Another Time

by hence_the_name [Reviews - 11]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Series, Slash

The Doctor settled Jack’s head back onto the pillow as carefully as he could before he slid to the floor and lunged for the bin. He closed his eyes and thought of all the times he had killed Jack: the stubble on his jaw rough against the Doctor’s palm, the sickening crunch his neck made as it broke. It didn’t help that he knew it was a mercy, that Jack, if he could speak, always said thank you–every time he had to watch Jack’s eyes go blank, feel him go limp in his arms, the Doctor felt something else break inside him.

And then there were all the times before that. How many times had he been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten to death, all because the Doctor had been too frightened, too selfish, to go back for him? He could tell himself it was because of the regeneration, that he hadn’t been himself, but he knew it was a lie. He was always himself, and he had always been a coward.

His stomach heaved again. The pain he had taken from Jack washed over him, and he made himself pay attention to it: the gnawing in his stomach, the acid burn of foreign digestive juices dissolving his organs. He pressed his palms against the rim of the bin to keep himself upright. It was only a fraction of what Jack had endured, and still it made his limbs feel weak.

He heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs. “Doctor, I think you should–“

He picked his head up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Martha had frozen mid-step, wide-eyed with dismay.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Not you, too.”

He tried to shake off the sensation of being eaten alive. “No,” he assured her. “I just–absorbed some of the symptoms–“ He bent over the bin again.

Martha blinked. “You did what?”

“Absorbed the symptoms. So he could sleep,” he clarified. Martha had her head tilted to one side and was staring hard at him, like she’d never seen him before. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing.” She gave her head a shake. “I just–you can do that?”

He gave her a disparaging look before he threw up again. When he had finished, she was wordlessly holding out a glass of water. He took it, rinsed his mouth and spat. “Thanks.”

“Are you all right?”

“Been better.” He sat back on his heels and looked expectantly at her.

She watched him warily for a moment. When it appeared his stomach was going to stay where it belonged, she said, “I think we have something.”

The Doctor clamped down on the last shreds of nausea and got to his feet. “In the lab, then?” he asked, steadying himself against the wall. She nodded. He started to turn, then paused and looked back down at Jack. He was still restless, but at least his face wasn’t pinched with agony. “He’ll sleep for a bit,” he said after moment. “Thirty or forty minutes. That was all I could give him.”

Martha had that look back in her eyes, kind and a little bit sad. “Go on,” she said gently. “I’ll look after him.”

He hesitated, reaching his hand toward Jack, and then he glanced at her and pulled it back. He turned and left without another word.

***

They had six slides with what they thought were samples of the alien’s DNA. The Doctor barely glanced at the first three through the microscope before he tossed them to the side, but the fourth made him pause.

“Oh, brilliant!” he cried, looking around at Owen, who stood watching him with his arms crossed. “That is beautiful,” The Doctor said. He hooked his ankle around a stool and sat down, peering back into the eyepiece, and started scribbling on a pad of paper he found hear his elbow, muttering to himself as he made calculations.

Owen glanced at Tosh, who shrugged, and he perched on the edge of a stool to wait.

Gwen wandered in a little while later, holding a cardboard tray of coffee cups. “Any progress?” she asked, handing them out.

“Oh!” The Doctor’s hand came down on the bench so loudly they all jumped. Owen raised his eyebrows.

“What?” Gwen asked, alarmed.

The Doctor shook his head. “It can’t be that easy,” he muttered. He peered back into the microscope. “Hah!” He let out a delighted laugh and spun around on his stool to face the three of them. “Carbon monoxide!” he announced with an exuberant grin.

They exchanged baffled looks. “Sorry?” Owen said.

“Carbon monoxide,” he repeated. He sprang up and started for the door. “Come on.”

Gwen frowned. “‘Come on’ where?” she asked, as they trailed after him into the Hub.

