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Fic: Nachtmahr

Title: Nachtmahr
Summary: What the Doctor doesn't say, but what's clear from the detached tone he's talking in, is that this is their fault.
Characters: Jack, Nine, Rose
Spoilers: The Doctor Dances
Rating: Mild PG
Word count: 1985
Notes: Unsurprisingly, this came to me in the dead of the night... I usually don't write from Rose's POV, so I hope this works. Second OT3-fic in a month... no, I have no idea where that suddenly comes from either. Huge thanks to xwingace for her lightning fast beta skills. Concrit is love.
Fic Masterlist: Here, archived at alien_sands





Even though windows and doors may be tightly closed and locked to keep out the Alps, they can still get in through the smallest holes, which they seek out with special pleasure. In the still of the night one can hear the sound that they make in the wall while getting in.

- The Brother's Grimm on nightmares (a creature called 'Nachtmahr' or 'Alp'), German Tales (1816/18)




"Jack?"

It's the smell that hits her first when she enters the small room. After that, she notices the absence of sounds, the sudden silence instead of the claxons and chaos they've created outside. She gasps when she realises what the source of the scent is, the smell of blood nearly unbearable, despite her hands being clasped over her mouth and nose in horror.
The Doctor hasn't halted like her, crossing the small space immediately and crouching in front of the figure in the corner. He lifts its head, revealing the face they'd been looking for. Had it only been two days? It felt so much longer.

Jack's eyes open when she calls his name again and she lays a hand against his cheek to convince herself that this is real, that they finally found him. She has to swallow hard to hide her tears -- they have no time for tears, she knows -- and bites her lip to keep it together. Jack's eyes are too dark, and they seem to be glued to her as she helps him up with the Doctor's help. He barely glances at his feet as they stumble along the white corridors, alarms sounding and people shouting. She keeps her thoughts on running, grateful when the Doctor closes the TARDIS door behind them with more force than is strictly necessary and the noise of the prison is shut off.
Jack leans on her, his eyes following the Doctor as he flips switches to take them into the vortex, the silent hum of the ship finally convincing her that this nightmare is over. She wants to hug Jack, but realises that he's still in bloodied clothes. Those clothes could be hiding injuries she'd jar by her simple gesture. Her hand reaches for his (thankfully unhurt) face again, trying to clean it of some dried drops of blood and suddenly she realises that he's looking at her with those eerie eyes again, not showing his usual blue. The iris is invisible. She sees only pupil. Jack hasn't said a word since they found him.

"Jack?" She asks hesitantly and he smiles at her, weakly leaning into her touch. Dread hardens in her stomach when the Doctor's question if he's okay goes unanswered.

She remembers the last time she saw him before finding him in that cell, when he sauntered off into the alien markets of Amaxa Minor, shrugging off the Doctor's (only half joking) quip about getting lost. She wasn't sure if she'd ever see him again, first because he didn't seem the man to stay under anyone's command but his own, then when they found out about the dark-haired humanoid being arrested. The Doctor had been shouting at the locals after that, nearly getting them a cell next to Jack's.

The colour suddenly leaves Jack's face and brings her back to the present. He's breaking out in a cold sweat. She feels it beneath her fingers. A second later his eyes leave hers to roll up in his head, his body going limp and collapsing at her feet. For just a moment, there's stunned silence, then the Doctor picks him up, striding towards a door she only knows too well: the one leading to the med bay.


***


"It's a failsafe," the Doctor's voice rumbles behind her, his hand on her shoulder the only thing that grounds her, keeping her from breaking down completely. On the bed before her, Jack is awake again, his wounds tended to and his vitals stabilised. His interrogators have really had too much fun doing this and she has the sudden desire to burn that government to the ground, tear it apart with her own hands. Instead, she's rooted to the spot, stroking Jack's forehead while he stares at her with eyes that hold no consciousness.

"A mind trick, so to speak," the Doctor says, because he knows she needs to understand.

"If an Agent is interrogated," he doesn't want to say 'tortured', she knows, "and help is not forthcoming, this is what they're trained to do." What he doesn't say, but what's clear from the detached tone he's talking in, is that this is their fault. They took too long. A tear slips from her eye, but she's blinking furiously so it will remain the only one.

"If it gets too much... if they're close to breaking, they... shut off their consciousness, hide inside their brains until not even pain is felt anymore. A body without a mind can't answer questions, no matter how insistent you are." He sighs heavily, the hand on her shoulder travelling down to squeeze her arm in apology before he turns around and back to the medical instruments she can't even name. He picks up one of the scanners, putting it down again forcefully when the swirly circles on its display apparently don't show what he's looking for. Fear ignites in her veins, making her hands tremble at the simple gesture of frustration from a man who can very nearly do anything.

"He's completely gone," he snaps angrily, but his fingers are gentle as they trace Jack's cheekbone.

"But you can fix it, right?" She says, because he's the Doctor. He can fix everything. Can't he?

