Characters: Jack Harkness/Rose Tyler/The Ninth Doctor/The TARDIS
Edited by: my beloved dr_whuh
Summary: Dry and dying gardens, pain and precision; She was screaming, but would they hear?
Author's Notes: My criminally delayed entry for the OT3 Hurt Comfort Bingo ficathon at betterwiththree . The prompt was "TARDIS" - how could I resist a story telling a story of hurt and comfort with my favorite dimensionally transcendent girl crush, and my favorite TARDIS team? For those who are interested, this grew out of my drabble "Kiss to Build a Dream On" and follows that AU timeline.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, Dr. Who and the characters of the Whoniverse are the property of their various creators. I own nothing; they own my heart.
Chapter Two: Finding the light
"Tell her." Jack's voice was flat and commanding, a tone Rose couldn't remember hearing him take with the Doctor before.
To her surprise, the Doctor didn't object. Instead he moved, began pacing the console room again, speaking as he walked. "When we told you that you attracted Her attention, we didn't tell you how. You— " he shook his head slightly as he walked, then resumed. "You entered into some sort of psychic bond with Her. She listened to you when you asked Her to come back to the Station. Problem was, you listened to Her, too. And it almost killed you."
"But it saved me," Jack interjected.
"Almost too well," the Doctor said, heavily. The pacing slowed and he finally came to rest by the door; Rose wondered if he was contemplating escape, but his next words knocked most thought from her head. "Rose, Jack died fighting the Daleks. You brought him back, you and the TARDIS. Together, you almost took him out of Time."
The words hung there, and Rose saw everything in front her limned sharply, as if backlit from some vanishing point beyond her reach. "I ... what?"
Golden streaks in front of her eyes, becoming all she saw, becoming what she was—
Jack walked over to her, knelt beside her and took both her hands. She could tell he wasn't certain how she'd respond. "Sweetheart, I was buying time for the Doctor; that was the plan all along. I got a direct hit from one of those tin-plated bastards. I knew I was dead before it fired. I felt myself die. And then I ... came back. Simple as that, except that you don't normally come back to life. It was like ... the sun in my head, gold and lead in my veins, like every orgasm I'd ever had, like the worst pain I'd ever experienced."
"I didn't do that," she said faintly. She wasn't going to believe something like that, that was crazy—
I bring life
She blinked, shivered, again tried to catch the unexpected vision before it faded but failed.
"You did, sweetheart, believe me, and I am grateful for every day you've given me since then," Jack continued, his voice low and intent. "But you're right, it wasn't just you. It was you and the TARDIS together."
"You called yourselves Bad Wolf," the Doctor said. "The words we'd been seein', hearin' everywhere."
I create myself
She gave a soft little cry of recognition and loss, her headache briefly forgotten. "Oh."
Jack stayed silent, but squeezed her hand, hard, while she wept. She didn't know the Doctor had returned to her side until she felt him take her other hand. Without opening her eyes, she pulled her hands away from theirs. "You had no right to keep this from me."
"Rose— " the Doctor started, but she didn't let him finish.
"No, there's no excuse. You had no right," she said, suddenly so filled with rage she thought she might not be able to say anything more. "I deserved better from you."
"—and from you," she said, rounding on Jack as he tried to speak. "You knew this? And you didn't tell me?" The sense of betrayal made her dizzy, sicker than the headache had. "I thought we were a team, that we were more than that." Her voice trembled. "Thought that meant we trusted each other with ... with important things. Guess I was wrong. Or didn't you think this was important? Or maybe you thought I was too stupid to explain it to?"
Jack opened his mouth, then shut it with a quickness. He looked over Rose's head at the Doctor, but the Gallifreyan, too, seemed to be at a loss.
The TARDIS started an off-key whine, painful and not quite high enough to ignore, while the three of them — Time Lord, rogue captain and shop-girl adventurer — waited for someone to break the silence.
"You're right. We kept something from you, and we shouldn't have," the Doctor said. Jack was so astonished at the apology that he had trouble keeping his face impassive. "Seems like the universe agrees with you, not us. Now we've got to sort it.”
His next words were equally matter of fact, but apology had given way to an openness he rarely showed anyone, even Rose or Jack.
“We are a team, Rose Tyler. We're more than that, we’re ... we’re more than that," the Doctor faltered momentarily, but continued. "Don’t talk about it much, I know — I can’t, me — but we three, we’re each other’s responsibility now, aren’t we, we're each other's ... we belong— " He stopped, started again. "So will you listen? Listen, and let us explain." She didn't answer, but she didn’t bolt, which Jack knew she’d been on the brink of doing.
