The foreman of the mine wilts as she keeps glaring at him. The Doctor doesn’t back down a single inch, but she does relax slightly.
“She’s gone. Her that runs this place. I’m just doin’ whats I have to do to make money. I gots a family too, you know,” he whines.
The Doctor feels the glare creep back across her face in full force. “Get out. Unfortunately, current Galactic Law will agree with you, so I see no point in wasting my time dragging you in front of a committee that will give you air time and sympathy, but I don’t want to listen to you either. Morality costs nothing!”
Yaz never thought she would see a seven foot tall space alligator in biker leather shrink like a scolded school boy, but such is the force of the Doctor’s personality. If she wasn’t standing in the centre of an underground warren filled with emaciated, shivering figures in rags who have been kept here for years, mining the shining rocks Yaz can see glittering in the walls, she might even smile. “Keys,” she says instead, holding out her hand. She’s raided people smuggling crime scenes before, there’s bound to be more poor souls in the bowels of this place.
The foreman scowls, showing off his serrated teeth, then he catches the Doctor’s eye again. She nods her chin at Yaz. “Keys,” she concurs.
He huffs and shoves the keys into Yaz’s hand with more force than necessary, before stomping off towards the docking bay.
“Ryan, Graham, can you sort out everyone here?” the Doctor asks. “There’s a kitchen down there, I’ve already radioed this in, there should be ships coming to collect everybody in a bit. Patch up any injuries?”
“‘Course,” Graham says, and drags Ryan with him towards the largest knot of workers.
“Come on, Yaz,” says the Doctor grimly. “Let’s go and get the people deemed too ill to be useful in the mines.”
The tunnel the Doctor picks for them is one of the narrowest and the grimiest. Neither Yaz nor the Doctor are large, but within a few metres they are down on their hands and knees.
“What are they mining?” Yaz asks as they crawl to take her mind off the horrible thoughts of living down here that are invading her mind. Her voice echoes in the confines of the tunnel.
“Kanin crystals,” the Doctor answers. “Fuel. Power loads of things, Kanin crystals. Power cells, ships, communicators.” There’s a long, weighted pause. Yaz follows the Doctor as they ease themselves over and around some fallen bits of ceiling. “Weapons.” The Doctor adds. "Places like this cause chaos across the galaxy."
“I’ve seen places like this back on Earth,” Yaz admits softly after a while.
There’s another silence. “They’re all over the galaxy. And the people running them somehow always manage to slip out the back.”
Yaz can hear in her tone that she’s slipping back into the black mood that keeps sneaking up on her. Yaz hasn’t known the Doctor that long, but she’s never seemed like a negative or pessimistic person. One of the things that makes the Doctor so wonderful to be around is her pure, unfeigned, childish joy, both at the big wonders of the universe and of the simple everyday moments they all share. “That’s why we do this, right?” Yaz pushes.
She hears the smile return to the Doctor’s voice. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s why we keep going where people need us.”
Yaz is about to say something else, something stirring and heartwarming and probably awkward about being glad to do it, and being glad to do it with the Doctor, because the Doctor has needed to hear that lately. That she isn’t alone and that she is valued and admired and necessary.
Before she gets a chance, the Doctor stops. “Grating here, and the sonic is picking up life signs.”
There’s a familiar whir, then the Doctor presses herself in against the wall allowing Yaz to crawl up beside her. It’s a tight squeeze, and the Doctor is all edges and elbows, but they manage to fit together, side by side, and Yaz can see what the Doctor is looking at. It’s a round, circular grating, rather like a manhole cover, made of rusted, flaking metal. There is no light or sound coming from beneath it.
“Someone’s down there?” she asks.
“According to the sonic.” The Doctor’s mouth is a flat line. “Help me move this.”
They both wrap fingers around the bars and, on the Doctor’s soft count of three, pull. It lifts up with a grinding sound. They have to push it ahead of them, there’s no space behind.
“Hello?” Yaz calls into the stillness.
The Doctor points the sonic into the darkness beneath. It gives another shrill beep and glows blue. “Definitely something.”
“Maybe they’re hurt?”
“Yeah.” The Doctor pulls herself up until she’s sitting on the lip.
“You can’t jump down, we don’t know how deep it is!”
“Can’t be that deep, listen to the echo. Ground isn’t that far away.”
“Well, how will we get back up?”
“Bound to be a control panel. The guards must get up and down somehow.” Yaz is still looking uneasily down into the dark, and the Doctor relents. “Here,” she hands her the sonic. “This passage doesn’t go much further, follow it to the end, check if there’s anyone else.”
Yaz still isn’t happy, but any people down here are likely to be hurt and sick, they may need urgent help. She takes the screwdriver, and the Doctor waits as she moves ahead. “Be careful?”
