Jack found them in the console room and spared a moment to wonder why, with the infinite space in the TARDIS, they always ended up there.
Their attention was fixed on the main display screen, his entrance unnoticed or unacknowledged, and he was grateful for the respite.
All the confusion they’d engendered in him, all the questioning, the half-formed and unwanted feelings were bundled up, bound tightly and thrown squirming into the black pit in his mind. He was back in control of himself.
That control had come with a price, though. He felt stilted, awkward, his normal grace diminished, each smooth natural action hindered by the effort he was exerting.
“What is it?” Rose was leaning over the Doctor, peering at the display. A green light flashed on the console and a low-pitched hum filled the air.
“It’s an alert. The TARDIS’s picked up something she recognises.”
“Well I don’t know, do I?” The Doctor punched some buttons and reached around Rose to pull a lever. “It’s what I’m tryin’ to find out. Jack?”
He looked up, startled. “Yes?”
“Go round there and pull that lever, and then push the yellow button.”
Response to command was drilled into him from years in academy and Agency; he was halfway across the room before he realised he was in motion. Circling the console, he pulled and pushed as directed.
The light ceased flashing and started to emit a blue glow.
“Ah.” The Doctor was frozen, staring at the readout on the screen. “Right.” Clapping his hands he announced, “Well, looks like we’re gonna make a little detour.”
“Don’t you have to actually be goin’ somewhere specific to make a detour?” Rose asked.
* * * *
The TARDIS materialised in the middle of a plain of knee high, straggly grass, bleached yellow and dry, filled with huge, twisted rocks. These were the planet’s only natural sculptures, creating an entirely alien and forbidding atmosphere. They dwarfed the TARDIS, looming over her, seeming to subtly warn that this was their domain, and she’d best watch her step.
The TARDIS stood, uncowed and unimpressed, stolid in her own presence.
The planet was at the technological equivalent of 19th century earth. The Doctor had narrowed the location of the object he was seeking to one of the plains cities; a city that should not have anything sophisticated enough to be recognised by the TARDIS. He’d overridden Rose’s protests at his insistence on investigating the anomaly alone.
Rose’s response to his, “Just have to pop out for a tick, back in no time at all,” had been quick and equivocal. She’d reminded him he tended to get into trouble when he went off on his own, then snapped her mouth shut when he made a pointed comment about barrage balloons. They were looking at each other from four feet distant and Jack had watched Rose carefully, wondering if there would be an explosion or some attempt at emotional blackmail.
She’d opened her mouth as if to retort, then closed it. “Fine,” she’d said, breathing deeply. “Go on.” Her exaggerated sigh had done interesting things to her outline and Jack’s eyes had snapped down reflexively before he dragged them back up to her face. “I’ll just wait here for you.”
For a heartbeat she’d stood, face sulky, then with a blinding smile, tongue trapped between her teeth, she’d closed the distance between them and poked the Doctor forcefully in the chest. “But you’d better bring me a present, yeah?”
And there it was, the price the Doctor had to pay for getting his own way. But he’d just snatched at her finger with a muffled ‘oof’ of surprise and a huge grin.
Watching them standing together, the Doctor’s hand completely enclosing hers while they smiled at each other, he felt his walls shiver, the warmth reverberating between them echoing out and striking his awareness like a bell.
The last thing the Doctor said to Rose was, “Don’t get into trouble.”
He said nothing to Jack, just delivered a long, dark look, eloquent in its expression of both warning and expectation.
* * * *
The Doctor was overdue. Not just slightly late, but hours overdue.
The lateness having passed from irritating to worrying, they were standing outside the TARDIS, waiting. Well, he was standing, leaning with deliberate casualness against the side of the ship. She was fidgeting, shifting her weight from foot to foot, and tapping her fingers against her thigh in an ever more frantic drumming.
“He should be back by now.” Rose turned to him. “He should be back by now. Why isn’t he back yet?”
Jack shook his head, glancing at his watch then back at Rose. “I’m sure he’s fine.”
“Yeah, but what if he’s not fine?” She was pacing now, back and forth in a tight little arc, kicking up tiny puffs of dust at each turn. “I knew we should have gone with him.”
Jack was caught for a moment, surprised by the ‘we’, but he shook it off as unimportant.
“Rose, he’s a nine centuries old Time Lord, and this is a backwater planet with tech that’ll barely get them to the next continent.” She was looking at him now, listening carefully. His logic seemed to be having a calming effect, for which he was grateful. “I hardly think anyone on this planet could hurt him.”
Pictures flitted through his mind, his own evidence that it would take a lot to stop the Doctor: that hard, dangerous look when he’d proven to Jack that the imminent genocide of the human race was his fault; standing resolute facing the monsters who were the forerunners of that doom. “I’m sure he’s fine,” he repeated.
She sighed. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” She came to stand next to him, gaze fixed on the direction the Doctor had gone. The sun had fallen in the sky, contorting the shadows thrown by the rocks, making the shade an eerie camouflage that could just, with luck, hide a returning traveller. “I’m sure something or someone just caught his interest and he forgot the time. His watch doesn’t even tell the time, you know?” She shifted slightly, bringing her closer; he could feel the heat of her body, creating a little cushion of warmth between them.
“Yeah, I know. Years and decades, not minutes and hours.”
Another hour gone and the night had won its battle over day, leaving semi-darkness, the landscape illuminated by the cold light of the moon just cresting the horizon. “That’s it. I’m going to look for him.” She propelled herself forward; pushing off the TARDIS and walking away, though it was barely light enough to see. She stumbled before he reached her; grabbing her arm, checking her motion.
She was glaring at him, but he didn’t care. It was too dangerous to go out into the dark and he knew, without any doubt, the Doctor would hold him responsible. “Rose, if he’s not back by morning I promise we’ll go and find him.”
