Toshiko was beginning to panic.
It was rather ridiculous, she knew. She hadn't panicked at all through this whole absurd, terrifying day. Not when the Earth spontaneously jumped across an unimaginable distance. Not when Jack had turned white as a sheet and told them that they were all going to die. Not in all the hours that she spent waiting with Owen and Gwen and Ianto, hoping and praying that the time lock would hold and that Jack and the Doctor and her mother and everyone else she knew would be alright.
Now, however, the TARDIS was in the Hub. The TARDIS was in the Hub and the Doctor hadn't emerged yet and Toshiko was the only person there, and Jack's phone was going straight to voicemail.
"Jack? It's Toshiko. The TARDIS is here. No one's come out yet, so I guess I'll go see what's going on. Just . . . thought you should know."
She hung up.
Three minutes later she was still staring at the door. She shook herself, cursing her own foolishness. It was just the Doctor. It wasn't as if he'd hurt her. There was a far greater chance that she'd hurt him – and that was what had her scared to death, because she wasn't good with people at the best of times and if he was already fragile then all it would take was one wrong word to send him spiraling –
She shook herself, reached for the handle, then hesitated and knocked, instead.
The door swung open.
"Doctor?" she called cautiously, stepping inside. She wanted to stop and marvel at the wondrous machine, but she dragged her attention away from the fascinatingly complex console and stepped around it, instead. "Doctor?"
She stopped short.
The Doctor was crumpled against one of the supports, his hair plastered to his head, his shirt clinging to his thin frame. He looked as though he had stood in the pouring rain for far too long, an impression which was reinforced by his violent shivering. He was conscious, at least – or, his eyes were open, anyway, but they were dull and lifeless and took several long moments to focus on her face.
"Toshiko," he said, and perhaps there was surprise or disappointment or relief in it, but she couldn't hear anything except the pain and exhaustion which roughened his voice.
She swallowed hard.
"I called Jack," she told him, for lack of anything better to say. "He's not picking up, but I left him a message. He's probably busy with Ianto . . ."
She trailed off awkwardly as he continued to stare at her with blank eyes. God, he was shaking like a leaf.
She wished one of the others was here. Any of them, she thought, would have been better equipped to deal with this. Jack would have held him close until he stopped trembling, claiming body heat as an excuse. Ianto would have offered tea and understanding. Owen would have griped about him not having enough sense to come in out of the rain. Gwen would have fussed like a mother hen.
What could Toshiko do?
"You're soaked to the skin," she said at last.
The Doctor gave a chuckle which was just as hollow as his eyes.
"To the bone, feels like."
"It can't be good for you," said Toshiko. "You should change," she added, when the Doctor just blinked at her. "Into dry clothes."
There was a beat of silence while the Doctor processed her words. It took an alarmingly long time, compared to his normally rapid-fire speech.
"I suppose I should, yeah," he finally agreed. He pushed himself up, swaying slightly.
She followed him out of the console room and down a corridor, ready to leap forward and catch him if his unsteady legs gave way. He made it to a room which she presumed was his without incident, however.
"If you need help –" she began, unsure what sort of state he was in, but he waved her off.
"No, no, I'm fine," he said, unconvincingly. "I won't be a minute."
She hovered nervously outside the door. After a moment of thought, she pulled out her mobile again.
"Jack, call me as soon as you get this. I think something's really wrong."
She ended the call and shifted anxiously. Oh, she hoped the Doctor was alright – because he was her friend, because he was impossibly brilliant and astoundingly good and didn't deserve any more pain than he already carried, but also because Jack wasn't answering his phone and oh god, she didn't know what to do.
The Doctor reappeared, cutting across the panic which was threatening to paralyze her again. He was still shaking despite his dry clothes, leaning heavily against the doorway, face drawn and pale and lost.
"You don't look very well," said Toshiko.
"Don't feel very well," the Doctor said, a bit faintly. "Think I'm in shock." He gave a thin, hysterical giggle. The sound leaked from his dry lips like the wail of a dying cat, and Toshiko flinched.
"Maybe you should lie down," she suggested worriedly.
"Yeah," the Doctor agreed.
His eyes rolled back in his head, and he dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.
"Dammit!" Toshiko yelped. She dropped down beside him, simultaneously feeling for a pulse (it was there, but too fast) and fumbling for her mobile. "Jack, get down here, right now!" She snapped her phone shut and stared down at the Doctor's grey, weary face, trying desperately not to panic.
Okay, first things first. Get him off the floor.
