That’s all he needs. All it takes. A look. One look; one glance; one blink-and-you’d-miss-it meet of the eyes, and all the rules are set into play.
Rose — equals — off — limits.
And he’d better get used to it.
Confident he has made his point, the Doctor turns his head back and grins at his female companion. He’s seen Jack’s type before, of course he has. The universe is littered with them. And there is no chance in heaven and earth that he will let Rose get involved with that. She’s so much better than that. Deserves so much more. The beautiful, warm, laughing woman in his arms means more to him than should ever be considered right for a Time Lord, and that being said, he has a duty by his people and customs to protect her from all forms of harm.
Well, as much as she can in a life like this. He may not be able to protect her from monsters and aliens, but he can protect her from heartbreak.
He likes Jack. He’s a good guy, at heart. Decent. Caring. And, yes, handsome. But he’s not good enough for Rose.
People like Jack don’t love for life, and seeing as that’s what Rose deserves, he isn’t about to let either of them get tangled up in it. Unless Rose takes matters into her own hands, which is unlikely considering the understanding the Doctor now has with him.
He grins brightly and slides his hands to hers again, twirling her around the TARDIS in time with the music. This is so natural for him, so easy. He can just fall into these steps like it’s nothing, like it means nothing.
Except it means everything, and as they move, he wonders if he’s the only one who knows it.
Jack knows. Whatever message the Doctor may have wished to convey, that split second gaze was enough to tell him. He could see the words practically forming in the Doctor’s eyes, let alone his mouth. She’s mine.
He watches with interest as they continue around the room, laughing and giggling, but still keeping up with each other. It’s so fluent, so perfect, so meant to be, that Jack sometimes has trouble telling where one ends and the other begins. All right. Fair game. The Doctor is her... companion. He can see that now. They practically write it in the universe in every place they visit.
It hurts a little, though. In some ways, he feels as though he saw her first. All right, so their relationship is more complex than just surface level, has more to tell, has more to feel... but Jack can see just by looking at the Doctor that the stupid bastard isn’t going to do anything about it. Is he going to kiss her? No. Is he going to seduce her? No. Is he going to take her in his arms, lead her to his room, then blanket her body with his mouth till kingdom come? No.
Does he love her? Hell, yes.
The answers seem to contradict each other so much that Jack can’t take his eyes off the couple as he tries to understand. He has only ever been in love once. Understanding it never even came into the question, and he suspects it doesn’t here, either. But it won’t stop him trying. Because he is going to have to try damn hard to stop himself coming on to Rose — he can’t just turn off his attraction to her. And at the same time, he can’t understand how the Doctor seemingly can.
He is so lost in thoughts that buzz around his head that he doesn’t notice the music has faded until Rose is sidling up to him.
He grins at her. She smiles back cheekily.
“So — hows about that dance?”
Jack pauses a moment and glances over her shoulder. The Doctor is watching with folded arms, his face smug with victory. The two men have shared something, an understanding. Of sorts.
He looks back to Rose and his grin fades a little.
“Darling, I’d dance with you the whole night through. But I need to make myself at home first, don’t you think?” He nudges her in the ribs and Rose giggles, a sound he thinks he will always favour.
“He’s right,” the Doctor adds from behind them and they both turn. “Can’t have him sleeping on the floor. Why don’t you show him ‘round?”
This last question is directed at Rose and there is something in the way he meets her gaze that makes her pause and all her thoughts come to a standstill. Like he is trying to tell her something just with his eyes, and it’s entrancing trying to figure out what it is.
“Don’t trust me to find my way around myself?” Jack asks, feigning hurt in his voice.
The Doctor throws him a grin. “By all means. Just thought you might like some... company.”
“Better with three,” Jack proclaims and Rose turns to look at him, eyes wide. Her heart skips a little beat as she makes sense of the American’s words in her mind. But the Doctor is back with a reply without missing a beat, like they have rehearsed this entire conversation and now it is only for her benefit.
“Nah, not really. Trust me, it’d just get complicated. Rose?”
“Yeah?” she answers, not quite sure who to look to any more. After a lingering pause on Jack she turns back to the Doctor. He gestures towards the door.
“Show our guest around. I’ve got work to do.”
She smirks at Jack and respond, “With pleasure.”
