few weeks ago, explaining they’d been sent from Headquarters; Jack merely threw them out after uttering several expletives encompassing his feelings about upper management. The files miraculously reappeared on the meeting room table - a more neutral location - a few days after he’d pitched them.
“A friend to see you,” Ianto informed him, appearing at his office door. It was a woman who needed no introduction.
“Martha Jones,” Jack said happily, pushing away from his desk and standing.
“Hello, Jack,” she returned easily. She returned Jack’s affectionate embrace that lingered but wasn’t awkward.
“What brings you to Cardiff?” he asked as he reached out to take her coat. Unfortunately in their line of business, there was little time for pleasantries. If she’d come to him, there had to be a reason.
He’d spoken to Martha once since Owen and Tosh had died. It was a brief call where Martha offered her condolences. Traveling with the Doctor had done many things to Martha, some good and some bad. She’d grown wise beyond her years, and she knew grief could be a very private affair.
“I thought I’d offer my services,” she replied, “temporarily, of course.”
Jack was caught between profound gratitude and astonishment. He’d jokingly tried to recruit her from UNIT before, but it was obvious that she adored her job and had no intention of leaving any time soon.
Unsure of what to say, he simply asked, “Why?”
“You need a doctor,” she said honestly.
The words ‘you have no idea’ almost flew from his mouth, but he bit his tongue before that admission escaped.
“Your team needs a doctor,” she amended. “It’s no secret how dangerous our –“ Martha struggled to find the right words, and eventually she just shrugged. “It will buy you some time, anyway.”
Jack raised his eyebrow in response, and she continued, “At least this way you won’t have to rush into a decision. You can hire someone on your terms, someone who will be a good fit for your team.”
Confused and befuddled by the generous offer, Jack said the only thing he could think of: “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me just yet,” Martha replied, poking him playfully in the ribs. “You haven’t seen my salary.”
“Worth every cent,” Jack replied. Martha’s teasing smile was infectious and he found his mouth curving into a grin.
Jack was standing on the far side of the Plass, his eyes glued to the churning bay, yet seeing nothing. He was surprised at how quickly, yet again, Martha had adapted to his smaller team. She lightened the heavy mood with her quick wit and soothed weary hearts with her gentle patience, yet she also seemed to know when it was time to stay away.
It felt good to have someone amongst them who hadn’t been there, who hadn’t witnessed those terrible events leading up to the untimely deaths of their teammates. What was more, Martha hadn’t asked any questions. Of course she had access to UNIT’s files so Jack knew she’d read about it, but reading and seeing were far different things, that much Jack knew. You could study World War II, you could read about the Black Death, but not even the best writers of the centuries could begin to capture what it felt like to live through those tragedies, to see that much senseless death, that much unadulterated hate.
Naturally, Martha had proven much more than a temporary replacement despite the invaluable support she’d been on their recent missions. She’d gone shopping with Gwen and stood quietly aside when Gwen showed Jack the sexy outfit she’d bought to wear for Rhys. Gwen giggled - it was a beautiful sound - when Jack told her Rhys would love it.
Martha watched some classic films with Ianto that he had in his collection and even listened to him ramble on about how much Owen hated those artistic pictures. She’d held him when he broke down in tears moments later.
She’d helped in ways Jack couldn’t even begin to imagine, in ways he’d been unable to do himself.
“Penny for your thoughts?” a familiar voice asked.
“They’re not worth that much,” Jack replied. He became aware of the brush of the Doctor’s coat against his arm and wondered how long the Time Lord had been standing there.
“I wouldn’t say that,” the Doctor said. “Some people value your opinion - many people, in fact.”
Jack stared at the sea as if seeing it for the first time with crystal clarity. “You sent her.” It wasn’t a question.
The Doctor’s arms slid off the railing, no doubt finding their way into the ‘bigger on the inside’ pockets of his coat. “No, I didn’t send her,” the Doctor replied after several minutes had passed.
“Don’t lie to me,” Jack said quietly, his eyes never leaving the expanse of the sea.
“I didn’t,” the Doctor repeated. A soft sigh soon followed. “I asked her to come.”
The Doctor’s honesty and bluntness was unexpected. Jack was used to playing mental gymnastics every time the Time Lord appeared on his doorstep. He figured today would be no different.
Taking advantage of the Doctor’s uncharacteristic candor, Jack continued, “Why?”
The Doctor leaned against the railing, his back pressed against the metal bar. “Because your team needed a doctor.”
“Professionally or personally?”
The Doctor shrugged, and Jack risked glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. The Doctor was studying the ground, his trainer toeing a stray pebble. “Both.” Even though the Doctor wasn’t to up to his usual standard of evasion, his thought process was, as always, difficult to follow.
“But you’re a Doctor,” Jack said. The Doctor had helped him immeasurably these last few months, why had he sent Martha now?
“I’m not human, Jack.”
Jack was beginning to hate that familiar argument that seemed to crop up in far too many of their conversations. He turned so he could fully look at the Doctor. “You’re also stating the obvious.”
“Martha has some semblance of knowledge of what Ianto and Gwen are going through. Anyway, your team needed a doctor sooner rather than later. Someone’s got to dissect those aliens, after all.” The Doctor caught Jack’s gaze. “Someone who’s actually passed their exams.”
“So in keeping with that whole not-human train of thought, why did you come to me?” Jack asked. He saw the Doctor’s breath die in his throat and he mentally prepared himself for the runaround. After several minutes passed, Jack figured he just wasn’t going to answer him.
