Zero Distance

by Sorrel [Reviews - 5]

Printer
  • All Ages
  • None
  • Het, Mixed

Zero Distance.

~*~

After the dancing had subsided and the music was turned off, Rose pleaded near-apocalypse exhaustion and went to bed. Jack ignored the Doctor's warning look and followed her.

It took him a little while to find her room. This ship was huge, and there was a veritable maze of hallways branching out from the console room. He could get lost in here for hours, Jack thought. Maybe even days.

Luckily for him, Rose's room was fairly close to the console room. He wasn't sure if the TARDIS was taking pity on him- there was no way this ship wasn't at least a little sentient; Jack wasn't stupid, after all- or if Rose had deliberately picked that spot for easy access to the main part of the TARDIS. And, Jack thought as he glanced through a nearby door, the bathroom. With a serious shower. Nice.

He hadn't taken that long to track her down, but she was already changed by the time she answered his knock, her Union Jack t-shirt switched out for a much larger one that said "Time travelers do it over and over,” and hung down almost to her knees over a pair of ragged-looking jeans.

“Hey, Jack,” she said, looking slightly startled to see him there. Guess she wasn’t used to people visiting her room. Maybe the Doctor respected her privacy and never bothered her here if he didn’t have to.

Well, he wasn’t the Doctor. “Hey yourself,” he said, and gave her the up-and-down glance. “Nice t-shirt,” he added, half-laughing. “I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that it’s not actually yours.”

“Bought it for the Doctor at this little merchant satellite called Delta-9, around the… what did he say… 49th century, I think. It got a laugh, but God forbid he part with one of those bloody jumpers. So I just kept it.” She looked down at herself. “Mind you, it’s a bit big, but at least it doesn’t paint a big German target on my chest.”

“Oh, I dunno,” Jack said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the doorframe. “I kind of liked the other one.”

She blushed and looked away. “Jack-“

This was his chance to either back off and pretend he hadn’t said it, or push forward. And he’d always been one to push his luck. “What? No flirting allowed?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“The Doctor doesn’t like you having boyfriends?”

“Yeah. Well, no. I mean, he’s not gonna throw you out an airlock, or anything.”

“Hmm.” He waited till she looked up at him, just a peek through those thick dark lashes of hers. “So it’s just me, is it? Funny, ‘cause you didn’t seem to mind back on my ship.”

“It was different then,” she muttered.

“Before I almost killed the human race,” he said flatly. Damn it, he should have known this was coming. But she’d seemed happy to have him on board, and she must have talked the Doctor into it, so why-

“Oh, god, Jack, no.” She reached out and touched his arm, almost compulsively, then her hand dropped back to her side and she looked away. “Look, it’s complicated.”

“Uncomplicate it for me,” he suggested.

She sighed, and glanced past him down the hall, checking for the Doctor. “Alright. Come in, though, will you? And close the door.”

He did what she asked, his curiosity amping up a couple notches. She settled cross-legged on the end of the bed, with a dark blue pillow clutched across her chest.

“I left school when I was sixteen,” she said. “Followed this bloke named Jimmy Stone. I thought I was in love with him. I thought he was in love with me.”

He blinked. “Rose, not that I mind, but what does this have to do with-“

“Hang on, I’m gettin’ there,” she said. “We broke up. Well, he dumped me. I came back to Mum with my tail between my legs. Lucky me, my friends understood, and my mate Shireen dragged me out to a club one night.

“I wasn’t really in the best frame of mind, y’know, but then this bloke came in, older, real charming, handsome. Great kisser, I learned pretty quick. Great… dancer.”

She was blushing again, and looking everywhere but at him. “He was gone the next morning. Never caught his name.” She sighed, finally bringing her gaze back to his face. “It was you.”

He straightened away from the door. “Rose, you’re the kind of girl I would have remembered.” Then he froze. “Unless-“

“Unless it was in those two years you lost, yeah,” she said. “I figured that out soon as you said it. But, see, that’s why I kept flirting back there. Imagine this guy who rocked your world a few years back shows up in a spaceship to rescue you from barrage balloon in the height of the London Blitz? Turned my head, I can tell you. Took me a while to figure out that you didn’t remember.”

“Oh.” He ran a hand impatiently through his hair. Rocked her world, huh? But then why- “If you were willing to… dance, just a few hours ago, why not now?”

She quirked half her mouth upwards in a smile. “I lost my head for a bit, back there. You’re good at that. But it’s different now. With me, with the Doctor, what with you not remembering- it’s just different, is all.”

He had to fight not to keep his hands out of his pockets. It was such an obvious tell when he was uncomfortable. “You’re sure it’s not-“

“No. Jack, seriously, it’s not that.” She got up and grabbed his hand, holding it between both of his. “Listen, a week or so ago I almost ended the universe, just because I was stupid and didn’t know what I was doing with time travel. I’m the last person to hold it over your head, alright?”

“Right,” he said. Her fingers were warm around his. “Rose-“

She shook her head and returned his hand to his side, then took a very definite step back. It was a signal even he couldn’t ignore. “Best if you get to bed. Knowing the Doctor, you won’t get much chance for rest tomorrow.”

“Yeah, probably.” Hell with it, he thought, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Better that than Rose seeing how the fingers of his right hand were twitching where she’d held it. “Can you maybe tell me where the rest of the bedrooms are?”

She slid past him and opened the door, sticking her head out and pointing down the hall away from the console room. “Down that way, third left. Should be a whole hall of ‘em. If they aren’t there, go back and ask the Doctor. He always knows where everything is in here, no matter how much it moves around.”

Yes, definitely a very special ship. “Thanks,” he said, and smiled.

“No prob,” she said, and smiled back. “Sweet dreams.”

“Sweet dreams,” he said, to the closed door.

He shook his head, and headed off in search of a bed.

~*~

He’d worked on dozens, possibly hundreds, of ships in his time, but none of them quite measured up to this.

Of course, he was pretty sure that the bit he was tinkering with right now was about as important to the actual navigation of the ship as your average coffeepot, but when the Doctor had nudged a toolkit in his direction and pointed, he hadn’t argued. Having the chance to actually work on the TARDIS, important bit or not, was the kind of chance any tech-head would cheerfully cut off body parts to get.

“You’re pretty good at that,” the Doctor said from off to the side, where he was working away, on something that probably was important.

“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Jack said, smiling over his internal irritation. The Doctor didn’t really know him; he had no way of knowing that Jack had one of the highest scores in Repair and Maintenance in Time U history. “You don’t think I could have overridden the security protocols on a Chula warship on a whim and a prayer, do you?”

“S’ppose not.” Silence fell again, but Jack could feel the Doctor watching him, for all that the clanking and banging continued. “You’ve got a good touch with machines, then.”

“My Dad ran one of the biggest salvage yards in our system,” Jack said. “I guess it just came naturally.”

“That happens to you a lot, I’m guessin’,” the Doctor said. “You’ve got a touch for quite a lot of things. Machines. Neanderthals. Sexually confused soldiers. Men.” An ominous pause. “Women.”

Ah, so that was where this was going. Not that he was surprised; he’d actually been waiting for this talk for a while now. He’d had a whole month in Bromley to plan out the right thing to say. “Everyone has to have skills.”

“Oh, of course,” the Doctor said. Jack gave up on the pretense of actually working and turned around, to see the Doctor smiling dangerously at him. “So long as you don’t exercise your skills on Rose, we won’t be having any problems.”

