Part Eleven — Helpful Things
The setback was heartbreaking, but ultimately a good thing.
Once again mostly trapped in his mind, the Doctor was again heavily dependent upon Rose and Jack. It left him a bit frustrated and resentful, which made him a difficult patient at times. His companions knew better than to take it personally.
He returned to his habit of latching on to their pulses when they let him, and they made a point of letting him quite often. He hated feeling so needy, but the stability of counting pulse beats was more than worth the injury to his pride. He wasn’t consciously aware of it, but the fact that he could find some comfort in his unshakable trust in his two companions helped Rose and Jack to feel like they were doing something useful as they waited for his senses to return.
In his worst moments, when there was no pulse to focus on and he had run out of Gallifreyan nursery rhymes to recite to himself, leaving him nothing to keep himself from sliding into the dangerous territory of his memories, he would reach out to the TARDIS in his mind. She responded each time, reassuring him with a warm mental caress before gently but firmly pushing him away again. He knew that they needed to keep at a distance to give his mind a chance to heal, but that knowledge did not make the separation any easier.
The mood on the TARDIS became more strained as Jack and Rose once again had to be careful not to startle him unnecessarily. He was infinitely less jumpy than he had been before the return of his telepathy, but an unexpected touch still had the power to override his rational thought and toss him into a panic. He remained wary of his sense of touch, and his obvious discomfort left Rose and Jack cautiously afraid of touching him.
But for all of the difficulties, there was also an air of hope that had been lacking before. They knew that hiding so deeply within his link with TARDIS had set back his recovery, but they also knew that meant he had a recovery to be set back. He was healing.
Two more days passed with no sign of progress. Rose and Jack had meanwhile thrown themselves back into a routine of keeping watch over the Doctor, trying to let their focus on him whitewash over their feelings of guilt and worry.
Rose, particularly, was driving herself to distraction. She wanted to reach out to him, to help him, but every time she touched him only to see him flinch, all she felt was his broken wrist in her grip. The perceived betrayal mocked her. If she’d been able to talk to him about it, they might have been able to overcome it relatively quickly. But the Doctor remained for the most part uncommunicative and Rose’s irrational guilt was left to fester.
Eventually Jack, who was drowning in no small amount of his own guilty and helpless feelings, noticed that Rose wasn’t sleeping. Two days after that heartbreaking conversation in the kitchen, he watched as she slowly nodded off while they again sat around the kitchen table. When she jerked herself awake with a gasp after nearly sliding off of her chair, Jack decided that enough was enough.
“That’s it. You’re going to get some sleep if I have to sedate you,” he told her.
“But…” she protested weakly, glancing over at the Doctor. He sat next to her, quietly playing with the banana, sliding it back and forth between his hands across the tabletop.
“You have to sleep, Rose,” Jack said, a pleading note in his voice. “I’m here, and he’ll be alright.”
She looked like she wanted to argue for a moment, but then she sighed and admitted in a small voice, “A sedative sounds nice, actually.”
“Are you sure?” Jack asked, getting up from his own seat and moving to stand beside her.
“A sleeping pill, or something. Please,” she replied, finding herself suddenly wrapped up in Jack’s arms. “I’m so tired.”
He held her as she trembled, not quite crying. Looking over her head at the Doctor, Jack saw that the Time Lord had somehow noticed that something was wrong. Maybe the TARDIS had told him, or maybe he had just felt the vibrations through the floor as Jack’s chair moved before he walked around the table. Whatever had alerted him, he had stopped fiddling with the banana and had turned in Rose’s direction. He looked simultaneously concerned, confused, and frustrated. Jack could sympathize.
Hoping the Doctor would be alright on his own for a few minutes, Jack gently guided Rose up from her chair and then out into the hallway. He took her back to the TARDIS infirmary, where she gratefully stretched out on one of the diagnostic beds. Searching the nearby cabinets quickly, Jack returned to her side with a hypospray tube similar to the one that had held the chemical blindfold.
“This should help you sleep for a few hours,” Jack told her.
