Title: Been Trying To Run My Heart Away
Pairings/Characters: Jack Harkness, The Doctor
Spoilers/Warnings: For CoE and DW: End of Time, sort of.
Summary: The destruction he caused is no salve for his pain, but the Doctor's words are a start.
Author's Note: For the "planet destruction" square of my hc_bingo card. Excuse the random Greek mythology references in the beginning. I am a nerd.
Jack sits at the bar, a simple strong drink in hand, his stare a million miles distant. He’s on a satellite somewhere in the Calliope Galaxy, and fifteen hours ago—counting linearly—he destroyed the planet of the Erebosii, the creatures he once called the 456.
“I thought I’d find you here.” Jack does not look up. The voice is familiar and condescending in a way he wishes it wasn’t. “I’m too late, aren’t I?”
“I didn’t think you’d be the kind of person to this sort of thing on purpose, Jack.”
“Then it seems you don’t know me very well, Doctor.”
The Doctor can see in Jack the expression of a man who has done his last deed and now has nothing left to live for. His stomach feels empty-clenched with guilt when he realizes that Jack can’t even leave himself if he tried. He spoke to Martha just after Jack left Earth, and she told him everything she knew. Jack has given up so much of his life, made so many of the difficult and awful decisions no one else would make. And the Doctor knows that Jack is the only one that cannot escape his nightmares. He remembers the stupidly optimistic grin of hundreds of years ago, the naïve smile and carefree recklessness that has always been his image of Jack Harkness.
“I don’t think I’ve known you in a long time, Captain.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Why did you do it?” The Doctor peers up into Jack’s face. The Captain gives nothing away; his eyes are blank pools of weary aching.
“Martha told you, didn’t she?” Jack swallows a mouthful of his drink, wincing it past the lump of grief that seems to be permanently lodged in his throat.
“How do you know I talked to her?”
“I’ve lived a long time, Doctor. I’ve seen a lot of things. There are certain acts you can count on to be predictable. I knew she’d tell you what happened.”
“Martha told me about the deals and about Ianto Jones and about your grandson. You did it just because of them?”
When Jack turns to face him at last, his eyes are hard and hurting. His face holds more lines than the Doctor has ever seen on him.
“They came first in the nineteen-sixties. Did Martha tell you that?” When the Doctor shakes his head, Jack continues. “They came in the sixties. They demanded twelve children or they would release a disease on us that would’ve killed millions. They demanded twelve children and I gave the kids to them because I didn’t know what else to do.”
The Doctor frowns. “You could’ve—”
“Don’t tell me I could’ve called you. I couldn’t. I didn’t even know where you were. I didn’t know what I was. I didn’t know anything. I was lost, Doctor, and they used me. I gave them the children they asked for and they came back wanting more. They would have come back every year wanting more.”
The Doctor sees no remorse in Jack’s expression. The man is broken to a point that even the Doctor cannot fix, and he wishes with a sudden pang that he had gotten there earlier. “Jack, I can’t condone genocide.”
“I wasn’t asking you to.” Jack sneers, and the expression looks ugly on his face.
“You stole a Tisiphone, a killing ship—”
“And did what it was intended for. Doctor, I have sacrificed so much in humanity’s name, in Torchwood’s name, in your name,” The Doctor nearly recoils from the venom in Jack’s voice, the pain. The Captain’s knuckles are white from his grip on the glass. “I have nothing left. Losing Ianto, losing Steven and Alice. That—that was the last straw.”
“Jack, you destroyed an entire planet, an entire race.” The Doctor can’t help but follow his instinct to get through to the devastated Captain. He hates the way his teeth click shut when Jack turns dulled eyes to him.
“I don’t care. They took everything I had left. It was too much.” Jack drops a crumpled Standard note on the bar and turns away. “It’s always too much,” he mutters as he stands, and the Doctor almost doesn’t catch it, but the ache in his voice is too heavy not to hear.