Right, Rose. No airlocks around here, no sirree. “I’m on my best behavior here, Doctor.”

“Make sure that you stay that way and we won’t have any problems,” the Doctor said. “Don’t touch Rose. She doesn’t need your kind of games.”

Just because he’d been expecting this particular talk, and just because his past behavior had kind of made him deserve it, didn’t make the reality of it any better. It was a struggle to keep his anger off of his face. “Rose and I already worked it out,” he said levelly. “She won’t have any problems from me.”

With that he went back to his probably useless bit of tech, and ignored the curious gaze aimed his way. He was already living with curiosity, trying to dredge up any tiny piece of his missing memory to remember his encounter with Rose, but there was nothing, and he wasn’t about to ask Rose about it, not with the way she’d avoided him for a solid day after their little talk that first night. If he could live with it, the Doctor could, too.

~*~

“It was a humans-only station, so how was I supposed to know that she was only passing? I didn’t figure it out till I got her naked and saw the tentacles-“

“You’re such liar,” she said, shaking her head. He gave her the wide-eyed look, but apparently she wasn’t biting because she still looked like she was going to chuck the half-eaten scone she was holding at his head. “I mean, come on, Jack. Tentacles?”

“I swear to you, it’s the truth,” he said, half-laughing. “Bit of a shock to me, really. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of naked woman in my time, I know the sort of thing to expect, but tentacles are a bit beyond even my experience-“

“Oi, you lot,” the Doctor said. They looked up to see him standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, looking grumpy. “Here I am, doing all the hard work, flying the ship, and the two of you just sit here and have tea. Typical.”

“You won’t let us fly the ship,” Rose pointed out.

“Yeah, you keep saying we’re just ignorant apes who’ll just break her,” Jack chimed in. The Doctor snorted.

“Doesn’t mean you can’t help. You can at least hold down a few levers. Even humans should be able to handle that.”

“Aw shucks, I’m flattered,” Jack said, but after a quick glance at Rose he shrugged and stood up, abandoning his tea. “Alright then, mon capitaine, lead on.”

“Should be calling you that, really,” Rose said, snatching up scone on her way out. “Oh, captain, my captain,” she mumbled through a mouth full of crumbs.

“That’s what she said,” he said, smirking. She hit him on the arm. “No, really! Look, I hadn’t gotten to the best part. It turned out that she was an operative, and she’d gone undercover to infiltrate the base because the humans in charge were hoarding megasplosives, which was in direct violation of Federation code, and let me tell you, agents of her caliber never go unarmed.”

“Don’t tell me,” the Doctor called back, as they reached the console room. “You get her trousers off, and there’s a gun in the midst of all those lovely tentacles.”

“Got it in one, Doctor,” Jack said, wandering over to the lever the Doctor was pointing at. “’Course, we were there for the same thing, so I managed to… persuade her that I was on her side.”

“So you partnered up, took out the bad guys, and lived happily ever after, that it?” Rose asked.

“Something like that.” Jack sighed reminiscently. “We made a hell of a team, Rhiza and I. Too bad she had to report back to the Federation- we could have had some times together.”

“I’ll just bet you would,” Rose said.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I can do you one better,” he teased. She hit him on the arm again, but she was grinning, so he figured it was worth it.

~*~

“If she doesn’t hurry up and get her arse out here, we’re never going to make it to the ball,” the Doctor muttered. “And it was her idea, too! ‘Just one little dance, Doctor,’” he mimicked. “’We never got a chance to dance while we were in Cardiff.’ You can dance anywhere, I tell her. ‘But I want to get dressed up!’ she says. And now we’re here, and she’s still back in the wardrobe, getting dressed up. If she takes much longer, I’m gonna take off and she can-“

“I can what?” Rose asked, from behind them. Jack bit his lip to keep from laughing when the Doctor did a comical double-take and spun around, pasting on a smile that was probably meant to seem innocent but just looked panicked.

“Take as long as you need, of course,” Jack filled in, when the Doctor’s quick brain didn’t look like it was going to come up with anything that would take that dangerous smile off Rose’s face. “You look gorgeous.”

“Thank you, Jack,” she said pointedly. “I’d better, as long as it took to get the bloody thing on. ‘S hard work to get a corset on by yourself.”

There was a pregnant pause. “Well, I’m always available to help with the laces,” Jack said, helpfully. She smirked, curling her tongue over her teeth.

“I just bet you are.”

“Well, if we’re all here, then, is anyone ready to go to this ball of yours?” the Doctor asked. Rose switched her gaze over to him, making it pretty clear that she hadn’t forgotten the little speech of his that she’d interrupted, but the Doctor gave her the manic grin again and she seemed to relent with little more than an exasperated shake of her head, grabbing his hand when he reached out to her.

It never stopped surprising him, Jack thought, every time it happened. The idea that you could reach out, and someone would be there to hold on, well, it was a little foreign. Not a lot of hand-holding in his life to date. Lots of holding weapons, steering mechanisms, even body parts of varying kinds (yes, including tentacles), but rarely hands. He wondered what it was like.

A hand on his arm pulled him out of his musings. “Come on, flyboy,” Rose said, smiling. “Seems I’ve made us late enough already. Time to get going.”

“Fine by me,” Jack said, and tried on a flirtatious grin. “I like dancing.”

“Trust me, we know,” the Doctor muttered, but he was hiding a smile too. Jack grinned at both of them and followed them out of the TARDIS.

Lovely, he thought, keeping a weather eye on Rose’s bare shoulders and back as he shut the door behind him. Yeah, she was.

~*~

"Wow," she said, quietly.

"Wow is right," Jack said back, just as quietly. "I've heard of this place, but I've never gotten the time to stop and visit. If I'd known it lived up to the hype, I would have made time."

"What's it called again?"

“Woman Wept,” the Doctor told her. “A thousand years or so ago, there was a sudden, multi-phase shift in the sun, and everything on the surface was instantly frozen. Mind you, it was lucky it wasn’t inhabited at the time. Frozen-people statues are something of a deterrent for most tourists.”

“That wave must be almost a hundred feet tall,” Rose said. “And it’s frozen solid. I could just climb right up.”

“You’d need some equipment first,” the Doctor said amiably. “It is a bit slippery, being ice an’ all.”

“So not the point,” she said. “The point is that if I wanted to, I could climb it. Because it’s frozen solid.”

“Yes,” the Doctor said. “Yes, it is.”

“And that’s incredible.”

“Yeah,” the Doctor said, smiling now. “Yeah, it is.”

They stood in silence for a moment. After a while, though, the silence was interrupted by the sound of Rose’s teeth chattering.

“What?” she said, when they both looked at her. “It’s cold out here!”

“Humans,” the Doctor said, shaking his head. “Didn’t you think to bring a jacket?”

“You didn’t exactly warn me we were stepping out into a planet that was frozen solid,” she retorted. And then, forestalling his next comment, she added, “And you didn’t exactly give me a chance to go back inside and get one, what with how fast you took off.”

“Here,” Jack said, slipping out of his own heavy military-issue overcoat and tucking it around her shoulders. “Better?”

“Much, thanks,” she said, grinning up at him.

“My pleasure,” he said, and grinned back.

“Don’t encourage her,” the Doctor grumbled. “And what about you, then, Jackie-boy? Aren’t you gonna start whingin’ about the cold, now?”

