There's so much pretense to the visiting rights. What a great honor it is that the Doctor gets them, how much the Master is put out by them, and how they'll be taken away the moment anyone does anything wrong. The Joneses probably believe the rules and the nonsense the Master spews at them, but the Doctor doesn't.
They are, of course, just part of the game. Everything is part of the game.
There's the part where the Master slides around the rooms on the Valiant, showing off just how much of the board he owns. There's the part where the other pieces are knocked around, showing just how little mobility they have left. There's the part where the dominated squares are put on full, horrifying display. And then there are the visiting rights.
It's Tuesday. It's Jack's day to visit the Doctor. He's sat with him in the room every Tuesday since the Master took over, his eternally young hand on the Doctor's withered old one, massaging out the pains and soothing the liver spots. There are rarely words on Jack's visiting days, just two very old men sitting together in their defeat. The Master both loves and hates these days, the Doctor knows. He loves them because Jack's pain is almost palatable, thick and rich in the eternally sterile air of the Valiant. He hates them because they don't talk, and there's very little to mock in two men sitting silently in pain.
Today is going to be different.
The Doctor curls up in the center of the cage, looking down at his tiny, twisted body. It's one thing, going from a young man with a strong back and slender fingers to an old man with wizened hands. It's completely different to become so old and so twisted and tiny that he's completely alien, even to himself. His feet are blotted globs of old skin, and his hands are tiny and fragile and they creak when the Doctor moves them. Before, as the old man, he only remembered he was old when he tried to talk or move, but here the bottom of the cage is a shiny mirror, reflecting the disgusting creature he's been transformed to. His head sits precariously on his neck, his eyes almost blind, and every single year of his life criss-crossed in tiny wrinkles over his face.
He reaches up, tracing a tiny hand over where his hair, the sticky-uppy brown mess he was always so proud of, wasn't. The alien reflection at the bottom of the cage moves with him, a surprised look on its face. The skin feels thick and foreign and he thinks that he won't be used to it, not even if he lived a thousand years like this.
It's a humbling thing. Of course, all of this is meant to do that, isn't it? To show just how humble the Doctor can be before the Master.
Jack is thrown into the room and the camera in the corner of the room follows him. The Master is always watching. It's part of the game. They feel the pain, the Master gets to see it.
Jack looks worse than he did before. He's died at least twice since he saw the Doctor last, the Doctor can tell. Time is the one thing that hasn't faded with his aged eyes, and the tracks that move around Jack swirl with new leaps back in time. Every death hangs over Jack like the wrinkles on the Doctor's new body, but no one else can see them.
It takes the Doctor a moment to notice that Jack is staring at him, too. It's part fear, part pity, and it's all blended with a healthy dollop of anger. Is the anger at the Master? Is it at the Doctor for failing him a year ago? There's no real way for the Doctor to tell.
"Captain," he says, and his voice is brittle and thin, coming out in an alien wisp that's almost the Doctor's voice but mostly someone else.
"Doctor," Jack replies, because that is what he always replies when he visits him. His voice is wary, uncertain. He's become used to the old man he holds hands with, this new gremlin in the cage is someone he can't quite recognize.
All the same, he pulls a chair over next to the cage and sits, as he always does. It's good, this routine. It's good to know that even when things are at their worst, the Master can't take the familiar habits away from Jack and the Doctor.
"Suppose you can finally stick height-weight-proportional on your classified now," Jack teases. "The skinny with the tall isn't as appealing. And you don't need size when you can learn overcompensation." While the joke falls impossibly flat between them, it's comforting that he's tried.
The Doctor doesn't tease. He feels no humor in this body; he hasn't felt humor in 366 days. He hasn't been the Doctor in 366 days; he's just been a whopping failure.
"Has he still been feeding you?" he asks, and each word takes almost a whole lungful of air. He imagines the tiny tumors that grow on very old humans, and thinks that maybe with the thousand years of age, he's also grown a thousand years of sickness. But no, the Master wouldn't allow that, would he? He doesn't want the Doctor to die. He just wants him to suffer.