She takes his hand and leads him to the corridor, and the American arches an eyebrow. These two could kill a man, he thinks. Rose’s hand is on his arm as she pushes him ahead of her, and for a moment he loses the contact as she glances back over her shoulder at the Doctor.
The Doctor shrugs, a wicked grin forming on his face. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” he advises cheekily.
Rose opens her mouth for a witty retort, but Jack is already pulling her down the corridor behind him in his excitement to get to know this place a little better. Their laughter dies away as they become deeper submerged in the time machine, and the Doctor stands a moment, his brain thick with thought.
So much has happened today. So many wrong things. And so many right.
His mind falls upon the glorious victory. Not one death — not a single one. He healed them all. Oh, he lives for days like these. When the happiness of him and everyone around him drowns out everything that is ever wrong with the world — with all the worlds. Everybody lives! He wants to punch the air with joviality, wants to run around the TARDIS like a nine year old and scream with joy. His heart beats rocket when he thinks of it, of all the good he’s done. It’s times like these that make it all worth it. It’s times like these where he feels like he can do anything, be anything, create anything. He is life, and life is his gift.
He grins like the devil and turns the music back on.
“Gotta be said, Doctor. That’s some dancing.”
The Doctor freezes in mid spin, then turns slowly to find Jack watching him from the doorway with an amused smirk. He grins at the other man and lowers the volume of the music.
“I’ll assume that’s a compliment. Where’s Rose?”
The American draws in a lazy sigh, uncrossing his ankles and arms and standing up straight.
“She wanted a shower. Said the events of the day were a little overwhelming and wanted to get herself clean.”
“Surprised you didn’t offer to help,” the Doctor says before he can stop himself. He isn’t even sure of his tone. Patronising? Amused? Angry? Jealous? He isn’t sure, and shakes his head as if trying to make sense of it.
“Oh, I did,” Jack answers with his wolfish grin, canines glistening in the light. “Turned me down. I’m a hurt man.”
The Doctor snorts, turning back to his controls to stop the music completely. “You’ll live.” Then under his breath, he mutters, “I have.”
“What was that?”
Jack steps towards him, all humour gone, his voice all tones of serious. The Doctor doesn’t look up, instead reaching for the sonic screwdriver in his breast pocket and crouching down.
“Did you find somewhere to sleep?” he asks conversationally, squinting at the dial on the screwdriver.
He is answered by a noise that sounds mid way between a laugh and a snort. Then there are footsteps and out of the corner of his eye he can see Jack’s shins as he leans against the controls beside him. The hum of the sonic screwdriver fills the room and within seconds, a metal panel is detached.
“Doctor...” Jack intones, his voice saying so much more than his word. The Doctor pauses and shuts off the screwdriver.
“If you’re looking for someone to entertain you, I’m busy.” He feels like he is talking to a young child — and maybe he is. Jack can’t be that much older than Rose, after all.
But then, Rose is not a child. She should be; but she isn’t.
“Where’s your good mood gone, Doctor? Think I like you much more when you smile.”
“You’re annoying me,” he responds simply, as if it’s the answer to everything. He flicks the switch of the screwdriver again and pokes it inside the panel he has just opened up. Reaching wires away with his hand, he peers in, rather like a dentist looking for cavities.
Jack sighs exaggeratedly. It gains him nothing.
“I’m surprised Rose puts up with you and your pompous attitude,” he says after a while, staring down to the back of the Doctor’s head.
The Doctor, leaning further forwards into the hole, doesn’t respond.
“Surprised she likes you at all, really. But she does, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to lose her.”
Still no answer, apart from the continued buzz from the screwdriver and rustle of wires.
Jack frowns, irritation flaring. “Doctor?”
“Have you quite finished?” the Doctor snaps suddenly, leaning back out of the control unit and standing to Jack’s height. He glares at him, and the American is momentarily taken aback by the fierceness of the gaze. But not for long.
“That depends — you gonna say anything? Or are you just gonna stand there like the fool you are and watch it all happen?”
The Doctor exhales through his nose, his shoulders falling slightly. His expression may as well be carved from marble, so cold and rigid that it is.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he answers at last, and for once, it is an honest answer. Jack’s head is full of all sort of odds and ends that don’t make sense, snags of ideas that have unravelled and are just left drifting around the debris of a man with no memory. Not that he’s had a peek. Well, not much.