"There's a trigger," he explains, but he's not looking at her, which tells her more than his evasive tone.

"Come out, come out wherever you are," he sneers, "Time Agency wanted a back-up if they managed to get you out after all. He's still recording, still memorising and functioning, in some ways." It explains his willingness to stand up and run with them, Rose realises, and wonders when humans began to program their brothers like machines. It makes her shudder.

"But you can fix it." She repeats, too unsure to make it a question. She takes Jack's hand, but his fingers don't curl around hers as they usually do. How can he feel so familiar when they only met last week?

"I'm sorry." The Doctor hangs his head. "Could be anything. A word, a sentence, a pressure point or a sequence of all three. I can't even go in there and ask. There's nothing left awake to talk to." He laughs derisively, and she doesn't miss the way it almost sounds like a sob.

It hits her then that the man laying in front of her is gone, the man who just a few days ago flirted with her, who shrugged off the Doctor's snipes with a smile is gone. It's not making any sense, she tells herself, even as tears cloud her vision. He's breathing, he's looking at her, but he's gone because they took too long to realise he was gone, weren't sure he wasn't gone on purpose, never to come back. And now he won't.

"Why," she asks, proud that despite her tears her voice isn't wavering, "why did he do it?" She stares at Jack's eyes, hoping the answers are somewhere in there. They aren't, of course, his eyes only reflecting the med bay's lights. 'Close to breaking' the Doctor said, and she shivers. Jack must've known there was no way back.

"After a certain threshold these responses are instinctive, like a reflex. You lot do so much to avoid pain." The Doctor hugs her and she clings to him, his jumper soaking up her sobs. "I'm sorry," he says again, more to the man on the bed than to her. She tries to imagine what it's like to endure the kind of torture that has left his body bleeding like this, without the hope of even being found. No chance of escape, and no rescue coming. She tries to imagine two days like this, but fails. A reflex. Did he even think they were looking for him? Did they give him reason? She sobs.

This is their fault, she knows, and they have no way to fix it.


***


They take turns at watching their patient, unresponsive to everything they throw at him at the off chance that they find his trigger.
She starts telling him about their adventures, fills him in about the Doctor's search for him once he realised that Jack hadn't left on his own free will. She has the odd idea that things like these will jog his memory, wake up his mind, but it doesn't. He looks at her when she's talking, but more often than not she finds him fallen asleep on her, his body still too weak to bear the real world for too long.

She wonders if he dreams.

She holds his hand at night, refusing to leave his side, to leave him alone ever again. She expects the Doctor to argue, to tell her about stupid apes and their insane ideas of safety and is surprised to see the guilt on his face when he joins her, watching over both his humans.

She runs out of adventures to tell quickly, turning to her life before the Doctor, to the fairytales of her childhood (she reckons the 51st century must've forgotten about the brothers Grimm), then to her own life.
When she has nothing more to tell she just strokes his face, trying hard not to cry. It's been nearly a week now since he disappeared into the crowd on Amaxa Minor and it hits her again that he won't come back, that they can't fix this. They've tried everything they could think of. The Doctor even tried telepathy against his better judgement (out of sheer spite, she guesses), which left him pale and shaken, stumbling from the room and talking about 'getting some air'.

The Doctor tells her that it isn't healthy, that his body is already following his mind into oblivion. His vitals are getting weaker every hour. This state was never meant to last so long. He tells her to make her goodbyes, but she just yells and throws the useless scanners and hypo sprays at him until he takes it back and promises to think of something.

She knows he's lying.

She tells Jack to fight, yells at him and threatens to slap him. She begs, she shakes him, but still he remains inert. She takes a long look at the man lying in front of her, who isn't the man who saved her from a barrage balloon. Her anger and her tears are long since spent, replaced by resignation. She leans down and presses a kiss to his unresisting lips, putting everything into it that she wasn't able to say before, not minding the Doctor's calm presence behind her.

She turns around to catch the Doctor's eye, but is stopped halfway by a sound that hasn't graced the med bay's silence since they brought Jack here. Someone's breath is hitching, and it isn't hers or the Doctor's.
Slowly, trying very hard not to get her hopes up too high (she might lose her mind with all the lack of sleep, after all), she turns around, finding Jack looking at her. His face is tired and drawn and despite his obvious discomfort it's the most beautiful sight she can imagine.

"Hello," he rasps and this time his eyes twinkle when he smiles weakly.

She doesn't know how, but in the blur of happiness and stammered words, the Doctor is suddenly beside her, with laughs and quips about Sleeping Beauties and kisses of life, his caged energy of the last week suddenly released into an explosion of glee. Judging by Jack's frown, it's still a bit too much, so she jumps to his defense. She starts batting away scanners and sprays, uttering stern words about patients needing their rest.

A hand closes around her wrist, and she glances back at Jack, stunned at the emotion those eyes can hold. She's never noticed before.

"Thank you," he whispers, having to pause before continuing, "for coming after me."

She understands, and kisses him again, this time just because she can.



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