“Always,” answers the Doctor with a tiny smile, and pushes herself into the black.
Her first sensation is of landing on rough, hard ground, but landing well. She takes a moment to feel pleased with herself.
“I’m fine. Go and check the rest of the passage.”
She’s in a small, round cave, probably natural, judging by the feel of the wall and the floor. Ahead of her something moves with a low, choked groan. She stays where she is for a moment, letting her eyes adjust, until she can see in grainy grey shadows. Yes, there’s someone huddled at the back under an awkwardly shaped blanket that is too small.
“It’s alright,” she reassures quietly. “I’m the Doctor. I’m here to help you.”
Whoever it is gives another muffled whimper and pulls themselves in ever more tightly.
The Doctor’s hearts constrict. All beings should be treated with more compassion than this one apparently has been. Deprived of sight, her other senses are kicking in and compensating, and she can smell the rich cloying scent of human filth and decay alongside the iron rich tang of blood. This is more than mere sickness, this person has been brutalised, and for a long time.
“Can you speak?” she asks gently.
It doesn’t answer and she can wait no longer. She can offer better consolation in person and this much blood suggests massive injury. She picks her way carefully towards the back of the cave.
It’s a man, she recognises as she draws close. Once broad, most likely, and now with the shrunken look of one starved down to little more than a skeletal covering of skin. It’s not a blanket he’s huddled under at all, but a large great coat and he has tucked himself into a ball smaller than the size of his frame would suggest is possible, to get as much of his body as he can underneath it. His face is angled down and away from her and the features of it are stolen by the gloom and by shaggy hair curling around his ears and nape.
There’s something metallic blinking amongst the curls and the Doctor can’t help but reach out to touch it. It’s fixed firmly to him, judging by the burned, puffy skin around it, into him, is all she has time to realise before he cries out - pain and terror - and flinches violently, before going completely still.
She pulls her hand back. “We’ll worry about that later then.” It doesn’t reassure him, he doesn’t untense or move. “I’m the Doctor,” she repeats. “I’m going to help you. The mine has been closed.”
His face is still angled away from her, but for the briefest instant, a pair of tears catch what little light there is and glitter as they fall.
“Are you hurt?”
No response, no movement. The Doctor feels the cold, hollow horror take up residence inside her chest again. She cannot abide what sentient and supposedly intelligent creatures do to one another. To what purpose, reduce a man to this?
In moments he will be the rescue team’s responsibility, he needs more help than she can give, but she wants to see his face. He deserves to be known; to be remembered. She reaches out and lays fingers over his cheek. It is bony, like the rest of him, sunken with stress and pain and malnutrition and covered with the prickly hairs of a beard. She lets her fingers rest lightly there for a moment, letting him become accustomed to her touch and when the tremor running through him subsides slightly, she pulls him gently towards her.
She looks into his face and recognition is a breath stealing punch to the guts.
He was handsome. She could have told that even if she didn’t know. No amount of hardship can erase the chiselled lines of his jaw or the artistic symmetricality of his face, but his blue eyes, once alive with wit and mischief are gone, replaced instead by starbursts of red and black scarring that brings the taste of bile to her mouth.
His mouth too is ruined. No longer quick with jokes or innuendo or a flirtatious greeting, it is pulled into a hideous parody of a smile by something that distorts the shape of his lips slightly. There’s an unnatural colour playing over it, something pulsing an electric blue. She reaches out to touch his mouth, she can’t help it, instinct more than thought. He cringes at the brush of her fingers and the colour intensifies. The Doctor feels the painful spark all the way up to her elbow, and Jack lets out another of those awful muffled sounds.
“Jack!” the Doctor breathes. Then stops. She doesn’t know what else to say. He couldn’t answer anyway, his lips have been sewn together by some kind of energy beam.
“Doctor?” Yaz’s voice comes from above.
Jack jerks back so violently he hits his head on the wall.
“Sssshhh,” the Doctor comforts, reaching out to touch him where she can see in the gloom isn’t too badly injured. She doesn’t want to hurt him again. “It’s ok. It’s just Yaz.” His trembling doesn’t stop and she runs fingers into his hair, behind the opposite ear to the one with the metal glowing thing and scratches gently in the way Jack has always loved. “We’re down here!” she shouts back. “I’ve got...well. I’m coming up with someone, we’re probably going to need help.”
“No problem. The other cells up here were all empty so I’m all yours.”
Jack is still cowering under her soothing hands and the Doctor feels a stirring of hot, righteous fury at that. Jack is not a man to cower easily. She’s just moved whoever was running this monstrosity up her priority list. “I need to see if I can help Yaz get us out. I’ll be back in a second.”