She nodded, closing her eyes as he administered the sedative.
“Thanks, Jack,” she whispered. “Sorry I’m such a mess.”
“It’s okay, honey,” he answered, gently brushing some of her hair out of her face. “You aren’t the only one.”
And then she was asleep. He tucked a blanket around her and couldn’t resist pressing a chaste kiss to her forehead before turning away and heading back to the kitchen.
When he got there, the only remaining occupant of the room was the banana, which was beginning to look a bit the worse for wear. Trying not to anthropomorphize the banana by sympathizing with it as well, Jack left the kitchen again and fought down a sense of worry as he wondered where the Doctor had gone.
“If I was a chemically blindfolded Time Lord, where would I be?” he muttered to the walls.
The obvious answer was the console room, and that was in fact where Jack found him. He was surprisingly nowhere near the actual console, instead sitting against one of the curved walls of the large room.
Jack approached him cautiously, wondering why he had settled himself in that particular spot. It wasn’t until he was close enough to see the tears on his cheeks in the shadows that Jack realized what else occupied that out of the way spot on the console room floor.
It was where he’d tossed his coat.
The Doctor sat with his legs stretched out in front of him, having pulled the coat partially onto his lap. It looked as if he’d been intent on searching its pockets but had been distracted and was now simply running his fingers over the wool. And crying.
“Oh, Doctor,” Jack moaned. “Why’d you have to go and find that stupid coat?”
He sat himself down inches from the quietly distraught Time Lord, and very, very slowly reached out to cover the Doctor’s hands with his own.
The Doctor clutched convulsively at the wool of the coat, whimpering unconsciously as he was assaulted by the vivid memories of fear and pain that it represented. He thumped his head back against the wall, just as he had in the cell, as if the action could knock the unwanted memories and feelings away.
Jack carefully unwound the Doctor’s fingers from the fabric, letting them wrap around one of his hands instead, and then he tossed the coat a few feet away with his other hand.
“Oh, Doctor,” he repeated mournfully, reaching his free hand up to wipe away the tear tracks on the Doctor’s cheeks, simultaneously stopping him from thumping his head again, only to have to trace J for Jack instead when the Doctor flinched at the touch.
He traced the letter several times, until the Doctor calmed again and his grip on Jack’s other hand loosened and shifted so that he could feel for the pulse at his wrist.
“I hate this,” Jack told him then, even though he knew the Doctor couldn’t hear him. “I hate what those bastards did to you. I hate that I had to let them hurt you. I’m so sorry.”
There was, of course, no reply.
“I hate that you’re still trapped behind that chemical blindfold,” he continued, unable to stop himself from unburdening his soul to his deaf friend now that he’d started. “I hate seeing you so afraid of everything, our pulses the only touch you can bear. I hate seeing Rose drive herself mad with a guilt I can’t convince her she doesn’t deserve.”
Jack was crying now. No longer tracing his J, he was instead simply stroking the Doctor’s cheek soothingly.
Jack wanted so badly to comfort his friend, but was too afraid to touch him more than he already was. The last thing he wanted to do was cause more pain by triggering another of the memories the Doctor already had to constantly fight in the silence of his mind.
All of the frustration and anguish was suddenly too much for him, he had to do something or he was just going to start screaming and he wasn’t sure if he would be able to stop.
So he leaned over and kissed the cheek he had been stroking.
When the Doctor merely tilted his head slightly, as if intrigued, Jack repeated the action.
“It’s me, I’m here, you’re safe now,” he whispered uselessly against the skin of the Doctor’s cheek, before tenderly placing another kiss.
The Doctor’s response was to slide one of his arms around Jack’s shoulders, pulling the other man gently against him. Jack sobbed, more deeply affected by the touch than the Doctor himself was.
The Doctor released his grip on Jack’s pulse so he could cradle him with both arms, rocking him slightly, making a very soft shushing noise.
The thought of being held in someone’s lap, especially so soon after encountering Jack’s coat, would have completely undone the Doctor’s shaky control. But he found that he could easily tolerate being the one doing the holding. So he held on to Jack tightly as he felt the other man trembling against him.
