Part Fifteen — Recovering Things
They stood near each other, but still separate, as they watched the coat burn. All three remained silent and motionless as the fire did its work and night fell around them, until the coat was no longer recognizable as an article of clothing. Finally it lay destroyed, its ashes mixed with those of the fire, the heat from its burning having warmed them in the rapidly cooling night air.
“Thank you,” the Doctor said then, almost too quietly for his companions to hear. “Thank you for this, for taking care of me. And for stopping me before.”
Rose shivered a bit at his words, remembering his dark anger as he’d nearly blown up the medical laboratory with its inhabitants still inside. In that moment he had been capable of such terrible vengeance, had fallen into such a frightening despair and lost his faith in nearly everything. She’d feared for him then, more than she ever had before.
Suddenly she felt a tentative touch against her hand, and she automatically responded by turning her palm outwards and grasping the hand that slid into hers. It was such a familiar, well practiced motion that she did it without thinking, only then to realize that she was, in fact, holding the Doctor’s hand.
He’d reached out to her. On his other side, he’d done the same with Jack.
They stood there for few long moments, holding hands in row before the fire. The Doctor shivered between Rose and Jack, locked in a conflict with his own mind. A small yet very insistent part of him railed against even the slight physical contact of merely holding hands.
A comforting touch means pain will follow. Touch is bad, it whispered traitorously.
But that part of him had been slowly losing its strength ever since the last of his senses had recovered. A normal level of sensory input and the constant care of his companions had slowly robbed that conditioning of its terrible power. His deeper sense of faith, mostly in Rose and Jack, was starting to win out again.
There was a thick tension in the air as the Doctor fought his internal battle and his companions stood wordlessly by. Unexpectedly, it was Rose who seemed to crack first.
“I’m sorry,” she nearly sobbed, unable to keep silent any longer.
“What? What for?” the Doctor questioned, startled, turning his face away from the fire to look at her, instead.
“Oh, Rose,” Jack sighed softly, almost to himself, happy that at least now she would be able to confront the guilt she’d been carrying around unnecessarily.
“It was me. Your wrist… when your wrist was broken and they brought you back into our cell, and I let you hold my pulse… but then… he came back, and wanted me to… it was me!” Rose’s explanation was incoherent at best, but the Doctor seemed to understand.
He had suspected it, both at the time and later, but he’d had no way to be sure and there hadn’t been time to ask in between his sugar high and his descent into vengeful anger. From her vague recounting of the event, he knew that it had been her but that their captor had ordered her to do what she’d done.
To her surprise, his only reaction was to lift her hand in his and inspect her wrist, worriedly looking for the bruise he now knew for sure that he had put there.
“It was healed with the dermal regenerator when we brought you to the infirmary those first few hours back on the TARDIS,” Jack said quietly, since Rose seemed momentarily unable to speak.
The Doctor nodded absently, lowering their joined hands again, squeezing hers slightly.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he told her.
She blinked at him, protesting, “But… but it wasn’t your fault!”
“Oh?” he replied mildly, pulling her slightly closer to himself. Focusing on her was making it easier to overcome the last of his own fears. “If I’m not to blame for hurting your wrist, how could you possibly be to blame for hurting mine?”
“I’m still sorry,” she said weakly, finding herself almost bumping shoulders with him as he pulled her closer.
“Then let’s forgive each other and be done with it,” the Doctor said sensibly. “Alright?”
“Alright,” Rose replied, unable to argue with his logic. She felt the weight of her guilt lift as he smiled at her, and knew that Jack had been right about telling him the truth. It had really been that simple.
The Doctor turned to Jack then, pulling him closer as well.
“And you, too, Jack,” he said.
“And me, what?” Jack asked, confused. He’d unburdened his own feelings of guilt while the Doctor was still safely deaf, but now he wondered if his friend hadn’t heard him somehow, regardless.
“The translator circuit must’ve been broken, and Rose only knows English. You wound up the one they spoke to, the one they focused on,” the Doctor explained, and Jack realized he should have known that Doctor would simply have worked it out. “I know you, Jack. You took that responsibility on and you feel like you should have somehow done a better job of protecting us. So… no. You’re not to be blamed for anything either. You did a brilliant job, got us all out alive. No one could have done better, Captain.”
Jack choked up, not realizing until that moment how badly he’d needed to hear those words from the Doctor.
“Thank you,” he breathed when he could speak again.