It takes her and Yaz a bit of figuring out, but the sonic eventually overrides the need for a password on the locked mining caddy, and the Doctor half supports, half drags Jack over to it and they head for the surface of the tunnel.
“Good job you’re so thin,” she jokes gently. “You’d take half the skin off your back crawling through the tunnel Yaz and I came down if you were back to your old fighting weight.”
By the time they get him back to the central meeting point the others were gathered in, it’s empty but for Ryan and Graham. “Transport ships are loading the last now,” Ryan starts, “if that’s another one, the medics are still-”
Graham cuts across him. “Captain Jack Harkness!”
The arm the Doctor has around Jack’s waist, the one that she thinks might be the only thing keeping him upright, tightens protectively. “He’s coming with us.”
Jack flinches again and the noise that escapes his mouth can’t possibly be anything but a plea. Graham takes up a position on Jack’s other side and pulls one of his too thin arms over his own shoulders. “It’s alright, Jack, old son. We’ll take you back to the TARDIS. Doc’ll have you patched up in no time, she’s pretty good with her medical machinery. Barely hurts at all.”
They take Jack to the medical bay first. The medical bay is one of the Doctor’s least favourite rooms in the TARDIS. She never visits if she can help it, and the TARDIS knows it so she tries to make it welcoming: plush beds with cloud soft blankets, tangerine lighting. It doesn’t really work, The Doctor still never willingly goes in, and even then, almost only if one of her friends needs more treatment than she can give them.
The Doctor leads Jack over to one of the beds, and they all gather round. “Give me some space, gang,” the Doctor orders, trying to be calmer and more in control than she feels. She’s getting really tired of the way Jack flinches at the sound of her voice.
She pulls the scanner over him and sets it to monitor life functions only. His heart is beating too fast, respiration shallow, he’s in pain and dehydrated enough that it’s showing up on this kind of basic scan. A scan of the tech on his mouth tells her it is what she thought it was - a fine line of lazer thread, drawing on his own body heat for its power. She still isn’t sure about the one behind his ear, but very few people know about Jack’s ‘special skill’ and she can’t imagine he was anxious to tell them.
She picks up a syringe and checks it has a far too large dose already loaded, one calibrated for her physiology rather than his.
“Doc? Isn’t that a lot?”
She smiles back at Graham. An angry smile, too many teeth, and she turns back to Jack before he gets a chance to study it too closely. “Jack’s special.” Death won’t heal the memories, but it should restore his eyes and the worst of the physical damage and deactivate that awful awful thing holding his mouth closed and then..well. They’ll work from ‘then.’
She takes his arm and inserts the needle into his wrist, quicker than setting up an IV. She ignores the way he’s still shaking, the tiny sound that slips from between lips at the pinch of the needle. She keeps holding his hand, lacing their fingers together. She doesn’t often think about how small she is now compared to before, sometimes when she has to jump she remembers (and longs for) long legs and a greater arm reach, but looking at their hands, she can’t help but notice the difference. She wonders if she can still outpace him.
He’s still shaking, the drug not working as quickly as it should. Her eyes flick to the scanner and it shows his readings going haywire, but none of them at critical level. She looks back at the one monitoring tech. The thing behind his ear has lit up like a switchboard and is doing...something. She leans in, waving the sonic over it for some different kinds of readings and prods carefully at it. She looks back at the medical scanner, then at the sonic, then at the distinctive shape of it, like a human harp or a shield but twisted at the edges as though it is curling in on itself in shame.
Her hearts stop.
No one has that technology any more.
Surely even the Master wouldn’t use this.
“Jack,” she says quietly, keeping her voice steady by sheer force of will, even though she wants to cry or scream or both, “this is going to hurt, but I need a closer look.”
She runs fingers over the contorted rim until her nail finds what she is looking for, a tiny switch. She flicks it and a control panel springs out. A keypad of icons in circular Gallifreyan. Jack arches off the bed, spine bowing in agony as it sparks.
She doesn’t throw up, but it’s a close thing. She has to tell him, Jack deserves to know, but selfishly cowardishly, she doesn’t want to tell the fam. They let her remember the good about her people, let her pretend that their loss is nothing but terrible.
“Can you guys leave,” she says quietly. She doesn’t turn. “I need to talk to Jack.”
Yaz sounds like she’s going to object for a minute, before Ryan catches something in the Doctor’s voice and he ushers her out.
“If you need anything-”
“Yeah, thanks, Graham.” She waits until the door wooshes closed, waits until the TARDIS drops the lights for a few seconds to tell her that they’ve gone. “This is an old CIA - Celestial Intervention Agency - device,” she confesses softly, pushing the control panel back into it and removing her fingers from it.
Jack relaxes slightly, panting.
