Jack's head was pounding. He vaguely wondered what was causing such a splitting headache, but his thoughts were quickly distracted by the fact that he knew he was about to throw up. He lurched from where he was lying. Someone supported him with one hand on his back. Jack threw up, hoping there was something there to catch it, but not really caring as much as he should.
There was movement and he felt a cool cloth wipe his face. He sighed. What was wrong with him? He felt like he'd been eaten by a Hroten lithopede and spit back out. Even though he couldn't see where he was it still felt like the room was spinning out of control. His stomach was still protesting and the fabric under his torso (bare torso, he belatedly realized) was uncomfortably rough.
Wait, why couldn't he see?
He lifted one hand and moved it to his face. It was a testament to how disoriented he still was that he missed his face twice before finally managing to smack himself on the cheek. A hand caught his before it could make its way to his eyes.
He tried to protest but it only came out as a moan.
"You've got bandages over your eyes, Jack," a voice said gently. "Your sight is fine, but having them uncovered seemed to make the vertigo worse."
Jack took a moment to try and orient himself and then croaked, "Wh't h'ppn'd?"
"You were attacked by a tiklop. It had already burrowed into your ear canal when I got here. I killed it, but there was some psychic trauma. You should be alright in a day or so."
Tiklops. He'd heard of them. They burrowed into the skull and then started feeding off of memories and emotion--the psychic energy of their victim. Tiklops fed until their prey was brain dead and then laid eggs in the brain. Normally, they exuded a psychic calming effect that kept the victim comfortable but unaware. Apparently, not so with Jack. Or maybe that was just the effect of the thing being killed.
That's when he recognized the voice, "D'c?"
Jack woke again some time later. His stomach felt better and the headache wasn't as bad. He realized that the bandages must have been removed because he could see, though his vision was quite blurry. A brown blob approached him and resolved itself into the figure of the Doctor. The Doctor pressed two fingers onto Jack's wrist, presumably checking his pulse.
"Your physical wounds healed up quite quickly after I got the tiklop out. But I've been keeping an eye on that ear anyway. How are you feeling?"
"Head hurts. Stomach better. Room feels weird...wrong.S'all tilted the wrong way."
"How's your vision?"
"That should clear up soon. The headache will take a little longer still. Like I said, you had some psychic trauma."
The Doctor moved away and then back. "You up for trying some broth?"
Jack felt like laughing. He couldn't remember the last time he'd needed broth and felt like such an invalid.
"Sure." was all he said.
The Doctor helped him into a sitting position--didn't that just make the room twirl all around again--and (to his embarrassment) had to hold the cup for Jack to drink.
Surprisingly the broth did make him feel better.
His vision had cleared a little more by the time he finished and he could tell he was in his room beneath the hub.
"Where's my team?"
The doctor pointed upwards and gave a little shrug. "Up there I suppose. Ianto keeps checking in every few hours. I haven't really been paying much attention to them."
"They all right?"
"They're fine. You were the only one infested with a tiklop."
That was a relief. "So what are you doing here?"
"I was tracking an unexploded time mine some idiot dropped in the Irallian system. It bounced out over the rift."
A time mine? Those things were illegal, and more importantly dangerously unstable and unpredictable.
The Doctor read the expression on his face, and spoke in a slightly amused tone, "Don't worry I took care of it. Anyway, I stopped by to say hello and found that you were infested with a tiklop. Your team really had no idea what to do about it. I think Mickey had just proposed putting you out of your misery when I showed up."
Jack mused on that and then spoke, "No offense Doctor, but I might have preferred that to this wonderful situation. I have never felt that sick before and that's including the time I died from green mumps." That had been fun. He was immune to most human illnesses of this era, but in the 50s he'd run into a dangerously sick alien and caught the highly communicable disease.
A dark look passed over the Doctor's face but it left quickly and the Doctor sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You'll recover from any physical injury Jack, but there was no way of knowing if the memories taken by the tiklop would reassert themselves when you came back. I wasn't going to risk that if there was another way. You might have healed completely but been left with only half your memories."
Oh. Jack had never thought of that. He really didn't know what would happen either.
"So what did you do?"
"I went into your head and fought the tiklop, took your memories and put them back where they were supposed to be. It died and I removed it." The Doctor said it all in a very matter-of-fact tone.
"Huh. I knew you were telepathic, but I didn't know to what extent."
The Doctor didn't respond to that but instead asked him, "Do you want to try drinking a bit more?"
"Sure." By now his vision was back to normal and the headache had receded a bit more.
The Doctor handed him a cup and he was able to drink it himself this time.
"How long was I out of it?"
"Three days. You were in and out of consciousness the whole time. The first time you were coherent though was when you woke up five hours ago."
