Author: adaliazandra @ adaliafic
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Old!Jack, an unspecified and non-canonical older Doctor
Categories: Angst, H/C, Friendship, technically future-AU
Rating/Warnings: The Rating Formerly Known as PG-13. Nothing graphic.
Summary/Teaser: After my ficlet “Knowing When To Leave”, what happened when Old!Jack got home?
Author’s Notes: One day shy of a year later, I’m back on LJ with a little bit of fic that I’ve been noodling with on and off the whole time I’ve been away. I’ve also had some nice progress lately on the stories that I still owe from ages ago. I’m not going to start posting the Support Stacie fic for Taffi until it’s finished, but I’ve finally completed the detailed outline and the last part is in the drafting stage. So we’re getting close! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this little sequel-ficlet. It follows directly from the previous story (linked in the summary), so you might want to go give that one a look first if you don’t remember what happened in it.
Disclaimer/Apology: I don’t own these characters, I’m just borrowing them. For better or worse, I happen to be American. So please excuse my English.
“Jack, where did you put that extra six-gauge multiphasic spanner? I need it for the next bank of arrays, the blasted things are fused together into one giant… Jack? Jack, what’s wrong?”
He’d been preoccupied with the missing spanner as he entered the room, but when Jack didn’t reply he’d looked up from the half-built replacement part in his left hand. What he saw was his oldest and dearest companion curled into himself on the floor, trembling silently but mentally keening in what sounded almost like mortal pain. Once the Doctor was within range, it was clearly audible even through his strong, habitual telepathic shields.
He dropped the small pile of tools and spare parts he was carrying into a careless heap on the nearest horizontal surface. Jack was hurting and unresponsive, and thoughts of the repairs he’d been working on for the past two weeks couldn’t even begin to compete for the Doctor’s attention. Missing tools and frustrating repairs forgotten in an instant, the Doctor rushed forward and dropped to his knees beside his friend.
A quick visual inspection showed nothing obviously amiss either in the room or with Jack himself, no outward injury or other clear cause of Jack’s pain. He could see Jack’s usual boots, slacks, and coat, all as they should be despite appearing slightly ruffled. Like his hair, they were also covered with a thin dusting of frost that indicated Jack had been outside in the cold winter weather not too long ago. The telltale flush to his apparently still re-warming skin confirmed that it had been recently.
Though the cause of Jack’s distress was unclear, the symptoms were pronounced. His hands shook like the mere appendages to the rest of his trembling form they actually were. His shoulders were hunched up, his head hidden almost protectively behind his arms. The Doctor couldn’t see much of his face, but he didn’t need to in order to know what emotions Jack was feeling. He could hear them in the small, telling sounds of Jack’s ragged breaths. He could feel them as they bombarded his own mind in waves.
It wasn’t simple like physical pain tended to be. It was bigger, almost a living thing, with layers and overtones that echoed inside Jack’s mind and spilled over into the Doctor’s. It was a hurt feeling of sorrow and guilt with shades of exhaustion, loss, and resignation.
The Doctor reached out carefully to touch him, not wanting to accidentally cause more harm in his attempts to help. He could feel Jack’s whole body shaking beneath his hands.
“Jack? Can you tell me what’s wrong?” he tried again, but Jack appeared to remain oblivious to his presence. The distraught man hadn’t reacted at all to the touch of the Doctor’s hands, and the sound of his voice seemed to have similarly no effect.
There was one thing left to try, though it could be dangerous if something had attacked Jack’s mind. But if that was the cause of this, then the Doctor only saw it as that much more reason to try reaching Jack with direct mental communication.
He and Jack had been slowly experimenting lately with telepathic contact. Jack’s psi abilities had begun to inexplicably expand as he aged, so the Doctor had been trying to help him learn to control and use his newfound talents. In the course of those efforts they had both slowly begun to feel more comfortable with the undeniably alien nature of each other’s minds. With exposure, they had both even grown to find their moments of shared telepathy to be a pleasant experience.
//Jack,// he whispered now into Jack’s mind. //Let me in. Show me what’s wrong. I can help.//
Jack’s shaking noticeably lessened at the instant of the Doctor’s contact at the edge of his mind. The waves of distress in his mental projection also subsided somewhat. He sat shivering slightly now, barely breathing, still otherwise unresponsive. But it was clear that he’d heard the Doctor’s mental voice. He was listening.