“Everybody feeling better now, then?” the Doctor asked them, his voice suspiciously bright and cheerful, his eyes wide and shining in the firelight.
“Yes,” Rose replied, as Jack simply nodded.
“Good,” the Doctor said. He paused, swallowing heavily, and then his voice was thick with emotion as he continued, “Because I could really use a hug right about now.”
It was all the invitation they needed. Agonizing days of keeping their distance were finally cleared from their memories as both Jack and Rose released the Doctor’s hands and threw their arms around him from either side. He held on to them just as desperately as his already shaky legs gave out beneath him, sending the three of them tumbling to the ground next to the still blazing bonfire.
They landed in a tangled heap, the Doctor in the middle with his companions sitting closely beside him, all three of them seeking as much contact as was physically possible.
Night had fallen and the circle their bonfire illuminated was only large enough that the fire itself was all any of them could see of their surroundings. The crackling of the flames was the loudest sound they could hear, its ashes and smoke the only smell and taste in the air. Its warmth, and their arms around each other, was all they could feel.
The Doctor found his sensory world was again narrowed, consisting of only the fire and his companions’ touches. But rather than the terrifying restriction of the chemical blindfold, it was a soothing and almost meditative focusing of his mind. He let the sensations fill his awareness, leaving no room for painful memories as he clung tightly to Rose and Jack.
It was… okay. It was touch, comforting touch, and it was okay.
It was good.
He couldn’t stop himself from shaking as that realization first occurred and then firmly settled itself, finally overwhelming the conditioning that he had succumbed to under the influence of the chemical blindfold.
His trembles moved Rose and Jack to speak again, reassuring words mumbled into his shoulder and his hair, respectively. He found himself joining in.
“Got you,” Rose said, squeezing her arms tighter around his waist.
“Here,” Jack added simply, his breath ghosting over the Doctor’s ear.
“It’s okay,” he replied, speaking to each of them and himself and the TARDIS and anyone else who might be willing to listen. “It’s okay.”
They stayed in each others arms as the fire slowly died down in front of them. Occasionally one of them would shiver with the memories of their shared ordeal, and the others would respond. They rocked slightly in their joint embrace, whispering comforting words and reassuring each other as needed, letting the simple magic of their close bond heal the damage they had all suffered to some extent.
After a long while, they simply sat quietly, sharing the peaceful moment.
The fire had nearly died out. The Doctor had dropped his head down onto Jack’s shoulder, his eyes closed. Rose rested against him, her arms still looped around his body. Jack leaned against him from his other side, supporting him, the opposed forces cradling him comfortably between them.
Their contented stillness was broken as the Doctor suddenly lifted his head up to look back at the TARDIS, still standing just behind them with her door open. She had reached out to him telepathically, calling to him. He reached out in return, still reveling in their newfound closeness. She called to him again.
Rose and Jack were aware of an unidentifiable telepathic feeling, having both been sensitized to the TARDIS’s communication through the Doctor, but they felt nothing more concrete than that.
“Better go see what she wants,” the Doctor said, disentangling himself from them reluctantly. “She doesn’t usually… well, request my presence in quite that way.”
He quickly stepped over to the TARDIS, disappearing inside.
Jack and Rose shared a curious look, remaining seated on the ground near the still barely burning remains of the fire. Almost immediately, they heard the Doctor’s distinctive laughter from inside the time ship.
He reappeared at the door a moment later, grinning widely, his accustomed bounce back in his step and this time not because he’d had way too much sugar. He was carrying a tray.
“Look what I found next to the console!” he crowed, bringing the tray over to Rose and Jack, kneeling on the ground between them and placing the tray in between them and the fire. “Isn’t she just the most wonderful, brilliant, amazing time ship in the entire Universe?”
They could feel the TARDIS’s telepathic touch clearly this time as she sent waves of affection and smug pride to all three of her passengers. Her pilot turned to look at her again, still smiling widely.
“Oh, thank you,” he told her out loud. “This is just perfect!”
The tray contained squares of chocolate, graham crackers, and a bag of marshmallows. There were three pointed sticks sitting on the side, ready to spear the marshmallows. It was everything they needed to make s’mores, and the smoldering remains of their bonfire was the ideal oven.
The unique treat being more popular in the United States in Rose’s time, the Doctor and Jack had the pleasure of introducing her to the proper procedure of slowly toasting a marshmallow and then using it to melt a chocolate square between a sandwich of graham crackers.
