Title: "Up Above, Down Below"
Spoilers: Heavy for DW3.12, The Sound of Drums and DW3.13 The Last of the Time Lords
Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many DVDs and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to RTD and to Auntie Beeb, who already has my licence fee.
Notes: Discussing The Last of the Time Lords with Mimarie, it occurred to us that by the end of that lost year, for all that Jack may like and respect Martha, he'll probably have known her sister far longer and far better; it is, after all, hard not to bond with someone who is quite literally spoon-feeding you. This bunny followed on soon after. :)
Many thanks to Mimarie and Jwaneeta for sterling beta services - any remaining weirdnesses are all mine. Feedback of any variety is very much appreciated but not compulsory - I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn...
And to think that she had once been excited about Mr. Saxon giving her a job.
One hundred and twenty seven days after the end of the world, Letitia Jones' life was an unnerving combination of dull routine and terrifying unpredictability. The Valiant was all that there was now, its metal corridors forming the breadth and the borders of her own personal universe. Scurrying along a half-lit passageway on one of her more regular errands, Tish tried not to think about what might be going on somewhere far below her, what might be happening to Martha and to Leo and to all her friends. At least she knew where her parents were...
The hiss and thud of heavy machinery sounded around her, still startling after four months of captivity. There was a nuclear reactor - and how had they ever gotten permission for that? - at the Valiant's heart, but here amidst the grating and the steam ducts she could easily imagine men shovelling coal into hungry furnaces, an image of hell somehow more real than the IKEA blandness of the Master's domain on the upper decks. Figures moved in the shadows, technicians slipping in and out of her vision through the pipework, and she felt painfully aware of the way that the maid's outfit clung to her curves in the stifling heat of the engineering decks. She doubted that any of them would touch her - she was, after all, a Jones, one of the Master's favoured playthings - but that didn't make her feel any more comfortable.
Still, she told herself firmly, she didn't really have cause to complain. Others here had it far worse than she did.
Tish arrived at her destination as a group of black-clad guards left, the last of them glancing at her - his eyes lingering a moment too long on her sweat-damp uniform - and smirking as he held the cage door ajar. She swallowed nervously and nodded her thanks, stepping quickly past him with her tray and trying to ignore the weight of his gaze. The gate closed behind her with a clang and she looked back to see one of the men taking up position just inside, an expression of bored contempt on his features as he cradled his gun. "Nice timing, love," he told her with a leer. "Master's not long finished with him - freak's had a busy morning..."
Suppressing a shudder, Tish turned away from the guard. Oh yes, some had it far worse.
Stepping further into the makeshift cage, she could smell him before she saw him - stale blood and sweat and piss and filth - and her heart and gut both clenched at the rancid animal stink, at what was being done to him here. The steel tray was cool against her palms as she swallowed hard and shifted her grip, peering through the steam that escaped from the piping and ductwork. "Captain Harkness?" she called cautiously. "Jack?"
There was no response. Tish bit her lip, then squared her shoulders and walked resolutely forward. It wasn't as if she was going to find a corpse, after all, and something told her that he needed to see a friendly face even more than she did.
It was obvious that today's session had been a bad one - she could tell by the way he simply hung forward on his chains, his shoulders twisted painfully back and his legs barely supporting him. His head was bowed, chin resting against his chest, and if it wasn't for the slow rise and fall of each breath she would think that he wasn't... back yet. He looked so defeated...
"Captain?" she ventured carefully, not sure if he could hear her. "Jack? I've brought you food."
One blue eye cracked open and he smiled weakly. "Room service? Forgot I'd ordered. What's on the menu today, Tish? Something suitably bland, I hope..."
"Only the most tasteless slop here at Chez Saxon, sir," she assured him, though her heart really wasn't in the familiar joke. She glanced back towards the guard, half-hidden by the steam. "Are you all right?"
"No." Jack visibly gathered himself and struggled into a more upright position, taking the strain off his shoulders. "I swear, one of these days I'm going to get my hands on that psychotic alien bastard and see how much he likes the taste of his own medicine." His lip curled into the ghost of a snarl. "Should have snapped his sorry neck when I had the chance..."
