Jack died on the doorstep.
Owen had seen them coming on the CCTV, moving along the bay toward the entrance of the tourist office. They had been supporting each other, one leaning against the other, but Jack had slumped more and more until the other man was almost dragging him across the wooden walkway. Stupid, Owen thought. The guy looked in no shape to be exercising, and Jack would not suffer any permanent harm from death. A cruel, unsympathetic thought, he knew, but this was the doctor in him speaking — and no doctor would waste too much concern on Captain Jack Harkness if there was anyone else in need of support around.
Support had been the critical word. Owen didn’t know this man, and apparently the man didn’t know Jack, else he wouldn’t have bothered. As it were he did bother, and needed support in dragging Jack, if not himself, further. There were few passers-by, and those who took notice of the two men merely turned their heads as they walked on, never bothering to stop and help. Perhaps they thought they were dangerous — or that they were filming a show here, with the camera team conveniently hidden inside a wall. People were stupid like that.
Jack was stupid as well, because he had gone off do something ridiculously heroic again, no doubt, and gotten himself beaten up in the progress. He was stupid because he let himself be a burden to someone equally beaten up, probably due to having been caught in the same events Jack had. Which made that man stupid as well. He was even more stupid for dragging Jack along despite the harm he was causing himself, and despite the fact that Jack couldn’t die, for Owen had just decided that there was no way Jack would not have mentioned his immortality to someone dripping blood onto his own shoes. Or have gotten though one adventure without dying at least three and a half times.
Anyway, they clearly needed some support up there, and then Owen had remembered that it was a Saturday evening and Ianto wasn’t in to welcome them. So he hurried upstairs himself, into the tourist office, and opened the door to be greeted by a summer sun that was just beginning to set.
Nothing blocked his view of that sun, as Jack had fallen to the ground by then and was dead, and his friend was sitting on the doorstep, cradling him.
Their doorstep was an inconvenient place for Jack to die, on a warm summer’s evening, with people, however few, passing by. His friend looked up when Owen opened the door and he didn’t look devastated, so he probably knew.
“Let’s get him inside,” Owen said by way of greeting.
Having no experience in such matters himself, Owen liked to imagine coming back from the dead to be like waking up from sleep. Unfortunately Jack appeared to be prone to bad dreams, and he usually came awake with a start, a gasp, and the occasional flail of his limbs. This was no exception. Owen would have wished to see him just open his eyes, sit up, maybe rub his neck and yawn, but his boss gasped awake in the usual manner the moment they had dragged him inside. His legs jerked and he kicked his friend against Owen, causing both of them to tumble to the floor.
“Ouch,” said the stranger in a way that was probably supposed to sound playful but failed due to actual pain. Owen, trapped between him and the floor, felt a shudder run through the man’s body, but he was back to his feet in no time, swaying just a little while he leaned against the counter, and scowled at Jack.
“Oops,” Jack said, looking up at him. “Sorry, Doc.”
“I sure hope so,” the stranger growled. “Most of us don’t randomly pop back to life once they’re dead.”
“You would,” Jack pointed out.
“Well, yeah, but it wouldn’t be fun.”
Since they were talking nonsense anyway and the stranger was leaking, Owen chose this moment to interrupt their exchange by clearing his throat. He was still sitting on the floor.
“Oh, sorry!” The man in the brown coat smiled down at him, though it seemed a little strained. “Nothing broken, is there?” He reached out a hand, an offer to pull him to his feet. “I’m the Doctor, by the way.” Owen could practically hear the capital D.
“So am I,” he explained. “The doctor in charge here, just so you know. Don’t do that.”
The other doctor frowned. “I was only going to help you up.” He looked at his hand as if to see if there was anything wrong with it. There wasn’t, if one was willing to ignore the bloodstains.
“You are not going to help anyone up.” Owen got to his feet on his own, which he was quite capable of, thank you very much, and reached for the tall bloke in front of him. “Take off your clothes.”
The Doctor took a step back, confusion on his face. “Why would I do that?”
“Because you are dripping blood on our floor, and I need to examine you. Now do as I say!”
“I am not going to undress in your…” The Doctor stopped, and turned to take a look around their fake tourist information centre. “People are actually falling for this?” he asked in obvious amazement.
“Be nice, and do as the doctor says, Doc,” Jack scolded. “I’ll help you with the coat.”
“Jack.” The bleeding man’s voice was full of long suffering patience. “Time and place, remember?”
“He’s right,” Owen agreed. “Take him down to the medical area. This is no place for a proper examination.” He turned to go, but looked back when he heard Jack’s soft curse.
“There’s blood all over you,” he observed, looking at the stranger.
“You didn’t notice?” Owen didn’t try to keep the disbelief out of his voice.
“I was distracted.”