“I got stuck sans clothing on the ice fields of Ja’an,” Jack said. “After that, this is nothing.”

Rose bumped him with her shoulder. “Show-off.”

“I tell only the truth,” he said, putting a wounded hand over his heart. “Honest.”

“Yeah, I believe you,” she said, but she was smirking.

“Right,” the Doctor said abruptly. “Well, best we be heading back to the TARDIS. Ice fields or not, Captain, you’ve got to be freezing your arse off.”

“You could warm it up for- ow!” he said, as he was cut off by Rose’s sharp elbow in his side. “This is the thanks I get for lending you my coat?”

“Down, boy,” the Doctor said. “Come on. Back to the TARDIS.”

“And where we off to next, then?” Rose asked.

He reached out and grabbed her hand. “Nice little place. Vacation resort. Very peaceful.”

She shot Jack a long-suffering look. “We’re going to have to run for our lives again.”

“Oi!” the Doctor said. “I resent that.”

She just laughed.

~*~

“See? No running yet,” the Doctor said.

She arched an eyebrow. “There was hopping.”

“But that’s a completely different thing!” the Doctor said.

“Doctor,” she said. “We were hopping. For our lives. That was not an improvement.”

“I don’t know, I thought it was fun,” Jack said. She smacked him on the shoulder.

“If you’re going to take his side, you can just stay out of this.”

“I mean, no, hopping was bad, and not fun at all,” Jack said hastily. Here was a man who understood women. “Let’s never do that again.”

The Doctor gave them both a dire look, but Rose could tell that he was secretly amused. “We sorted it out eventually, didn’t we? The king’s aide has been dealt with, and the king is letting us go shopping on his dime as thanks.”

“Which makes a nice change from all the times we’ve been run out on a rail,” Rose said.

“And to think,” Jack mused, “that I used to think my life was exciting.”

“Well, it’s not like it was boring,” Rose said. “Not with all the stories you’ve told. Come on, what was it like, being a Time Agent?”

“Before I lost my memories, you mean?” There was a brief flash of bitterness, but it was gone in an instant, leaving her wondering if she’d seen it at all. “Well, it was fun. Plenty of damsels in distress and a few princes along the way. Some of them even kept their clothing on.” He flashed her a grin. “It wasn’t all fun and games, though. We spent a lot of time running down criminals who got their hands on time-tech and used it to escape. And sometimes there’s a Rift, or mad scientists that invent the tech hundreds of years ahead of schedule, or- hundreds of things, really, that can go wrong and screw up our entire history, unless there’s someone around to fix it.”

“Funny, that sounds a lot like what we end up doing,” Rose said. “Only, you know, less running for your lives.”

“Oh, don’t bet on it,” he said. “Listen, there was this one time, Kadinsky and me got shipped off to this little backwater of a colony, tracking down this, believe it or not, intergalactic jewel thief, who’d stolen one of the Agency-registered ships and gone home to the colony so he could jump back and make his ancestors really rich, right? Only when we got there, the whole planet was embroiled in one hell of a civil war…”

Her left hand was still held firmly in the Doctor’s grasp, but as Jack told his story, she reached out with her right and wound her arm through the crook of his elbow. He stopped just long enough to grin at her and tuck her arm tighter in his, and she smiled back even as the Doctor’s hand tightened on hers.

~*~

“Now, this is what I call a vacation,” Rose said. She was floating on her back, eyes closed and limbs starfished out in the warm, pale-green water. “No angry aliens, no crazy humans, no plots of world domination or running for our lives. Just a nice beach with no one here but us.”

“I thought you liked the excitement!” the Doctor protested. He was leaning against a huge rock just a little way up the beach, still completely dressed, jumper and jacket and all. Which Rose thought was a shame.

“Yeah, but a girl’s gotta have a break sometime,” she said.

“I second that,” Jack said. He was treading water a few feet away, as naked as the day he was born and completely unashamed. At least Jack understood what beaches were for. And it wasn’t like she minded the view- it’d been a few years since she’d seen him, and- well, never mind.

“You tellin’ me you’re a girl, now, Harkness?” she shot back. “I mean, the water’s not even all that cold-“

“Oh, you’ll pay for that,” he vowed, and lunged. She squealed and tried to duck away, but he was by far the better swimmer as well as being stronger, and he was on top of her in a second, pushing her down into the water. He let her up before the need for oxygen became too pressing, and she immediately took advantage by twisting around to jump on his back, doing her level best to dunk him the way he’d dunked her.

She thought she heard the Doctor grumble, “Children,” but then she was under again and trying to kick water into Jack’s face, so she might have been wrong.

~*~

The Doctor skidded through the doorway to the TARDIS and slammed the door shut behind him, leaning against it and giving the deceptively thin wood a fond pat. Outside, the Kraxxi hounds whined and slobbered and howled and generally made canine noises of displeasure that their prey had gotten away. “You’re not getting the doggie treat out of this box, oh no,” he told them through the safety of the door, not that anyone heard him. The other two weren’t paying the least bit of attention.

Rose gave a little whoop of triumphant glee as she grabbed Jack, who was nearest, and gave him a huge hug. Half a second later, she backed away, blushing like anything. It was actually kind of cute, not that he’d tell her that.

It wasn’t hard to guess that she was embarrassed about hugging him like that, which wasn’t an emotion he wanted to encourage when it came to him. Embarrassment rarely got you anywhere, Jack had learned. And it Rose’s case, she had nothing to be embarrassed about.

“Hey, no,” he said, reaching out to snag her hand and reel her back towards him. “I like hugs. Feel free to hug me whenever you want.” As a sort of demonstration, he wrapped one arm around her shoulder. When she reacted by relaxing against him a little bit, he figured, what the hell, he’d always been one for pushing the envelope-

-and he grabbed her up with both arms and started to spin her around in circles.

She shrieked and immediately lashed both arms around his neck in a stranglehold. “Damn it, Jack!” She pounded on his back. “Put me down, you jerk!”

But she wasn’t really struggling, and he could hear the laughter in her voice. So he just held on and spun faster, till he could feel his center of gravity pulling in on itself, into one tiny point, till Rose’s laughter in his ear sounded almost like music, till the blurred figure of the Doctor, still slouched against the door, blurred into nothing in the background.

~*~

“Take one down and pass it around, ninety-three bottles of beer on the wall!”

“More like ninety-three bottles of klk!nsh,” Jack laughingly corrected, after he’d warbled the finished verse with her. “Assuming they had a hundred bottles up there to start with, which I kind of doubt. It’s kind of a girly drink.”

She snorted. “You drank way more than I did.”

“Yeah, but my tolerance is higher than yours. I had to even things out somehow.” Peering up, she saw the white flash of his teeth against the darkness when he grinned at her.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said. She was a bit distracted by the heat she could feel radiating off his body, less than a foot away. Jack was just distracting, in general. “You sing off-key, you know.”

“No, I’m pretty sure that was you,” he said. “I can sing.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “I’ve heard your little shower ditties.”

“Nothing on you, that time at Woodstock. Destined for pop stardom, you said.”

“Liar,” she grumbled, poking him in the arm. “And I know how to sing.”

“Maybe when you’re sober,” Jack said. “Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never heard you sing when you haven’t got something in your system. So maybe you just sing off-key when you are a little off-key, if you know what I mean.”

“Maybe,” she said, because there wasn’t a chance she was going to admit he was right. “I know how to sing.”

