Title: The Old Man
Summary: After years apart the Doctor finds Jack broken in both body and in spirit, can he help his old friend? Will Jack let him?
It was a crumbling village on a backwater planet in a dark corner of the universe that few cared to visit. It was not the sort of place the Doctor had expected the TARDIS to take him, and certainly not the place he expected to see a familiar face, especially this familiar face.
But then again, while he recognized the face he couldn't say the same for the person behind it. He had known the con man. The flirt. The leader. The fighter. The hero. The friend. The man huddled in the corner was none of those things. There was no fire in this man's belly, no twinkle in his eyes, no devil-may-care attitude about him. This was a broken shell of a man. This man had retreated so far into himself that he barely blinked. Physically, he hadn't aged a day, but in every way that mattered this man bore no semblance to the man he once called friend.
The Doctor watched, horrified, as the bar maid ran over and knelt down next to the rumpled heap, trying to get him to focus on her. "Now what made you think you could slip in here and not tell me?" she chastised. Then, she called over her shoulder, "Da, how long's the Old Man been out here?"
"He only just came in." A voice from the back room yelled back. "I'm getting some bread for him now."
She sat, holding his head in her hands, her thumb stroking his chin as she tried to get his attention. "Come on .Old Man, look at me. You can do it. It's Nell. You're done working for the day. It's over. You're in the tavern. Listen to my voice. Da and I are here with you. You're safe." She was rewarded with a weary blink, a sigh, and a dazed half-smile. "Oh, that's good. Come on, come back to us."
A man, obviously Nell's father, limped out from the back room. "Here you go lass." He passed her some bread. "Maybe we can get some of this into him."
She ripped off a small piece of the crust and rubbed it against her friend's lips until his mouth opened. "There now, don't try to chew yet, just suck on it for a bit." She kept stroking his chin until he closed his mouth. "Magiot must have double dosed you again. One of these days I'm going to kill that bastard." Feeling the Doctor's eyes on her she turned quickly. "What do you want?"
"You are very gentle with him."
"Yeah, so? What's it to you?"
"Nell," her father warned. He placed a wrinkled hand on her shoulder. "Mind your manners now. This isn't Magiot or one of his goons." He creakily got to his feet, taking a step towards the Doctor. "Old Man here is our friend, would you do no less for one of your friends?"
The unintended irony of that statement made him wince. "Why do you call him 'Old Man'? He looks barely older than your daughter."
"What else would you call a man you've known your whole life? Besides, we haven't got any other name to call him. I think he had a farm and a family up in the hills years back before I was born, but then the plague wiped out half the planet and by the time he moved into town he was all by himself. Never told anyone his name."
He paused to watch his daughter. Nell was ignoring the conversation, focusing on her friend, murmuring; "That's good, you're doing great. How about another piece? Can you do that for me?" She was trying to get him to focus and eat, but it wasn't easy.
"He wasn't always like this." He continued, shaking his head sadly. "If you'd known him when I was a lad... but times got rough and well... Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to survive."
"What's wrong with him?"
"Drugs. Blissfire. Been on it for years and years. It keeps him under Magiot's thumb, and well, he probably couldn't do what he has to every night without it."
"He's addicted?" The Doctor couldn't quite keep the horror out of his voice.
Nell interrupted, practically shouting. "It's not his fault! How dare you judge him? You have no idea who he is or what's he's done or had to go through!"
"No, you're right. I'm so sorry. I thought maybe I could help. We haven't been properly introduced, I'm the Doctor."
"A doctor? Here? I'm Gunther; this is my daughter Nell. Would you..." He gestured at the Old Man. "Do you think you could help? I'm afraid we can't offer you much as payment..."
"Oh no, no, no. Let's just take a look." The Doctor knelt down next to Nell to begin his examination. There was no doubt this was his old friend, the man he had known as Jack Harkness all those years ago. The same dark hair, the same piercing blue eyes. There had been a time he knew every inch of this man's body. The body was the same, albeit battered and bruised, but the spirit was gone. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and began a scan.
"What's that?" Nell asked quietly.
"A sonic screwdriver; I'm reading his vitals."
The Doctor sighed, remembering.
Who has a sonic screwdriver? Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks "Ooh, this could be a little more sonic"?