“With dying, no doubt. Make sure your friend doesn’t suffer the same fate and hurry up, will you?”
“It’s not that bad, I’ve got a lot more blood,” the doctor heard Capital D say to Jack as he was rushing down into the hub to sort out his tools.
It took Jack and the Doctor minutes to follow, but at least Jack had gotten his friend out of his coat by then. It was Jack who supported most of the other’s weight now, especially as they made it down the steps to Owen’s working place — reminding him once again why this was a really, really stupid place for a medical area.
Once they’d managed to reach ground level, Owen made Jack help the Doctor onto the examination table, and his captain sat down right beside him, an arm around his friend, drawing him close. Now they were sitting, they looked exhausted, both of them. The Doctor slumped against Jack, who kissed the top of his head while letting it rest on his shoulder. Sitting there with their legs dangling above the ground, they looked like children rather than heroes.
Heroes who’d just saved the world or something of the kind. At least Jack had, no doubt. And his Doctor friend didn’t look like he’d been just a bystander either.
“So, what incredibly heroic and no doubt incredibly stupid thing have you done this time?” Owen asked while unbuttoning the Doctor’s blood soaked shirt. “And more importantly, what happened to you?”
“Oh, just a Tranian swamp beast,” the Doctor said. “It’s not that bad, actually.”
“Only that it’s got sharp teeth and long claws and had buried both in his body,” Jack added. “Because he thinks he’s so fantastic and invincible that nothing would dare attacking him. Not even an aggressive alien animal of tiger size and the intellect of butter.”
“If it had slipped your attention, the thing was guarding the matter tripulator, and there was no time to come up with an incredibly clever plan and distract it before the world went boom.”
“‘Boom?’” Owen asked, while carefully peeling the soaked shirt away from the stranger’s skin.
“It’s a technical term,” the stranger explained.
“You should have waited for me to distract it.”
“You mean, I should have shut off the device while it was tearing you apart? Is that your idea of a clever plan?”
“At least it’s better than you being torn apart!”
The Doctor stretched out his arms, nearly hitting Owen in the process. “I wasn’t. See? All limbs still there.”
“I can see that,” Owen interrupted their banter. “And I’m sure about half of your blood might be left as well.” Underneath the shirt he had found improvised, equally blood soaked bandages that were dirty on top of it and didn’t look like they’d come off without the help of a pair of scissors. Owen began to wonder what species this guy was that he was still able to stand. Or would be, if he had to. “How did you manage to save the world, if this thing got you?”
“Oh, that happened later! I was faster than it, but naturally I had to stop to disable the tripulator. That’s when it got me.”
“And then I got it,” Jack added, as if he was fearing he would seem useless in this tale.
“They reached a draw in the end.” Was it Owen’s imagination, or did the Doctor’s voice sound a little weaker now?
“I killed it!” Jack protested.
“Yeah, and it killed you. Otherwise you wouldn’t look so great now.”
“Well, yes, but I died much later.”
“And left a trail of blood running through Cardiff, leading straight to the hub. Well done!” Owen congratulated sarcastically. Then he turned away, looking for his scissors. The Doctor had been pale when he got here, and now there was not the barest hint of colour left in his skin. Apart from that, he seemed remarkably fine, considering. Owen realised that he was letting himself be fooled by the fact that he wasn’t actively dying over there and decided to hurry up a bit. “Call me stupid, but the name ‘swamp beast’ doesn’t make me think of an evil intergalactic conspirator.”
“No, that was just their pet,” the Doctor clarified. “The evil conspirator was the third daughter of the crown princess of Trania, who wanted to destroy the planet, so her more popular big sister couldn’t give it to their mother as a present of strategic importance.”
“So there’s an invasion coming, do I get that right?”
“Oh, well, yeah. I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
Abandoning his task for the moment, Owen turned around. “You seem to know a lot about these things.”
“Well, I’m from space,” Jack’s friend said cheerfully. Jack made a grunting sound that was probably meant to express his disapproval.
The Doctor moved away from him, just enough to look into his face. “What? You thought he wouldn’t notice?”
“That depends on just how alien you are,” Owen decided. “Or are you just from the future, like Jack?”
“Nah, real alien, me.” It wasn’t his imagination —the Doctor was sounding a little out of breath. Owen turned back, finally found the scissors and collected the fresh bandages and antiseptics. Out of the corner of this eye, he saw Jack pulling his friend closer again, just before he gratuitously informed his team’s doctor that his friend was allergic to antibiotics. Growling, Owen crouched down to search his drawers for an alternative. Eventually he found something, and lifted it without turning around. “How about -”
“Owen!” Jack hissed. The alarm in his voice made Owen look up to the examination table where Jack was holding the Doctor, who was now hanging limply in his arms.
“What happened?” He was with them in a second.