The Doctor stopped and turned so quickly that the other three almost plowed into him. “Don’t tell me Torchwood hasn’t got a car and a garage,” he said.

“Of course we have.”

“Well.” He raised his eyebrows and spoke slowly, as if he were talking to a group of children. “Put Jack in the garage and start the car.” He clapped his hands. “Dead parasite.” He turned on his heel and was bounding up the steps to the lounge before any of them had time to react.

Owen tilted his head to the side. “I think he’s a bit off,” he said after a moment.

“He’s not what I expected,” Tosh agreed.

Gwen was staring after him thoughtfully. “Nor me,” she murmured.

***

Jack was beginning to stir again when the Doctor gathered him up and carried him to the garage. His eyelids fluttered when he laid him on the concrete floor. “Doctor?”

“Right here,” the Doctor said. He squeezed Jack’s hand.

Jack’s hand closed over his wrist. “Don’t–don’t go.”

“Shh.” The Doctor smoothed his hair, then bent and brushed his lips across Jack’s forehead. “I’ll be here when you wake up,” he said, and gently pulled away.

“Ready to shut the vents.” Tosh’s voice sounded tinny over the intercom.

The Doctor lingered beside Jack for another moment, and then he got up and opened the driver’s side door on the SUV. “Almost over,” he said to Jack. He leaned across the seat and turned the key in the ignition.

***

The parasite clawed its way out of Jack before it died, its bloated, wormlike body undulating in pain and mouth open wide in a scream that reverberated through the Hub and made the humans clutch at their heads. The Doctor watched on the monitor with grim satisfaction.

As soon as it lay still he opened the vents and ran back to the garage, falling to his knees beside Jack. He had pocketed a scalpel in the lab, and he took it out, now; the parasite would have begun to lay its eggs by now. The blade sliced easily through layers of skin and muscle. Without giving himself time to think about what he was doing, the Doctor plunged his hand into the wound and fished three of them from Jack’s belly: translucent, gelatinous things the size of golf balls, covered in blood and viscera. He threw them away with a cry. For a moment he knelt over him, still clutching the scalpel in his trembling hand, and then he threw that away, too. It hit the wall with a clatter. He fell back against the tire of the SUV to wait.

Hours passed. He didn’t know how many. The Doctor supposed that if he pulled back the ruins of Jack’s shirt he would see skin knitting up with incredible speed, organs re-forming themselves, blood vessels springing back into existence–but he didn’t move. He just hugged his knees while the blood dried on his hands and watched Jack’s face.

He came back to life with a gasp and the Doctor’s name on his lips. The Doctor sprang forward and took him in his arms. “Shh,” he said. “I’ve got you.” Jack struggled, trying to get to his feet. He was babbling something about the Game Station, about Daleks and Rose and the Master. “Shh,” the Doctor said again. “That’s over, now.”

Jack grabbed at his lapels. “We have to go back,” he grated out. “She didn’t get all of them–“

“Jack.” The Doctor took Jack’s head between his hands and held him steady. “Jack, look at me,” he said firmly. “That’s over. It’s over.” He stroked Jack’s temples with his thumbs. “You’re safe.”

It took a moment, but at last Jack’s wide, frantic eyes focused on the Doctor. He stared at him.

“Doctor?” he asked.

Relieved, the Doctor smiled. “Right here.”

Jack looked around, an expression of profound confusion coming over his face. “Why am I in the garage?” he asked, and then his eyes rolled back and he went limp in the Doctor’s arms.

The Doctor let out a breath. “All right,” he breathed. He held Jack close, felt the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, the single beat of his heart. “You’re all right.” He gathered him into his arms and got to his feet.

***

Jack slept for a long time after that.

Once he had tucked him into his bed, the Doctor couldn’t resist stretching out beside him, just for a little while. He closed his eyes and let himself drift, surrounded by the scent of him: soap and shampoo and beneath that a headier, human smell, of musk and sweat and Jack, and he thought, I could get used to this.