When Rose woke again hours later, she found them still sitting against the curved wall of the console room, Jack curled up asleep in the Doctor’s arms. The coat lay forlornly a few feet away on the Doctor’s other side, making it painfully obvious what had happened.
“Jack?” she called softly, almost not wanting to wake him when he and the Doctor looked so peaceful sitting there.
He came awake slowly, blinking up at her, not moving from the Doctor’s embrace.
“Jack, I think we need help,” she said softly.
“I think you’re right,” he had to agree. They were both falling apart at the seams, how could they keep it together to help the Doctor when they were miserably failing to help themselves?
Rose told him about the emergency programming that the Doctor had shown her, designed so that she could never be stranded not knowing how to pilot the TARDIS.
“I can take us back to my mum,” she said. “She’ll help us, and he trusts her, I think.”
“Okay,” Jack agreed, still sitting in the Doctor’s arms. He absentmindedly traced J for Jack across the back of one of the Doctor’s hands as Rose started setting the controls at the console.
The Doctor’s arms tightened around Jack when he felt the background hum of the TARDIS change, knowing that she was moving in the vortex. It was a logical assumption that Rose had activated the emergency program, and he was somewhat relieved that they would soon have an extra pair of hands or two to help out. He knew that both Rose and Jack were having as hard a time of things as he was as they all waited for his senses to return.
Jack remained in his arms until they felt the TARDIS land with her customary clunk, and then he reluctantly sat up. He offered his hand, which the Doctor gratefully grasped at the wrist.
Before Rose even had a chance to pull her phone out of her pocket, there was a determined bang at the TARDIS’s external door.
“That’ll be Mum,” she smiled slightly, going to open the door and greet her mother.
The console room seemed to come vibrantly alive with Jackie Tyler’s loud presence.
“What are they doing down there?” Jackie asked after she and Rose had exchanged the necessary hugs and words of greeting, pointing at where Jack and the Doctor still sat against the wall.
“You remember me and Mickey telling you about Captain Jack?” Rose asked, and when Jackie nodded, she finished off the introduction saying, “That’s Captain Jack. Jack, my mum.”
“Forgive me for not getting up. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Jack said.
“I’m sure,” Jackie replied, eyeing him speculatively for a moment before turning her gaze to the alien seated next to him.
“What’s wrong with him, then?” she asked, noting how he appeared to be awake, though his eyes were closed, and how he hadn’t reacted and seemed content to sit quietly and, for some reason, hold Captain Jack’s wrist as if he were checking his pulse.
“It’s a long story, Mum,” Rose said, wrapping her arms into a self hug.
Jackie’s attention snapped instantaneously back to her daughter.
“What’s wrong, Rose? What’s happened?” she asked, able to clearly read the distress in Rose’s voice and body language.
“We… well, we had a bit of a run in with some nasty aliens. Sort of what we always do. But then they drugged the Doctor with this chemical blindfold thing. It blocked off all of his senses except for touch,” she explained.
“What for?” Jackie asked, glancing back down at the still oddly motionless Doctor.
“They wanted us to show them how to get into the TARDIS, to use her power. But that’s not important,” Rose dismissed. “Thing is, it’s been days. He’s recovering, but really slowly. Only his telepathy is back so far.”
“His what?” Jackie blinked.
“Telepathy. Don’t worry, it’s not like he reads our thoughts,” Rose said. “He has a mental connection to the TARDIS, and I think he can sort of… visit inside your mind. But only if he touches your face this certain way. I’m not really sure, I never asked him.”
“Right. So he’s part Vulcan,” nodded Jackie, who had been watching Star Trek reruns for years even before her only child had run off with an alien. “Okay. So what can I do?”
“We need help, Mum,” Rose admitted. “We’ve… it’s been so hard. We’re all exhausted, and Jack and I don’t want to leave him alone.”
Jackie hugged her daughter again.