“I don’t know. He just passed out!” Jack was insufficiently covering up the desperation in his voice, and that worried Owen more than his patient’s state. Together they turned the Doctor on his back and laid him onto the table. His breathing was so shallow it was hardly measurable, and there was a thin trail of blood running out of the corner of his mouth.
“Can you help him?” Jack asked anxiously. Owen glared at him, because he tried to move around the table, and his boss was standing in the way.
“I don’t know. Let me look at him and I might be able to tell you. Now stand over there and don’t bother me!”
Reluctantly, Jack did as he was told. Owen finally got rid of the bandages, finding three jagged, parallel slashes across the Doctor’s stomach, from his ribs to his hipbones, deep enough to make Owen suspect that without the bandage his insides might have fallen out. The sight made him feel slightly sick — not because of the blood and the raw flesh, and the bit of bone visible on his chest, but because he knew that the answer to Jack’s question was most likely ‘No’.
Jack didn’t give the impression as if he would take that very well.
Half an hour later, Owen was certain that his patient would against all odds, not die of blood loss. What worried him more were the internal injuries. Apart from biting and slashing at him, the beast must also have given the Doctor a few good kicks, because there were three broken ribs on the left side, one of which had punctured his lung. All together, Owen estimated that, were he human, the man would have died about five hours ago.
“I didn’t know it was that bad,” Jack said from the corner he had been banned to, one hand tearing at his hair in frustration. “He patched himself up while I was unconscious. He said he was fine.”
“Why didn’t you call for help?” Owen asked him, trying to get over the feeling that Jack might jump his back and strangle him any moment. “Oh, let me guess: you thought you could handle it yourself.”
“No, actually there was no time for it. You were too far away.”
“Oh, right, so you just dragged your bleeding arse all though the country.” Owen aimed for sarcasm, to distract Jack and create the illusion that he wasn’t very worried for this alien’s life.
“We started in Edinburgh, if you have to know,” Jack explained. “Hunted the villain in question all across the country and ended up right at our doorstep.”
“Indeed you did,” Owen mumbled.
Jack continued, “Turned out the matter tripulator was hidden in Cardiff, along with the swamp beast. Once we found it we had about five minutes left.”
“And so you heroically sacrificed yourself to safe the city. I’m impressed,” Owen said while bandaging up the Doctor’s left arm, which was full of scratches and nasty bite marks. A two centimetre long tooth was embedded deep in the man’s flesh, and the state of his hand indicated that he was lucky to have kept all his fingers.
“It was the planet, not the city,” Jack said. “And he did it. Please, Owen! Just tell me if you can save him!”
“I’m vaguely optimistic,” Owen lied. “Provided you stop bothering me. I need to cut him open now, and for that I want you gone. Has Tosh come back yet?”
“Obviously not. Gwen and Ianto are out of town, aren’t they? You’re not going to do this alone.”
“And you’re not going to help me. You’re useless like this.”
“I can assist you,” Jack protested. “Believe me, there is nothing more important to me than keeping him alive!”
“And that’s exactly why I don’t want your help,” Owen explained. “Sorry, Jack.” He stopped for a second, listening. “I think I just heard the door, didn’t you?”
They’d banned Jack down into the hole beneath his office and locked him in. It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it would get him out of their hair until they were done sewing the Doctor together. Or until the Doctor had died, in which case sewing wasn’t necessary anymore, and letting Jack out wasn’t an option.
Tosh didn’t know much about medicine, but she didn’t need to for passing him things when he asked for them. The fact that they knew nothing about the Doctor’s species didn’t help. They did their best, and it took hours, but by the time Owen pulled off his surgical gloves, he was still surprised the man’s two hearts were still beating.
Not that he was breathing very much. His hearts weren’t exactly in a hurry either, and at some point Owen came to the conclusion that the Doctor was still alive for the simply reason that all processes in his body had been slowed down so much that he hadn’t found the time to die yet.
When he’d checked on the alien half an hour later, he was even more surprised to see that while his body functions were very slow, they were also very steady. And growing, almost, immeasurably, in strength.
He still told Jack that he couldn’t guarantee his friend’s survival when his boss had sat anxiously at his bedside and listened to the sound of the respirator. Sorry, we did what we could, now it’s up to him, all the usual stuff. And Jack had looked at him more desperately than Owen had ever seen him, and promised he’d do anything, anything in return if only Owen saved the Doctor.
“Is this one of those ‘If you save him I offer you a quarter of my kingdom, if he dies I chop off your head’ cases?” Owen had asked suspiciously. He’d seen things like that on TV.
“Pretty much.” Jack had nodded, and Owen believed him. If the Doctor died, no member of Torchwood would have a good time ever again, least of all him.
And he’d thought for a second, and finally he’d nodded. “Fair enough.”