“I believe you,” he said, but it was just so condescending, and she scowled at him and tried to nudge him with her shoulder. Only it was dark, and she wasn’t really all there, thanks to the killk… whatever, so she sort of misjudged it a little and stumbled.

Luckily, Jack was there to catch her. “Whoa, there,” he said, and grabbed her arm to steady her. “Careful. The Doctor would skin me if I let you fall down just ‘cause I got you a little drunk.”

“Excuse me,” she said, with dignity, “I got myself drunk. You just paid for it. And ordered.”

“Ah, clearly my mistake, then,” he said, and even she could tell that he was trying not to laugh. “Either way, you’re not exactly steady on your feet.”

“Yeah, guess not,” she said, as she almost stumbled again. Jack made an exasperated noise in the back of his throat and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, holding her up. Automatically, she wound hers around his waist, then blinked when she realized what she’d done.

“There,” he said. “Now maybe we’ll make it back to the TARDIS in one piece and the Doctor won’t keelhaul me for bumping your precious noggin with a piece of street.”

“Keelhauling, skinning, throwing you out the airlock,” she said. “Do you like awake at night thinking up these imaginary punishments?”

“Nah, just naturally gifted,” he said, with a little chuckle she could feel more than hear.

“Yeah, I bet.” It was odd, walking like this with Jack. Intimate. Holding hands was one thing, but she only held hands with the Doctor.

But this wasn’t holding hands. This was hugging, sort of. And Jack liked hugging.

It was Jack. So it was all right.

~*~

“Yes, but the dichtomizer can’t run on Vortex energy like the TARDIS does. You’d have to set up a conversion unit-“

“Oh, I’ve got one, it’s just a matter of finding it-“

“-and calibrating it, right. But if it’s not exact, it could backfire and fry out the dichtomizer, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of this exercise.”

“I can be exact!” the Doctor said. “I’m exact all the time! No one is more exact than a Time Lord.”

“’cept when you accidentally go twelve months instead of twelve hours,” Rose put in, tired of listening to their technobabble. “Not real exact, that.”

“Well, in the grand scheme of things-“ the Doctor started.

“Nope! Don’t care.” She frowned at them. They’d been running all over the city (for once, not literally) in search of some spare part the Doctor absolutely Had to Have Right This Instant Or At Least Today, and not only had they just spent the last half hour talking in some sort of obscure tech-head (as Jack called it) talk, but they were currently sitting on the only bench in the entire square. A two-person bench. And neither one of them looked like they were about to scoot over and let her sit down, too. Her feet hurt, damn it.

“Well, alright, it wasn’t one of my finest moments,” the Doctor admitted, while she kept frowning. Maybe if she asked nicely…? No, that never worked.

So she just dropped her jacket to the ground (it was way too hot on this planet for jackets anyway, what had the wardrobe room been thinking?) and settled right down in Jack’s lap. If there’s not room, make room, that was a motto to live by, or at least her mum had always lived by it, anyway, and it was standing her in good stead now. Jack made a startled little oof from the impact of her full weight collapsing down into his lap.

“Oi, you better not make a crack about my weight,” she warned.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he reassured her, and wrapped one arm around her waist, holding her steady on her perch across his thighs. She turned partway and grinned at the Doctor.

“You were saying?” she said, a bit cheekily. “Something about my mum slapping you, right?”

“I did say it wasn’t one of my finer moments,” the Doctor admitted. Rose could just feel Jack’s grin, radiating away just beyond the periphery of her vision.

“She slapped you?” Jack asked with the kind of manic glee that was usually reserved for the Doctor and running for their lives, and in front of her, the Doctor sighed and looked put-upon, and Rose leaned a little back against Jack’s shoulder and tried to hide her grin.

~*~

She was up getting a cup of tea when she heard noises from Jack’s room.

They kept such odd schedules here in the TARDIS. She and Jack were humans and therefore needed to sleep, even if some of Jack’s training allowed him to run a lot longer on a lot less rest than she could. The Doctor didn’t seem to need to sleep at all, though he did have a room and even a bed, which she knew because she’d seen it once or twice, when he’d dragged her this way and that on a mad questing dash for some electronic bits and bobs that were desperately important and he needed right this second. They’d bounce from one adventure to another with scarcely a second for rest in between, sometimes till she was ready to drop and even Jack was looking frayed at the edges, and then suddenly the Doctor would decide it was time for some repairs, and they’d park somewhere on a dead planet or float around in the Vortex while he fiddled for hours, sometimes days at a time, and she and Jack got some much-needed sleep. The end result of this being that she didn’t have anything even vaguely resembling a sleep cycle anymore, and sometimes she slept for twelve hours straight, and sometimes she slept for three and then was wide awake all over again.

This was one of the latter times, which was why she was up getting tea, but she had no way of knowing whether Jack was awake or asleep. He’d been even more exhausted than she after their latest adventure, and he’d gotten a good drenching in a bay in the middle of Russian winter to boot, so he was probably sleeping it off, but those sounds… Whimpers, the occasional moan, and if he was asleep it was probably a nightmare, but if he was awake, well, it’d be a bit embarrassing to interrupt, wouldn’t it?

Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen him naked, or even the first time she’d seen him having a wank. She’d stumbled in on his “showers” more than once, though she’d always managed to back out before he realized who it was. And it wasn’t like she’d never touched… but, well, those were memories best left alone. Suffice to say, if he was getting off it’d be her left blushing, not him, and if he was having a nightmare, he’d probably appreciate the interruption.

He was asleep, and very definitely in the grip of a nightmare. Not that it was much of a surprise; they’d all seen plenty of things today that would be lingering on in dreams for some time to come. That was life with the Doctor, though, she thought. Sometimes she saw incredible things, beautiful things. Sometimes she saw monsters. The good times were worth the bad, and they’d never yet left without making things at least a little better. It balanced out, in the end. But that didn’t really stop the nightmares.

She approached the bed cautiously, trying not to do anything or make any sort of noise that might startle him. “Jack,” she said softly, settling on the edge of the bed, “Jack, wake up-“

She was interrupted by his hand on her throat. She managed to get in one gasping breath before his grip tightened, and for a moment she thought, Christ, he’s going to break my neck, but one of her flailing hands smacked him in the ear, and she dimly saw his eyes snap open. His grip immediately loosened.

“Oh, God, Rose, I’m so sorry-“

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” she said, as soon as she’d gotten her breath back. “I’m fine.”

“Fine? I nearly killed you!”

“You weren’t awake,” Rose said. She grabbed one of his hands, tightly clenched into fists at his sides, and drew it over, rubbing the pad of her thumb over his knuckles till his fierce grip eased and his fingers uncurled under hers. “I know a thing or two about nightmares and I know I shouldn’t have woken you up like that. I’m not hurt and you’re awake, so it’s all fine. Just forget about it.”

“Yeah, like that’ll happen,” he muttered, but he didn’t try to pull his hand away. She took that as a good sign and scooted closer, till she was sitting right next to him on the bed, her side pressing up against his.

“What were you dreaming about?” He hesitated, and she added hastily, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to you.”

“No, it’s all right. Least I can do.” He sighed, ran his free hand through his hair, mussed from sleep. “Usually I can’t remember when I wake up. Bits and pieces of my lost time, I think, though I can’t be sure. Just a feeling I’ve got when I’m awake.”

“But,” she prompted.