He wondered if Jack would ever give him the chance. He wondered if he would ever find the courage to ask.

He still felt him, his presence in the Vortex like a wrong note in an otherwise perfect symphony, but it no longer jangled the Doctor’s nerves like it used to. It was just Jack, a part of being near him: like his single heartbeat, or the heat that rolled off him in waves, as if reaching out in the dark.

“Do you love him?”

The Doctor started, picking his head up. Ianto stood at the bottom of the steps, his hands in his pockets, watching them. The Doctor wondered how long he’d been standing there.

He sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed. “Do you?” he asked.

Ianto looked at Jack, still sleeping deeply. He took his hands out of his pockets and crossed the room to sit in the chair near the bed. He didn’t answer.

“He loves you,” he said instead, looking up at the Doctor.

Inwardly, the Doctor flinched. More than I deserve, he thought. But he arched an eyebrow and gave Ianto his most withering look. “I sincerely hope you’re intelligent enough to realize that Jack is capable of loving more than one person at a time.”

Ianto only raised an eyebrow in return. “Is that ‘love’ in the emotional or euphemistic sense?” he asked.

Surprised, the Doctor shut his mouth with a click. He looked back down at Jack and felt himself starting to smile. “Both, I suppose,” he said after a moment.

There was a long silence. The others had long since gone home; the only sound that filtered through from the Hub was the faint splash of the waterfall.

“Do you love him?” Ianto asked again.

The Doctor wasn’t going to answer, but when he opened his mouth the word seemed to tumble out of its own accord. “Yes.”

He had noticed, earlier, the way Ianto barely seemed to stir the air around him, as if any sudden movements might shatter the brittle shell he had built around himself. But he thought he saw it crack a little, now.

“I’m not staying,” the Doctor said.

Ianto bristled. “Oh, are you giving him to me, then?” he asked. “You’ll come back when he gets bored?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“He’s not yours to give.”

The Doctor sighed. “No,” he agreed mildly. “Or to keep. But Jack’s not really the type you keep, is he?” He scratched his ear. “But then, neither am I, come to think of it. Which is probably why we’re good for each other.

“Jack can’t die, Ianto.”

“So I’ve seen.”

The Doctor met and held his eyes. “He can’t die,” he repeated.

For a long moment Ianto just stared at him. Then, slowly, comprehension dawned. “Not ever,” he said. It was only partly a question.

“Not ever,” the Doctor agreed. “Well. More or less.”

Ianto looked at Jack. His features barely changed, but the Doctor saw his eyes grow just a little bit larger. “But I will.”

“Yes.”

Silence. The Doctor said, “I’m sorry.”

“Are you like him, then?”

“No.” The Doctor looked at his hands. “But not like you, either.”

“Alien?”

“Yes.”

Ianto’s eyes traveled down the length of him.

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “What, did you think you had a monopoly on the form? We’re not all tentacles and ripply foreheads, you know.”

Ianto’s mouth curved into an almost imperceptible smile. “No pointy ears?” he asked.

The Doctor gave him a lopsided half-smile back. A long moment went by in silence, as they watched Jack sleep.

Ianto’s voice, when he spoke, was ragged. “Take care of him,” he said. “When I’m–“ He faltered. “He thinks he doesn’t need anyone, but he does.” He looked at the Doctor. “I think you do, too.”

The Doctor met his gaze for a moment, and then looked back down at Jack. “I’ll try,” he said. It was the best he could do.

***

Jack came awake by degrees: first the realization that he had a body, and he could move it without pain; followed by the disorientation of not knowing where he was or how he had gotten there. And then, slowly, the familiar space resolved around him: the distant sound of the waterfall, the way that sound traveled in the small space below his office; the dimensions of his bed, the feel of the sheets against his skin. Memory came back with it, muddled with nightmares that he’d rather he could forget, but at least now he could tell the difference between the two. He opened his eyes.

