|Tue, 7 Dec 1999
[The Authority] "Interlude" 1/1
Disclaimer: Jenny Sparks and the Doctor are property of Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, and Wildstorm. This takes place between Authority issues 8 and 9, and is rated PG-13 for language. Special thanks to DuAnn Cowart, Abyss, Heatherly and Lynxie for help in the writing process. In retrospect, it seems that it's written quite close to the events described in Alicia McKenzie's "Good Faith" and DuAnn's "No Night for Gin." Go check them out for a good read.
Colors. Everything was colors. The rasp of his shallow breathing rolled off the tongue and fell to the crystalline earth, where it shattered into a million glittering fragments and melted away. The scent of stale sweat and vomit was received as a shocking yellow shot through with sickly green. His pain was a dull, angry crimson, and it washed over the senses like a bath of acid. But he hung on, because Jenny Sparks was going to kick his ass if he didn't come back clean.
He hadn't used a Door to get to this alternate universe -- he hadn't needed to. He could do the phase-shift by himself. Besides, this way no one would know where he was, and therefore would not see him vomiting clouds of fuschia mist.
He collapsed as his arms gave out. His feverish cheek hit the cold, hard ground as the cloud of refuse floated into the hazy pink atmosphere, and all he could think of were the drugs. Morphine, heroin, even marijuana . . . anything would stop this. Anything would stop the pain. He needed something, needed something badly, but he was so weak . . .
He'd tried to reach out. He really had. He'd talked to Angie and Jack that night as they soared above the sea of living minds, and had a few quiet words with Apollo when he had been engaged in the long process of "healing" the Carrier after Sliding Albion's calvary had killed Comms. There had even been a rare moment with the Midnighter on the observation deck, albeit it had been spent in silence as the two men gazed out into the Bleed. And Shen . . . they had exchanged few words, but the woman always seemed to radiate an aura of calm, of peace . . . something the Doctor fervently wished he had, especially when in an alternate dimension laying in a cloud of his own vomit.
But those tentative contacts had not been enough. He didn't know what else to do; Jack and Angie always seemed too involved with one another for him to wish to directly address them, he just couldn't bring himself to approach the Midnighter, and he didn't think Apollo would understand. And Jenny . . .
Well, frankly, Jenny was scary.
He'd tried so hard to please her, and in some small part seemed to have succeeded. At least she appreciated him tactically; he wasn't certain, but he was pretty sure killing Sliding Albion's equivalent of Italy had clinched it.
But even that hadn't been enough to save him from the wrath of the team leader. If the Midnighter had thought Jenny Sparks as a thousand-foot-tall apparition of pure electricity was unsettling, Jenny Sparks on a tangent about drug-use less than three inches from your face was terrifying. Her ultimatum had been fairly simple, and worded something along the lines of "If I catch you high again, I'm ripping your esophagus out by way of your arsehole".
So the Doctor had come here in private, originally intending to shoot up. He'd left it for as long as he could, but after seven hours of abstinence the craving had begun. So he'd come here for a little privacy . . . but he'd dropped the heroin.
In the real world, it wouldn't have mattered. In fact, in the real world he wouldn't have even dropped it in the first place. After all, in the real world the ground did not literally rise up and roll away from your feet. In any case, the syringe would have bounced, not evaporate into a cloud of white dust and leave him grasping impotently at the whorls.
And so his choice had been between staying in the tangent dimension and suffering, or going back to the Carrier for more and risking the displeasure of Jenny Sparks.
No competition. He'd take the withdrawal.
But now, an hour into it, he was seriously doubting the wisdom of his decision. He'd realized too late the sheer stupidity of it, especially in light of the fact that his withdrawal would likely take weeks to abate. He was already shaking and sweating so badly he was afraid he was becoming dehydrated, and it had only been three hours since his arrival. He shouldn't have come here without telling anyone. He could barely move, let alone convince reality to give way to the Carrier -- he was too weak to get back. Now there was no way he could get more drugs even if he wanted to.
He didn't understand himself some days. For years he'd dreamed of becoming something more than a junkie. He was intelligent, certainly well-read; when he was younger words like "potential" and "exceptional" had come up often. His thirst for knowledge and eagerness to please had made him a favorite among teachers . . . until the drugs, at least. Now, when he finally had the chance to be more than that filthy, burnt-out druggie from Amsterdam, he was ready to sell his soul for a vial of heroin.