“But this time it was different.” He paused. “Rose, that girl-“

“Valeria,” Rose guessed, and he nodded unhappily.

“She was, just, the walking dead. That’s what she was. She wasn’t even aware of what was going on around her. That’s just… the worst thing I can imagine. I never want to end up like that. I’d far rather die in battle than get old and sick till I can’t even move on my own.”

“Me, too.” She thought about Valeria, the utter lack of anything to be found in those young eyes, so out of place in her old face. Her father had left her to die, but she and Jack both had risked their lives to save her. In the midst of all that mess, if they’d done one thing that was completely right, one thing to be proud of, that was it. “She was better by the end, though, Jack. She kissed you, remember? There had be to be something left. ‘Course, you get kisses from all the girls,” she teased.

His grin was only a shadow of itself, but it was close enough that she wasn’t going to complain. “And the boys, and the gender-indeterminate,” he said. “That’s right. Nobody can resist Captain Jack.”

She snorted. “Careful, there, Romeo. Don’t let your pride get too far out of hand. There’s at least two of us, right here on this ship, that are still holding strong.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, trust me, I haven’t forgotten.” He slid his hand from hers till it went around her shoulder, pulling her tighter against him in a brief hug. “Thanks, Rose. I should be able to go back to sleep now.”

“You’ll go right back into the dream,” she said. He looked down at her, not-quite-asking, and she shrugged as best as she could with Jack still wrapped around her. “I know a thing or two about nightmares, like I said. Sometimes you sleep better with someone else next to you.”

He kept his face carefully blank- probably trying not to offend her with the wrong comment. “You offering?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You objecting?”

“Nah,” he said. “But I tend to sleep in the buff, so you might want to grab me some pants or something first.”

She shocked the hell out of him by just sliding under the covers. “Nah,” she said, sending a cheeky grin up at him. She kept above the sheet, though. Lying completely against him, and him with nothing on, well, that would be asking for trouble. “Seen it before, remember?”

For just a moment, there was something complicated on his face, something she wasn’t sure how to name. But then it was gone and he was smiling easily down at her again. “So you have.” He wriggled down next to her, wrapped one arm loosely around her waist. “Comfy?”

“Very,” she said, and those were the last words either of them spoke before they were asleep.

~*~

He could hear her through the thin walls this place had, little whimpering animal noises of fear. Nightmare. Not really surprising, given the rock they were currently stuck on, but unwelcome nonetheless.

He gave a quick glance towards the closed door. Since they were being released in the morning, the doctors had been kind enough to leave them unlocked for their last night in. There was a guard at the end of the corridor, of course, but technically they were free to roam around…

“No…” came Rose’s voice, faintly, through the wall, and that made up his mind for him. The Doctor was breaking out of his cell tomorrow morning, but he wasn’t here now and besides, he owed Rose. No way was he leaving her in there at the mercy of her subconscious when there was no good reason not to help her out.

He still checked to make sure the guard’s back was turned before he ducked over to her room, because technically free to roam around and actually free to roam around were kind of different things, especially when you were in a mental institution and partially responsible for the social revolution that was taking hold of the planet. Luck was with him and the guard was busy flirting with a pretty nurse, so he nipped right into Rose’s room, standing by her closed door for a moment to allow his gaze to adjust to the lack of light after the too-bright hallway.

There. Bed was up against the rear wall, and in the middle was a Rose-shaped lump in the covers, with blonde hair spilling crazily all over her pillow. He remembered waking up in the middle of the night, not so very long ago, with that hair in his mouth. And maybe he’d wondered once or twice or a dozen times since then what it would be like for that to happen again, but that was his business.

He went right over and sat on the edge of the bed. “Rose. Rose, wake up.” Nothing, not even a twitch. He frowned. He didn’t want to shake her awake, both because it was rude and startling to the shakee and also because it was potentially dangerous to the shaker- he didn’t know how likely she was to come up swinging. Pretty likely, given her lack of surprise when he’d almost snapped her neck the time she’d woken him. On the other hand, she was hardly likely to snap his neck, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been punched in the face, and he knew how to dodge. So.

He shook her shoulder.

She did not come up swinging, for which he was grateful. She did, however, sit up so fast that if he hadn’t been ready to dodge, she would have cracked his forehead with hers, and that was the sort of thing that neither of them needed, especially not the night before they were set to be released from this damn place. Random bruises were not good indicators of mental health, apparently. Who knew.

It took her a second to realize just who was sitting on her bed, but he could see the moment she recognized him, because the whip-tight tension drained right out of her, and she offered him a wan version of her usually bright smile. “Jack. Hey.”

Her voice was hoarse with sleep, and unexpectedly arousing wrapped around his name. He ignored it. “Hey, yourself,” he said back, keeping his voice as quiet as hers. No need to bring the guard running. “You were having a nightmare.”

“Yeah, I figured.” She yanked at one of her pillows and then relaxed back against it, still nominally upright but definitely looking a lot more comfortable. “Least they weren’t getting loose and wandering around the room with me. Guess I should count my blessings.”

“Guess so,” he said. “I can’t wait to get off this rock.”

“Just another week, the Doctor said. He’s making an effort to stick around for the cleanup this time, at least a little.”

“The one time we want to get away…”

She giggled. “Yeah, I know.”

Jack gave up on this whole “sitting upright” thing and twisted around till he was settled next to her, staring up at the blank ceiling. “This is a really boring room.”

“I know.”

“It’s white.”

“I know.”

“It’s really white. I’ve never seen so much white in one place in my life.”

She snorted. “It’s called the Big White House, what did you expect?”

“Well, not this much white.” Pause. “You know what this planet needs?”

“Do you want the list alphabetized or in order of importance?”

He ignored her. “Bumper stickers. This planet really needs bumper stickers.”

She snorted. “And posters. Might help with some of the white, at least.”

“Ooh, yeah, good idea. Actually, great idea. Wonder if we can talk the Doctor into taking us somewhere to buy posters before we go off on our next adventure?”

“I make him take me home to buy chips; I think the two of us can handle posters,” she said.

“And bumper stickers.”

“Of course. Can’t forget the bumper stickers.”

“Definitely not.” Jack took a moment to reflect that exhaustion was making him a little loopy. He’d been stuck in a fucking counseling session all day, and when he’d gotten back to his room after dinner he’d been too keyed-up to really sleep. Lucky for Rose, or he wouldn’t have heard her having a nightmare.

That was a lie, actually. He was pretty sure he could be half-dead and he’d know if she was in any sort of trouble. He’d developed the ability to stay aware of his surroundings even in sleep- he’d had to, the life he led- but that wasn’t just it. There was some sort of Rose-specific radar built in. He’d bet the shirt off his back that the Doctor had the same radar, but it wasn’t the sort of question that you just asked. Even with a man as unusual as the Doctor.

He stirred, realizing that he was almost falling asleep. “I should go back to my own room.”

“Nn,” she mumbled, one handing grabbing ineffectually at his sleeve. “Stay.”

He wavered, tempted. God, he’d love to just crawl in next to her and fall asleep, wake up with her hair in his mouth and her scent on his clothes and skin. But he didn’t really want to get them in trouble on their last night in. “Orderlies might have something to say about that.”

“Screw ‘em,” Rose said, her voice marginally more clear. “Stay.”

And he realized what he should have already known, that he couldn’t resist her worth a damn. Especially not like this, sleep-soft and tempting. “Alright.”