Easier said than done. While the Doctor was always thin, he was actually a healthy weight at the moment, which boded well for his mental health but not for Toshiko's prospects of getting him to his bed without hurting either of them. With great difficulty, she finally managed to haul him into the comfortable four-poster. He hadn't stirred during the entire ordeal, nor did he when she tucked the duvet around him.
Extracting her mobile once more, she dialed. She sent a silent plea to the heavens as the phone rang once, twice, three times –
"Owen!" Toshiko exclaimed, nearly collapsing in relief.
"Tell Jack he can go fuck himself," snapped Owen. "It's three in the fucking morning, and I'm off-duty."
"It's not Jack," she said quickly, before he could hang up. "It's the Doctor."
There was a brief pause, then,
"Oh, fuck, really?" Owen groaned. "What the fuck's he done to himself this time?"
"I don't know," said Toshiko. "He said he was in shock, and then he just collapsed – Jack's phone is turned off –"
"Is he injured?"
"No, not that I can see. He was walking earlier."
"He probably meant mental shock, then. Fucking hell. Just keep an eye on him until I get there; I'll be ten minutes, tops."
"Thank you," Toshiko said, but he had already hung up.
Left alone with the unconscious Doctor and her thoughts, her attention turned to the room around her. In contrast to the fantastic, alien control room, this one was almost disconcertingly normal. Still, when she looked closer, there was evidence of its inhabitant's extraordinary qualities. The books which lay scattered about were inscribed with the beautiful, geometric symbols which her most advanced translation programs couldn't even begin to decipher. The globe atop the dresser was no planet which Toshiko had ever seen. The furniture seemed to be from a wide range of time periods.
She glanced at the Doctor. He looked small and fragile, his face pale in the dim light.
It seemed like hours before Owen arrived.
"This place is fucking weird," he stated from the doorway, and she jumped and spun around.
"Owen!" she said, moving forward, but fell back as she caught a whiff of him. "Are you drunk?" she asked incredulously.
"I've had a few," said Owen defensively, sidling around her. "The Universe almost ended, in case you didn't notice."
"Did you drive here?" she questioned, appalled.
"No," said Owen sarcastically as he checked the Doctor's pulse. "I flew here on my magical unicorn. He's fine," he added, before she could respond. "As far as I can tell, anyway. No head injuries, hearts and respiration are fine; he's probably just exhausted. This his room, then?"
Owen moved over to the old-fashioned desk which stood against the wall and began to pull the drawers open.
"Owen, don't!" Toshiko hissed, shooting a nervous look at the Doctor, who remained sound asleep. "He'll be so angry with you!"
"It's no use, anyway," said Owen with a disgusted snort, slamming them shut again. "It's all in Galler – Gallfil – his language. Fuck it all." He dropped into the chair, which looked like it could have been stolen from any twenty-first century office. "Have you just been standing there since you called me?" he questioned. "For fuck's sake, sit down. It's the Doctor's room, not the Queen's."
"There's nowhere else to sit," Toshiko pointed out irritably.
Owen gave an exaggerated sigh and stood, shoving the chair towards her and flopping down at the foot of the bed. Toshiko chose not to point out how much it made him look like the Doctor's pet.
"Why the fuck am I here and not Jack?" he asked suddenly, still staring at the ceiling.
"He's not answering his phone," Toshiko answered.
"That's fucked up."
Toshiko wasn't entirely sure what that assessment meant or whether she agreed with it, so she remained silent. There were a few moments filled with nothing but their breathing and the oddly organic sounds of the ship, and then Owen spoke again.
"If I ever find the higher power which has it out for him," he said deliberately, and there was no question to whom the 'him' was referring, "I will put my foot so far up its arse that it will be coughing up aglets for a month."
"What's an aglet?"
"It's the – the little plastic thing –" Owen gestured vaguely. "It's the bit," he concluded definitively. "On the end of your shoelace."
"Oh," she replied. "How do you know that?"
"How d'you think? He –" This time Owen gave a sweeping wave of his hand towards the sleeping subject of their conversation. "—went on about them for twenty minutes. Listening to him, you'd think that they were humanity's greatest accomplishment."
"That's . . ." She trailed off, searching for the word. "Ridiculous."
"No shit," Owen snorted. "And this is man who holds the existence of the Universe in his hands. We're all fucked."
Before Toshiko could formulate a reply to that, the Doctor groaned, distracting them both. They watched as he opened his eyes, closed them again with a whimper, and buried his face in his pillow.
Owen kicked him.
"Hey. No smothering yourself."
The Doctor shifted to blink at them blearily.
"Owen?" he questioned. "Toshiko? What are you doing here?"