Tosh didn’t stay for long. She was working on a case that needed her technical expertise. Gwen was in Paris with Rhys, and Ianto had called in sick. So it was just Owen and Jack, and the unconscious man that took all of the captain’s attention. Which meant it was fair to say it was just Owen in the hub, left to take care of all trouble the universe might throw at Cardiff this week.
Fortunately the universe was either lazy or throwing its trouble in another direction for once. What a relief. As it were, the only thing Owen had to worry about was getting his head chopped off by Jack. And he didn’t worry about that very much.
A day and a night after their slightly wayward boss had returned from a week-long (but announced) absence with his injured friend, around noon on Monday, said friend opened his eyes. He blinked a little in the bright light, and groaned softly, and Owen was almost touched by the way Jack clasped his unbandaged hand in both of his larger ones, before sparing one to stroke the other’s hair and ask him again and again if he was okay.
“I could strangle you,” he said in a soft tone that didn’t fit his words. “You could have said something before. Do you have any idea how worried I was? Without Owen, you would be dead now!”
The Doctor assured him, weakly, that there was nothing whatsoever to worry about, and tried to get a look at his bandaged torso while Jack did his best to keep him from moving.
“Looks like your doctor patched me up all right,” the alien finally said, sinking back onto the pillow. He looked over Jack’s shoulder at Owen. “Good job.”
“I threatened to kill him if he let you die.” Owen could hear the smile in Jack’s voice and still wasn’t convinced that had been a joke.
“How medieval,” the Doctor mumbled. “Good thing he’s a genius, then. I’m feeling very much better now.”
“It’s for me to decide how you are feeling,” Owen proclaimed, none too gently pushing Jack away from the bedside. “Out of the room, Jack. Doctor — patient confidentially and all that. Give us some privacy here.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Jack protested. “This is Torchwood, not a hospital.”
“Regardless of that I’m still a doctor, and he’s my patient, and you are in the way.”
“Better do as he says, Jack,” the Doctor agreed. “Show him some gratitude for saving my life.”
“Oh, I have had something else in mind for that.” Owen smirked. “I shall have a quarter of your kingdom, after all.”
“Who’d want a quarter of Torchwood?” the Doctor wondered, to Jack’s indignation.
“We’ll agree on something,” Owen assured him, before grabbing Jack’s shoulders and pushing him over to the stairs. “Be gone, o captain of mine! Before I lock you in the freezer. He’s not going to die when you turn your back.”
“He’d better not,” Jack growled, but finally gave in. Before he climbed up the stairs, however, he surprised Owen by laying a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said earnestly.
“Well, it is my job, after all. And I’m quite fond of my head, thank you very much.” Unsure how to deal with this unexpected display of gratitude, Owen turned back to the Doctor and waited until he heard Jack’s footsteps fade in the distance.
“Out of the room, I said!” he called.
“This room is including most of the hub,” Jack’s voice rang back to them.
“Then take a walk!” There were some disgruntled noises, then the sound of a door closing. A normal door, probably leading to the meeting room or Jack’s office. And it wasn’t closed gently.
Owen rolled his eyes.
The Doctor was watching him with a slight smile on his pale face. He seemed amused more than anything.
“If you want privacy, you should think about a few additional walls.”
“Torchwood isn’t big on privacy. Least of all Jack. I think he likes to watch.” The last bit was added with a dirty smirk, but the Doctor blinked at him like a clueless child.
“He’s just worried,” he said quietly. “And has no manners.”
“No doubt. I’ve never seen him this worried about anyone.” Owen hesitated for a second. Then he said, “Your life was never really in danger, was it?”
The Doctor grinned sheepishly. “Nah. That was just a healing coma. Came over me before I could give a warning. Don’t tell Jack, though. You’re his hero, now.”
“And I plan on staying it,” Owen agreed. “It’s always a good thing when your boss owes you one.”
Despite healing faster than any human ever could (with the obvious exception of Jack Harkness), Owen had decided the Doctor should stay in bed for at least another week. It brought up the problem of which bed he was supposed to stay in.
The one in the medical area was out of question. The Doctor wasn’t too fond of the place, and Owen would have killed him after all if he’d had to deal with him all the time. Also, it needed to be free when the next alien body showed up.
So there was Jack’s bed, but to reach his room, the Doctor would have had to climb down a ladder, which Owen forbid. Apart from the hub, though, Jack had no home to let him stay in, and the TARDIS, which would obviously have been the best choice, was still standing in Edinburgh.
In the end Jack rented a room in a hotel nearby, which gave Owen much reason to snark and complain, though it didn’t appear to surprise him very much. Ianto had called when Jack was helping the still weak Doctor to the car in the early morning, informing them that he had gotten over his bug and would be back at work today, so his boss didn’t feel too guilty about leaving Owen alone at work. Tosh was making good progress as well and would be back soon. They didn’t really need him, Jack reasoned, and he was still in the city after all. If they needed him, they could call.