//I’ve got you,// the Doctor sent, lacing the thought with all the concern and love he felt for this extraordinary human. //Whatever it is that hurt you so much can’t touch you here. I’ve got you.//
That was either exactly the right thing or entirely the wrong thing to say, because Jack finally reacted. As if he was only just then recognizing who was there beside him, he suddenly turned and uncurled slightly, giving the Doctor a brief glance at his tear-streaked face before he leaned in and buried his head against the Doctor’s shoulder. His desperate mental keening momentarily pushed free into a single heartbroken sob.
Fearing that something terrible was still affecting Jack and unsure what else to do, the Doctor could only wrap his arms around his friend, hold on tightly, and whisper soothing nonsense both verbally and telepathically. But before he could work himself into a true panic, Jack finally responded with a telepathic message of his own.
//I’m sorry… I’m so sorry I couldn’t stay with you… there was nothing I could do…//
//What are you talking about, Jack? What’s happened?//
This sheer confusion at Jack’s apology seemed to reach him and Jack finally calmed enough to begin telling the Doctor what was wrong.
//It was Ten… last night, don’t you remember?//
The message carried with it a bittersweet mental sense-memory that combined aspects of love and betrayal, enthusiasm and anguish, and hope and regret, all wrapped in an image of wild hair, a pinstripe suit, a long, brown coat, and a battered pair of trainers. It clearly represented Jack’s impression of the Doctor’s tenth self, leaving no doubt who he had meant when he said ‘Ten’ with a clear capital ‘T’.
//What happened to Ten? What should I remember about last night?//
//Don’t you read the news? Don’t you know what day it is?//
Jack was sitting up now, mostly calm, meeting the Doctor’s eyes and speaking rationally. But the Doctor still couldn’t understand what he was talking about. Something to do with his tenth self, and something he should remember about the date? He closed his eyes for a moment, looking for whatever had happened so long ago in his personal timeline, and yet yesterday, that would so affect Jack now.
//They found Adelaide’s body this morning,// Jack explained quietly, and suddenly the memory exploded in the Doctor’s mind.
Ten. Mars. The Bowie Base. Then a dark, empty street in the middle of a cold, winter night. The dim, blue glare of a pulse weapon behind a closed door.
And the conversation he’d had with Jack afterwards.
He’d been at the end of his rope, literally losing his mind. Everything had been closing in on him and underneath it all he’d been so scared. So angry, so drunk on his own power, and so very scared. And just for a brief moment Jack had been there, a voice of reason and reassurance that he had simultaneously needed desperately and yet been even more angry to hear.
What he hadn’t known at the time was exactly how old Jack had been when he’d made that trip. And, to his shame now, he had never given him or their meeting on that cold, dark street any further thought. And now here he was, confronted with the aftermath, with yet another set of consequences come back to haunt him later.
//Oh, Jack,// he sent, quietly but with the strength of his whole mind behind it. //Dear, dear Jack… you don’t need to apologize to me…//
Jack interrupted by sending him another image of his tenth self, this time a true memory instead of just a general, though personal, impression. It was an image of how Ten had looked that night, leaning weakly against the outside of the TARDIS, his brown eyes wide and glassy with a clear combination of exhaustion, confusion, and unshed tears. So afraid of the fate that he’d known even then was coming for him. So desperate to keep fighting. So lonely and hurt, so lost. Deep down, so resigned to it all. And, in that last moment, finally reaching out for something, anything that could help, just as Jack had teleported away and disappeared. Leaving him alone yet again.
//No,// the Doctor replied, causing the image of his previous self to fade back into the corner of Jack’s recent memory from whence it had come. //You don’t need to apologize to him, either. You were right that there was nothing you could do to help him. There was nothing anyone could have done to help me then, or at least nothing I would have accepted. I was in a very bad place, but I was also learning some very important lessons that I badly needed to learn.//
The Doctor countered Jack’s image of Ten with one of his own, layered into the wording of his reply. He showed Jack what he remembered of Ten’s hubris and overconfidence, his ability to be careless and occasionally even cruel. He showed Jack all the flaws which had partly led to his eventual death and regeneration into Eleven. But he balanced that image with the aspects of Ten that stood out more strongly in his own memory. Ten’s capacity for a childlike joy at life, his boundless energy and curiosity, all of the wonderful, amazing friends he had surrounded himself with, and his final choice to sacrifice himself to save one of them.
