"I don't want to go," he choked out, but he could feel the regeneration energy glowing through him, crackling and churning and ready to burst and with the pain and the loss and oh, he'd only had six years, the man he was before had even less but he'd wanted to go he was suffering and he didn't want to but he was burning…
"It's all right, son, I've got you," said a voice that hearkened to the back of his mind.
The Tenth Doctor realized someone was holding him, and the golden light was fading so he could see once more. He blinked a few times to clear the fuzz. Then realized he was lying on a couch. In a room with soft blue walls. Having a thermos of tea being waved at him. By his previous self.
"Oi! Where are we?" Ten asked, sitting up. Nice furniture. Leather. Whole room smelled of it. Like an extension of the other's jacket.
"Bit of a pretty boy, aren't you? Your Jack must have loved it. C'mon, have some tea. We've discovered it helps a lot the other way around too." Nine unceremoniously shoved the thermos into Ten's hand and moved to his own chair. The coffee table was littered with stacks of paper, photographs, bread crusts, and a disassembled watch.
"Is this some sort of…"
"Tell me, how did you go? And what happened to Rose? I got the report that she got trapped in that dimension, and then later you were reunited and stopped the end of reality, but my source didn't know what you did next."
"Doctor, I mean, you Doctor, former Doctor…"
"We refer to each other by order of incarnation. Found it was easiest." He saw the still-woozy Ten trying to count and smirked. "Nine. I'm Nine."
Ten signed and took a sip of tea. "I take it with less sugar. Took, I guess. But thank you. My head's clearing. So is this a kind of afterlife?"
Nine waved his hands vaguely. "Is and isn't. You see, when Rose fused with the TARDIS and became the Bad Wolf, she wanted nothing more than to save Jack and me. She brought Jack back to life but unintentionally killed me when I took the Vortex energy from Rose. Soon as I said goodbye to her, I found myself in the formless whitespace of the Bad Wolf's mind. She was very upset that I had to die, so she had made a copy of my consciousness to live in this pocket dimension she created. Then she was worried I'd get lonely, so she reached into my mind and through space and time and extracted the consciousnesses of all our previous incarnations. We each got to pick out a house to live in. You can go make yours in a bit. You just have to think a room and it appears with whatever you like. Not half bad compared to oblivion, eh?"
"Oh. So it'll just be us forever and ever?" He could think of worse things, but it was nice to know if he had other options.
"No, only until the last of us dies for real. Then something else will happen. No idea what. We also discussed what she had done to Jack. I gave her the biggest lecture you can give a being of almost infinite power, and said that what she had done was wrong. She said she couldn't change the physical world any longer because when Rose became an ordinary girl again, she no longer existed on that plane. But we worked out a deal. I told her that repeatedly dying and being open to the kind of suffering permanent death would no longer protect him from would make him insane very quickly. The human mind isn't built for that."
"You know, I always wondered how Jack stayed so cheerful, particularly when the Master…"
Nine's eyes darkened. "Get to that in a mo'. So she agreed that she'd do the same thing for Jack that she did for me. Us. By giving a resting place for each life of Jack, they would be able to heal their trauma and not drive Current Jack mad with his memories of their suffering. He'd be psychologically distant from previous lives the way you look at the War less painfully than I did, and I look at it better than Eight who died in the thick of it. Different men. It's just that all the versions of him are much closer to being alike."
The Doctor reels at the implications. "So you mean every single version of Jack is here too?"
"Yeah. The place expands as we need it. Each one prepares a report of how the world is doing and how the current Doctor is doing so far as he knows. They're mostly good neighbors and friends, but they do have some rowdiness issues. We've asked them to keep the…you know…what you'd think…out of earshot."
"Oh, but orgies would be so much better with the Doctors in the mix!" called a voice from the hall. A young Jack unburdened by sorrow appeared in a bathrobe, arms wide open for a hug.
Ah, hell with propriety, Ten thought. He was to a certain degree dead, and this Jack did not have the factness, the harshness, the impossibility of the one he had sadly known. He ran and hugged him.
"You are the cutest of the lot! No offence to you, Nine. You'll always be my Doctor."
"Oh, so you're the first one? I'm really sorry. So very sorry."
"They call me Original Jack, and don't apologize to me. You never hurt me."
Nine sounded more serious than comforting now. "We have two hospitals full to the brim with Jacks. One hospital we quickly dedicated to Jacks from the Year. Some of them have started talking again by now. They come to us corporeally intact, but their minds…"
Original Jack led a downcast Ten by the hand back to the couch and kissed his forehead. "Every one of them loves you, Doctor. You're often the first thing they'll say. The better ones brighten up when they see Nine, and the Torchwood Jacks come and tell them happy stories about the team and how they got to really connect with people, but I think you should visit them and apologize."
"These Jacks had waited a hundred years for you. They stayed by your side and died – a lot of them only lived for a few hours – and you did not love or want them half as much as you wanted the man that did this to them, who had hurt you too all through the year."
Ten bit his lip. "You're right."
"They will forgive you, I promise. But it's nice to say it."
"Hang on – you said two hospitals. What's the other one for?"
"Ah, those are the Buried Alive for Centuries Jacks. They tend to recover faster than the other ones, but they still have issues."
"It's not just us and the Jacks," Nine clarified. "There's a neighborhood…sort of a ghetto actually…with all the Masters. It's pleasant but walled. They're not allowed out without supervision. Mister Harold Saxon seems very upset that all his guards are versions of Jack, even though we don't let them hurt him."
Ten started laughing. It was such a bizarre revelation, yet such an oddly fitting one, that he could not help being relieved. He had feared nothingness or punishment, not a retirement colony with old friends. "All right. I'll tell you everything from my point of view, Nine, and then I'll go say sorry, and then we'll go visit the rest of the Doctors, and then maybe try to save the Masters from themselves, eh?"
Eleven woke slowly, fading into the waking world with no special urgency. Amy and Rory were fast asleep in their room and, as humans, would need several more hours. "That's the nicest dream I've had for a while," he murmured.
The TARDIS hummed at him, and he stroked the wall. "Are you simply trying to make me feel better, or was that the truth?"
She hummed mysteriously.
"I love you, you know."
She loved him too.