"Tell me about blissfire." He didn't like what the scans were showing. Jack was severely malnourished, dehydrated, his electrolytes were out of balance... basically everything and anything that could go wrong in his body had done so. The baggy clothing was hiding a multitude of cuts and bruises, some half healed and others oozing fresh blood.
Gunther shrugged. "It makes you feel good, but numb, all at the same time. You can't think straight, like your mind's jumping all over the place. It gives you energy so you feel like you don't need to eat or sleep... I'm not explaining this well." He shook his head. "We never took it, he made us promise. He didn't want us ruining our lives with it."
"Probably for the best, drugs like that are quite damaging to the body's chemistry and could very well be nearly instantly addictive. As far as you know, has he ever tried to stop taking..." The Doctor trailed off, noticing the pale blue eyes that were focused on him. "Hullo there. Can you hear me?"
Nell smiled, warmly. "Hey Old Man, it's nice to see those baby blues again. Look, we found a doctor for you. A doctor! How about that?"
"D..d...d..doc...tor?" A shaking hand tentatively reached out.
"That's right, a real doctor. And he's going to help you."
Was he merely mimicking Nell, or did he truly understand what he was saying? The Doctor grabbed the weak hand. "I'm real. Feel this?" He pressed the trembling fingers against his cheek. Jack's gaze shifted from him to Nell and back again.
"N..Nell? He.. He's real?"
"As real as you and me!." She kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Glad you're with us again, Old Man. Now say hello to the nice doctor and let him have a look at you."
"Hello, Doctor." His voice was so weak and hesitant it nearly broke the Doctor's hearts to hear it. There was no warmth, no spirit, nothing whatsoever behind it. There was none of that bravado that had been his signature.
I was just saying hello! For you, that's flirting.
"Okay, I need to ask you some questions. Is that all right?" The Doctor peered into Jack's eyes, they were still glassy, but focused and perhaps a bit more alert. "Can you tell me your name?"
"They, they..." He gestured at Gunther and Nell. "They call me Old Man."
"Why is that?"
"'Cause I'm old." He shuddered briefly as pain wracked through his body, instinctively grabbing the Doctor's arm tightly. "Sss..so old. Older than you."
Did Jack really know what he was saying? He had to get the others away so he could find out. "Nell, he's dehydrated, can you get him a glass of water? And Gunther, maybe something for him to eat? More bread, or something more nutritious?"
"Some soup?" Gunther asked, pausing in front of the bar.
"Excellent, that would be wonderful for him."
"You be good for the Doctor, Old Man." Nell stroked his cheek before rising. "He'll make you all better."
The Doctor watched her walk away. "Do you... recognize me?" He whispered as soon as she was out of earshot. "Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, but, but... you don't know me. The man you knew is d..dead... J..J..Jack was a hero... Died so many times... I'm the Old M...m...man now... The Old Man needs blissfire to face the day... The Old Man is a c...coward.."
Wish I'd never met you, Doctor... I was much better off as a coward... See you in hell.
Oh Jack... "Let's get you up," the Doctor said, reaching under Jack's armpits to haul him to his feet when suddenly Jack went pale and cried out in pain.
"What happened?" Nell yelled, dropping the glass of water she'd been carrying and running over.
"I thought he should get off the floor." The Doctor started to explain. "I was just helping him to his feet when..." His voice trailed off, startled by the way Jack was panting and wheezing.
"You idiot!" She brushed the Doctor away. "Old Man? Damn it, what did Magiot's goons do to you this time?" She stroked his hair gently. "You know you don't have to work there. Not anymore. You don't have to put yourself through that."
"Yes, I do." He hissed, his teeth clamped shut. "Y..you know why." He took a deep breath and then slowly let it go. "Help m..me up. I w..wasn't expecting it before. 'M ready now. It's okay."
Carefully, with Nell's help, the Doctor got Jack onto his feet. Jack swayed slightly, but refused to lean on either of them. "I can d...do it. I'm not a child."
"No," Gunther chastised as he came out of the kitchen. "But you do act like one sometimes." He held a bowl filled with a thick broth. "Made your favorite. The doctor said you should eat."