"You don't remember?" asked Toshiko gently.
"No, I – I'm not –" He shook his head as if to clear it, frowning. "Oh," he said, his face going blank as some sort of realization dawned. "You should leave."
"The fuck we should," Owen grumbled. "Though, if you plan to start crying, I'm going to need more alcohol."
"Listen," said the Doctor urgently, sitting up further and seeming to struggle his way to relative alertness. "I'm not going to be coherent for much longer. Psychic shock can get nasty; you really don't want to be around for this –"
"I was halfway to being completely plastered," said Owen. "I didn't interrupt that to get kicked out of your room like a one-night stand."
"Owen, I appreciate the thought –"
"Let me rephrase: I'm pretty pissed already. If you make me move I might just be sick all over your bed."
The Doctor eyed Owen suspiciously.
The Doctor frowned at him, but it was obvious that whatever semblance of lucidity he had recovered was fading fast.
"You're not very good at this," he stated, his voice growing weaker.
"Yeah, but Jack's busy shagging Ianto, so you're stuck with us. So tell me, what the fuck is psychic shock?"
"It's – I'm telepathic, see, and – it was silent for so long, and then there were two – echoes, just echoes, but then he was gone and she started to burn and I had to; couldn't let her burn but it was too soon; I wasn't ready; still raw –"
"Alright, alright!" said Owen, cutting across the Doctor's increasingly distressed words. "Don't have a fit. Something fucked with your head; we get it."
The Doctor sank back into his pillows.
"I'm sorry," he said, just before his eyes glazed over.
Owen had been right: he definitely needed more alcohol. The Doctor had descended into teary, incoherent babbling, and Tosh's slightly frantic hypothesizing was not helping matters. She had surged from her chair and was hovering beside the bed, pacing.
"Owen, what if something's really wrong? We can't exactly trust him to diagnose himself when his mind's affected. And you know how he understates things. We should try to find out what happened. Maybe the ship has a log – or maybe we could track down that woman who was travelling with him. Donna, wasn't it?"
Toshiko yelped and Owen jerked upright in alarm when the Doctor suddenly seized her wrist.
"No, you can't; she can't remember; she'll burn; everything burns; couldn't let her burn –"
"Okay, we won't contact her," said Toshiko quickly, but the Doctor didn't seem to hear her, his eyes going unfocused again.
"—couldn't, wouldn't, never would; but she begged me; she begged me –"
"Owen, he's not breathing."
Owen blinked, forced himself to concentrate. She was right. He wasn't breathing. He was talking, but not breathing. How was that even possible?
"For god's sake, do something!"
Nothing. He was panicking. The lack of breathing was probably some weird Time Lord equivalent of hyperventilation, and if it was, then he would damage himself if he kept it up much longer. Owen needed to snap him out of it, and quickly.
He slapped him, hard.
"Owen!" Toshiko cried, aghast, but it worked. The Doctor stopped talking, releasing her wrist and turning towards Owen.
The Doctor obeyed.
"Okay," said Owen, taking advantage of this temporary complacency. "Now, I'm sloshed and Tosh is useless, so we can't sort out any riddles. Tell us what you need."
"I need – I –" The Doctor frowned, obviously struggling to force his thoughts into comprehensible patterns. "Everything – everything ends, everything and everyone, and I can feel it, and it's driving me mad, I can't stand it, I can't – I need Jack, Fixed Point, anchor –"
He descended into nonsense again, shaking and choking and sobbing.
"Call Jack," Owen ordered Toshiko.
"I already –"
"Call him again!" he snarled, and flopped back onto the bed. He threw an arm across his eyes, but it couldn't drown out the noises, the Doctor's broken pleading, no, no, please, the Cybermen, I couldn't, I don't –
Fucking Jack. He never gave a fuck what god-awful hour it was when he called them, but the one time they needed him, he decided to take a fucking holiday.
The Doctor had stopped speaking. His quiet sobs were somehow worse. With enormous effort, Owen pushed his alcohol-infused limbs into motion and dragged himself up the bed. It was a little alarming how quickly the Doctor latched onto him, burying his face in his shoulder and grasping the front of his shirt with pathetic desperation. Owen shivered as cold tears began to soak through the thin cotton.
"Oh, shut up," he snapped at Toshiko, who was watching with wide eyes. Much to Owen's consternation, it was the Doctor who responded to his harsh words, choking back the sobs which had been coming freely.
"Dammit," Owen muttered. "Not you, Doctor. You're fine. It's fine. Tosh, weren't you going to check the ship's logs or something?"
"I – yes. Yes, of course."