Funny. He had become shaman of the earth, and yet the drugs were still doing their best to ruin what little life he'd been trying to create for himself.
For what seemed to be an eternity he lay there gasping, his agony painting itself against the scintillating landscape, looping back on itself in ever-changing shades of crimson and black. There was no way out. He was trapped, and he would die here. Alone.
Then a familiar stream of color flooded his ears, reassuring despite its acidic-yellow hue. Run through the spectrum of vision and then shunted to the ears, it translated roughly as "What the hell do you think you're playing at, you bloody idiot?"
"I . . ." he tried to croak, but it came out as a garbled swirl of orange and red. There was a sigh of blue-grey exasperation and strong, slender hands gripped his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. With a patient strength that he had not suspected she possessed, Jenny Sparks supported the Doctor and took him through the Door, back into the Carrier.
"I knew I should've stopped wearing white trousers," Jenny muttered, although more for show than out of real annoyance. She wiped ineffectually at the vomit staining her knees, shaking her head.
"S . . . sorry . . ." the Doctor whispered, his lead lolling weakly to one side. Jenny had managed to drag him into his quarters and get him into bed a full two minutes before he had thrown up on her for her troubles.
"Don't worry about it," Jenny said brusquely. "I've got fifteen pairs just like it. Now tell me, what the hell were you doing out there?"
"T . . . trying to . . . clean up," the Doctor said with a raspy chuckle. Jenny frowned.
"If you wanted to clean up that bloody badly, I'd 'ave sent you off to Betty fuckin' Ford," Jenny said sourly. "Whatever you do on your own time is your own sodding business, but the minute you do something that could endanger the team, it becomes mine. Am I being clear here?"
"P-perfectly," the Doctor smiled weakly. Yes, Jenny decided, he was definitely delirious.
While the Doctor took some time out to vomit in the trash can, Jenny inspected his room. It was . . . barren. There were no personal effects, no decorations, just a plain, barely furnished room. The only evidence that anyone was living here at all were the books.
And by God, were there books.
The Doctor had erected and filled to capacity an enormous bookshelf that completely dominated his far wall. On it were books on every subject -- maths, sciences, history, philosophy . . . and the occult.
She turned back when she thought the man had finished vomiting. He'd run out of food long ago, but he was still choking up bile. He reeked of it, in fact. Jenny had suppressed her first reaction - -- to dump him in the shower and clean him up -- because the odds were good he'd find some way to drown himself.
Jenny seated herself on the single chair of the room and lit a cigarette. "Well, you probably won't be for at least three weeks if you want to go through with this," she informed him bluntly. "Withdrawal's no easy thing, you know."
The Doctor laughed weakly. "I th-think I figured that out . . . on my own," he replied. "I c-can barely move . . ."
"Not surprising," she said as she took a slow drag. "I've seen all the horrible things you stick yourself with. I'm surprise you 'aven't grown antennae by now."
"What can I say?" The pained grin remained. "I'm special."
"Only in the head, sonny."
"I guess so," he said. His thick Dutch accent was seeping into his voice with a vengeance. "Can you . . . get me some water?"
"Sure, gimme a minute." Jenny slipped the cigarette between her lips and rose, wandering towards the Doctor's bathroom. The door was open, but the lights were off. Jenny found the light switch and immediately wished she hadn't.
"For fuck's sake!" she exclaimed, her cigarette falling out of her mouth. On the countertop was a jar of water containing about half a dozen syringes with two more resting near the base. A rack of vials lined the wall, and contained something that was almost certainly heroin. There were a few zip-lock bags containing marijuana as well as a few other substances she couldn't identify. In stark contrast to the immaculate bedroom, the bathroom didn't look as if it'd been cleaned in weeks. There were things growing in the shower that would have been at home in R-rated movies. Jenny was forced to remove her hand from the doorknob before the metal began to fuse under her angry touch.
"I should shock you back to the stone age, you little bastard," she muttered, stepping into the bathroom. She located a fairly clean glass sitting near the grimy sink and filled it with water from the tap, pointedly avoiding the drugs. She'd known the Doctor was badly off, but not this badly off . . .
She trudged back to the bedroom, water in hand. The Doctor had managed to pull himself up a bit, and now seemed a touch less pale. Probably a slight remission, Jenny supposed. That meant that now was as good a time as any to give him water.
"By that . . . incredibly loud profanity . . . I'm going to g-guess you found my stash," he murmured as Jenny pulled up a chair. He tried to move his arms above the sheets so he could take the glass, but didn't even come close. Jenny shook her head.