Tish stirred at the creamed mess in the serving tin, letting the scrape of metal hide her words from prying ears. "Why didn't you?"
"Someone was having issues with being the last of an endangered species." He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. "Doesn't matter. He'll slip eventually. Everyone does."
"Everyone did," Tish noted sadly, thinking of the election. She looked down at the tin. "Come on then, Captain," she said with forced enthusiasm. "Dinnertime! Got to keep your strength up, right?"
He snorted at that but obediently opened his mouth for the spoon. "Mmm, turnip today?" he said, swallowing with a grimace. "They're spoiling me."
"I think they ran out of swede," she admitted, delivering another mouthful of the cold, pale pulp. She suspected it had all the nutritional value of cardboard and she knew that it just went straight through him, but food was food and if she wasn't here to feed him then who else could he talk to? The guards who never used his name? "Culinary standards are definitely slipping around here..."
"I'd settle for something I could chew," he said, eyeing the spoon unhappily. "Or taste. I miss texture. Something with a bit of crunch and flavour and -" He broke off to accept the next pureed mouthful, swallowing quickly. "God, I grew out of baby food... well, a long time back, let's just leave it at that. And it's not as if I'm ever likely to get toothless and old..."
Tish used the edge of the spoon to catch an escaping dribble before it dripped from his chin, receiving a grunt of thanks. "If it helps," she said quietly, "we don't eat much better. He has lobster and caviar and curry while we -"
"Curry? Spices?" Jack stared at her, his throat working as he swallowed once, twice, then looked away, cursing under his breath. "Fuck, fuck, fuck..."
"I'm sorry," she murmured, stirring the sloppy contents of the tin and wishing she could conjure up something more edible for him. There were days when he seemed almost amused by his predicament, calm and cheerfully flirtatious... but on other days, days like today, he would be a little too bright about the eyes, a desperate, dangerous edge barely hidden by his determined mask. "I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"It's not your fault," he said roughly, then winced and arched his back, rotating his head slowly. Something crunched unpleasantly in his neck. "Sorry, always a bit stiff after - well, you can guess."
"I'm not sure I want to." Tish raised the spoon once more, taking care not to bang it against his teeth in the delivery. "I saw the guards," she said quietly. "They took you upstairs today?"
"Yes." He swallowed the proffered mouthful. "Decided he wanted to share his fun - it's not easy getting a wheelchair down here."
"The Doctor was there?"
"Oh yes." Jack's expression turned dark. "He pleads for my life so much more prettily than I do."
Tish shuddered. The Master had made her watch once, down here in the humid half-light, an unwilling witness to murder as he'd set about his captive immortal with a crowbar. Jack had clenched his jaw - during the brief period when it wasn't broken - and refused to scream, but she had been hoarse for days. It was one thing to know that death was not a permanent state for the man before her, but quite another to see the blood and meat, to hear the muffled crunch of bone. She had barely slept for a week afterwards. "I'm sorry." She swallowed hard. "How... how many?"
"Eight," he told her wearily. "And I think the guards added an extra one on the way back down, if the headache's anything to go by. You know, there was a time when that would have counted as a bad decade. Now it's just a bad morning..." He shook his head and accepted the next spoonful of pulp, gulping it down before he could taste it. "But hey, enough about me - how are you? How are Clive and Francine?"
"We're... okay. The Master might be mad but we're more fun to him alive, I think, at least so long as Martha's still out there." She sighed and fed him another spoonful. "I think Lucy suffers more than we do."
"Good," Jack growled. "Psychotic bitch. Enjoys having me up there more than he does - I think she gets off on the coups de gr?e."
Tish lowered the spoon, aghast. "You mean she -"
"Oh yes, when he lets her. When he's getting bored and once I've been... sufficiently disabled." He snorted. "Like a cat teaching its kitten to kill half-chewed mice. One day she'll get too close and I'll show her what it's like from the other end."
