Part Eight — Difficult Things
He was on the TARDIS.
The familiar metal grating beneath his cheek could have been faked, but nothing else in the universe would make that comforting, distinctive hum. He could feel it all across his body, and it was wonderful.
The TARDIS. Home. Safety.
And yet, he’d been too badly hurt to simply trust the comforting sensations. He remained tense and wary. He was on the TARDIS, but there was no guarantee that it was because they had made a successful escape. Something could have gone wrong. Having learned his lesson, he refused to let himself hope.
It was safer not to hope.
So, when four hands began to pull him up to his feet, he cringed, assuming the worst.
But all they did was lead him up the ramp, only stopping when his front bumped into something. Then, one of them gently guided his uninjured hand down and forward… and he felt the controls beneath his fingers.
They touched him as little as possible, only enough to keep him standing, and let him explore the controls one-handed.
He ran his fingers lightly over the switches and knobs, stroking his beautiful ship. He felt her warming bits of the console beneath his hand, trying to reassure him.
He wanted to believe her. He wanted to feel safe again.
But as he brought his hand to rest against the edge of the console, trying to support some of his own weight, it brushed against scratchy wool.
There was no conscious thought as the instinctive part of his mind took over. This reaction had been too well beaten into him. The next thing he knew, he was curled up beneath the console, the fingers of his uninjured hand digging into the grating, trembling in anticipation.
The coat meant pain.
Jack cursed loudly, jumping back and starting to frantically tear off the coat. In the minor success of getting the Doctor to the controls, he’d forgotten about the stupid coat. He tossed it carelessly into a corner, without even bothering to rescue the sonic or his blaster from its pockets, and then he returned to the console.
Rose sat in front of the panicked Doctor, wishing she knew how to reach him. The only way to communicate with him was touch, but their captors had thoroughly traumatized him with that sense. He’d been transformed into a cowering animal, unsure where the next kick was going to come from. It was heartbreaking.
Inspiration born of desperation suddenly struck Rose, and she gently touched her fingertip to the Doctor’s cheek and began to trace the letter R slowly and clearly on his skin.
He took in a shuddering breath, confused by this new touch. R for Rose, that was obvious… but could he dare to trust it? The tracing repeated itself. R for Rose. Was it her? Was it really her this time? Had they really safely escaped? Or was this another cruel trick? How could he trust anything?
Rose continued tracing the letter, with the lightest of touches and what she hoped were reassuringly slow and gentle motions.
R for Rose. It had to be her. It couldn’t be anyone else. Even if they’d learned her name, the aliens who’d captured them would not know the Old Earth English alphabet. They wouldn’t know to trace R for Rose.
It was that incontrovertible fact that finally convinced him, intellectually, that they had escaped and that it really was Rose touching his cheek. But it took a lot longer for the thought to make its way down to the instinctive level, where he remained tensed up, knowing that the next beating would begin any moment.
And Rose kept tracing that R for as long as it took.
Eventually, the Doctor’s natural sense of optimism, battered though it was, won out. They hadn’t quite been able to beat out of him his deep faith in Rose and Jack. Hesitantly, still not quite sure that he wouldn’t be rewarded with more pain, the Doctor reached his uninjured hand up to capture the hand at his cheek. He turned it over, slowly tracing the letter R in the palm. R for Rose.
He found his hand lifted up to touch another cheek, Rose’s cheek, and she was nodding in reply. He could feel the tears and the smile on her face.
It really was Rose!
She then passed his hand gently to another pair of hands. A man’s hands. They traced J for Jack in his palm, and he returned the gesture. J for Jack. Then he moved his hand to grip one of Jack’s wrists, searching out his pulse.
Jack let him do it, just happy that he was letting them touch him.
“Why does he do that?” Rose asked, pointing at where the Doctor gripped Jack’s wrist. “He keeps doing that.”
“He’s feeling the pulse. I think… it probably has something to do with his time sense being cut off,” Jack surmised, having had plenty of time in the cell to analyze the Doctor’s new habit.
Rose nodded, accepting that explanation.
“We need to get him to the TARDIS infirmary,” she said then.
Jack nodded in agreement, and they began the painful process of getting him up and moving again. He remained passive and compliant as long as he was allowed to keep his contact with one of their pulses. They had to go back to tracing their first initials on his skin to reassure him if that contact was lost.
They made it to the infirmary and got him situated on one of the diagnostic beds. Being familiar with the dermal regenerator, as most companions usually were by necessity, Rose immediately picked up the small handheld device and began to work its magic.
Only when every bruise was healed and the Doctor’s mangled wrist again looked unbroken and normal did Rose turn the medical instrument to her own bruised wrist. More than to heal her own physical pain, she refused to leave that bruise where the Doctor might eventually notice it and realize what had happened.
When she was finished, she put the dermal regenerator away. Jack had watched her silently, serving his purpose as pulse-lifeline for the Doctor through the mildly uncomfortable procedure.
Then, between the two of them, they worked out how to run the thankfully noninvasive and totally painless diagnostic scans.
The results were both encouraging and frightening.
The drug was no longer in the Doctor’s system, on the bright side of things. But there was no way to know how long his mind would take to reboot, or if all of his senses actually would come back online at all. In short, all they could do was wait and hope, as difficult as that was going to be.
They looked at each other, each trying to let the other draw some sort of strength. They were both exhausted, frightened, and numb.
“We need to sleep,” Rose pronounced then, getting a tired nod from Jack. Looking at their patient, they realized that the Doctor was already ahead of them. Thoroughly exhausted, himself, and finally feeling some measure of safety, as soon as he began to feel the blissful effects of the healing he had drifted off to sleep.
Rose got up and started pushing one of the other diagnostic beds towards Jack, letting him hop onto it and then pushing it flush against the Doctor’s. That way, Jack could rest while still allowing the Doctor the contact with his pulse that kept him grounded and calm.
Hopping onto the next bed on the Doctor’s other side, Rose sat with her knees pulled up under her chin.
“You rest, Jack, you look shattered,” she told him. “I’ll watch for a while, and I promise I’ll wake you when I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. That alright?”
Jack had to reluctantly agree. The stress he’d been feeling for the past two days had completely done him in. If Rose thought she could stay awake to keep watch for a while longer, he could only gratefully take her offer.
So Rose sat and watched as Jack drifted off to sleep next to the Doctor. She hugged her arms around her knees, trembling slightly, unable to forget the feel of the Doctor’s broken wrist beneath her hand.
They’d escaped, and healed their physical injuries, but she knew the difficult road to full healing had only just begun.
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