“Come on,” the Doctor says, and takes Jack by the arm. The Captain lets himself be led through the halls of the station to the TARDIS. The Doctor is strangely hurt by his complete lack of resistance. He pushes Jack down on the soft blue bed of the room designated for him. “Rest. Things will get better.”
“Of course they will.” Jack scoffs. “The end is the beginning, isn’t that what you always say? It’s bullshit. I lost everything and you gave me a boytoy as a consolation prize? Great, wonderful beginning. I just wanted it all to go away. Don’t give me that shit about starting again.”
“I did?” It must be sometime in his own future. The Captain glares at him. The Doctor sits down on the bed and puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, I know you’ve lost so much. I don’t know how to help you, I really don’t.”
“I just want it all to end. Everything.”
The Doctor winces. It’s the one thing he can never give the man. Jack has his palms pressing roughly against his eyes and the Doctor doesn’t know what to do, so he gathers him into his arms and makes comforting noises and suddenly the Captain is sobbing into his shoulder like a child, every muscle in his body so tense that he’s shaking. His fingers are clenched in the Doctor’s coat and his body heaves with rough-drawn breaths.
The Doctor suddenly realizes that Jack has been holding this grief in for years, never letting it go, never thinking about it so that he could never feel the pain. He pets Jack’s hair and thought comes unbidden to his mind that he wishes he could undo Rose’s actions from so long ago.
Jack sobs pitifully, biting down on a mouthful of the Doctor’s coat to muffle his own broken sounds. He hates that he can hurt like this, that there’s still something left inside him that can collect the bottomless pain. “God—” his breath hitches and he winces at the swollen sound. “I just want to stop feeling. I can’t take this any more.”
“I know,” The Doctor pets his hair gently. Jack hates him because no, he doesn’t know, but then all that rose up in him deflates again when he thinks of Tosh, Ianto, Owen, Gwen, each insisting the same thing in their own way. He sits up and wipes his eyes and tries not to let more tears fall, but now that they’ve started, it seems they won’t stop, it seems that a hundred years of grief is punching into his chest again and again.
“I can’t do this. I can’t. I’m going mad.”
The Doctor wishes he could take all of Jack’s pain, that he could go back and reverse all the things done, that he could find someone to end things for him the way he wanted. But there will be no comforting dark for Jack.
“I can’t take anything away, Jack. But I can dull the pain of the memories, if you’ll let me.”
“Will I forget them, if you do that?”
“Just the little details.”
Jack shakes his head, his face screwed up with grief and pain. “I can’t do that. I can’t forget them. I promised I wouldn’t.”
“You’re strong, Jack.” The Doctor knows it’s an empty reassurance, and he knows Jack knows it, too. But it’s the best he can give. “I’m here for you when you need it.”
“What—what do I do now?”
“You keep going. Keep moving. Find ways to occupy yourself, and someday the pain will lessen.”
Jack thinks of the labour planet he’d stopped on a galaxy or two back, and wonders if maybe he can get work there, something simple and good and busy. He knows he can never work away the guilt, but maybe he can take away some of the pain.
“Trying is the best any of us can ever do, Jack. Do you want to stay with me for a little while?”
The thought of the Doctor still hurts, the idea of staying still makes him think of Ianto’s forlorn face, Gwen’s imploring gaze, Toshiko and Owen standing suspicious on the edges. The grief isn’t as fresh, but the dull ache is still there, still pulsing strong. It flares at the memories. He stands and runs a hand down his face. “I’d better go, Doctor.”
The Doctor nods, and stays sitting on the bed as Jack leaves. The sound of the TARDIS doors thudding closed ring in his ears, and it feels like finality.
Jack’s boots ring hollowly in the empty corridor as he walks towards his ship. His chest is still heavy and constricted with grief, his mind still too full of memories, but he has a feeling he has just given something up, and as he pushes out into the blackness of space, he sees not hope or despair, but some strange compromise of the two, the idea that maybe, eventually, he can use the pain of loss to push him back up from the bottom.