"Let me," Jenny said, holding the glass to his lips. "If I let you give it a go we'll be here all bloody night."
The Doctor accepted the help with a touch of embarrassment, but drank nonetheless. When he choked on the water Jenny took the glass away to give him time to finish coughing, then replaced it.
"I'm s-sorry about the drugs, Jenny," the Doctor said after he had drained the glass. He had begun to shake. "I . . . I needed . . . urrgh . . ."
Jenny calmly leaned back enough to allow him room to throw up again.
"I should tell Angie that putting carpet in here was a mistake," Jenny observed. "That's going to be a right bitch to clean."
"I can . . . c-clean it up when . . . I'm better," the Doctor said wearily. "If I don't die f-first, anyway . . ."
"The only thing that's going to kill you is me, Doctor," Jenny said, crossing her legs. "You have a job to do here. When I approached you for the team you told me you'd stop using. That was the deal. So far I haven't seen much evidence to support that promise, especially since your washroom looks like the dumping ground for a medical waste facility."
"I know, I know . . ." the Doctor replied, turning his head away. "It's . . . it's me. I just can't . . . I was just trying to c-cut down . . . slowly . . ."
"I'm sure. And too much is never enough, I know." Jenny nodded, extracting another cigarette. "I also know that junkies promise things all the time. I've done my share of experimenting in my day."
"Then you know what I'm . . . talking about," the Doctor said, showing a little more animation. Jenny knew where this was going.
"I wouldn't get too excited," she interrupted. "I'm not the one sticking needles into my eyes, am I? Let's stay on the topic. Tell me, what happened to your little 'friends'? The other Doctors?"
"I'm the f-first . . . and the l-last D . . . D . . ." the Doctor gasped as he began to convulse. Jenny waited until he finished, calmly smoking her cigarette.
"I'm every shaman . . . since the beginning of humankind . . ." the Doctor continued, "but I'm also s-still . . . just me. They can't help me. I have to get . . . get through it on my . . . own."
"Bloody wonderful," Jenny sighed. She took a reflective drag and exhaled slowly. "This is one of those 'physician, heal thyself' things, isn't it?"
"Afraid s-so. It's a p-personal t-trial . . . sort of thing."
"Well, shit." Jenny sighed and tapped her finger against the arm of the chair, thinking.
"J-Jenny . . ?" the Doctor said after a moment. She glanced at him.
"Can you t-take off my lenses?" Another tremor passed through his body. "I . . . I can't, and they're fogging up."
"Right," Jenny sighed. Carefully she reached out and removed the ever-present rose-tinted lenses from his face. She'd only seen him without them once before, in Amsterdam, and his pale eyes were a shocking contrast to his flushed skin. Unsurprisingly, they were bloodshot and red-rimmed -- but the feverish, glassy irises were a truly amazing shade of blue.
"Thanks," he managed hoarsely. Jenny only nodded. With his short, messy red hair plastered to his forehead and his glasses removed he looked very young indeed -- certainly no older than college-age. He smiled at her encouragingly.
"Well . . . now I can't see a blasted thing, but at least my vision's n-not . . . fogged over," he said. His tone was light, but Jenny had been around long enough to hear the spark of desperation and pain behind it. She smoked quietly for a moment, brow furrowed.
"What to do, what to do," she muttered, scowling. Drugs were a tricky business, and she'd seen too many people destroyed by them to let the Doctor go the same way. Hell, she'd once been forced to kill her best friend because one bad experience had driven him mad. What could she do to help the Doctor without placing him in months of rehabilitation programs? They needed him here, on the team, and it seemed he could only really work when he was high . . .
Jenny had been watching the Doctor in battle for some time now, and had realized immediately that all of the Doctor's "workings" depended solely on his ability to let his mind wander and draw random connections, usually while under the influence of heavy narcotics. He may have been the world's shaman, but he was almost always high as a kite.
And that wasn't all. The man had blithely held an entire country in place while the world continued on without it, literally wiping it off the map. While Jenny had approved of the action out of sheer necessity, she had to wonder what kind of man was psychologically capable of destruction on that scale, even under the influence of drugs. Especially if that man was supposed to be the protector of the earth.
She'd seen it before in her century-long lifetime. Power overwhelming the young, knowledge without experience, and all the trouble it brought. But that didn't seem to be the problem here. It was almost as if the man was incapable of seeing anything smaller than a global scale. How else could he have so carelessly removed a country full of people, blotting the very land out of existence?
