Characters: Ace, The Seventh Doctor, Hex
Spoilers Up To: The Big Finish Audio Live 34
Author's Note: In the audio adventure Live 34, Ace, the Doctor and Hex spend months apart, working to bring down a dictator named Jaeger on a colonized planet. Chief among his crimes; lacking natural resources to create energy, he burns human bodies as a power supply. Ace, who earns the nickname of 'Rebel Queen' is eventually caught, imprisoned, and forced to confess to murders. As the whole audio is done as a radio show, with none of the typical 'everyone gets into the TARDIS safe and sound' tag, I had to write a post ep. Huge thanks to callieghj for the beta and Brit checking.
"Can you make it to the TARDIS?" the Doctor asked softly once they cleared the platform. "It's a bit of a walk, as I didn't want the sound alerting anyone, but I'd rather not leave you here to go get it. I don't like the sound of this crowd."
"Yeah, I..." Ace pinched her lips together and nodded tightly. Speaking hurt, rattled her ribs too much. A couple, she was sure, were cracked if not broken.
"Just lean on us, McShane." Hex wrapped one arm around Ace's waist. The Doctor mimicked the gesture from on her other side. Like competitors in a three-legged race they moved as one, heading away from the roar of the crowd and the frantic pleas of the fake Leo Jaeger. Halfway to their destination Ace's knees buckled. Without a word the Doctor scooped her up in her arms and carried her the rest of the way.
"The door, if you please Mr. Hex," the Doctor said with relief when the blue box came into view. He was glad to find that the infirmary was close to the console room; the sooner he could set Ace down the sooner they could start tending her wounds. The physical ones, at least. Their stay on Colony 34 hadn't been a picnic for anyone, but he suspected Ace's visit had been particularly difficult.
"We'll soon have you put to rights," he promised as he set her down on the bed in the middle of the room. Ace did not reply. She had passed out, which was probably for the best. "Hex?"
"I've got her, Doctor."
Stepping away from the bed, the Doctor allowed Hex to examine Ace. Knowing that he was of little use, and smiling sardonically at the reminder that his chosen title had little to do with physical healing, he decided to leave his two companions alone. It had been an age since he and Hex had eaten, and probably longer since Ace had received any nourishment. He would go prepare tea for them.
"How is she?" he asked a half hour later as he carried a tray into the infirmary. In addition to a pot of tea and three cups he had sandwiches for Hex and himself and chicken broth for Ace.
"A right mess," Hex muttered, scowling as he cleared a space on the table for the tray. "Nothing that won't heal, though. Her ankle's swollen but it's just a sprain. A couple ribs are cracked but no bones seem to be broken. The bruises will fade eventually, but her back..."
When Hex didn't continue the Doctor moved to see the damage for himself. Long red lines, a few broken open and bleeding, broke the skin on Ace's back. Whip marks.
"Oh Ace." Gently he set his hand on her shoulder, one of the few places on her body that didn't seem to carry the signs of her time in Jaeger's care. This was his fault, but she would be the one to bear the scars from the experience. He knew how dangerous it would be, but once he had found out what was happening here he couldn't turn his back on the innocent people of Colony 34. And once Ace had seen the crash site she had insisted on doing what ever it took to stop the slaughter. "There had to be another way."
"But there wasn't, Professor. And it worked." Her eyes remained closed, but Ace rolled over slowly to face him. The move made her wince and she couldn't hide a moan. "Unless I hallucinated your whole speech at the podium a bit ago."
"No, that was me pontificating, as usual. Strange, but it's the first time in weeks that no one threw any rotten fruit in my direction."
"Or fists," Hex pointed out. He'd been in a few crowds, seen a few bruises on the Doctor's face.
"Thank you Hex," the Doctor said dryly.
"You okay, Professor?" Ace asked, her voice still raspy as she worked hard to draw in each breath.
"I should be the one asking you that."
"I'm fine. Just a bit sleepy is all. They liked to keep the lights a bit bright in the jail cell, make it hard for us to sleep." The lights in the room, not too bright to begin with, dimmed even more. When Ace's eyes flickered open the Doctor silently whispered his thanks.
"You can sleep here as much as you need to, but how's about drinking a bit of tea first. The body needs fuel, after all." Only when Ace's eyes widened and her hand jerked up to cover her mouth did Hex realize what he said. He remembered the bodies he had found in the pit, and knew that Ace had seen worse. "Oh my God, I'm sorry."
"It's alright, Hex. I know you didn't mean anything by it." She tried to push away the images of the dead bodies being collected, the ones she had seen being burned. The air suddenly seemed filled with ashes, and she almost choked on them. Only by forcing herself to breath slowly was she able to stop the coughing.
"Funny, how meaningless some expressions are most of the time, but how easily they can come to mean something sinister." The Doctor poured a cup of tea, lacing it heavily with cream and sugar. He helped Ace to sit up in the bed, supporting her hand when it shook too much to hold the cup steady. "I would tell you both to forget, but I don't think it would do any good."
"I don't want to forget." After drinking enough tea to satisfy the Doctor, Ace laid back against the pillow.
"Why not?" Hex held a sandwich in his hand, but he only tore at the edge, playing with the bread. Despite the hours that had passed since his last meal he didn't have much of an appetite.
"If everyone were to forget it could happen again." She shuddered, hissing as the muscles of her back flexed.
"Aye, that's the sad truth." Returning the sandwich to the tray, Hex stuffed his hands into his pockets. He understood what Ace meant. He also knew that no matter how many memories they carried with them similar horrors would happen.
"It's been a long day, and the both of you need some rest," the Doctor pointed out.
"You're right Doctor." Hex stood in the middle of the room, frozen by indecision, until the Doctor gently nudged him.
"To your room, Mr. Hex. I'll keep an eye on our patient until she falls asleep." It was high time he did.
"Are you sure? I..."
"Quite sure," the Doctor insisted.
"'s okay, Hex." Already half asleep, Aces voice was slurred. With one last look Hex left the infirmary, his footsteps fading as he walked down the TARDIS corridor. The Doctor poured himself a cup of tea and pulled a chair up to the edge of the bed.
"You don't have to stay here. You should get some sleep too."
"I'd rather have a cup of tea. Tannin is a wonderful restorative, you know."
"Yeah, but..." She was glad he was staying, but she still made a token protest. Habit, more that anything else.
"Don't worry about a thing, Ace. Just let yourself sleep."
"I don't... don't know if I can. I'm afraid of what I'll see." The Doctor pressed his hand against her damp brow and smoothed away the worried creases.
"Nothing tonight," he promised. "No promises about tomorrow, but for tonight your dreams will be only pleasant."
"G'night," Ace breathed. Moments later she was drifting off to sleep. The Doctor stayed the night at her side, keeping the nightmares at bay.