Naturally, the Doctor insisted he was fine and would manage without Jack. Jack ignored him — especially since the Time Lord seemed eager to get back to his ship and would probably have dragged his injured body into the next plane by the time Jack got back to him in the evening.
The hotel, naturally, was one of the better ones Cardiff had to offer. Jack had been there before, and no one raised so much as an eyebrow when he checked in with another man, leaning heavily against his shoulder for support.
Owen had forbidden the Doctor to move around too much, but the Time Lord had threatened Jack with such terrible things that the immortal had waved goodbye to the idea of carrying him from the car to their room. In the end he only carried him from the elevator to their room. The Doctor protested, but not too loud for fear of summoning curious tenants from the other rooms. It took a lot of force from rant of annoyance. Jack could deal with what was left.
Fortunately, the Doctor was still weak enough to have exhausted himself with the short walk and the struggle against Jack’s strong arms, and fell asleep shortly after the immortal had deposited him on the large, soft double bed, thus not giving him any more trouble. Unfortunately, that meant he was wide awake in the evening, bored and restless when Jack was thinking about going to sleep himself, and generally being a pain in the backside.
“We could take the train back to Edinburgh,” he said after Jack had flopped onto the bed. “Of course it would be quicker to fly, but both of us attract trouble, and trouble is less of a problem on the ground. And I haven’t taken the train for ages. Is it still so unreliable?”
“It’s rubbish,” Jack grunted. “You’d miss your connection ten times out of… well, ten. We could also go by car.” Secretly, he felt all warm and happy due to the simple fact that the Doctor had automatically assumed that he would keep travelling with him. But since he had meant to do that anyway, he wasn’t sure if it really mattered.
“And sit still for hours and hours on end?” the Doctor groaned. “I don’t think I’m up to that yet. Even the drive here wasn’t exactly pleasant.”
“You wouldn’t be able to sit still for hours if you were healthy.”
“And in a train I wouldn’t have to.” The Doctor grinned happily, and rolled over, so he was half lying on Jack, who saw him flinch with pain at the motion and rolled him right back.
“You’d drive the other passengers crazy. You’d get into trouble, and I’d have to get you out again.” He leaned over the Doctor to keep him from moving around. “And it’s not like we’d leave here before you are fully healed.”
“Hm,” said the Doctor.
“No, Doctor. We’re not. We will stay here, right in this room, for a week at least!”
“I really want to see the east coast again,” the Doctor told him.
“Haven’t been there for ages.”
“The East Cost Line doesn’t run between Edinburgh and Cardiff.”
“We can go to London first. We leave early tomorrow, spend stay in London till noon and leave so we’ll be back to the TARDIS by sunset. We could visit Martha!”
“Excuse me, I think I just heard the word ‘tomorrow’.”
“The sooner we’re back to the TARDIS the better.”
Jack grimaced, wondering how he could make his stubborn Time Lord see reason. The brilliant idea he came up with was cruel, he knew, but a good demonstration of his point. He poked the Doctor in the stomach. Not hard, but enough to make the other curl up and gasp in pain. What colour had returned to his face disappeared, and Jack felt a little guilty. Maybe he could have thought of something else instead.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But there you have it — even if you were able to walk ten metres without support, there’d only need to be someone bumping into you in a crowd. It wouldn’t be fun, even if you managed getting there without causing yourself further harm. Which I doubt.”
The Doctor pouted. It looked adorable and made it hard to be stern with him, but Jack suspected that the Doctor knew that and resisted the urge to ruffle his hair and cuddle him.
A cuddle would have hurt him anyway. Jack silently vowed that they would not go anywhere, by whatever means of transport, before the Doctor was well enough for a hug.
He remembered pale bone visible through torn skin and felt slightly sick. “I’ll nail you to the bed if I have to,” he promised, and meant it. The Doctor seemed to sense this and gave up.
There was something suspicious in the way he just fell quiet and let Jack go to sleep, but after a few days of sitting by his friend’s bedside, Jack was too tired to think much about it. Two hours after he’d fallen asleep he woke up to find the bed beside him empty.
He was half through the door, a row of curses on his lips that would have made even Owen and Gwen blush, when he noticed that the lights were on the in the bathroom. Jack found the Doctor sitting on the cover of the toilet, picking at the stitches that held closed one particularly nasty gash in his arm. The door flew open so hard that it slammed into the wall, startling him.
“Jack,” he chided. “You could at least knock.”
“What the fuck are you doing there?” Jack walked over to his friend, prying his fingers away from the wound. “Do that again and I’ll carry you back to the hub in an instant.”