Unable to resist the snide retort, Jack said, “Oh, we’re back to that again, are we?”
The Doctor, for the first time since he’d interrupted Jack’s attempt to drown himself in a bottle of vodka, glared at him. “You are different,” the Doctor said, his voice low and clipped, but didn’t hold the warning edge of the Oncoming Storm.
“I’m a fact,” Jack said, repeating the words the Doctor told him lifetimes ago.
“It’s a fact you’re different.”
Jack raised his eyebrows in confusion. “What?”
“Martha has seen so much,” the Doctor said, his voice barely a whisper. “Too much, and I blame myself for that.”
“Doctor, she doesn’t –“ The cool glare from the other man caused Jack’s mouth to snap shut.
“Despite all she’s seen and done, there is so much left in this Universe that she’s never experienced. Things that, hopefully, she’ll never have to.”
“Yeah, like what?” Jack asked.
The Doctor lifted his hand and began ticking off his fingers. “Never fought in a war that she thought would never end, never dragged a body of a comrade ten miles to the nearest medical tent only to realize he died four miles back, never issued an order that she knew would take the life of someone she loved, never –“
“I get it,” Jack said, lifting his hand to stop the Doctor’s tirade. Hidden wounds bled anew, but yes, Jack had done those terrible things – more than once. “So were you going somewhere with this?” he snapped.
“Have you heard of Henri Amiel?” the Doctor asked.
“He was a Swiss philosopher, and I fail to see what he has to do with this conversation,” Jack replied, his patience wearing thin.
The Doctor turned and started walking away, his voice drifting across the wind. “'We only understand that which is already within us.'”
Jack watched him go, the soft-spoken quote permeating his addled brain. For the second time that night, he had a moment of sparkling clarity. The Doctor understood because he’d been there. The Doctor understood because he’d done those terrible things, he’d fought in battles that couldn’t be won, and he’d lost so many he’d loved. The Doctor understood the impossibilities of Jack’s life, the burden of immortality, the responsibility of being a leader. The Doctor understood things that no human could ever hope to. He simply understood.
“Doctor, wait!” Jack called as he started jogging after the Time Lord who had disappeared out of sight. “Wait a second!” He strained to hear the telltale sounds of the TARDIS dematerializing and prayed he wasn’t too late.
Jack rounded the corner and nearly collided with the Doctor who was casually leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.
“That was fast,” the Doctor commented, glancing at his wrist as if checking a watch.
“My running?” Jack asked after taking several deep breaths.
“Your comprehension,” the Doctor replied, his hands disappearing into his pockets once more.
“You seemed like you were in a rush to get out of here,” Jack said, leaning against the wall next to his friend. “I didn’t expect to trip over you when I turned that corner.”
“I was going for dramatic. Anyway, a quote that good should be uttered through the wind,” the Doctor explained, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“I hate to break it to you, but you – this you – is always dramatic,” Jack said, his heart thawing underneath the familiar banter.
“You’ll always be a stupid ape to me.”
Jack laughed, his shoulder bumping playfully against the Doctor’s. When he reopened his eyes moments later, Jack noticed the TARDIS for the first time.
“I get it now,” Jack said quietly. “You understand.” The Doctor nodded, and Jack wished that type of understanding on no one. Not even a Time Lord could change the past, their past.
The Doctor pushed off the wall, and for a second his insurmountable age showed in his movements. “I should be –“
“Thank you,” Jack said in a rush. “Everything you’ve done for me, the way you handled it all in stride. I can’t –“ He fumbled, words evading him, as he tried to provide some type of thanks that even came close to expressing his gratitude for what the Doctor had done for him.
“Don’t mention it,” the Doctor replied, pushing off the thanks with practiced ease. He reached out his hand, and Jack stared at the offered handshake. Shaking his head, he pulled the Doctor into an affectionate embrace.
“Next time you need –“ Jack paused, his breath warm against the Doctor’s ear – “some understanding, you know where to find me.”
The Doctor stepped away and gave him a mildly interested look. “Are you flirting with me?”
Jack laughed, but his tone was serious. It had been awhile since he’d felt like flirting. “On any other day, yes, but you know what I mean. There are a lot of things that I don’t understand about you, that I’ll probably never understand, but I know what grief feels like. And if you ever need me –“
The Doctor’s expression was unreadable but still kind. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed.
The Doctor turned and retreated to the TARDIS, giving a final wave before he closed the door behind him. Jack felt the wind on his face and soon he was staring at an empty alleyway.
Jack had to admire the Doctor’s optimism when he said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Unfortunately, they both would knew it would. That was the life they both led. Whether it be another war, an invasion, a terrible disease, or simply the unbeatable and formidable enemy known as Time, they would experience loss again. Nothing could be done about that. But there was something else, another emotion creeping into the back of Jack’s mind – acceptance. He hadn’t asked the Doctor for absolution or even forgiveness. What he needed, the Doctor had given freely.
There were some things Jack couldn’t change. He knew he couldn’t stop living. The Doctor had reminded him of something else. He couldn’t stop trying either.
“Henri Amiel, huh?” Jack said aloud, shaking his head. He recalled another quote he’d heard at some point during his travels on Earth. A man without passion is only a latent force, only a possibility, like a stone waiting for the blow from the iron to give forth sparks.
“Wise man,” Jack murmured as he started walking back to the Hub.
He wasn’t referring to the philosopher.