He deliberately took her hand again. “We made a mistake, Rose. It was wrong of us not to tell you. But it seemed so huge, so strange ... how could I even begin to tell you, when I couldn't grasp it myself? I'd been dead, and ... well that's it, Rose; I'd been dead."
She tried to ignore the barely controlled tension and dismay in Jack's voice as he said that, didn’t want to hear it any more than she’d wanted to hear the naked vulnerability in the Doctor’s voice.
"Jack's right," the Doctor agreed. "I had no idea what to tell you. In all the time I've been with the TARDIS, She'd never done anything like this before. And you shouldn't have survived it, taking in the heart of the TARDIS —"
"What, you mean like Blon?" She finally looked up at him and then at Jack; found herself forced to decide between fury and affection. Love forged a truce with anger, then banished it. The three of them were each other’s responsibility, after all. Her. The Doctor. Jack. "I was like Blon?"
"More than that, Rose," the Doctor said. "As far from that as you can imagine. You were—" Rose was astonished to see something like awe in his expression "—you saw all of Time for a little while. Like a Time Lord. No human's supposed to do that. You're not built for it, but with the TARDIS in your head, you were ... more than a Time Lord. Something else entirely. You manipulated Time."
Rose shook her head again, hating the sound in his voice. "You can do that."
"No," he said firmly. "I'm able to do some things. Time Lords were always able to do some things, because we understood Time, because we could see it. But only a little. Only fits and starts, and not nearly as well as we liked to think.
"You — for a little bit, just a bit, mind, with the TARDIS in your heart, you were Time."
"You destroyed the Daleks, Rose," Jack said softly, his tone now uncomfortably close to reverence. "The Doctor told me. With just a wave of your hand."
I see your atoms and I divide them
Rose whimpered, but she reached for the image of golden ships falling to dust, eager to remember more. Tears blurred her sight. "I — we — She and I, together ... we —
want you safe —
" — our Doctor," she whispered, fighting the urge to recoil from the bliss and pain of the TARDIS' embrace. The headache spiraled into agony again. "Oh, god ... my head, it's killin' me."
"That's what you said before," the Doctor said, his eyes as wide as they had been then, she remembered. She turned her face to him, unwilling to let him out of her sight.
"I was dying," she said. She wasn't asking, now.
He gestured helplessly. "It was the Vortex."
"It was Her — Doctor, I know she didn't mean to, I know —" she said quickly, both to assuage the hurt she saw in his face, and because she somehow knew, absolutely, that it was true. "But She forgot I was human."
Rose felt light, better than she had in days despite the the red haze of pain. If someone had asked her to explain it, she might have said it felt as if there were pieces of her which had been lost, and that had been returned to her just as she realized their loss. And perhaps those pieces were re-balancing; her cells, her heart, her DNA, her soul. Perhaps all that had been needed to make her whole was someone granting her the justice of memory.
But the joy of recovering one's past can only finesse pain temporarily, especially of the sort that now held her in its grip. Rose lost track of what she meant to say as white hot stars flared in her head. She cried out, and toppled from the jump seat, arms wrapped around herself in a useless attempt to stop the torment.
Four hands caught her, four arms cradled her before she hit the console floor grill, and two pairs of blue eyes went wide with fear. Jack couldn't breathe for a moment, and the Doctor felt time slow down in a way only Time Lords could suffer.
"I don't know ... Jack, help me get her up, into the med bay."
Before Jack could respond, Rose pulled her arms from around her head and forced herself to open her eyes. For a long moment, she worked to speak past the pain. She succeeded. "Not me. Her."
"What?" Jack wanted to be certain he understood the barely audible words.
"She cares for us," Rose whispered. "We've gotta care for Her."
"Rose, you're ... you just collapsed—"
"But She's dying." She seemed to gain strength, having got that out. "And— listen Doctor, listen, this is important — I've ... I've had this headache ... so has Jack—" She stopped, swallowed, started again. "You want to help me, help me and Jack ... help Her. You just told me we were connected. I think we still are."
"That's—" Once again, the Doctor stopped himself.
It was possible.
That he hadn't felt what Jack and Rose were feeling meant nothing. Time Lords trained obsessively for years to keep their innermost thoughts from the prying of others. Long before he'd ever run from Gallifrey, long before he'd ever thought of throwing down the gauntlet, he'd been forced through the rigorous disciplines that conditioned him to throw up telepathic walls — strong to begin with, stronger still after years of practice taking him from long-forgotten childhood to equally distant majority, and almost insurmountable now with the passage of years.