Rose and Jack’s laughter joined the Doctor’s as they quickly tore into the bag of marshmallows and set about toasting them over the hot coals of the bonfire that had burned away their fears and pain along with the symbolic coat.
It was exactly the impetus they needed to shift them from their quiet healing embrace into a boisterous and healthy return to their more habitual behavior. They were serenely happy as they toasted marshmallows and built s’mores, enjoying the warm confections and warmer camaraderie.
Jack liked his marshmallows well charred, and amused the others by frantically waving the flaming sweets around on the end of his stick to put them out. In revenge for their laughter, he sacrificed one of his marshmallows to the worthy cause of smearing sticky sugar across their faces. They retaliated with half melted chocolate, and it degenerated into a cheerful free-for-all.
Delighted with the ready made excuse, Jack took the opportunity to kiss some melted marshmallow off of Rose’s cheek. At the same moment, on her other side, the Doctor’s oral fixation got the better of him as he licked a smear of chocolate off of her other cheek. Rose squealed in surprised protest, and then gathered up the courage to follow Jack’s example and kiss the Doctor’s cheek, ostensibly to remove a gooey streak of marshmallow.
Jack clapped with approval, and then showed her up by using both sticky hands to grab at the Doctor’s lapels and pull him in for a real kiss. The Time Lord let out a startled squeak against his attacker’s mouth, then settled in and let himself enjoy Jack’s ministrations.
He’d been snogged thoroughly a couple of times in this body, and he was beginning to learn that he quite enjoyed it.
Rose gave a polite cough, then plucked impatiently at Jack’s sleeve.
Jack finally pulled away from the Doctor, who wobbled for a moment, pleasantly stunned.
“Yes, Rose?” Jack asked with a smug grin.
In reply, Rose tapped her foot spoke sternly, “Now, if you’re going to give out kisses, you should bring enough for the entire class!”
He dipped her dramatically, and kissed her soundly. By the time they stood again, the Doctor had recovered his composure once more and had found enough time to plan his next attack.
He was ready with melted chocolate on the fingertips of each hand. When his two human friends pulled apart, he reached over and traced a messy chocolate D on each of their cheeks.
Rose and Jack laughed at the sight of the Doctor’s chocolate initial on their faces.
“D for Doctor!” Rose smiled. She met Jack’s gaze, and they each solemnly reached up to trace their initial on the other’s unmarked cheek with whichever gooey sugar was still on their hands.
Then their eyes met again, and without needing to speak a word they agreed to turn on the Doctor and return the favor. He led them on a merry chase around the bonfire, and then let them catch him and drag him back down to the ground.
Rose nearly sat on him while Jack fetched more chocolate and melted it over the still hot coals. They carefully traced their initials on the Doctor’s cheeks in chocolate.
J for Jack and R for Rose.
With all three of them thus properly and possessively marked by the other two, they again degenerated back into giggles and random smearing of melted food across each other’s faces.
The Doctor couldn’t help but lean forward to assist Rose in licking some chocolate off of her lips, and they too shared a mind bending kiss. They pulled apart breathlessly, smiling at each other in the dim light from the nearly extinguished fire. Rose was absurdly glad once more for the openness and ease of expression of this incarnation of the Doctor.
Then Jack gave a wolf whistle in lewd appreciation of the show, and they found it necessary to team up on him and squish marshmallows into his forehead. Jack considered it ultimately worth it.
As they played and laughed and flirted, with the TARDIS watching over them, the most important part of their healing was completed at last. The fear was gone, the memory of the trauma pushed away by the new memories of friendship and love they were creating with melted chocolate and gooey marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs.
There would be nightmares, in the nights to come. Jack would continue to watch over them protectively, and Rose would always remember the feel of broken wrist bones beneath her hand. The Doctor would never again feel a pulse beat without having to fight back the memory of his mental isolation under the chemical blindfold.
But the fear was gone. The pain was dulled. Their faith and trust in each other was reaffirmed.
And, as Jack once more advanced on a mildly flustered Doctor with a sticky marshmallow and a predatory grin, with Rose laughing as she looked on, they all knew that their wild and crazy normality had finally reasserted itself.
The TARDIS crew had recovered. They were together, and they were strong.
It was comforting.
And it was good.
Click here to read the sequel to Sense written for Gillian Taylor as part of a timestamp meme.
But, while you're still here, take a look at this! LJ user aimeekitty has made some wonderful art for this fic!
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