“It was outlawed centuries ago; even the Time Lords agreed it was barbaric. It’s for interrogation. It holds you in a regeneration cycle. This one has been altered, it’s stopping you from dying, so I can’t just...reset you . Not until I can figure out how to deactivate it, anyway. We’re going to have to do this the long way.”
Another heartsbreakingly terrified whimper slips out of him. She really doesn’t like that he’s hooked up to a Time Lord torture device and is so obviously scared of her. She plays around with the scanner, setting it for a more in depth full body scan and closes her eyes while it performs the function, slowing her breathing.
She can’t not look though, Jack needs her help.
The list is horrifying. The eyes she’s already seen, and they aren’t infected at least, but the scarring is intense and still raw and painful. The lazer thread in his lips is burning him and set to shock at any suspicion of tampering. His ribs are also broken, lungs filling with fluid due to restricted breathing, he has three missing toes with cauterised stubs, a back with layered welts. Why didn’t he tell her? She’d have arranged him face down instead of letting him lie on them in what must be agonising pain.
Worse, flashing an alarmed mauve on the dashboard, his whole crotch area is highlighted. The Doctor feels palpably sick. She doesn’t think she can stand the idea of Jack having been assaulted.
“I need to look,” she says tightly, touching his hip.
Tears spill over the scarring and she knows the salt must hurt terribly. She reaches up, thumbing them away, shushing him helplessly. “I know. I know. I’m sorry. I’m not going to hurt you.” She already has. She undoes his button and he lifts his hips obediently. It’s nothing at all like this moment should be.
Fear is crawling through her stomach, she doesn’t want to look, she wants to run and run and run and never look back and never say goodbye. She doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to know. She has no choice.
Whatever has been done to Jack, she has to help him. He’s her responsibility and more, he’s her friend. And whoever did this was almost certainly one of her own.
She pulls down layers of cloth and looks.
Jack isn’t totally smooth between thighs, because whoever did this to him didn’t do it that humanely. Where a human male should have a penis and testes, Jack has instead lines of twisted vicious purple scars as thick as her finger. They curl over his legs and up to his navel like a nest of snakes. They are still weeping, yellow greenish pus making his thighs slick and sticky.
Jack’s tears increase and his legs curl up slightly, trying to hide himself or protect himself, she isn’t sure.
“I have to clean this,” she says, or tries to, the words dry in her throat like speaking through sand. But then she just stops and stares. It’s not until she sees water dropping onto the ruined mess that is left that she realises she’s crying too and that stirs her to move. She rummages through cabinets until she finds what she needs, a surgical bowl which she fills with lukewarm water, sponges, a sterile cloth for drying, a bottle of a disinfectant with a numbing agent.
She doesn’t want to touch him. She knows it needs doing, but it’s going to be excruciating and Jack is in no state to understand that she is only doing this because it is necessary. She takes a break and pages the fam, Yaz answers.
“Jack’s room is still...somewhere. The TARDIS will direct you. Will you go and pick him up some clean clothes?”
There’s the sound of muffled voices. “Course.” Yaz answers. “Is he ok?”
She can’t lie to them, but she couldn’t protect Jack from this, she can at least protect him from their questions. “No. But I’m going to help him.” She forces a smile into her voice. “Can’t say any more, Doctor Captain confidentiality.”
Yaz laughs; the Doctor has never felt less like doing so.
With nothing more to distract her, she walks back across the room to Jack, and starts carefully washing him in long sweeping strokes. When he’s clean and dry she rubs on the cream. They’re both weeping by the end. Even clean and treated it is still a mess. Even assuming he understands that she’s helping and that the pain is nothing she would willingly inflict on him, the ugly blush staining his cheeks tells her that just the fact that she knows what has been taken from him is devastating him.
She has to concede it is an effective torture. Jack’s sexuality is such a huge part of him, to remove or pervert that...Easy then to get under his skin. She says little more than a brief warning of her touches as she treats the rest of his physical injuries as best she can.
She fetches the clothes Yaz has brought, and bless her, but she’s thought of everything. Including a new, clean coat. She dresses Jack in the soft, warm clothing, and by the time the mundane task is completed she feels fractionally calmer.
“I can try and remove…” she reaches out, but doesn’t touch. “Your lips, your mouth. If you want?”
He shakes his head violently and his hands come up, appealing.
She should. She shouldn’t keep him silent, not after everything that has been done to him. But it will hurt and she can’t bring herself to inflict more.
“Alright,” she puts the coat into his hands, and knows he isn’t able to stand and swing it about him, but she wishes he were. That he was the staunch ally she remembers. “Let me know when you’re ready.”
By Rassilon, she’s going to kill the Master, pacifism be damned.