One benefit of having this conversation telepathically was that the Doctor knew Jack was seeing in his mind the unquestionable truth of his words, and could not deny that the Doctor as he was now was stronger for his experiences then.
//I understand. Really, I do. And you’re here, and you’re all right now, but I just left you… him… Ten, standing there alone in the street and he’s not… you weren’t all right then,// Jack tried to explain. //I just… you were hurting so badly back then I wanted so much to help. But I couldn’t.//
//That was oh, so long ago,// the Doctor replied, hugging him tighter. //You’re letting the time travel do your head in, Jack. That’s not like you.//
//I can’t help it,// Jack whispered. //It was so long ago, but it was also just last night, and mostly it’s still right now. I just left him… you… not more than five minutes ago.//
The Doctor nodded mentally, a silent message of understanding and agreement. //It takes a while to readjust.//
//Yeah,// Jack agreed. //Oh, God, the look on his face… it hurt so much to just leave him there all alone.//
//You did do the right thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. It’s never easy to see a friend in pain and not be able to help. I don’t like to see you hurting like this now and not know how to help you, either,// the Doctor admitted. //Is there anything I can do?//
Jack’s arms squeezed more tightly around him for a moment. //Just stay. Can we just sit here for a while?//
//Sure, as long as you need,// the Doctor replied. //At this point, anything’s better than working on these repairs.//
Jack chuckled at that. They’d been parked on Earth for two weeks, trying to rebuild several critical TARDIS subsystems. They’d made progress, but the work was slow and often monotonously boring. They kept finding other tasks and small adventures to distract each other and themselves, which of course only made it all take that much longer. But at least it was more interesting that way.
They sat quietly for a moment, still telepathically connected, just enjoying each other’s company. The troubled and anguished waves of pain coming from Jack’s side of the link slowly continued to fade and settle back into the feeling of Jack’s familiar presence.
Then Jack suddenly spoke again. //Tell me that everything was okay. I mean… I know it is now, but…// he trailed off, mentally shrugging in his inability to communicate what he needed any more effectively than that.
The man the Doctor had been as his tenth self might or might not have understood Jack’s need, and almost certainly would not have felt comfortable with it. But the Doctor understood, and though it still wasn’t his favorite pastime he didn’t hesitate even a moment to open himself and his past up to Jack just to reassure his friend. To remind him that things had turned out all right in the end.
//It wasn’t easy,// he began by admitting. //Things did get worse before they got better. I won’t lie to you about that. But, in the end, it was okay. Ten was living through a difficult time in my life, in some ways the most difficult. Still so close to the War, still so uncertain about so many things. He did try his best, but he made mistakes and he hurt quite a lot of people in the process. Not the least of which was you, Jack. He meant well, but sometimes he just didn’t understand. Sometimes he… sometimes I was selfish, or self-righteous, or scared, or just stupid. And I was so tired of the losses, so tired of caring and losing and hurting. Always running so fast, to the next adventure, from the most recent pain… directly into whatever brick walls I could find to bash myself against. When you saw me in the street last night, I was heading for the biggest brick wall of them all. I bashed my thick head in on that wall not too long later. But in the process I found some sorely needed perspective, and everything did eventually turn out all right. You remember Eleven, don’t you? He was brilliant. Saved the whole Universe inside of his first year. And made some amazing friends of his own. Remember Amy and Rory?//
Jack’s mental presence had been nodding through most of the Doctor’s monologue, wordlessly sending a feeling of understanding if not yet complete acceptance. But at this he actually laughed aloud.
//Oh, yes, I remember Amy and Rory. Those two are unforgettable!//
//That they were,// the Doctor mused fondly.
//I do get it,// Jack replied then, his mental voice finally entirely calm and collected. //I think maybe I just needed to hear you say it. Thank you… I know talking about this isn’t easy for you even now.//
//Any time, Jack. You’re a good man, a good friend. You’re more than worth it.//
//Thank you,// Jack repeated, tightening their embrace again.
The Doctor responded in kind, internally acknowledging that he too felt comforted by the supportive physical sensation of his friend’s arms around him. Hugs were good for the soul, and sometimes you just needed to know when to sit still, to stay.
He had truly come such a long way since that dark, lonely time to which Jack had just briefly journeyed. And, now that his friend had returned from his visit to that troubled past, if their hug was just a little bit emotional, a little bit clingy, and a little bit life-affirming, well, there was nothing at all wrong about that.