Jack leaned back against a strut on the Valiant's windswept open deck, looking up into the night sky with unseeing eyes.
The night was already bending towards morning, the horizon lightening towards the east behind Jack's back. It had been hours since the Doctor had left with the Master's corpse. Jack had worked to help UNIT take control of the aftermath, had explained the situation as best he could, had gently nudged the newly arrived officers into an understanding of what the traumatised people up here needed, until everything had been more or less in hand.
Martha and her family had long settled down for the night, but Jack couldn't bring himself to lie down himself. Still, he could take a moment, sit here. Close his eyes. Let the chill wind sweep him clean of the memories of the day, of the year.
The Doctor's despair still tore at him, contrasted with the horrors of that year. There was no comfort Jack could have given, no comfort anyone could offer the Doctor now. And there was nothing the Doctor had left to give Jack. They both needed space.
Jack hadn't gone back to Torchwood yet, either, hadn't even spoken to his team. He'd seen them all murdered, gruesome and bloody, for the Master's pleasure, for Jack's reaction. He'd grieved for them, and he couldn't let them know. No, he wasn't selfish enough to burden them with memories he wished he could forget.
Still, he ached to see all of them again, Ianto and Gwen and Owen and Tosh and, hell, even the Weevils. Soon. Very soon.
He just needed a moment, get some rest first. Rest that was impossible to come by, with a million deaths and revivals flickering through his memory, the Master's voice still ringing in his ear. With reflexes from a year in captivity, a year under torture, setting off flashbacks on a hair trigger.
He'd get those under control, somehow. He would.
An access hatch popped open with a clang, and Jack drew in a sharp hiss, stiffening with the adrenaline rush, expecting -
Knives. Electricity. A laser screwdriver. Pain, by any means available. Or worse than that, someone else dragged in front of him to -
But the Master was dead. There was only a grey-haired stranger's head popping out of the access hatch, looking around.
The man was wearing a black jacket over a white shirt, shirtsleeves protruding at his wrists as he waved a hand around. Bizarrely, he was holding sunglasses. The wind went through his grey curls, tousling them.
He had remarkable eyebrows, and when he spoke, it was with a gorgeous Scottish accent. "There you are! I almost wouldn't have found you, if it wasn't for these." He thrust his sunglasses in Jack's general direction even as he came fully out of the access hatch and unceremoniously sat down on the deck next to Jack.
His nerves still jangling, Jack narrowed his eyes, the mystery of the man's identity the only reason Jack didn't tell him to shove it and leave him alone. He knew everyone currently on the Valiant, new arrivals included, and this man shouldn't be among them.
Somehow he didn't feel like a threat. Jack didn't dare trust the feeling.
"I know, I know," said the stranger. "Who looks at sunglasses and thinks, these could be a little more sonic? Well, me, actually. I did. I do." He waggled eyebrows and threw Jack an expectant look.
The Doctor grinned at Jack, wide and infectious. The chill of the wind seemed to lessen with his presence, but Jack couldn't quite summon the energy for cheer. Instead he took in the sight of him, a new face on a familiar person, an expression that seemed to want to turn into a scowl, but with eyes too kind for more than surface grumpiness. Someone, Jack thought, whose abrasiveness had been smoothed away by time, by effort, by will.
"You're crossing your own timeline," Jack said mildly, trying and failing to come up with a reason why a new version of the Doctor might have come to here-and-now.
"So I am." The Doctor's eyes seemed to sharpen, to focus on Jack with an intent Jack couldn't read. "Reasons. Spoilers." He snorted, then shook his head, as at a private joke.
Jack considered. "Anything to do with your other self?"
"Him?" A dismissive wave of the hand, the Doctor's face scrunching into a deep-furrowed frown. "No, forget about him, none of his business. And he's not in any frame of mind to notice right now. Or care -"
"- about anything but his own pain?" It was out of Jack's mouth before he could reconsider. Damn, this wasn't the time to provoke the Doctor. He didn't have the capacity to deal with that, right now.
Much like the Doctor himself. The younger Doctor. Damn, he didn't want to sympathise; he had problems enough.
"Not right now, no," was all the Doctor said, startlingly not taking offence, nor lashing out in self-defence. "Leave him be, he'll get there in the end." Another bright, wide grin, teeth flashing white. "Promise."
"The Master," Jack said, cold certainty pooling in his stomach. "Him, then." You're here for him. Because of him.
No matter what the Master was, what he'd done - something true connected the two Time Lords. It hadn't taken Jack long to figure that out. Longer to stop resenting it, with some shallow, selfish part of his soul. It would take longer yet to come to terms with it, somehow.
"I wanted him to change," the Doctor said, his eyes far away. Heavy, as under the weight of a terrible dilemma, still. "He didn't. I still wonder -"
He broke off, and didn't pick up the sentence again. For a long moment, there was nothing but the sound of the engines, the sweep of the wind, and the rhythm of their breathing.
This might be a different Doctor, but it was still the Doctor. Jack could still tell what must be hovering at the tip of his tongue. "All right, ask."
The Doctor's usual scowl was especially impressive on this particular face, those eyebrows drawn down and his upper lip pulling up. "If I was wrong to try? I can't ask you that."
"Really." Jack didn't say, Your other self would. But he was sure the Doctor understood it just fine.