He was always able to reach for the TARDIS when he wanted, and She (when She cared to reach him) usually announced Herself and won immediate entry. But if She had been sick, his own damnably Pavlovian self-defense mechanisms could have shunted away Her cries. He thought about his unexpected sleep cycles and the half remembered dreams, and he cursed silently. Of course he'd kept himself safe. Of course, and of course those he cared about most were suffering as a result.
The room light flickered, and the Doctor wondered if that was the TARDIS trying to speak to him.
"Doctor, the med bay?" Jack interrupted his thoughts. "If she's right, and the two of us are being affected by whatever the hell's got the TARDIS in its grip, maybe we shouldn't assume I'll be fine for much longer, and I really think we need to move Rose."
"No you don't," Rose said faintly. "Can walk."
"Not likely, sweetheart. Shall we do this, fearless leader?"
Jack's delivery was ruined by his strained tone. The Doctor looked at him closely and was alarmed to see sweat on his forehead and white lines around his mouth.
"Headache, like she said?"
"For days now. It's been getting worse."
"Trying to decide whether to throw up or pull my own eyes out."
"How long's it been that bad?"
Jack's shrug was careful. "The past few minutes have been killer."
"Right. Headaches. For days. And getting worse, along with the TARDIS. Not like you lot would think to tell me," he growled. "Bloody apes."
Neither Rose nor Jack objected to the comment, which didn't make the Doctor feel any better. "Come on then, Jack; fireman's carry. Rose, lean on Jack's shoulder ... there you go. Careful ... take it easy, Captain, we'll get there soon enough."
He tried not to think about the missing rooms and the walled up doors. The three of them would make it the med bay, no problem at all, he thought to himself, repeating the sentence until it became a silent prayer.
He watched them as they slept.
He should have been working with the data he'd collected over the past hour. He should have been looking at readouts from the screwdriver— he didn't trust anything his poor, precise ship told him now — and he should have been searching in the data for patterns, for answers and solutions.
Instead, after he had checked out Jack and Rose, had monitored their vital signs and fed them painkillers, and distracted them with grumbles and sarcasm and the misdirection of manic smiles and jokes, he had told them to go to bed. He needed them rested, he had told them. He needed their help, and they were useless if they were weary and in pain.
He had walked with them to a bedroom, giving silent thanks to something that a bedroom was still there. He had pulled Jack's boots off, and Rose's trainers; had gently chivvied them out of jeans and trousers, scolded them into bed, and turned the lights low. They had let him, because of the pain, and the painkillers, and weariness, and because they trusted him.
And now he watched them as they slept and paid no attention whatsoever to the data he had gathered. Not now, not just yet.
Because, ultimately, he was fairly certain he knew what he would do when they awakened.
He'd known it from the moment Rose had unwittingly given him the hint — or at least something in him had recognized it, even if his large and apparently useless Time Lord brain hadn't immediately caught on. It was why her comment had frozen him with fear, and why, paradoxically, his fear had been tinged with something akin to elation.
If Jack and Rose could feel the TARDIS, the TARDIS could affect them. But it was possible, just possible, that the road could be traveled in both directions.
"It's not real telepathy," the Doctor said. "I'm not going to be communicating with you, so much as using your minds as a conduit. You can feel Her, which means there should be neural pathways She's burned into your minds. I can ... well, it's enough to say that I can use those pathways to get to Her. That's the plan, at any rate."
Jack nodded, but looked wary. "I'm assuming you can get past my Agency conditioning against telepathic interference."
"Like I said, this isn't telepathy, not the kind your Agency lab coat types were thinking of," the Time Lord said dismissively. Then he softened. "I'm going to be careful. Not going to put you at any more risk than I absolutely have to."
Rose looked wan and tired, but she also looked happier than she had for some time. "So ... what do you want us to do?"
They were back in the med lab. The Doctor had briefly considering moving the operation to the console room, closer to Her heart, but he abandoned the idea in favor of having quick access to tools he might need if Jack or Rose responded badly to his mental meddling.
And it was meddling, despite his assurances. He suspected Jack knew that; the Captain was too familiar with psionics not to be, even if it was the sketchy psionics which Agency types congratulated themselves on controlling.
Rose, though, was blessedly unfamiliar with telepathy, which meant she'd trust him. That trust was, he hoped, going to allow him to move through her mind without encountering the kind of baffles he might have to dance around in Jack's mind.
"I'm going to relax both of you, put you both in a very light trance— Captain, will your conditioning allow for that?"