She left, with a glance over her shoulder which contained more affection than Owen was entirely comfortable with.
Owen sighed and wrapped an arm around the Doctor's shoulders.
"Jesus Christ, you're skinny," he informed the unresponsive Time Lord. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that once he was sober and the Doctor was lucid, they would both be completely mortified. Still, he couldn't exactly leave him on his own.
Fuck it all. Fuck Jack for having the worst timing in the Universe. Fuck the Universe for having it in for the Doctor. Fuck the Doctor for making Owen care. Fuck everyone the Doctor was muttering about for using him up and tossing him away like a toy once the shine's worn off.
The Doctor whimpered and clung to him more tightly.
Jack awoke slowly, filled with a warm, lazy contentment. The Universe was still intact, sunlight was just beginning to flow in through the window, and he was in Ianto's bed. He couldn't imagine a more perfect morning.
As an afterthought, he reached over to the nightstand and turned on his phone.
Shit. He had four new messages, all from Toshiko. What the fuck – his heart sank and kept sinking as he listened to the first three messages, each more urgent than the last. Then the last one, and she sounded nearly in tears.
"Jack, please, I don't care what you're doing, just . . . he needs you. He said it's psychic shock, but he's not really making sense anymore. Owen's here, and we're trying to help him, but it's not working, nothing's working; we can't calm him down. It's bad. It's really bad; worse than I've ever seen him. Please, Jack."
Jack let the phone fall from his hand.
"Jack?" Ianto questioned sleepily, pushing himself up as Jack tumbled out of bed, cursing. "What's wrong?"
"It's the Doctor."
His fingers were clumsy in his rush, making him want to scream in frustration as he fumbled at tasks which he had done a thousand times before. Ianto assisted him as best he could, and a few agonizingly long minutes later Jack was slamming his way into the TARDIS.
Tosh was perched on the jump seat, and she jumped a foot in the air at Jack's sudden entrance.
"Where?" he demanded, and she pointed towards the interior door.
"His bedroom. Owen's with him," she added, but he was already moving.
Then, quite abruptly, he wasn't.
"Fuck," he hissed, shaking out the hand which had hit the unyielding door with bruising force. He tried the handle. It wasn't locked, but it stuck halfway through turning.
"I think he's wedged a chair against it," said Owen from behind him. He turned to find the smaller man leaning against the wall, and flinched at the unmasked accusation in his eyes. "You took long enough."
"I know," said Jack through gritted teeth. "How long has he been in there by himself?"
"About an hour. He got his head together enough to ask for tea; jammed the door shut as soon as I stepped outside. It was the first coherent thing he'd said in ages – since he stopped asking for you."
Jack cringed, guilt flooding him anew.
"Dammit," he muttered, and turned his attention back to the door. "Doctor? Doctor, it's me. It's Jack. Open the door, will you?"
Silence. The adrenaline was fading, cold terror creeping into Jack's bones. He took a deep breath and inserted as much authority into his voice as he could muster.
"You know I don't want to hurt the TARDIS, Doc, but if you don't open this door in the next ten seconds I will take a sonic blaster to it."
More silence, save for his heart pounding in his ears, and then – creak, scratch, thump. Jack let out his breath in a sigh of relief, and pushed the door open. The room was cool and very dark, and it took him a moment to see the figure curled in the far corner.
"Doctor," he breathed, and had to keep himself from rushing to his side. Instead he took one careful step after another, slowly, so as not to startle him. "Doc, you alright?"
"Yep," came the reply, over-bright and brittle. "Just peachy. Love a bit of psychic shock. A wonderful end to a wonderful day."
Jack gave a snort of startled laughter, unsure whether to be pleased or worried by the sarcasm.
"You've been spending too much time with Owen," he said, sliding down beside the Doctor, within reach but not touching. He didn't want to force anything.
"Yes, well." The Doctor turned his head to pin Jack with his eyes, unreadable and nearly black in the gloom. "He wasn't my first choice."
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, feeling sick. The Doctor had needed him, and he had let him down. Again. He had sworn to them both that he would never let that happen. He had sworn –
There were cool fingers on his face.
"Jack? That wasn't fair. I'm s –"
"No," said Jack firmly, opening his eyes and catching the Doctor's hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have turned my phone off." He had assumed that the Doctor was fine; after all, he had been surrounded by friends when he had left him. Somehow, it must have all gone to hell in about thirty minutes.
He didn't know why this sort of shit surprised him anymore.