"You've been here the whole time?" Jack asked incredulously. The Doctor didn't usually stick around for clean up.
"I wanted to make sure you had your sanity intact." The Doctor replied dryly, "And all your memories were in their proper place."
Jack tilted his head and froze as the room suddenly twisted again. "Ok, note to self, don't move your head," he mumbled. Then he was silent as he took stock of his own mind. He had enough psychic training between Torchwood and the Time Agency to analyze memories and find gaps. It was part of how he had determined exactly how much time the Time Agency had taken from him (it wasn't quite as simple as just waking up one morning and it being two years later than he remembered).
Finally he spoke to the Doctor, "There's a little bit of disruption, but I can take care of that."
The Doctor grinned. "Brilliant!"
To Jack's surprise the Doctor stuck around for another two days while he was on the mend. He might have stayed longer if Mickey hadn't gotten fed up with him fiddling with everything in the hub and told him to go find someone else to bother--preferably in another galaxy. The Doctor had just grinned and said happy goodbyes (another surprise--the Doctor never said goodbye) to everyone, promising to come back sometime soon.
Though "soon" to the Doctor was a very relative term.
A month and a half later he was enjoying a dinner out with Martha (who was in town doing some liaison work between UNIT and Torchwood) when she asked him about it.
"I heard you had a bit of a run in with something nasty and the Doctor showed up."
"Yeah. That was six weeks ago now? A tiklop attacked me. Burrowed in and apparently did something nasty in my head. The Doctor took care of it."
Martha's eyes lit up, which was not the reaction Jack was expecting. "I got attacked by a tiklop when I was traveling with him. It was amazing."
"It was amazing?" Jack repeated dumbly.
"Yeah! I mean, I couldn't tell at all what the thing had done, he said it exudes just sort of a calming effect so any psychic defenses are down, but the Doctor went into my head of course to fight it."
"And the fight was amazing?" Jack said disbelieving. There was nothing about those five days of being sick that could be called amazing, at all.
Martha had finally caught on that his experience had apparently been quite different. In a more serious tone she explained, "The Doctor told me that while he was fighting the tiklop he couldn't adequately shield between my mind and his. There was some bleed through between our minds. For about four days afterwards, while the psychic trauma healed, I had a little bit of time sense like he has."
Jack froze as the implications of that statement hit him.
"Jack, what's wrong?" Martha demanded.
"I had a very...different experience. Let's just leave it at that."
Martha changed the subject obligingly, but Jack was so distracted by what he had realized that they ended the night early. Back in the hub he paced for a while trying to understand. Before, he'd just tried to forget what he'd felt like those days but now he tried to remember. He'd felt dizzy and sick. And that was only after he'd been insensible for three days. It must have been worse at the beginning. Moving down to his bed he sat and sank into a meditative state. He tried to bring up more clear memories of that time.
Just thinking about it now gave him a headache, but there had been a horrible sense of wrongness, that the world was suddenly tilted on the wrong axis, or that he was standing straight while everything else twisted into a pretzel shape.
It had made him want to flee as far as he could to get away from that awful feeling. But he couldn't. Everything had felt so distorted and twisted.
He grabbed his phone and dialed before he could convince himself not to.
A voice answered on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Doctor, is that what it feels like when you're around me?" he blurted without even returning a greeting.
The Doctor was silent.
"I remember everything twisting out of control, the worst vertigo in the world, all my senses out of whack--overly sensitive or completely numb. Is that what you feel when you're around me?"
Finally the Doctor answered, "Not exactly." He gave a sigh, "For those few days you had a rudimentary time sense but your brain doesn't know how to handle the input. What you felt was your brain's interpretation of how it feels when I'm around you."
"So, for all intents and purposes the answer is yes."
The Doctor gave another sigh, but didn't answer. He didn't need to.
"I'm sorry, Doctor. I didn't understand..." the guilt was clear in his voice. He'd never really thought about what it meant when the Doctor said just looking at him was wrong, that instinct told him to flee.
"Jack," the Doctor cut in sharply, "don't. It isn't your fault. You don't need to feel guilty over it. I've gotten used to it. I can handle it. I'm sorry it affected you that way though."
"I'm not." Jack said abruptly. "I wish I'd understood before what it felt like for you. I might not have been so bitter for so long."
They were both silent and then Jack asked, "So how'd the Master handle it?"
The Doctor snorted. "You might have noticed he was completely insane, and while definitely a sadist he also had a masochistic side. Besides, as much as he liked seeing you in pain, he would often do so from a distance. He couldn't handle being that close to you for long periods."
Couldn't handle being that close for long periods.
Jack was shaking now. "So, those three weeks where he made you care for me constantly after each session..."
"Don't Jack. I told you I've gotten used to it." The Doctor's voice was slightly abrupt.