“It itches! And it’s not like there is much else to do here.”
“Oh, that’s our new game now, is it? Let’s cripple ourselves out of boredom!” Jack pulled his hair in frustration. “Bloody hell, you’re such a child!”
“Maybe it would help if you stopped treating me like one,” the Doctor snapped back. “I know I’m not exactly up to fighting monsters yet, but I can manage a train ride. I want to go back to my ship. Back home! And sitting around without anything to do will only make me miserable.”
“I’ll buy you a book tomorrow.” Jack didn’t feel like being sympathetic right now. He didn’t even feel bad for the pained sound the Doctor made when he pulled him roughly to his feet and dragged him back to the bed, so he could redress his wound. After tucking the sulking Time Lord back in and draping himself half over him so he would notice should the Doctor wriggle away again, Jack tried to get back to sleep. The fact that it took him ages didn’t exactly lift his spirit.
The next morning, Jack’s mood was a lot better from the moment he opened his eyes.
The sun was shining through the half-closed curtains, letting him know that he had slept much longer than expected. His first instinct was jumping up to see if his team had managed to destroy the city yet, but then he remembered that he had never intended to go to work today, and that the city was someone else’s concern for once.
His sleep, when it came, had been deep and filled with pleasant dreams. Not the sticky kind of pleasant, just… nice. Sweet. Jack couldn’t remember any details, but he woke up feeling content and well rested. It seemed strange to him for reasons he couldn’t name.
At some point the Doctor had fallen asleep as well, and he didn’t stir when Jack carefully moved away from him, unwilling to disturb his slumber, even if that meant the Doctor would be awake and bored at night again.
He was recovering from a terrible injury. Was it really asking for too much for him to just lie down and sleep a lot?
For the moment he was sleeping anyway, and Jack went to take a shower. This was another thing that would leave the Doctor frustrated and moody soon enough: washing was a problem with all the bandages he shouldn’t take off. Now he could stand on his own, Jack had little hope he would be allowed to help him.
At some point, while the hot water was battering down on him, Jack realised what was strange about him having good dreams.
He took his time in the giant bathroom, and when he finally emerged, the Doctor was gone from the bed. This time Jack didn’t jump, because he could hear him rummaging in the other room.
Today’s logo of Google greeted him, shining from the screen of the plasma television. The Doctor was just using the sonic screwdriver to put something back on, before sitting back to admire his work.
“The last time I checked, the TV didn’t have internet access,” Jack noted. The Doctor grinned at him.
“You can surf using the remote control.”
“Does it still get the regular TV program?”
The Doctor pressed a button on the remote and the screen showed… well, nothing.
“Uhm, no. But it seems I have a few days to fix that.”
Since the Doctor had needed twenty minutes to bless the television with functions never intended by it’s fabricator, Jack wondered how many of the electrical tools in this hotel suit would still serve their original purpose after a few days in the company of a bored Time Lord.
“It was you,” Jack said while he was standing in the kitchen, brewing coffee.
The Doctor didn’t look up from his work. “Of course. Who else would it have been?”
“I wasn’t talking about the TV. I was talking about my dreams.”
Now the Doctor did look at him, yet his face didn’t give away whether he knew what Jack was talking about or not.
“I use to have nightmares,” Jack explained, talking as casual as possible so the Doctor wouldn’t notice how much even the memory bothered him. “Probably inevitable in my line of work. Only when I’m travelling with you do I sleep well. I always thought it was the TARDIS doing that.”
He didn’t have the Doctor’s eyes on him for even half of his speech. The screwdriver was buzzing over the remote again, and the Doctor seemed absorbed in his work.
“Least I could do,” Jack heard him mumble, as if saving a friend from nightmares was somehow a reason to be embarrassed. Jack decided to leave it at that for the moment.
Instead he watched the Doctor a little longer, sitting on the floor like a little boy with a Lego set. The way he moved, the way he breathed showed that he was in pain, but he was too absorbed in his work to take notice. Jack could understand that he needed distraction — not only from boredom but also from the pain. But this wouldn’t do him any good.
Therefore, after he’d finished his first cup of coffee, Jack went into the bedroom and took a blanket and both pillows, which he used to create a comfortable resting place for his friend. The Doctor, oblivious to his efforts, seemed surprised when Jack banned him on the couch, but gave in after a brief argument. Jack left him the remote control. By the time he ran out of coffee, the Doctor was deeply asleep.
In the end Jack managed to keep the Doctor confined inside the hotel suit for a grand total of three days. On the second day Owen showed up at the hotel, leaving generally satisfied with the process the Doctor’s healing was making. On the forth day he insisted on getting out, and eventually Jack agreed for the sake of peace. After a few minutes, he assumed, his friend would have to accept that he just wasn’t up to exercise yet and let Jack take him back.
