Part Nine — Tiring Things
It took him a moment to realize that he was awake.
Trapped inside his own mind, save for his sense of touch, there was hardly anything to indicate a difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. But he slowly realized that he could feel one of the TARDIS infirmary’s diagnostic beds underneath him and a momentarily confusing but utterly blessed lack of pain.
For the first time in an uncountable eternity, nothing hurt. His injuries had all been healed, and his sense of touch had returned to normal while he slept. That, at least, was a good sign that his senses were recovering.
Now that it was gone he almost missed the pain, in a slightly crazy sort of way. It had given him something to latch onto, something to keep him from going out of his mind while he was trapped in his mind.
Without that distracting, constant pain, he was left to his own devices again. Rational thought returned, somewhat reluctantly. It was like waking up from a very long, very bad dream.
His memories of what he could only assume were the past two days were a bit hazy, and largely consisted of overlapping waves of the drug-enhanced pain that had been his entire world.
He remembered the frightening shut down of each of his other senses, and the disconcerting timelessness that he’d slipped into. He realized that he was still clutching onto someone’s wrist at their pulse in an attempt to fight back against that timelessness. It felt like Jack’s.
He remembered the sadistic impostor in Jack’s coat, and even now that he was no longer addled with pain, the thought of that scratchy wool evoked a deep seated fear in him. He was able to fight the impulse to react to the irrational anticipation of another beating and curl up protectively on the bed, but only by focusing himself on the pulse beneath his fingertips.
A hand touched his shoulder on the opposite side from where he knew Jack was, startling him.
The hand quickly traced an R through his shirt, and then rested on his shoulder again.
R for Rose. Of course. There wasn’t anybody else on the TARDIS for it to be. They’d escaped, he reminded himself, he no longer had to remain wary of their captors.
Rose had apparently been watching, and noticed that he’d woken. He smiled slightly, bringing his free hand up to grasp hers. Jack’s hand never moved underneath his, nor did he feel any other touch from the other man, and that led him to guess that Jack had fallen asleep beside him.
He felt Rose shift his hand so that his fingers were over her pulse, and understood why a moment later as Jack seemed to startle awake and pull away from him. He gripped Rose’s wrist, grateful that his companions had noticed his need for that contact, and waited in frustration for something else to happen.
He knew that he wasn’t totally helpless, that, if he wanted to, he was perfectly capable of feeling his way blindly around the TARDIS for any number of purposes.
But the fear and pain that had been his world for the past two days were still too close, too real. He was composed and rational now, but it was only skin deep. He didn’t know if he would be able to hold it together without the contact with Rose or Jack’s pulses that had become so essential to his existence.
Part of him, lurking in the back of his mind, still wasn’t convinced that he should trust that this was real, and was more than ready to step back into control the moment he slipped.
It was a constant battle to stay calm when his instincts were still clamoring to protect himself from any more pain. If only any of his other senses would come back online! It would be a long time before he would be able to easily trust touch again, but any other sense would help immeasurably.
Unbeknownst to him, Rose and Jack could see a lot this fight on his face. As they’d so delighted in noticing when Jack was flirting with him, this incarnation of the Doctor tended to be more outwardly expressive than the one they’d first met.
Yawning and wobbling slightly on her feet, Rose steadied herself against the side of the bed. The motion snapped both of them out of their fugue and Jack turned away from watching the Doctor to go fetch Rose a chair.
When she was settled, Jack said, “I’ll go get us something to eat, and then you should get some sleep.”
Rose tiredly nodded her agreement, and Jack headed off. Their captors had been more than willing to supply them with water and bathroom breaks in the small loo at the end of the corridor as necessary, but none of them had eaten since the day before they’d been captured.
Jack returned fairly quickly, bearing a tray of sandwiches and bottled water.
“Found these in the fridge,” he said, shrugging. The TARDIS was obviously doing everything she could to take care of them.
The Doctor dutifully sat up and ate what they handed him, deftly managing everything from turkey sandwich to water bottle one-handed. Rose was slightly more clumsy in her one-handed attempts to eat, but she resolutely kept her other hand steady beneath the Doctor’s fingers.
When they finished, Jack moved the tray out of the way and then hopped back onto the diagnostic bed touching the Doctor’s and somewhat tentatively placed his hand palm up next to the one the Doctor had let come to rest beside him.
Understanding the offer, the Doctor shifted his hand to cover Jack’s pulse again and was unsurprised when Rose subsequently moved her own hand underneath his.
He was surprised when she leaned down and gently kissed his cheek. He squeezed her hand in reply before she almost reluctantly pulled away.
“I could sleep for a week,” she told Jack as she stepped back. “But I guess a few hours will have to do. We should keep taking shifts until he’s better.”
They didn’t bother discussing the fact that they still didn’t know for sure that he would get better. There was no point in thinking pessimistically.
Jack nodded in reply, and that was the start of their new routine. They took turns being the pulse beneath the Doctor’s fingertips, and they took turns getting sleep.
The Doctor remained stable as long as they allowed him access to their pulses, though he did draw the line at the bathroom. But only just.
He knew that he was driving his companions mad, and that they were tiring of it both physically and emotionally, but only a letter traced in his palm and a pulse beneath his fingers could sustain his fragile trust.
Isolated as he was, it was all he had. He was stuck in a never ending loop of trust, doubt, panic, and reassurance. On top of it all, he was dreadfully bored.
By the time the second day after their escape had passed, all three of them were going quietly mad. Literally quiet in the Doctor’s case, since he still refused to communicate in any but the most basic of ways.
Speaking would just remind him that he couldn’t hear, and for once he didn’t know what to say, anyway. They had tried handing him a pad and pen, but he’d stubbornly ignored it. Similarly, Rose had tried tracing longer messages into his palm. He’d tolerated the touch, just to have her hands in his, but his general reluctance to respond spoke for itself.
Uncharacteristically, there wasn’t anything he wanted to talk about.
So they muddled through each passing moment with an ever increasing feeling of frustration and exhaustion.
Finally, some sixty hours after they’d escaped, both Rose and Jack fell into an exhausted sleep at the same time. Completely by coincidence, this coincided with the return of the first of the Doctor’s senses.
When the two of them woke, hours later, they found that the Doctor had disappeared. Worried, imagining the worst, and surprised that he had willingly separated himself from the comfort of their pulses for the first time, Jack and Rose set about frantically searching the TARDIS for their missing friend.
They found him in the console room, though they didn’t notice him at first.
He had actually crawled into the wiring underneath the console and curled up at the very base of the time rotor. There were tears on his face, but he seemed to be quiet and even content when they found him.
They didn’t try to convince him to come back out. Instead, they sat down on the floor where they could keep an eye on him, Jack’s arm around Rose’s shoulder as she snuggled against him.
“It’s so wrong, but I can’t think of a better word than cute to describe him right now,” Jack said, referring to the way the Doctor had practically nested in the wiring of the TARDIS.
Rose smiled and nodded in agreement.
“I was speaking in that trade lingo just then, by the way,” Jack added.
“And I understood it. That’s his telepathy back, then,” Rose grinned.
Suddenly, they both felt a telepathic brush against their minds. It was the same slightly odd, part TARDIS, part Doctor telepathy that they had felt back in the cell.
Affirmative / can feel her again / can touch him again / happy!
Finally, there was hope that the Doctor was going to recover.
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