Jack nods. "Yeah. Twice a day, every day. Don't know what you did to convince him to keep that up, but do it again, would ya? This time, ask for something organic and home-grown. I'm getting tired of the same old slush. And a martini. Been too long since I've had a martini, forgot how much I missed olives."
This time, the teasing invokes a small smile on the Doctor's lips. It's not so much the humor as the effort.
"I'll get you out of here," he says, because it is something he always says. The time is quickly approaching, now. He will get them out. He can feel the matrices of Archangel in his mind and he can tie himself to them in his sleep. It's a promise, now, instead of the hollow plea for forgiveness it was when they first started out.
The Doctor leans forward, curling his little hands around the cold metal bars. He wants to hug Jack. He only hugged him the once, on Utopia, and while it was a good hug, it doesn't feel like that was enough. Nothing the Doctor does for Jack will be enough, ever again. A hundred years of waiting and now a year of torture and pain. Some friend he's been.
Jack reaches forward and lightly touches his thumb to the Doctor's hand and his finger covers the whole of what's left. His skin is smooth and young and it still feels like sandpaper to the Doctor. Everything hurts. Everything is sore and everything is unpleasant.
"I should've stopped him," Jack says, and there's a sudden burst of emotion to Jack's voice. "I should've stopped him before, I should've---I don't know, broke the chains, leapt in front of the beam---"
"There's nothing you could've done," the Doctor says, still breathing hard. It hurts, breathing. It hurts, moving. It hurts even more seeing Jack like this. Jack shouldn't be defeated. Jack shouldn't be anything but himself, anything but the strong-willed and overly flirtatious hero that he's always been.
"I promised I'd protect you," Jack says. He avoids looking at the Doctor, and maybe it's because the Doctor is disgusting to look at, or maybe it's because he's so shamed.
"I did," Jack says passionately, and he looks up to the Doctor for a moment before looking away. "I promised myself when I found you. I wouldn't let you regenerate, I wouldn't risk you dying again. I wouldn't let you get hurt, for all those times I should've been there to keep you from getting hurt. I wouldn't let you down." Jack's voice breaks, just a little. "And I did."
It's not Jack's fault, the Doctor wants to say. It's not his fault he wasn't there, it's the Doctor's fault. The Doctor ran in fear, and all those times he might've had Jack with him, he lost. Jack didn't let the Doctor down. Jack never let the Doctor down. He gave up everything for him, and the Doctor took it and ran. Busy life, moving on. How could Jack possibly feel guilt?
The Doctor shakes his head, and his little neck can barely support the movement. "You never did. You were always there, when you could be. I wish I could've been there for you."
The slices on Jack's t-shirt are fresh, wet blood glistening in the dim light. The Doctor should've been there, should've saved him over and over again. None of the deaths circling Jack should be there, but they are, and that is the Doctor's fault. Jack's fault is entirely in his mind, but the Doctor's isn't. It's there. It's real.
"I don't blame you," Jack says. He blames someone, though, and the Doctor knows who it is.
"I do." The Doctor is too old and too tired to pretend he doesn't feel it anymore. To pretend that it isn't his fault that they are where they are. Everything could've been stopped, it could've ended back when they stood in the air field and Jack had his gun. It could've been over, but it isn't.
"Yeah, well, I don't," Jack says, voice firm. "I never could." His voice drops then to something softer, something tender. He looks at the twisted figure of the Doctor with something like reverence. Adoration, maybe. Love. The Doctor doesn't deserve Jack's love, he thinks, and he doesn't understand how he could still have it when he's so defeated, small, and helpless.
But he takes it, because he takes everything Jack offers him. He takes it because he needs it, because it's comforting, because it'll keep him going for the next day.
The Doctor reaches out and curls his fingers around Jack's thumb. His bones creak, but he eventually manages to just about grip it, like a newborn holding an ogling parent's finger. Jack's skin is hot and human against the Doctor's cold, alien flesh, and it's nowhere near the same as the hand massages and gentle touches he received from Jack before, but he hopes it's at least something, even if it isn't enough.
And there they are, two very old men sitting together in defeat.
There isn't any more talking.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,781