“Good,” she said, and as soon as he’d gotten under the covers next to her she immediately curled into him, her head falling perfectly into place in the hollow of his shoulder. He slid one arm around her shoulders and turned into her, getting comfortable. She made a sleepy sort of sound and went boneless.

He wanted to stay awake, maybe just a minute more, savor this, ‘cause who the hell knew when it was going to happen again, but then he was gone, lost to sleep, and his own world of dreams.

~*~

Rose loved the library. She wasn’t much of a reader, that was true, though Julie back at home would’ve fainted just at the sight of so many books in one place. Rose herself had always preferred movies to the written word, though there’d been the odd magazine or two that she was addicted to.

But the TARDIS library… she loved it just because. Because it was a beautiful, wood-paneled room, with these deep plush rugs in rich dark colors that never looked quite the same any two times you looked them. Because there were what seemed like miles of display cases, with the most amazing variety of things inside, all labeled in some sort of alien language that the TARDIS obligingly translated for her. Because the ceiling was designed to reflect the sky (or lack thereof) outside, and when they were drifting in the Vortex she could spend hours on her back, staring upwards, watching the changing not-sky outside. Because the whole room was so clearly a reflection of the Doctor himself, and how could she not love that?

And also, because the library had the most amazing chairs she’d ever seen in her life. It didn’t matter what kind of mood she was in, lazy or bouncy or somewhere in between, or if she had a twisted ankle or a big bruise from one of their adventures, the chairs always managed to be perfectly comfortable. Sometimes they were firm and shallow, and sometimes they were so soft and deep they could practically swallow you up, but they were always just exactly what she wanted in a chair.

Or a couch. She was sitting on one of them now, with Jack at the other end. They were both leaning back against the arms of the couch, facing each other, with their legs tangled up somewhere in the middle. Jack was completely absorbed in some book with a title the TARDIS refused to translate- which meant that it was probably pornographic in the extreme, and Jack’s grin wasn’t doing much to dissuade her of the notion- and she, not a reader, was scribbling away in her notebook.

She always did, whenever they had some downtime, getting down as much of their adventures as she could. She knew that someday, she wouldn’t be with the Doctor, and if she left him in circumstances where she’d have a chance to grab her journals, at least she’d have them. Written proof of her life with the Doctor. There were even pictures slipped between the pages, of the Doctor, of Jack, of her and the Doctor, of her and Jack. In the latter two, the men had their arms around her shoulders, and in all of them, everyone was smiling.

Yeah, she’d learned a thing or two about holding on to the important things.

“How many of those things do you have now, anyway?”

She looked up at Jack, who had his book facedown over one bent and jean-clad thigh. “This is my fourth, I think.” She thumbed quickly through the few remaining pages. “And it’s almost out.”

Jack shook his head. “And you have such tiny handwriting. Just how much trouble did you two get into before I met up with you, anyway?”

“A lot,” she said. “Traveling with the Doctor isn’t exactly what I’d call relaxing.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” He cocked his head to the side. “Maybe I’m overstepping my bounds here, but what the hell. Can I read them sometime?”

She thought about this. There were a lot of private things in those journals. Then again, most of her really private thoughts were kept in a different journal entirely, a recorder of sorts that she’d found in one of the junk rooms early on and kept triple-locked when she wasn’t using it, and anyway, this was Jack. As embarrassing things went, she’d pretty much already gone through a round or two with him.

“Yeah,” she said, “yeah, okay.”

He smiled at her. “Thanks,” he said, and then he went back to his book and she went back to her journal.

She was on her last paragraph when the Doctor came bouncing in. “We’re here!” he announced.

“And where’s here?” Rose asked, as Jack put aside his book. The Doctor gave them his manic grin.

“I have no idea,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, but she scribbled the last sentence in a hurried scrawl that slurred the closing quote into a blob and said, “Alright, let’s go find out.”

~*~

“You know what? It’s cold,” Rose announced, through chattering teeth.

“Ice fields, Rose,” the Doctor said. “You could kinda expect that they’d be cold, yeah.”

“Jack here ran around naked on this planet, I figured I’d be fine in a heavy coat,” she said. “But no. Someone had to insult the Lord High Thingamabob, and now we’re on the run and stuck in a cave.”

“An ice cave,” Jack put in helpfully.

“Exactly, an ice cave. And this is a really great jacket, but this place is really cold.”

“You know, that wasn’t exactly my fault,” the Doctor says. “And besides, he was insulting first.”

“He complimented me on my lack of fur,” Rose said.

“Yes, but it was the way he said it! Just knew that he was gonna carry you off and keep you as a furless pet, or something. You are the jeopardy-friendly one, remember? I have to be proactive about these things.”

“Actually, I think he was meaning something more along the lines of wife, but hey, that’s just me,” Jack said. Rose slapped him lightly on his bicep.

“Hush, you. I didn’t want to be his wife or his pet, so I s’pose I should say thanks, Doctor.” She looked around the cave. “I just wish we’d managed to run to somewhere a little warmer. Like the TARDIS.”

“The blizzard will probably blow itself out by tomorrow morning,” the Doctor said. “That’s only a couple of hours. Short nights here. We’ll make it.”

You might,” she said, almost accusingly. “You’re not even shivering. Us humans are having a bit more trouble.”

“Group hug?” Jack suggested.

Rose automatically gave him the “stop flirting” look, but then visibly reconsidered. “Actually, not a bad idea,” she said. “Doctor?”

“I don’t really give off much in the way of heat,” he said, a little distantly. Rose tramped down the sense of hurt, irrational as it was, and turned to Jack.

“Jack? Was your idea.”

“And an excellent one, if I do say so myself,” Jack said, looking smug. He opened up his greatcoat and grinned. “C’mere.”

She happily dived for him, and curled right up against the source of all that body heat while he closed the coat around them both. Her chattering teeth slowed down at once, and she knew that given a little time, her shivers would slow up, too.

It was odd, being held by Jack like this. She’d gotten used to the feel of his body pressed up against hers- through a sheet, that first night, and through thin hospital scrubs the second, and a million and one times he’d hugged her or pulled her against his side and she’d been able to feel the movement of bone and muscle under all that skin. And now here she was in her thick winter coat, feeling his body heat leeching into her, but it was like she was wrapped in a bubble, existing in the world but separate from it. From Jack.

And then, with one gesture, he made it better. He wormed his way under her coat and spread one broad hand over the small of her back, holding her against him. Cradled. Safe. And most importantly, warm.

Across the room, the Doctor watched them with his inscrutable face on. She supposed it was obvious that they’d curled up together like this, before, but at the moment, for the very first time, she just didn’t care what he was thinking. She was warm, she was comfortable. She was with her two best friends in the universe. Life didn’t get much better than this.

Under her ear, Jack’s ear thumped out a single, steady rhythm. She smiled, and closed her eyes.

~*~

As soon as he got the egg safely secured on the console, the Doctor was off and running again, poking buttons and grinning like it was one of the best days ever. “Right, then! Time we were off. Raxacoricofallapatorius, here we come.”

Jack looked at the doorway where he’d last seen Rose, wandering back to her room, looking like she was just waiting for a little privacy before bursting into tears. She hadn’t looked to be in any kind of adventuring mood, not even with Margaret the egg. “Why don’t we park for a few hours,” Jack suggested, still thinking about the quiet devastation on Rose’s face. “The TARDIS is probably due for a few repairs. The Rift almost pulled it apart, after all. And I doubt Margaret here,” he paused to poke at the egg, stopping short of actually touching it, “is in any real hurry to get back to the hatchery.”