"Good. Once you're both relaxed, I'll take a preliminary look at the lay of the land inside your heads. Next step will be to identify the pathways She appears to have used to link with you. Once I have a grasp of them, I'll decide which of you might, let's say, give me best route to get back to Her." The Doctor thought of how easy it would have been to explain this if he'd been able to speak Gallifreyan to them. If he'd been talking to a pair of Time Lords. But Rose and Jack were humans, and he was reduced to speaking in metaphor.
"What equipment are you going to use?" Rose asked.
He held up his two hands. "These. I just need to touch your temples, to establish the link."
"Like Mr. Spock." She didn't quite grin.
"Oh, for the love of— Spock? Again?" He rolled his eyes theatrically, but he was grateful for the not-quite grin. "Alright, you two. Sit down here." He gestured to the two examination tables he'd wrestled about until their heads were close to each other, their feet further apart. He'd raised the backs until they were a bad imitation of chaises longues, and placed a chair in the v-shaped space between, where he could sit facing the other two. "Get comfy. Now, hold hands. That'll make it easier for me to access both of you."
"Are you absolutely sure you need both of us?" That made three times Jack had asked. "I'm comfortable with telepathy, and Rose wouldn't have to go through something she's not used to."
"I can do this!" she protested. "Doctor, I can do this."
The Doctor grimaced. "Not sure of anything, me. I'll be up front with you on that, for a change." Their answering smiles were more proof that honesty had its good points. "But everything that happened on the Game Station points to a link between the two of you, as well as between you and the TARDIS. So I'm going to work with the assumption that I'll need both of you. " His wistful thoughts about other links were ruthlessly shunted aside.
His companions made themselves as comfortable as they could. Rose reached for Jack's hand. "Ready as I'll ever be, Doctor. Besides, it's for Her. You ready, Jack?"
He smiled at her, then turned to the Doctor. "Like she said. It's for Her."
The Time Lord looked from one to the other, humbled by what he saw in their eyes. "Right. Let's start, shall we?"
His eyes closed, his fingers stroked two temples.
Jack's skin was tight and dry, carrying hints and echoes of sunburn and frostbite from unknown worlds, unseen and well-healed scars. Under his other hand, Rose felt soft, her skin full and flexible with the luxury of youth, slightly moist with the fever sweat that even his ministrations hadn't dispelled completely. His fingertips tingled, and he engaged his mind, throwing the necessary switches in his own head.
He waited, let his senses reach out and push against their minds just as his finger might skate across the surface tension of a water drop or, in Jack's case, across a flow of mercury. A tiny push with Rose and the water surrounded him, as clear and welcoming as a sun-warmed pool; a slender edge of psionic pressure, and Jack's quicksilver flowed and clung to his awareness as if it searched for something to hold it together.
As his sense of them deepened, their parallel breathing patterns settled, slowed, twined round him in a complementary and recurrent suspiration. He smelled the glorious and unmistakable earth and acid of human breath, laced with Rose's mint toothpaste and the sweetly bitter almond of Jack's 51st century metabolism.
Had they been Gallifreyan, his inner vision might have "seen" the mathematically byzantine beauty of minds like his. But he ignored that path, choosing instead the "vision" of human dreams. Less intricately awesome, or gracefully calligraphic, perhaps, but simple, immediate and kinetically powerful.
He matched his breathing to theirs, and he went in to them.
He was flying. Sparks and shadows below him resolved into a road, then two, then three and four, then more and more, branching and re-branching, curving around, one road meeting another and flowing into yet another before splitting off again.
Each road pulsed with light. A scant majority rippled deep crimson and indigo, shifting forest green, glints of amber and bronze. But across and around them, encircling, joining and jumping away at unexpected points were pathways that blazed like lemon suns, molten glory dancing with flickering scarlet and emerald streamers, incandescent gentian and fuschia.
He knew them, and watched them grow.
Yggdrasil, Etz haChayim bearing the Sephiroth, acacia, phoenix and dragon lighting each branch .... he followed the roads, soaring away and toward, gaining and losing perspective as he felt each path, knew each hue.
Follow the indigo and bronze, find where they chase and dance with the gentians and the lemon yellows ... up he went, and back he came, drawn to those paths as they became roads, then flowed together as rivers, blending their lights, nothing lost or subsumed, nothing doused or drowned or muddied, but enhanced and glorified—
Blue. And Gold.
He followed their flow and he found Her.
And he came to Her, close for the first time since realizing Her travail.
He was so close—
And She would not open to him.
She could not.
He saw the barricades. He saw the way they blocked entry, and the way they pierced Her, so that they seemed to grow from Her as they isolated Her. Precision indeed, obscene illusions of Her self, monstrous things. He could not pass them, could not remove them, and Her silence screamed at him.