The Doctor was standing near the foot of his bed with his back to him, looking at something on the ceiling. Beyond him, Jack could see Ianto curled up in his armchair, fast asleep under Jack’s greatcoat.

“You know,” Jack said after a moment, “immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but one of the benefits I was really enjoying is the one where you never get food poisoning. Then I let you take me out to dinner.”

The Doctor turned, a smile spreading across his face. “Hello, Sunshine,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

Jack sucked in a breath, and then did his best to hide his reaction. The Doctor’s face was pale and drawn, and his hair was an even bigger mess than usual. Jack thought he could make out spots of blood on his collar and his sleeve. Mine? he wondered.

The Doctor’s features were growing anxious. Jack grinned at him. “It’s a hell of a way to lose weight,” he said.

The Doctor smiled back, and Jack was relieved to see that it touched his eyes. “I wouldn’t recommend taking such extreme measures in the future,” he agreed. “Not worth it.”

“Maybe the Atkins diet, next time,” Jack said.

The Doctor looked at him blankly. “The what?”

Jack laughed. “Never mind.”

The Doctor shrugged and sat down in the chair near the bed. He took in the room with a tilt of his head and an arched brow. “Interesting setup you’ve got here,” he said.

“You should talk,” Jack said. “You live in a phone box.”

The Doctor opened his mouth, then shut it. “Good point,” he said.

They grinned at each other.

Jack propped himself up on his elbows and craned to look at the clock. “So how long was I gone?” he asked.

The Doctor’s smile vanished. He didn’t move, but Jack felt him pull away, close off. “‘Gone’ sleeping, or ‘gone’ dead?” he asked.

“Let’s start with ‘gone’ puking my guts out,” Jack suggested. He heard the sharpness in his voice and winced. The Doctor flinched.

“Sorry,” Jack said.

Neither of them said anything for a moment.

“Seriously, though,” Jack said, more gently this time. “I want to know.”

The Doctor hunched forward and trapped his hands between his knees. “A day and a half?” he said, making it a question. “Maybe less. You were dead for–“ he broke off. “Hours. I don’t know. At least six.”

“And sleeping?” Jack asked.

The Doctor shrugged, looking down at his hands. “Most of a day.” His voice had been growing more and more indistinct, until Jack could barely make it out.

Jack frowned at him. “Have you slept?”

“Nah.” The Doctor straightened and made a dismissive gesture. “I don’t really need to,” he said.

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“I’m fine,” the Doctor said.

“Really?” Jack looked him up and down. “’Cause you look like shit.”

The Doctor didn’t respond. He looked away again, fidgeting. He opened his mouth a couple times, as if to speak, and then shut it, looking everywhere but at Jack.

“It was after me,” he said at last.

Jack raised his eyebrows. “Sorry?”

“The parasite. You jumped in front of it.” He looked at Jack, finally, searching his face. “You don’t remember.”

Jack shook his head. “Not much, after we left the TARDIS.” After another moment, he asked, “Would it have killed you?”

The Doctor looked away again. “Yes.”

“Good thing I did, then.”

He didn’t answer. Jack saw him swallow.

“Doctor.” Jack reached his hand across the space between them. The Doctor let him take his hand and pull him closer, until he was kneeling by the bedside. Jack cupped his cheek, slid his hand around to the back of his neck. He found the Doctor’s eyes and held them. “I’d do it again,” he said.

The Doctor pulled away from him. “Don’t say that.”

“I would.”

“All the same.” He moved back to the chair. “I’m sorry. I just wanted–“ He cut off. “I really didn’t mean...”

“To get me turned into a zombie?” Jack couldn’t help it; he started to laugh. “I should hope not!”

The Doctor stared at him. But now that he had started, Jack couldn’t stop laughing. He put his head back on the pillow and laughed until tears streamed down his cheeks.

“‘One trip,’” he managed finally, shaking his head. He smiled fondly at the Doctor. “Think I’ll ever learn my lesson?” he asked.