There was a gleam in his eye, a hint of desperation that was as much pain and exhaustion as it was anger and Tish had to look away, busying herself with the spoon, with the slip and scrape of metal on metal as she gathered every last piece of the vile mash to feed to him. It wasn't much, but what else could she offer? For all that they never spoke of it, she knew why he was here, why he hadn't gone to fight at Martha's side when it would have been so very, very easy for him to have made his escape with her.
A trapped immortal was too shiny a toy to be ignored, too tempting a target for the boredom of a psychopath. A trapped immortal offered the chance to inflict never-ending, ever-changing torment, a prize far more interesting and entertaining than an old man and a handful of terrified captives. Without Jack as buffer and distraction, she didn't even want to think what her already hellish life would be like...
"You sure know how to show a boy a good time," he said with a wink as she finally set the tin aside. It was a feeble attempt, but she smiled anyway, reaching for the mug of water that was his daily ration of liquid. "I'll make it up to you when we get out of here. Buy you dinner. Anything you want, long as there's no turnip and absolutely no swede..."
"Chinese," she said quietly, raising the cup carefully to his lips. She'd been dreaming of Chinese food lately, of tastes and textures that neither she nor anyone else would ever know again. "Good Chinese and champagne. Dim sum. Soy sauce. Chilli. Carved carrots. None of your takeaway nonsense - I want somewhere with proper tablecloths and candles and hot towels. And fortune cookies." She smiled. "And overpriced cocktails with stupid paper umbrellas."
"And chopsticks and jugs of iced water and windows and flush toilets," Jack added with a sigh once he'd drained the mug, licking his lips in pursuit of the last, precious drops. "Speaking of which..."
Bucket duty was completed with the same quiet efficiency as usual, neither of them acknowledging anything beyond the simple necessity of it. Tish cleaned him up as best she could, glad that she'd never yet seen a fly down here, and tugged the ruined clothing back into place. "There." She glanced towards the guard, who gazed back and tapped his wrist meaningfully before turning his attention to something beyond the gate. "I have to go. I'm sorry."
"Yeah." He fell silent and she busied herself with the tin, the tray, the mug, trying not to think about him chained down here like an animal for another day, with only the contempt of the guards for company. It wasn't fair, not after all he'd sacrificed to - "Tish?"
She turned back. "Yes?"
His smile was tired in his filthy face, but it reached his eyes. "Thank you."
And there weren't any words that she could find that could convey how ridiculous it was that he was thanking her. So she didn't try, simply put the tray down and wrapped her arms tight around him, hugging him fiercely and trying to impart all the sorrow and gratitude she felt through that contact. It didn't matter that he stank of four months of neglect, didn't matter that the cloth against her face was stiff and ripe with sweat and worse. It didn't matter that he had no way to hug her back.
All that mattered was that he knew that, even amongst all of this, someone still genuinely cared.
She felt his too-smooth cheek settle against the top of her head, felt his jaw clench, the movement of his throat as he swallowed. "Thank you," he whispered again, pressing a kiss against her hair. "Don't give up, Tish; never give up. One day we'll be out of here, I swear -"
A hand grabbed roughly at her shoulder, hauling her away from him, and she staggered slightly in the guard's grasp. "That's enough from you, Jonesy. Get the tray and get out before I treat your freak boyfriend here to number ten." He hefted his machine gun pointedly. "Go on, get."
Jack quirked a small smile, his blue eyes apologetic. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said with more composure than she was feeling. He winked. "Hey, maybe they'll have some more yummy swede for me!"
"I'll make sure to ask," she replied softly, lifting the tray and swearing to herself that she would find some way to raid the pepper for him if she couldn't get at the Saxons' leftovers. "Goodnight, Captain."
And then she was hurrying back along the corridor towards her next chore, leaving him to the mercy of the guards and the whims of the Master. But, for all that she knew it was hopeless, she couldn't help clinging to his words, to the one thing, the only thing that she had left to believe in. One day...
Just not today.