"One day. A decade or a century from now. Not today." The Doctor shifted his seat and turned more fully towards Jack, facing him straight-on. "But no. He's not why I'm here. I'm here because of you."
Jack drew himself up a little. That could only mean one thing. "What do you need me to do?"
"Do? Nothing." The Doctor grimaced, waving him down. "No, Jack, not like that." Pity? Understanding? Compassion? Something ancient, anyway.
Jack shivered with a gust of wind, or with confusion, or weariness, he couldn't tell. "All right. Then what?" Why are you sitting here with me?
The Doctor's hand settled on Jack's shoulder, and he peered into Jack's face, intent and strangely tender. "Your body doesn't need healing," he said, gently. "And your mind ... What you need most is time. That's not something a time machine can shortcut."
"Tell me something I don't know," said Jack, wearily. His skin felt raw under his shirt, under his jacket - raw, yet shiver-cold, as if the Doctor was peeling away layers, exposing him to the wind.
"Sleep," the Doctor said, bizarrely. "The restful kind, without nightmares. I figure you haven't had any for a year."
Jack looked away, muscles tensing against tremors. Tonelessly, "And?"
"I can give you that, at least." The Doctor's shrug, seen from the corner of Jack's eyes, seemed almost diffident. "Not much, I know. All I've got."
What? Jack's head jerked back, eyes meeting eyes, a startling jolt.
"You can't be serious. You're here to help me sleep?" It came out scoffing, the hurt underneath emerging in a defensive snap. "Going to cradle me in your arms?"
"Yes, actually," said the Doctor, his face straight. There was only kindness in his eyes.
Jack's eyes widened. "And you're going to be there when I wake up, I'm sure." He couldn't quite suppress the incredulity; he knew the Doctor too well. Even if the Doctor, for some bizarre reason, might decide to do such a thing as help someone sleep - it certainly wouldn't be for him. For someone else, perhaps. Not for Jack.
But the Doctor leaned forward, his entire expression radiating nothing but honesty. "Yes."
And he reached for Jack's shoulders, pulling him away from the strut. Jack let himself be moved, too stunned to resist, and the Doctor slid in behind him, wrapping his arms around Jack, his chin hooked over Jack's shoulder, cradling him close.
"Rest," he murmured. "No nightmares. I promise."
Jack's head was resting against the Doctor's neck. The Doctor's body was strong and solid at his back, the Doctor's arms. Jack sighed, and almost against his will let himself relax into the Doctor's hold, his eyes falling shut.
The Doctor's breath huffed against his hair: a snort. "Why do you trust me so much when you trust me so little?"
Jack didn't bother with an answer. Warmth was seeping into him, and it took him a moment to realise it wasn't physical. In the windswept chill, the Doctor's body - already at a lower temperature than a human's - had no warmth to offer. No; it was the Doctor's mind, a gentle telepathic field too mild to trigger Jack's mental defences, projecting comfort and warmth.
There were no flashbacks now, no memories, no reflex to snap to alertness, to be ready. There was only calm, and mental warmth, and the Doctor, and it was easy to let himself drift away.
Oh. The Doctor. Not a dream, then.
The apology for the unwanted kiss died on his lips as the Doctor's hands cupped his face, the Doctor's lips pressing against his. What?
The Doctor pulled away, grinning. He looked radiant in daylight, even in the shade of their hidden corner. Some time while Jack had slept, morning must have broken, and the Valiant's deck lay in bright sunlight.
"Morning, Jack. Sweet dreams, yeah?"
Teasing, too. Jack stared. "How long was I asleep?"
"A few hours. You look a bit better, less with the ..." The Doctor gestured at Jack's face, indicating rings under his eyes. "All right, then?"
Jack only nodded, thoughts racing. For me. You did that for me. You came here, and you soothed my mind, and you sat for hours, just to help me sleep.
He almost wanted to believe there was an ulterior motive, that there was more to it than that. And perhaps there was, but even so, the Doctor had come; the Doctor was here. With him. For him.
"You know I can't stay." The grip of the Doctor's hand was solid on Jack's shoulder, almost as if he didn't want to let go. "Be a while until you'll see me again."
Jack managed a grin of his own. He'd already stayed, longer than Jack would have believed. "I'm not about to run out of time."
"I love him." It had been a sigh more than a statement, Martha's voice so low Jack could barely make it out. "But I don't think I can be around him right now."
"Yeah," Jack had said, with feeling, only marginally more loudly. "I know exactly how you feel."
She wouldn't go back to travelling with the Doctor, not after this. She'd seen, now, what it looked like when someone had his full attention - and it had been him, of all people. The Master. And she'd seen what she could do, what she could be, on her own. There was no comparison.
And Jack? Even if he were, somehow, welcome in the TARDIS - what would he do?
He'd known the answer all along, but there had been a bitter taste to it, like failure, like giving up. Now, with mental warmth still wrapping around him like the memory of an embrace, warming his heart, it was the certainty and pleasure of setting out on his chosen path, looking forward to where it might take him.
This night of sleep, or the promise of a future, or just the Doctor - whatever the cause, Jack's energy seemed to be bouncing back already. All right: time to find the Doctor - the younger Doctor, miserable and grieving and alone. Time to find Martha. Time to settle all this, draw a line at the end of this endless year.
And then, time to return to Torchwood, and after a year in Hell, to finally live again.