Jack gave the Doctor a long, deep look before limping behind the bar and through the door behind it. He leaned on the wall for balance as he made his way down the narrow corridor. "W..welcome to my humble a..b..b..bode, Doc...tor." He said, pushing open a door.
It wasn't a home, it wasn't even a bedroom. It was a tiny storage closet with a pile of bedding on the floor. Nell slipped into the room and spread it out on the floor. The Doctor stepped forward, but whatever he was going to say died on his lips when Jack glared at him. Nell stayed only long enough to help as Jack leaned on her and slowly sank against the wall. Gunther bent down and handed him the bowl and produced a spoon from the pocket of his apron.
"Now you eat all of this, Old Man." He waggled the spoon in Jack's face. "You hear me? I'll send Nell in to check and you know what she gets like when she's angry!"
Jack laughed weakly. "I'll try." His hands shook terribly as he began to eat, very little of the broth staying on the spoon by the time he actually got it to his mouth.
"Let's leave him to eat in peace." Gunther suggested, picking up on his friend's embarrassment.
The Doctor stayed in the doorway for a moment, reluctantly following the others only when he realized that Jack wouldn't continue to eat under their prying eyes. "I'll just be out front," he said quietly. "We'll talk later."
He joined the others, sitting by the bar. "What can you tell me about your friend? I need to know everything; the more of the patient's history I have the better I'll be able to treat him." It was an invasion of privacy on his part, but he knew Jack would never answer any of his questions and the truth couldn't possibly be worse than his suppositions, or so he hoped.
The story came out in dribs and drabs, interrupted frequently as Gunther and Nell took care of the tavern's patrons. They explained that the Old Man first came to town about a decade after the plague had hit. Apparently, he'd spent all that time alone in the hills after his family died. He was quiet and kept to himself, almost like he didn't know how to be around people anymore. Eventually he started working at the tavern, run by Gunther's father at the time, in exchange for room and board. Slowly but surely, as the years passed, he became almost a part of the family. "You should have seen him then. Still real quiet, but he'd smile some times... He had a brilliant smile. And there was this laugh of his," Gunther smiled wistfully, remembering it. "It was rare to hear it but if you did, you couldn't help but join on in and laugh with him. A young lad like myself couldn't have asked for a better friend growing up."
"Was he called Old Man even back then?" The Doctor asked.
"Yes, it was my Mam who gave him that name. She always said his eyes were so old, like they'd seen more pain and suffering then anyone should ever have, and it turned him old before his time." Gunther shook his head sadly. "I'm kind of glad she never saw him like this. Would've broke her heart."
"The plague. It came back, even worse than before. So many died. Mam and Da.; my wife, that'd be Nell's mam, as well. Nell was just a little lass back then- we thought the plague'd take her too, she got so sick. Old Man ran the whole tavern by himself so I could take care of her, but we couldn't keep up with the payments. That's when Magiot stepped in, offered the Old Man a deal. I said to forget it, that the tavern wasn't worth it. I told him... I tried... I told him to leave, that I'd figure out something else, anything else. But the Old Man wouldn't listen to me. He was always a stubborn one, he said, 'You're my friend and I couldn't live with myself if I abandoned my friends. Please don't ask me to. I'm doing this for you two, whether you like it or not.' That was probably the most he'd ever said to me in my entire life. I hated it, but I accepted it."
You abandoned me. Did I? Busy life.
"What was the deal?"
Gunther shifted, obviously uncomfortable. "I was dead set against it, you have to understand that. But he told me it was a done deal. The papers had been drawn up and he'd snuck out the night before to make his mark on them."
"He signed a contract with Magiot. He agreed to work for him for five years in return for Magiot tearing up the lien on the tavern."
"What sort of contract?" The Doctor was getting exasperated, trying to drag the truth out.
Nell stepped up and whispered. "Magiot runs, well, it's basically a brothel, but the clients... ummm... they like men, not women and... Well... lets just say most of Magiot's 'employees' don't last long enough to have to worry about what they'd do when the contract was up." Neither Nell or Gunther could look the Doctor in the eyes after that revelation.
"When did he start taking the blissfire?"