“S’ppose,” the Doctor allowed. “Alright, changing coordinates now. You got anywhere in mind?”

“Somewhere safe,” Jack said, and then left the room in search of Rose.

He found her in her room, the first place he looked. He would have tried the library next, and there were a few other rooms after that where she might’ve hid, but like any heartbroken young woman, she’d retreated to her room to cry into her pillow.

Or not, as the case may be. She wasn’t really crying at all, and he didn’t find her flung dramatically facedown, but instead sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, staring off into space with her pillow clutched across her chest like a shield. He looked at her pale face and pinched mouth and dry eyes, and reassessed his earlier thought about her bursting into tears. Here was a girl who was beyond tears, almost. And that was usually much, much worse.

“Hey,” he said, leaning against the doorway. No way was he going in uninvited, not right now. No telling which way her mood could go, and he didn’t want to paint a target on his chest.

She looked up, and tried on a smile that was so pitiful, Jack had to hide a wince. “Hey,” she said back, her voice low, a little hoarse.

“The Doctor’s parked us for a few repairs,” Jack said after a second, when he realized that she wasn’t going to say anything else. “We probably won’t be headed for the hatchery till tomorrow, so if you want to get some rest, you can.”

“Thanks, Jack,” she said. She was tracing a line of embroidery on her pillow, compulsively, over and over.

He faked puzzlement. “What’s to thank me for, anyway? The Doctor’s the designated driver.”

Her look was close enough to her usual “no bullshit” scold that he figured she wasn’t too far gone in misery. “Like I don’t know you’re not the one who got him to stop. I’m not stupid, Jack.”

“Nah, I know you’re not.” He stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets. “Besides, I need a nap or two myself. Some of us were actually working tonight, you know.”

He’d thought she might fire back something snarky, maybe, “I’m just gonna pretend you said you’re welcome,” but instead her face crumpled, and he could have kicked himself when he realized what he’d said. His hands came out of his pockets and he was across the room in a flash, tugging the pillow away from limp hands and pulling her close.

She clung to him, fiercely, her shoulders shaking. He rubbed soothing circles over her back. “Shh, sweetheart.” He could feel her tears soaking his shirt. “It’s okay.”

Gradually, the storm subsided, and she pulled away a little, snuffling and wiping at red eyes. He didn’t let her get too far, though, instead keeping one arm protectively around her shoulders. “Better?” he said, after a minute.

She nodded. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Don’t be,” he said. “And I do. Everyone’s entitled to a few tears after they get their hearts broken.”

“Even you?” she challenged. Oh, yes, she was back. Strong girl, his Rose.

“Even me,” he said. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. Probably before the Academy. “It was a jerk thing for him to do, taking off like that. He had to know you’d worry about him.”

“I think,” she said, a little haltingly, “I think he was just giving me a taste of my own medicine. Letting me know what it felt like.”

Jack suppressed a wince. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.” She gave him a wan little smile. “We’ve been over for a while now. Or we should’ve been. It’s not been fair of me, keeping him on standby like this.” She stared at her hands. “He’s going out with a shopgirl I know. Trisha Delaney.” Jack nodded, like the name meant anything to him. “He didn’t tell me till later. We were fine for a while, getting dinner, going to get a hotel later, and then we started fighting and it just came out, I think.”

Jack blinked. “Let me get this straight. He was taking you out on a date, was planning on sleeping with you later on, and he’s been dating somebody else?” She nodded. “What a-“ The TARDIS refused to translate the word he used, but it was pretty obvious from Rose’s blush that she got his meaning.

“Well, it’s different when you say it like that. And he’s not a bad person. I hurt him, too. A lot. I guess I didn’t realize how much he cared about me- didn’t even really think about it. I asked him to come and he came running despite Trisha Delaney the shopgirl and I didn’t even think that asking him to run off to Cardiff on a moment’s notice wasn’t exactly fair. I didn’t think things through, and I made him feel like he was nothing. That’s what he told me, you know. That’s how I made him feel.”

Jack snorted. He knew what she was really saying- she hadn’t realized that she had that kind of power over Mickey, and on top of everything else she felt guilty because he didn’t have that kind of hold over her. But honestly, as far as Jack was concerned, the kid was thick as a brick if he hadn’t gotten it before now. “If he can’t understand why you left, then there’s no hope for him.”

“Jack!” Despite her scolding tone, he didn’t think she was all that upset with him. “It’s just… complicated. And it hurts.”

“Love sucks,” Jack summed up. She nodded, and he hugged her tighter around the shoulders.

“Well, keep in mind that you’ve got two guys on this ship that care about you. If you’re ever in need of a little company, I, personally, will be perfectly happy to take one for the team. It’ll be a sacrifice, I’m sure, since you’re short and smell kind of funny-“ He buried his nose in her hair to make his point, inhaling while she giggled. Strawberries and salt. “But needs must.”

“Oi, get off,” she said, laughingly shoving at him. “Sacrifice, my arse. I’m great company, and you know it.”

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Make sure you remember it, too.” He rapped his knuckles lightly against her forehead.

“Will do,” she said. Her smile wasn’t as bright as normal, maybe, but it was close enough. He squeezed her once more.

“And on that note, I’m off. Get some sleep, will you? Knowing the Doctor, we’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Yeah, probably.” She leaned up, suddenly and without warning, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks.”

He kissed her back, careful to keep the contact as brief as hers had been, despite the temptation to linger. “Any time.”

He left her there, settling in for bed, and headed back to the console room. Maybe the Doctor needed a hand with some of the repairs.

~*~

The Doctor did not, in fact, need a hand, but he did, apparently, want very badly to talk to Jack, if his glare when Jack came in was any indication. Jack slowed down and frowned. What had he done now?

“I thought I told you not to mess with her,” the Doctor burst out, before Jack had taken more than a couple steps into the room. His voice was low and harsh, no joke here. “I know I told you not to touch her.”

A little late for that, Jack couldn’t help but think, despite the seriousness of the situation. A man without the Doctor’s dangerously sharp perception would have noticed Jack and Rose getting close. Your average village idiot would have noticed it. You’d think the Doctor would have understood when he saw Rose sleeping curled up with him on that ice planet, like a puppy seeking warmth, but no, he’d just sat there and tried to burn a hole in Jack’s head with his eyes while smiling harmlessly and telling Rose some silly story. And he still didn’t get it.

Jack lost his temper.

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Jack demanded. Some people shouted when they got angry. Like the Doctor, he got quiet. “I’m not seducing her. If I was, I’d be naked in her bed right now, instead of tucking her in and telling her goodnight. I was comforting her.”

“Oh, is that what they call it?”

Snide was not a good look on him. “Yes, that’s what they call it, because that’s what it was! She had kind of a bad day today, or didn’t you notice? She was almost falling apart, and you were ready to head off for the next adventure. Us humans need a little time to recover after our hearts get broken, you know.” Even him, though it hadn’t happened in a long, long time. “If you were being the friend that you’d like to think you are, you would have noticed that.”

The Doctor couldn’t seem to think of anything to say. Jack watched him grope for a response, then turned and left the room.