To his relief, Jack saw warmth creeping into the Doctor’s eyes. His lips twitched. “I hope not,” he replied.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.

“I should go,” the Doctor said finally. He put his hands on his knees and leaned forward as if to stand.

Dismayed, Jack reached for him. Did it always have to end like this? “You don’t have to,” he said.

He glanced toward Ianto, still asleep in Jack’s armchair, and smiled regretfully at Jack. “Yeah,” he said, “I do.”

Jack followed his gaze.

“He would move heaven and Earth for you, you know,” the Doctor said.

“I know.”

Ianto stirred in his sleep, causing Jack’s coat to slip to one side, but he didn’t wake.

“I’m afraid I don’t love him enough,” Jack said.

The Doctor turned back to him. “For who?” he asked.

Jack didn’t answer. The Doctor squeezed his hand, and then he stood and reached for his coat.

“Hey,” Jack called after him. “Don’t be a stranger.”

The Doctor turned, his lips curving. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said.

Jack smiled back. He tilted his head toward Ianto. “Give me time,” he said. “I might still bring him around. We could have some fun, the three of us.”

The Doctor raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. “Might bring him around, yeah,” he agreed, scratching his ear. “Not me, though.”

“Why, Doctor.” Jack’s eyebrows rose. He tucked a hand behind his head. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d be so close-minded.”

“It’s not that,” the Doctor replied, crossing back to the bed. The mattress shifted under his weight as he leaned down, one hand to either side of Jack. His lips parted, and Jack could see his tongue resting just behind his teeth. Jack’s heart started to pound. The Doctor studied his face, as if committing every inch to memory. Then he leaned down and brushed a kiss across Jack’s lips. “I want you to myself, when I have you,” he said, his voice low and warm.

Jack reached up and pulled him close again, burying his fingers in the Doctor’s hair. He kissed him deeply.

“Another time, then,” he said, letting him go.

It took the Doctor a moment to catch his breath. “Another time,” he agreed.

When he reached the stairs, Jack called after him again. “Doctor.”

He turned.

“You just wanted what?” Jack asked.

The Doctor blinked.

“Before,” Jack said. “You said, ‘I just wanted–‘ What did you want?”

The Doctor smiled at him, a little sadly. “To see you,” he said. “I wanted to see you.” And then he turned and was gone, the hem of his coat disappearing through the hole in the ceiling.

Jack sank back against the pillows and listened to him go, his footsteps growing fainter as he made his way through the Hub. He strained to hear the grinding of the time rotor, imagining the TARDIS fading away from whatever street corner or alleyway the Doctor had parked it in, but he heard only silence.

His eyes fell on Ianto. For a few minutes, he just watched him sleep. He looked small, vulnerable in a way he almost never did when awake, as if his walls needed constant maintenance to remain in place.

Jack called his name. Ianto stirred. He picked his head up and looked around, confused.

“Hey.” Jack smiled.

Ianto blinked at him for another moment, and then he smiled back. “You’re awake,” he said. Jack pulled back the cover for him and he kicked his shoes off and climbed into bed. He gave a soft grunt of surprise when Jack pressed against him. “I take it you’re feeling better,” he said.

Jack kissed him and started working at the buttons on his shirt. “Much,” he agreed. Ianto was giving him a bemused look, but he didn’t protest when Jack skimmed off his clothes and reached down to take him in his hand.

Later, when they both lay sated and drowsy in a tangle of sheets, Jack traced a finger along the curve of Ianto’s ear and whispered, “I love you.”

Ianto picked his head up, surprised.

“Just so you know,” Jack said. He wondered if he would ever have the courage to say it outside of his bed. But it was a start.

Ianto settled back into the curve of Jack’s shoulder. He placed a hand flat on Jack’s chest, against his heart. “I love you, too,” he said. Jack put his arms around him and held him close.

But when he slept, he dreamed of the Doctor.