"Old Man tried not to." Nell explained. "He tried so hard to just do the work and stay clean. But... what they did to him, what was done to him. He was in so much pain that he couldn't eat or sleep. Then he got hurt so bad he couldn't work. Magiot said he was in breech of the contract, that he'd failed us and we'd lose the tavern because of it." She started crying. "That first time, when he came back, he was smiling, I hadn't seen him smile in such a long time... but there was no warmth behind it. And his eyes were empty. Sometimes, I try to remember his eyes when they still have life to them, but I can't."
"But you said five years, that the contract was only for five years. It must have been up ages ago."
"He works for the blissfire now." Gunther said, as he walked around the bar to put a comforting arm around his daughter's shoulder. "He can't...Don't get me wrong, he's tried. He has tried. But now the Old Man can't even face the day without it now. And Magiot's always eager to dose him, as many times as needed so he'll still work. Apparently... well... Old Man's very popular with the clientele there."
They were all silent for a moment. "I think I can help him, I'd like to try anyway." The Doctor nervously ran his hand through his hair. "If it's all right?" He gestured at the hall.
"Oh go ahead, he probably ate as much as he was going to by now. Although he might be asleep already." Nell saw the look the Doctor gave her. "He wants to sleep in there. We've offered him one of the rooms upstairs time and time again, but he won't sleep anywhere but there." She shrugged. "He likes it there. He says it feels safe."
However, once the Doctor got down the hall he hesitated, unsure of his welcome. Was there any of Jack, his Jack, left in the Old Man? Could he find it if there was? What would he do if there wasn't? He knocked lightly.
"I ate as m..m..much as I c..c.ould, Nell. Lemme sleep."
The Doctor opened the door a crack. "It's not Nell. It's me. I just... I could... I don't want to disturb you."
"You came back." The surprise in the voice was evident, and heartbreaking.
"I told you I would." The Doctor walked in to the tiny room and sat down next to Jack, leaning against the wall. He figured it be easier for them to talk if they didn't have to look face-to-face.
"Yeah, but..." He felt Jack shrug. "I figured, once Gunther and Nell t..t..told you what I d..do..."
"I didn't leave when you were a defrocked Captain whose failed con almost destroyed humanity, I'm not going to leave you now."
Actually, I quit. Nobody takes my frock.
"You, you'd stay?"
"The TARDIS is hidden in the hills. We'll get you to her medical bay, get the drugs out of your system and get you all healed up."
"Thought she did... didn't like me. Fixed p..p..point and all that."
"She's the one who brought me here. We both want you back, Old Man. We want you whole."
The silence that followed was eventually broken by the slight sounds of hitched breathing as Jack's emotions began to overwhelm him. The Doctor reached over and placed his arm around Jack, turning so he held Jack against his chest as he waited for Jack to realize that the time had come to move away from the pain and darkness into the light.
It should have been easy to get Jack to accept the offered help, but it wasn't. It was only after hours of broken conversations that the Doctor realized why; his friend was afraid. Afraid that Magiot might come after Gunther and Nell. Afraid that the TARDIS would react against him. Afraid of being a disappointment. Afraid of failing. Afraid of having his hopes built up only to have them dashed again.
That was when the Doctor finally had enough. He took Jack's face in his hands. "Look at me. Jack, eyes on me. Now. We're getting you off the blissfire and all healed up and then we'll head into the vortex, to live and love and laugh together." He pulled Jack closer and kissed him, long and deep. "You are so much bigger on the inside, bigger than I ever thought possible. Don't you ever forget that."
Jack started to say something, but the Doctor held up his hand. "Before you say anything, can we get off the floor now? I don't think I've ever been more uncomfortable in my life; my legs are going numb." He hid a smile when he heard Jack's soft laugh. "No really, I'm serious here. My arse has fallen asleep. Hey, it's not funny! Stop laughing at me!" But his protests were for naught as he began laughing too.
Eventually the Doctor did manage to convince Jack to come with him; although it involved several promises on his part. One promise was that they'd return so Jack could say a proper goodbye to Gunther and Nell once he was better. The second was that they'd track down a new RAF greatcoat for Jack to wear. The Third promised a visit to the weapon's factories at Villengard for a replacement squareness gun. The fourth was a re-enactment of their night in fourteenth century Japan. And the fifth...