“Of course I’ll help. I’ll do whatever I can,” she said, looking fondly at the Doctor. She had hated him for a long time, for taking Rose away and putting her in danger. But when he had sent her home to be safe, and Jackie had seen how determined Rose had been to get back to him, she had learned to forgive him. She might grumble a bit before admitting it, but she had come to care for him a great deal since that Christmas when he’d changed bodies.
Rose pulled out of her embrace after a moment and led her to where Jack and the Doctor sat. She knelt in front of them, reaching out to take one of the Doctor’s hands in her own.
Jackie did not miss the Doctor’s momentarily wary reaction.
“We’ve been tracing our initials to let him know it’s us,” Rose explained, as she traced an R into the Doctor’s palm. He relaxed immediately.
“How’d you like M for Mum?” Rose asked her then, looking up at her.
“It’s fine, since I suppose J is already taken,” she replied, moving to kneel beside Rose, smiling as she met Jack’s eyes.
“It is, sorry,” Jack told her.
“It’s fine,” Jackie repeated. “Why don’t you introduce me, Rose.”
Rose traced her R again, and then traced an M. The Doctor had been expecting it, but he took her hand to trace an M in reply just to confirm.
Rose passed his hand to her mother’s, telling Jackie to trace an M in his palm. She did, and he repeated the trace in her hand again. Unknowingly imitating what Rose had done the first time she’d thought to use her initial, Jackie moved the Doctor’s hand up to her cheek so he could feel her nod.
Then, smiling gently, she brought his hand back down again and traced a T in his palm.
He looked confused for a moment, but then with an impish grin he traced a T in return and nodded.
“Right, then. Tea, coming right up! Is there a kitchen anywhere in this thing?” Jackie asked.
Delighted with the positive reaction her mother had elicited from the Doctor, Rose knew they had made the right decision in returning to Earth. She felt some of the weight of her worries lift from her shoulders.
“There sure is. This way,” she said, standing and leading the way out of the console room. Jackie followed her as Jack and Doctor picked themselves up off of the floor and followed as well.
Waiting in the kitchen for the tea to be ready, Jackie watched as the Doctor felt around on the table blindly, and then idly spun a banana between his hands when Jack passed it to him. She gave her daughter and Jack a questioning look, but they shrugged.
“It’s just the Doctor, being himself,” Jack tried to explain.
Jackie nodded, understanding completely.
Then, as they watched, the Doctor lifted the now overripe and battered fruit up to his nose and inhaled.
As his features lit up with pleasure, Rose and Jack both shouted, “He can smell it!”
This was confirmed a moment later when Jackie swapped the banana for a steaming cup of tea, and instead of drinking the Doctor just sat there blissfully taking in its scent.
They knew taste had not returned, because his oral fixation was still missing in action. But this was progress. Real, concrete progress. His senses were returning. It made the heart wrenching separation from the security of his close connection to the TARDIS finally seem worth it.
Jack, Rose, and Jackie enjoyed their tea and watched the Doctor enjoy the smell of his tea. It was a truly happy moment and Rose and Jack were absurdly grateful for it.
A knock on the TARDIS door a while later turned out to be Mickey, who Rose went to greet and give a quick explanation to. When they returned to the kitchen, they found themselves having trouble figuring out how to introduce him to the Doctor.
M was in use for Mum and R, which could stand for Rickey, was obviously already in use for Rose. It was a bit of a quandary.
As the others began to debate the merits of S for Smith, Mickey solved the problem himself. He awkwardly reached over and traced a letter in the palm of the hand the Doctor had left sitting on the table.
The Doctor flinched at the first touch, as he still often did, but then waited patiently to feel what letter was being traced. As soon as he realized what it was, a bright, manic smile transformed his face.
Rose and Jack watched in awe as he actually laughed out loud and grabbed at Mickey’s hand to gleefully retrace the letter in return.
I for Idiot… of course.
Sharing tired but overjoyed smiles, Rose and Jack felt a sense of profound relief. The Doctor was starting to heal, and they now had help in the form of Jackie and Mickey. Things were going to be alright.
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