“Come off it, Doc,” Jack laughs with a shrug, tilting his head backwards slightly. He looks to him intently, his voice thick with syrup. “You and me both, know, Doctor: she’s getting... restless...”
The Doctor snorts with contempt, bends to pick up the screwdriver. “She’s getting nothing of the sort.”
“Nothing from you, in any case.” The answer comes back quickly, almost bitingly, and the Doctor loses his footing for a minute. It is enough, and Jack continues. “You’ve seen her, Doctor. You know her. She’s a girl. A twenty year old girl. Youthful, bouncing, full of energy. She has needs.” He smirks relentlessly. “Perhaps you should service her.”
“Oi!” the Doctor warns sharply, because this conversation has gone too far for comfort. He hates the suggestions being made, hates that this man is reducing Rose to nothing more than a piece of meat. His eyes blaze, though he folds his arms calmly and keeps it out of his voice. “Talk about Rose like that again, and you’re out. I mean it. She doesn’t do that sort of thing, and you shouldn’t be one to encourage it.” He is pointing now, waving a finger, and he suddenly realises how domesticated that is. He coughs awkwardly, then crouches down to the panel.
Jack is not to be thwarted. He laughs in full humour, because he can’t quite believe it. “Doctor, tell me, who is it that’s been pulling the wool over your eyes? It’s exactly the sort of thing she does; you need to give her more credit. She’s firing messages left, right and centre.”
The Doctor ignores him, shaking his head adjusting a different setting. He isn’t doing work, just finding something for his hands. Because doing nothing will drive him mad one day. Then there is a comforting hand on his shoulder. He looks up into the face of a friend, a friend who is giving him a pitiful look, who is trying to understand. He never will, but the Doctor appreciates it.
“I’ll tell you now, Doctor, there are a lot of men out there who are less decent than me. They’ll go after her, and they’ll get her.”
He blinks, something of a monster tensing in his stomach, but he swallows it down. He shrugs Jack’s hand off. “So?”
“You’re kidding me. You’re telling me it doesn’t drive you mad, doesn’t just make you burn, when you think of another man touching Rose?”
“Not — my — problem.” He answers Jack in short words, and though it’s a lie of sorts, it is more truth than he’s willing to admit anywhere else right now.
“Well, it’s somebody’s problem, and it sure as hell ain’t mine,” Jack snaps back, his reserves finally failing him. The Doctor looks to him with shock, and is even more surprised to see an angry face. “You want to be careful, though; carry on like this and it’ll be everyone’s problem. It’s been a long day. I’m going to catch some shut-eye. I hope you’re less of an idiot when I wake up.”
He heads away towards the corridor with no more words, a hard gaze following him that’s rigid in shock. Jack hesitates at the door and turns his head sideways, casting the Doctor a look out of the corner of his eye and over his shoulder.
“It won’t go away,” he finishes says simply, before heaving a sigh and departing noisily into the depths of the ship.
The Doctor looks, spellbound, before murmuring into the quietness of the air around him, “You think I don’t know that?”
He has been wandering the corridors for a good ten minutes or so before he finds her in the library, tucked away in her own little corner reading a book.
Sidling up with interest, he enquires, “Any good?”
“Not really.” She shuts the book and looks up, attention fixed on him. The pages lie forgotten. “Know where we’re going next?”
The Doctor chuckles to himself and sits in a chair next to hers. “Hold your horses — I think the Captain’s gone off for a nap.”
“Obviously can’t take your dancing, then,” she teases, fingertips tapping idly on the book cover. “Unlike some of us. Given half a chance.”
An eyebrow arches to his hairline. “I’m going to choose to ignore that comment. He’s only been on board a few hours and he’s already having a bad influence on you.”
Rose leans forwards a little with a cheeky smile, her cheeks flushing ever so slightly. So what if he’s right? What with Jack being aboard, she remembers that life isn’t always about the adventure. Sometimes it’s about times like these, too.
“You love it,” she drawls, giving him a lazy smile.
“No — you just think I do.”
This catches her off guard and she sits up again with a frown. “’Scuse me?”
“Rose, things aren’t as simple as A and B around here,” he breathes through a sigh, glancing to the table.
“No, there’s a C now.”