"And what about the TARDIS?" Jack had deep affection for the ship and he wondered if it hurt her as much as the Doctor.
"Oh," the Doctor's voice took on an amused tone, "she's much better able to adapt than I am. The paradox machine hurt her worse than you ever did. So, while her first reaction was to flee, it was as much a sympathetic response to my reaction as it was to you. She adapted quite quickly after that. You don't bother her a bit any more."
Jack grinned with relief. Then he sobered and asked hesitantly, "I know you said you've gotten used to it, but will it ever stop bothering you?"
The Doctor was silent and Jack got the distinct impression that he didn't want to answer the question.
It was Jack's turn to sigh. "I guess that answers my question." It hurt. It wasn't either of their faults and it wasn't something either of them could change, but it still hurt knowing that he would always feel wrong to the Doctor.
"Don't put words in my mouth, Captain," the Doctor snapped, unexpectedly harsh. His tone mellowed though as he continued, "There is every possibility that it will one day stop bothering me. But not with this face."
Jack blinked a few times, "Um, do you mind explaining that a little better?"
"I have never been very good at controlling my regeneration process. But each regeneration is, in a lot of ways, a reaction against the previous one. My Ninth self was rather prone to moodiness, and brooding, and dark humor, so this time I'm chatty, a bit manic and sometimes even silly."
"Sometimes?" Jack teased.
"Oi! Anyway, what I'm trying to say is when I regenerated into this form it was partially a reaction against what had happened at the end of my previous life--which included absorbing the vortex and your immortality."
"So," Jack said trying to figure it out, "if you hadn't regenerated, if you had remained Big Ears, it wouldn't have hurt?"
"No, it would have, it did hurt but in a very different way. My Ninth self was very much a product of the time war and had a great deal of psychic scarring that made your presence just as difficult. Dying at the moment didn't make it any better. Anyway, my point is, when I regenerate, my next body will be better adapted to your presence. I hope."
"Somehow, knowing you have to die to not have such a bad reaction around me isn't as comforting as you might think," Jack said sarcastically.
The Doctor snorted, "Which is why I was hesitant to tell you in the first place."
"Is there anything I can do to help mute the effect or something?" Jack wasn't used to feeling so uncertain, but after their discussion about his immortality on Malcassairo he'd really discounted what the Doctor said about him being wrong until now when he understood better what the Doctor meant by it.
"Well, just try not to die when I'm around."
"Right. Got that." Jack smiled again.
"Anything else I can do for you, Jack? Because I was about to hop over to the Yavaran system and grab some spicy whickeldees."
Jack laughed, "Don't let me keep you then. I had heartburn for a week the first and only time I tried those."
The Doctor sniffed disdainfully, "Such pleasures are not meant for the delicate nature of the human digestive system."
Jack had pushed most of the conversation to the back of his mind. It bugged him, but there wasn't anything he could do to change it, so there was no point in dwelling on it. About a week after his conversation with the Doctor, though he was surprised to come into the hub and find the TARDIS parked beside the rift manipulator.
He looked around and saw no one in the central area. He shrugged and pulled out his key and entered the TARDIS.
"Hello Jack!" the voice came from further in the ship.
His voice sounded a little funny.
Jack left the console room and said, "Where are you?"
Right. Now he had to figure out where that was this time around. He found it presently enough but was shocked to find, not the Doctor as he was expecting, but a very young man with glasses and long fingers and horribly floppy hair. He was looking in a mirror, adjusting his coat.
"Well, hello!" Jack said. "Who are you?" He put on his most charming grin.
The young man gave a bark of laughter and turned around. "Hello Jack."
Jack blinked. Then his mouth dropped open. "You have got to be kidding me. Are you supposed to get younger each time?"
The Doctor smiled, "Well, my first body was the one that looked oldest--not the whole time, but when I reached adulthood."
Then Jack's expression of incredulity and amusement fell off his face and a look of grief replaced it. "What happened?"
"Nothing you need to worry about. You haven't seen the last of my old body yet. There is still quite a bit of time you'll spend with me in that life. If I timed this right we recently had a discussion about my reaction to your immortality."
"Yeah, a week ago."
"I came because I wanted you to know."
"To know what?"
The Doctor smiled and came closer, his eyes belying his youthful looks. One hand reached up to cup Jack's cheek, "It doesn't hurt anymore. You'll always be glaringly obvious to my time sense, but you don't feel so wrong to me now. I wanted you to know that."
Jack was stunned. The Doctor had crossed into the past in a way that was definitely not a good idea just to tell him this?
The Doctor smiled, as if reading his mind and said, "Just don't tell that me that you met this me, or there might be a problem."
The next time the Doctor stopped by he could not figure out for the life of him why Jack kept looking at him and laughing every so often.