Her look was bleak.
“I promise, but Rose, seriously, we can’t just go running off unprepared.” As she turned back towards him he dropped his hand. “Look, let’s go inside, waiting out here’s not achieving anything, and it’s starting to get cold.”
Absolute and definite, readily willful. Jack knew there was no point in arguing.
“But you can go inside if you like, I promise not to go running off.”
Jack laughed: as if he were that na´ve. A brief flicker of what might have been hurt crossed Rose’s face at his laughter but it was gone to fast for Jack to be sure. He still couldn’t read her. Whatever it was, the laugh died on his lips, leaving them in awkward silence.
The two of them resettled against the TARDIS. Jack wondered if he could feel the ship waiting with them, aware of her master’s absence. God, he’d gotten sentimental. The thought made him wince.
A rustle of denim as Rose shifted closer, leaning into him, surprising him. He automatically moved, turning towards her and she settled herself against him.
This he knew how to handle.
It wasn’t the first time he’d served as a distraction from someone’s worries, and he began to slip back into the motions, wolf grin staring out from behind his shuttered eyes, slick predation bringing a firm hand to span hip, to lean forward and breathe beguilements into her ear.
Reflex was stilled by suppressed thoughts, rising from the depths of his mind as he glanced down. Her eyes were dark, her face set and lips tight. There was no sign of flirtatiousness, no twinkling eyes or teasing smile. Just worry and the beginning of what Jack could identify as fear. He didn’t want to care, rejected it, tried to force it back into its box; he failed.
He wasn’t stupid, far from it, but his experience was limited when it came to offering comfort and reassurance. Pleasure, yes, dancing and caresses and cries in the night, the game of seducer and seduced: these were his speciality and he’d stalked his prey across half the universe.
Being looked to for solace, wanting to offer it, was a new role for him and all of a sudden he wasn’t so sure of the lines.
With the warm solidity of Rose’s back pressed to his chest he stilled his natural response, turned salacious to soothing and pressed a hand to her shoulder, tightening with a gentle pressure and sliding his other arm around her waist, drawing her closer. He knew it was right when she burrowed into him, pushing back into his hold.
“Rose, he really will be alright.” He’d been aiming for forceful and certain; was surprised when it came out tinged with worry. Damn. He was worried. Concerned for more than what would happen if the Doctor didn’t come back to fly them out of there.
She looked up at him, twisting around to peer up at his face, partially hidden by the TARDIS’s shadow. He met her eyes, briefly, trying to conceal his concern. An effort he assumed had been less than successful when she completed her turn and hugged him, the contact entirely unexpected.
Worried, fearful that the man she loved was in danger somewhere, not knowing why he was late, not knowing if he would come back at all, and she was reaching out to him? It rattled him down to his core and he felt his foundations shiver under yet another assault.
Her arms tightened as she said, “Yeah, ‘m sure you’re right, hard to imagine what could stop him.” Her tone was light, comforting and he glanced down again, startled. She loosened her grip and leaned back, looking up at him.
Their pose mimicked one he’d played many times, but despite its familiarity he was on shaky ground. He answered her tentative smile with one of his own, pulling her back against him. “It’ll be okay.” He wasn’t sure which of them it was meant for.
They stood together, Rose leaning against him, her forehead pressed against his chest. He could feel the tension in her spine, in the feel of muscles hard under his hand. Turning practiced skills to new use, he rubbed gentle circles across her back, feeling her respond, felt some of the tension slip away.
Listening to the wind rustling through the grass, the moon now high in the sky above them, he tried to distance himself from the physical reality of Rose in his arms; tried to fit this new acceptance into his patterns of thought, tried to find a way to convince himself he hadn’t accepted it. Failed miserably in his attempt to deny the pleasure he felt from holding her, not for sex, not for what could be gained, but for its own sake.
He still wanted to strangle her, berate her for her blind trust, but for this moment he would accept it. Would shelter and protect her, teeth bared and snarling, against any threat, even if the threat was himself.
Would accept this, in this moment, and let tomorrow look after itself.
The long shadow heralding the arrival of the exhausted Doctor drew the thoughts from his mind and Rose from his arms. Jack watched as she flung herself across the intervening space, away from him, and wrapped herself around the tall form.
Hackles up, unfamiliar surges of protectiveness driving him to sharp attention, he watched as the Doctor returned her embrace; heard words but not the sense of them as the Doctor buried his face in Rose’s hair. The intensity of their moment was brief, but it left Jack with the sense that he’d missed out again.
Dredging up a bright, blinding smile, pushing down the uneasy and unwelcome feeling of exclusion, he sauntered towards them, mustering every ounce of casual seductiveness he could manage. “It’s about time you got back.”
He stiffened when the Doctor reached out and slung an arm around his shoulders, but allowed himself to relax into their moment. He was surprised at himself and deep inside the wolf subsided, returned to slumber.
Releasing the pair, the Doctor gripped Rose’s hand and wrapped the other around Jack’s shoulder, propelling them towards the entrance to the TARDIS. “Well, it’s all over bar the shouting,” he proclaimed, “and I think they can manage that without me.” The Doctor’s voice was tinged with self-satisfaction, not quite covering the exhaustion, but it was enough to draw a relieved grin from Rose.
Watching them out of the corner of his eye as they covered the short distance, feeling the memory of Rose in his arms and the weight of the Doctor’s hand, Jack was able to put a name to the instinct that was telling him he had to get off this ship — self-preservation. Had to put these two behind him and get back to seducing and conning his way across the universe.
A little voice in the back of his mind was whispering to him that if he didn’t go soon, it might be too late. That it might already be too late.
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