He almost laughs. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Well then, you’d better tell me what you do mean,” she bites back, her tone not exactly civil. “Because I haven’t a clue. I haven’t a bloody clue what goes on in that head of yours.”
“No,” he agrees, eyes shooting to hers in a piercing stare. “And you’re not gonna find out.”
“Then why the hell am I even bothering?” she retorts, getting to her feet and breezing past him. She isn’t quite sure how he has managed to get her so aggravated, again, but he’s done it now and she can feel irritation cloak her already. She hates this side of him, the side that closes himself off from her and smothers whatever he can with a joke. It hurts when sometimes he lets her think he’ll let her in — then just pushes her away even further.
He doesn’t try to stop her, and she doesn’t care. She has better things to do with her time than being patronised by a moody Time Lord.
But then she is half way towards the door and he says her name.
That’s all it is. Just her name. Simple, one syllable. From the sound of his voice, he hasn’t even turned. She twists her body slowly, looking back to him. He’s still sitting there, back to her, head up and hand resting lightly on the table surface. That texture of her name is till fresh in her memory and she wonders if it is only him who has a knack for saying her name just like that.
After a moment or two of building silence, he stands slowly and faces her. He isn’t angry any more, or even vaguely annoyed. He is something else, and Rose is entranced. She takes a step towards him, without really meaning to, and he holds her gaze gently. Then he opens his mouth, pauses, and speaks.
“If you knew... half the things I’ve done...” And he sighs, looks away, stares at the light switch on the wall instead of at her.
As she watches him, Rose feels her anger ebb away. That tone in his voice is almost pleading, defeated, and she has never quite heard it before. He fascinates her, does this man — this alien. She wants to know everything about him, even if he’s not willing to share. So she takes another step, this one tentative as she pleads entry into his personal space. He accepts with a watchful eye.
“Tell me?” she requests quietly.
For a moment, it looks as though he just might. He looks scared and lost. He looks alone. It frightens her, shocks her, and she wants to reach out to take his hand and comfort him. But then the moment passes and he is back to his normal, rigid self.
He juts his chin out sincerely. “If you knew the things I’ve seen... the things I’ve done... Rose, you’d be off this ship faster than you can say goodbye. There are races — hundreds of races — that are extinct because of me. Because I’m alive. I’ve... I've done things to people that would make you cry with terror. I’ve made people do things that would make your blood burn. I’ve watched things happen that you would die to protect. You have no idea what that’s like. I’ve got the lives of billions on my shoulders — and I don’t plan on sharing that any time soon. Not with you. Not with anyone.”
Rose isn’t sure how to respond to that. He has never offered her anything like this before. She gives a shy shrug and looks at him with an open face.
“You saved the world today.”
His smile is no less wry, no less bitter, than it was before. “I always save the world. Some world. Some where.”
“Maybe. But you saved everyone, Doctor. Everyone who was dead, you brought ‘em back to life. That’s six billion people who were gonna die, and you saved the lot of them. Even the nine year old kid. You gave him a family again, even though he should have died. You even saved the Captain, just to top it all off.”
He tilts his head, warmth in his eyes. “He’s not a Captain, Rose.”
“Yeah, whatever,” she answered quickly, giving him a pointed look that tells him Captain or no, he’s still alive. “You still did it. You did the impossible. So where’s that sparkle got to, Doctor? Where’s the man who can dance for the world?”
He holds her gaze. Her soft, gentle, sweet gaze. She’s right. It doesn’t add up, it never will — but she’s right anyway, because defying her that seems like a sin. Her smile is infectious and soon he is letting it consume him, the corners touching gently at his glimmering eyes.
“He’s right here,” the Doctor says fondly. He owes her so much. Then he holds out his hand delicately towards her, palm up in invitation. “Dance, Rose Tyler?”
If she accepts, it will mean so many things. Forgiveness; acceptance; pride. If he dares to think about it, maybe even love. The glance they share lingers, but he refuses to let it intensify, refuses to let his actions mean more than they do. He simply stands, patiently, waiting for her response.
In a few seconds, her hand is in his. His face cracks into the most beautiful smile she has ever seen, and a blush creeps over her cheeks.
“That’s my girl,” the Doctor encourages quietly, looking directly into her eyes. They smile at each other.
Then music begins to play. And they dance like they are on top of the world.
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