Unfortunately he had, once again, underestimated the Doctor’s stubbornness. They had been running through Cardiff for an hour when Jack finally managed to talk his friend into going back, and by then the way back was, naturally, another hour. Jack called a taxi then, and despite the Time Lord’s protests he could tell the Doctor was relieved. Once back in the suite he fell onto bed (or rather carefully crawled under the covers) and was out like a light.
The next morning found them sitting in a train for London.
Jack had been sceptical about going to London. Not just because it made a journey that would put stress on his friend’s body even longer, but also — and before all else — because terrible things usually happened when the Doctor was in London. London and the Doctor didn’t mix well.
To be fair, he had to admit that the terrible things usually happened to London, and the Doctor just got caught up in things. It didn’t really matter — if danger threatened this city (or any other), the Doctor had to interfere and put his life on the line in the process. The fact that only a few inches of surgical thread were keeping his insides from falling out wouldn’t stop him.
Hell, he had to interfere if danger threatened a hamster!
Jack had gotten them tickets for the first class, but he needn’t have bothered, as the Doctor barely sat down anyway. Days of staying relative still and his usual hyperactivity had him running around, inspecting every coach and making friends with half of the people on the train, including the staff.
Well, ‘running’ around was too strong a word. ‘Limping’ was more like it. And Jack suspected that he also moved so much because of the pain sitting still caused him. That didn’t stop Jack from being surrounded by a general air of grumpiness as he tried to keep an eye on his restless friend without annoying him by appearing overly protective.
He was also mad at himself for failing to keep the Doctor in bed longer instead of letting him have his way once again. Though everyone who’d ever met the Time Lord would probably understand…
Because the Doctor was very good at pretending, Jack couldn’t say for sure how much of his good mood was only played to prevent Jack from seeing that he had been right and the Doctor had been wrong. He would never admit he had overestimated his own strength. Yet, as they were walking through the streets of London, Jack had the impression that he was indeed genuinely happy to be out and about again. He did not appreciate Jack’s efforts to keep him away from the big crowds that might run him over, insisting that he was neither a child nor stupid.
He was right, of course. But he also looked so fragile that Jack’s maternal instincts were constantly trying to protect him.
As it had turned out, Jack’s prediction of the reliability of the British railway companies had been correct: they arrived in London almost two hours late, which cut their stay there painfully short. There was no time to visit Martha, but Jack had the suspicion that the Doctor had not really planned to anyway. He didn’t like getting involved in the lives of people, not even for tea. No matter how much he liked them. Running into her fiancé would have been awkward, and running into her family even more. And he’d either have to let her hurt him, or tell her why she couldn’t hug him, and neither was something he’d have enjoyed very much.
He still seemed vaguely annoyed about the delay. Probably, Jack assumed, because he’d already thought of a clever reason why they couldn’t go and was now unable to present it to Jack.
Or he’d already completely forgotten he even proposed it in the first place.
There would have been time for chips, but the Doctor wasn’t allowed to eat, and Jack, while hungry, didn’t want to rub it in his face. Naturally, the idea that he, while immortal, still needed food, never even occurred to the Doctor.
Only when they sat in the taxi to King’s Cross to catch their next train did the Time Lord hear Jack’s stomach rumble — and pretended not to hear it. Jack only knew he’d noticed when they were settling into their reserved seats and the Doctor wordlessly put a sandwich in his hand.
A large sandwich. Where he’d hidden it prior was a mystery to Jack, magical pockets or not.
While the human tore into the food, his alien friend went exploring again, though Jack noted he was lacking energy now. Hardly seven hours after getting up, he had already reached the end of his strength. It just proved to Jack that they had left far too early.
When, once he had finished eating, the immortal left their coach to look for the Doctor, Jack could tell his friend was in pain from the way he knelt on one of the seats — and why this window was better for looking out than the one beside their seats was as mysterious as the pockets of his suit.
The Doctor straightened his pose when he noticed Jack approaching and went back to pretending. He smiled at his friend, pointing out of the window. “We’ve already reached York.”
“And how much longer before we see the coast of Scotland?”
“Not sure. At this rate two hours at least, probably more. We’re already getting slower again, do you notice? And there is no station for another ten minutes at least.”
The Doctor was right: they were slowing down, and soon stopped completely. From experience, Jack knew that it would be a few minutes before anyone told them what had caused the delay this time.
“Let’s go back to our seats before someone steals our coats,” he suggested. They had no luggage with them except a bag that contained the Doctor’s torn greatcoat. He had insisted on taking it with him, claiming the TARDIS would repair it. For the journey, in the height of summer, he shouldn’t need one — except that it was uncomfortably cool inside the train, and he was shivering.