He burned with curiosity, but he wasn't going to ask, not now; not while the Doctor was so fragile and his pain so fresh. Some of it he could work out on his own. The clone was easy enough; he had obviously been dumped somewhere at the first opportunity. If there was one person the Doctor couldn't stand, it was himself. Rose . . . that wouldn't have sat well with her. Her natural compassion, combined with her firm awareness of her own needs and the Doctor's tendency to push people away for their own good . . . she could very well have joined the clone.
Jack didn't envy her that decision, nor did he blame her for it. Maybe distance and time had granted her the perspective which they had never given him.
Donna's absence was trickier to figure out. Jack had been certain that she wouldn't abandon the Doctor, especially not if he was right about Rose's departure. Not unless she didn't have a choice.
An instantaneous two-way biological meta-crisis. Everything in the Doctor's head stuffed inside hers. Donna gone. The Doctor debilitated by psychic shock.
Jack wasn't sure what sort of picture it painted, but it wasn't pretty.
"Are you physically hurt?" he questioned seriously. First things first.
"The worst of it's over," said the Doctor flatly, his eyes fixed on the empty air above Jack's shoulder. "It's just aftershocks, now." He shivered. "Speak of the devil," he said, just before his eyes went unfocused and he gave a gasping whimper.
To hell with caution. Jack pulled the Doctor into a tight embrace. He was bony and cold and damp with what was probably more sweat than rainwater, but Jack barely noticed as he carded his fingers through his limp hair. It was an achingly familiar movement, and the soothing nothings spilled from his lip without thought.
"It's okay; it'll be okay. I'm right here. Breathe. I'm here."
It lasted less than a minute, and soon the Doctor relaxed against Jack with a sigh.
"Sorry about all this," he said tiredly, voice vibrating through his thin chest and into Jack's arms. "And the door. Adolescent of me."
"Yeah, it was," Jack said lightly, moving his hand down to the back of the Doctor's neck and beginning to knead the tension out of it. "But hey, if Owen was trying to comfort me, I'd probably lock him out, too."
"He's a bit rubbish," the Doctor agreed.
They sat in silence for long moments, the Doctor cool and solid against Jack's side and beneath his fingers. His breathing was so slow and steady and Jack almost thought he had fallen asleep. Then, abruptly, he said,
"I think it's time I stopped taking people with me."
"No offense, Doc," he said, when he thought he could keep his voice mild, "but that is the worst idea you've ever had."
"I know," the Doctor answered, light and matter-of-fact, as if he wasn't talking about stripping away the only buffer between him and his demons, burning the only bridge between him and the rest of the Universe. As if he wasn't talking about isolating himself even more completely than he already did. "But I can't do this anymore. It's not fair to them. To you. I offer the wonders of the Universe but in the end . . ."
A shiver ran through the Doctor, and he shifted to bury his face in Jack's shoulder. Jack shut his eyes and tightened his grip on the back of the Doctor's neck, pressing him closer as if it would help, as if he could ever hope to protect him.
"What happened to Donna?" he asked, when the aftershock had passed.
The Doctor let out a long, shuddering breath.
"She's fine," he said, with forced calm. "She's safe. Home. But she can't remember. I had to wipe everything about me from her mind to protect her from the meta-crisis."
"Is it stable?" Jack asked, swallowing down his sick horror at the mere prospect of forgetting the Doctor, forgetting all his brilliance and all the wonders it illuminated. He did not ask "Did she want it?" because of course she didn't, and of course the Doctor did it anyway. The Doctor saved people, whether they liked it or not.
"Stable enough. There are safeguards built in, in case something goes wrong."
"Okay." Jack took a moment to organize his thoughts, to weigh his words. He didn't want to break this calm, bruised and aching though it was. "Don't travel alone," he said at last, softly, trying to keep it a gentle request rather than the plea it was or the order it could never be. "Not yet. Stay here for a while. Take a break."
"You know I can't do that."
"Sure you can," said Jack, some of his desperation leaking into his voice despite his best efforts. "Help us out on our missions. We could always use an extra hand. You can tut disapprovingly at us and everything."
"Jack," the Doctor said, pulling away. "Oh, Jack."
Jack sat very still, hardly daring to breathe as the Doctor's slender hand found its way into his hair, strong as a promise and gentle as a murmur, and he knew this was the only way this could ever happen, here on the edge of a breakdown, in the half-light, halfway out of time.
The Doctor pressed a cold kiss to his temple.
"It's time I was going."
"Please," Jack choked out, not even attempting to disguise the raw grief and fear in his voice. "Don't do this."
It will kill you.
The Doctor smiled, small and sad as if he had heard the unspoken end of his thought, as if he was answering.