The Doctor's eyes flew open in shock and dismay. He barely kept his fingers to Jack's and Rose's temples. So close!
In front of him Jack's eyes fluttered, but didn't open. Rose's eyes were open, deep brown and unseeing. They were still in trance.
His hearts pounded until he convinced himself to calm down.
It was for Her, they had said. They were giving themselves to allow him their access to Her. So that he could find the problem, and cure Her pain.
They loved Her.
What did he have to give Her?
Something ... he caught at it unsuccessfully. Not out here; he had to go back in, and he would find it. Patience, patience ....
He closed his eyes.
The roads and branches lay below him; somewhere within their tracery, he would find the fleeting knowledge that had almost come to him in the outside world.
He looked at the riot of growing, living light. And then he saw what he had missed before.
All the roads, all the limbs and branches started in one place. But there at their generative point, where he understood everything should have been invested with energy, where everything should have been most intense, he found the opposite. The colors dimmed, and the roads dwindled, shrank and twisted into the trunk of a starved and thirsty tree. The light was failing, the colors fading. The tree needed nourishment.
He knew now, knew his mistake.
How had he thought he could fly above it all?
He stilled, furled wings that he had not realized he had. He fell.
He willed himself to accept hitting the unseen ground, bequeathed his body to it, gave himself to the withered roots of the tree, became the roots and fed them.
And to his bewildered joy, he was not consumed. Instead, he became more.
Just as he had watched the slender branches of two bright and fragile human consciousnesses merge without losing themselves, his ancient essence merged with, and was in turn nourished by them.
Root to tree, limb to branch to road to river to ocean, and all surging toward Her, a tide of love.
She saw each of them. She saw them together, separate and fused in a connection that shorted out the damage, bypassed all the disastrously imposed blueprints of Her foolish admirers, dissolved them and set Her free, let Her feel again, not merely operate.
The light blazed about him and he was not alone.
This time, when he opened his eyes, Jack and Rose were awake, brown and blue eyes swimming with tears that matched his own. Around them, the TARDIS thrummed and beat like a heart, and it sounded like a song.
"It was those people? In that place?" Rose was indignant.
"They thought they were helping," the Doctor said, looking up at her from where his head rested in her lap. He was weary, but still filled with near luminous jubilation. He couldn't be angry at anything, not with his ship humming in his mind again, not with the bright branches of the tree still shimmering and resonating there as well. He tried not to hope too hard, or analyze the hope. "They thought we had abandoned Her because she was defective, or sick— nothin' that alive is ever physically out of touch with their kind, so if we'd left Her, they needed to ... well, hard to explain the way they thought. She showed me, and even I had trouble figurin' it out."
"Tell you what, Doctor, let's never ever go back there. Even if they meant well," she said, unwilling to forgive as quickly as he had. "Don't know how long it'll take Her to regrow gardens and rooms, or feel a hundred percent like Herself again.
"Regular avenging angel, aren't you?" Jack cradled Rose's head on his shoulder, his arm around her. "I'm just glad that She's feeling better. Not to mention you and me. I love Her, but she almost killed you, and was was making a go at me, too. Now that all Her little friends' jury-rigged algorithms are a thing of the past, and She's not reduced to screaming for help by being The Best Spaceship Ever instead of Herself— " he stopped and shuddered at the thought of what She must have been through, then shifted on the couch and laughed. "Move your large and lanky self, Doctor; my arm's going numb, and I want my pillow back."
"When did I become a sofa pillow?" Rose asked without heat. "Maybe I want my lap for myself. Good thing I put up with the two of you." Then she smiled. "Or the three of you." In her mind she heard the echo of Her approval.
Despite his words, Jack made no effort to change position. The three of them, human and Gallifreyan, rested together. Around them, the TARDIS breathed and lived.
Rose broke the comfortable silence, looking into the flames flickering on the library hearth as she spoke again.
"Thank you both for telling me the truth, about me and Game Station, and Her. If you hadn't done that, maybe we wouldn't have been able to save Her. There's a lot more I want to ask, although it scares me witless, but ... thank you."
"It was a long time coming, sweetheart." Jack planted a kiss on her forehead, reached for the Doctor's hand. The Doctor gave it to him; Jack thought he heard a trill of music, and grinned before closing his eyes.
"We've got a lot of time," the Doctor said. "We'll figure it all out together, us." And then, so faintly the others almost missed it. "Together's good."
They fell asleep as the fire sank to coals on the hearth. The TARDIS kept vigil until morning came.