The bag was still lying on the seat the Doctor had barely occupied for a minute, right beside Jack’s big, warm coat. He loved the thing about as much as the Doctor loved his brown one and wouldn’t abandon it for a few tears either. Fortunately he hadn’t worn it when the swamp beast had plunged its claws into him.
The memory brought back of the sight presented to him when he had reached the tripulator and seen the Doctor on the ground in front of it, sacrificing his left arm to keep the teeth of the beast from his throat while its claws were slashing at his body. At that moment, Jack hadn’t even found the time to be horrified. All he had focused on was the fact that the Doctor was still struggling and thus still alive. And if he were alive now, Jack had been certain while he threw himself at the vicious animal, then he would be alive later.
He hadn’t been prepared for the moment when the Time Lord had slumped lifelessly against him, nor for the sight hidden by bad bandages and torn clothing. Jack really needed to think of something special to thank Owen.
Although, knowing Owen, the medic would probably think of something special — and highly inconvenient — himself.
Thinking of this reminded Jack that he could never trust the Doctor when it came to his own health. He’d woken from unconsciousness after his fight, and the Doctor had just pulled his coat back on, assured Jack that he was fine, and Jack had believed him. He’d been dazed from the fight, disoriented and bleeding to death, and the Doctor had seemed nothing but strong and supportive. He had half-carried Jack to the hub. He had bantered with him, joked with Owen — until he’d very nearly dropped dead.
Involuntarily, Jack pulled the Time Lord closer as he guided him back to their coach with an arm around his shoulder. At the same moment he realised that he wasn’t even angry with his friend. The Doctor didn’t look after himself. Jack had learned that by now.
So he would look after him instead.
When they reached their seats, Jack let the Doctor take the one by the window. Five minutes later, when a speaker came to life and informed them that the lorry that had been stuck on the track would shortly be removed (probably), he was getting restless again.
“Does it hurt?” Jack asked. Predictably, the Doctor shook his head.
“Not so much, if I manage to shift my weight just right.” He squirmed in his seat, in a way that made Jack have dirty thoughts. The train was just starting to move again, when the Time Lord found out that he could sit relatively painlessly if he shifted his upper body to the right far enough. Of course the resulting pose wasn’t exactly comfortable.
Until Jack, sitting to his right, pulled him down so the Doctor was leaning against him. As the other’s head was resting on his shoulder, Jack fished for his coat and wrapped it around the Doctor’s shoulders. It was colder in this train than should be legal, and his friend was still weak.
By the time of their delayed arrival at the next station, the Doctor was asleep, as Jack had hoped he would be. The immortal leaned back with a sigh that could be described as content, and watched the world go by outside the window.
He was on a train, tired but relaxed. Everything was calm and the last of the Time Lords was using him as a pillow. Altogether it came dangerously close the Jack Harkness’ idea of a happy moment.
The coast came to view almost three hours later. Jack looked out into the golden light of late afternoon and thought the Doctor had wanted to see it, and that he should wake him. Another part of Jack insisted the Doctor needed sleep. He gazed at his still friend, and before he could reach a decision noticed he was already awake, watching the scenery pass through heavy lidded eyes.
“Any adventures in this area I should know about?” Jack asked quietly. The Doctor shook his head, just the hint of a motion.
“No,” he said. “None you should know about.”
Jack watched him then — the melancholy look on his face, the quiet sadness. “You wanted to come here.”
“Yeah.” The Doctor gave the window a half smile. “Funny, isn’t it?” He reached out a hand to press his palm to the glass, and Jack didn’t ask.
They reached Edinburgh just after sunset, when the sky was still yellow and red at the horizon. Jack’s cell phone rang as the train left Haymarket station, and half a minute late her hung up on a very agitated Owen who had wanted to check on his patient again, only to discover that his patient was about to leave the planet.
Jack cut off the call. He would deal with Owen’s wrath when he saw him the next time. Which, for Owen, could well be tomorrow. He’d have to ask the Doctor to give the medic enough time to cool down when he brought Jack back.
Still, he’d have to be back before next Monday. For next Monday Gwen would return from Paris, and if she discovered he’d been abandoning them for the Doctor again… well, it was hard enough dealing with one of them when they were angry with him.
As they stepped out of the train and into the warm darkness at Waverley station, Jack recalled the way from here to Cardiff by various cars, hijacked buses and hanging from the underside of a Tranian space hopper for several miles. The way had seemed so much shorter then.
And it had been fun. Now the world was saved, the Doctor was going to be fine and this danger was over, the next only one trip away, Jack could look back and say that it had been fun, and that he wouldn’t miss this life for anything.
He took the Doctor’s hand when they walked down the road to where the TARDIS was waiting for them. Not because he was scared of losing him. Not because the Doctor looked exhausted and Jack wanted to support him.
Just because he could.
February 6, 2009