Maybe being a Doctor meant that you couldn't see the world any other way.
"Jenny . . ."
"Mm?" Jenny looked down into the bright, brittle eyes of the young shaman as he gazed at her imploringly.
"Please," he whispered, those large, red-rimmed eyes fixed desperately on her face, "help me? Please . . ." He swallowed heavily. The pained smile was gone from his face. "I think . . . I really do think I'm dying . . ."
Jenny brushed one comforting hand through his short, damp hair. "Buggered if I'm letting you die on me and leave us a man short," she said softly. She sighed. "Okay. Tell me how I can help you. And nothing to do with heroin, either."
"I . . ." the Doctor's body spasmed and cut him off. Jenny lay a firm hand over his until he stopped, letting him know that she was still with him.
"I . . . my water bottle," he breathed, eyes rolling back in his skull. "On the table. Has some . . . liquid morphine. I made it . . . so I wouldn't have to shoot up. Please . . ."
Jenny sucked on the edge of her cigarette, cataloguing her options. There were none left. She sighed again and rose from the chair.
"All right, all right," she said, taking the water bottle from the book-strewn wooden table. "Christ, you have more drugs than an apothecary here, don't you?"
"I'm sorry, Jenny . . ."
"Save your apologies. For Christ's sake, it's like talking to a bleedin' five year-old." Jenny resumed her seat and uncorked the bottle. The Doctor's bleary eyes held a hint of hope -- but Jenny wasn't giving it to him that easily.
"Only enough to tide you over, hear?" she said firmly. "I'm not helping you if you're not going to help yourself. I don't like wasting my time. Will I be wasting my time, Doctor?"
"No," the Doctor promised her, shaking his head weakly. "I . . . I want to stop. I d-don't want to do this anymore. I just want . . . to get better."
"Good." Jenny pressed the water bottle to his lips and tilted it upwards. "Go on and drink, then. And realize this is just temporary until we can find a better way that's not liable to get you killed. Do you understand?"
"Y-yes." The Doctor accepted the liquid gratefully, and drained a good bit before Jenny pulled it away. He licked the remains of it from his cracked lips, and his breathing began to even out. His eyes half-closed, then opened again.
"I'm . . . sorry I disappointed you, Jenny," he whispered. Jenny wiped the sweat away from his forehead with one hand.
"Everyone does it eventually," she grinned reassuringly. "You get one free shot. Just don't fuck up again, or you're out on your arse."
The Doctor smiled weakly. "I'll remember that," he murmured. Another shudder wracked his sweat-soaked frame, and his teeth clenched. Jenny lay a hand on his shoulder as a whimper escaped his locked jaw.
"Shh," Jenny said softly. "You're one of my people now. I'm not letting anything bad happen to you -- unless I do it to you meself, of course."
"I . . . I want to go home, Jenny," the Doctor gasped, his voice thick with accent and exhaustion. "Please . . . I want to go home . . . just for a little while . . ."
"When you're better, Doctor," Jenny said. "The sooner you get better, the sooner you can go back. So hurry the fuck up, eh?"
"Yessss . . ." the Doctor breathed, his eyes closing. "I'll . . . I'll try, Jenny."
"That's all I ask of anyone, Doctor."
Five minutes later, Jenny rose from the chair and left the sleeping Doctor in his bed. She would be back to check on him soon enough.
Extracting the last cigarette from her pack, Jenny walked to the observation deck and stared out into a world composed of fractured light. Strains of platinum surged across a blood-red sky, motes of gold whispering around them.
"Strange world," she muttered, fishing for her lighter. "Strange world where little boys can become magicians." She lit her cigarette and took a long pull. "Poor little bastard."
Jenny stood on the observation deck for several long moments, her pale reflection superimposed over the peaceful universe of color. A junkie trying to become the world's healer, eh? That was a new concept, and certainly a challenge. Jenny would help him all she could, but she knew that, ultimately, the outcome would be the one of his choosing.
Tomorrow, Jenny would try to find a viable alternative to the morphine. Tomorrow, she would have to contact Christine and see about getting someone to assemble a psychological profile of the Doctor, maybe look into a feasible rehabilitation program. Tomorrow, it would be business as usual with the Authority.
But that was tomorrow. Today Jenny Sparks could stand in the nearly-empty shiftship and watch the sentient light play across the sky. And dream.
And wasn't that what they had been fighting for all along?