~*~

After that, well, fuck it. He wanted Rose. He’d always wanted Rose, but he’d held himself back, respecting her wishes and the nebulous thing she seemed to have on the Doctor, the odd inverted hold they seemed to have over each other. But as far as Jack was concerned, the Doctor just lost his claim.

See, he had the Doctor all figured out. He wanted her, but he wasn’t planning on doing anything about it. He was clearly posting “No Fishing!” signs all over her, but just as clearly had no intent of reeling her in. He just lurked around and watched her and glared at any man that tried to get too close, no matter what Rose thought about the matter. And Rose seemed to know what he was doing and be indulgent of it, like it was just a harmless little habit.

Jack knew better. It wasn’t harmless. He knew that he wasn’t the most honorable of men, but he had his own kind of code, and what the Doctor was doing with Rose was a big Don’t. If you want someone, you either pursue them, or you back off. The Doctor was breaking that in a big way, and Jack had seen, firsthand, just the kind of damage dog in the manger behavior like that could do. Not just to the girl in question, but to anyone who happened to stumble into the crosshairs. And the Doctor was a brilliant, complex, and wonderful person, but he was also flawed, unstable, and more than a little dangerous, though he mostly kept it on a leash. Jack did not want to be the guy that the Doctor saw as a potential threat.

He didn’t want to seduce Rose. Not the way he usually did, the over-the-top stuff he’d pulled when he’d first met her. But he was going to make clear that he was an option, if she wanted.

And she did want. Maybe enough to do something about it, maybe not, but he knew she wasn’t indifferent to him. They were close friends, maybe best friends (he wasn’t sure what a best friend was, exactly, but if he had one, it was Rose) but their friendship was laced with a heavy undercurrent of sexual tension. He usually got that kind of thing out of the way early, but with Rose it had had a chance to build, till it heightened every interaction, every touch, with the possibility of more, keeping some lizard part of his brain awake and waiting whenever he was around her. And he knew it was the same for her- it was there in her eyes, somewhere, when she thought he didn’t know she was watching him. Everything about them was just a little too intense.

Jack laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. God, no wonder the Doctor kept throwing such strong “keep away” signals all around the place. If he’d known that a teenaged Rose had slept with him, once upon a time- he’d be so, so much worse. Jack didn’t intend to tell him.

Because it was like this- the Doctor was clearly in love with Rose. It was a strange kind of love, but it was infinitely passionate nonetheless, the kind of love you died for, the kind of love you killed for. And Rose loved him back, all teasing and soft edges when the Doctor was nothing but sharp angles and pain. It worked. The two of them danced around each other, something only they knew the steps to, but it worked for them. They both seemed to think that it would work forever.

It wouldn’t. Maybe the Doctor could live with that kind of longing, the push-pull of passion and self-denial, but Rose was only human- a young human, in an era where mental and biological maturity took time, a couple decades even. Eventually it wouldn’t be enough for her, and as far as Jack was concerned, there was no reason in the world it should be. Rose wanted a lover, and for whatever reason, the Doctor was never going to be that for her.

But Jack could.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to the Doctor, and maybe it wasn’t even fair to himself, but if she gave him half a chance, Jack was going to take Rose’s lemons, and make one hell of a glass of lemonade.

~*~

“Kyoto, 2336,” Jack said, throwing his arms wide and smiling. “History in the making. Well, my history, your future. And we’re right in the middle of it.”

“You sound like him, you do,” Rose said, shaking her head at him. She was hiding an amused smile, though, so she wasn’t too exasperated with him. He figured he had a ways to go before she reached seriously exasperated and did something drastic, like call him by his full name. (Not that she knew the real one, but to be honest, he’d forgotten it himself.) Apparently mothers did that back in Rose’s time, too.

“Yes, well, certain things do tend to rub off,” he said with a leer. She smacked him on the arm, apparently just on principle.

“Yeah, I just bet they do,” she said. “What’s got you in such a good mood, anyway? You’re chipper.”

“Chipper good, or chipper bad?” Jack asked. He threw her his best innocent look, complete with limpid puppy-dog eyes. She didn’t look like she was buying it. “You know me and anachronistic slang.”

You’re anachronistic,” she muttered, making him laugh, and added, “Depends. On you, it’s creepy.”

“Oh, well, thanks so much. Can’t a guy be in a good mood?” he demanded, giving the game away. Oh, well, Rose knew he was faking it with the slang bit anyway. It’d gotten a laugh out of her when he’d used it on Mickey, which was good enough for him.

“S’ppose,” she granted. “Just wondering why, today of all days.”

“What’s wrong with today?” he asked. “Good weather, friendly natives, one great history lesson in the making. What’s not to like?”

“Nothing! But you gotta admit it’s a little… random. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the Doctor leaving us here while he investigates that asteroid with the toxic atmosphere, would it?”

“Rose, you wound me!” he said, pressing a hand against his chest. Then he let it fall to his side. “Alright, well, maybe a little. Nothing against the Doctor, but his style of meet ‘n greet is a little hit and miss.”

“And you want to show me your way of doing things,” she surmised.

“Yep!” he said cheerfully. “Breezing through on nerve and a big mouth is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to take your time, do it up right. So here we are, proper ident, proper dress-“ he grinned at her skintight outfit- “and a whole afternoon to explore.”

“Works for me.” She looked in distaste at the skinsuit she was wearing. “Do I have to wear this, though?”

“But Rose, you look simply smashing in it,” he teased, and ducked the punch she automatically sent his way. “Yeah, it’s all the rage right now. It’ll blow over in a few years when some fundamentalists some into power for a century or so, but for now, everyone’s got one.”

“Well, it might be nice to blend into the crowd for once,” she said. “I mean, I like the attention, but-“

“Sometimes you want to experience it without everyone staring, yeah, I know.” He glanced around the grimy alley they were standing in. “Well. Sights to see, yeah? Ready to be off?”

She took his arm when he offered it, which never stopped making his heart skip a beat or two. He’d seen how casually she held the Doctor’s hand, but that was her and the Doctor’s thing, and this was theirs. Different, but still just as nice. Plus, he got to feel Rose loosely against his side when they walked. Always a plus.

She stopped him before he’d gotten a chance to take two steps. “Jack,” she said, and sounded so abruptly serious that looked down at her with a little half-frown.

“Yeah?” he said cautiously.

She placed her free hand over his- not really holding his hand, but still close enough that he lost his breath. “Thanks,” she said, and her smile was just as serious as her voice, but he was starting to realize that maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. Not this time.

“My pleasure,” he said, preventing himself from tossing back a casual “no problem” that would just upset the mood. She had something more to say, he could tell just from looking at her face, and he didn’t want to miss even a bit of it because he was careless with his words.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she said. “And I’m glad. It’s nice.”

He blinked, but otherwise kept his expression neutral. “Yeah? And what is it that I’m doing?”

“Showing me something different,” she said. “It’s not all about a new place and a new time every time we walk out that door. Sometimes it’s about how you do the walking. And I get that. This is different, and I’m not so sure about the outfit, but as for the rest, well, I like it.”

“I told you, it looks great on you,” he said, and from the almost puzzled look she flashed him, he’d said that with a bit too much intensity and not quite enough charm.

But she didn’t back down, didn’t turn away with a nervous giggle and say they needed to get a move on. Months ago, she would have. But now, she just stared back at him, held his gaze, and maybe it wasn’t really an invitation but it was probably the closest thing he was going to get, so he kissed her.

Inwardly, part of him marveled a little at his bravery. Not because of the kiss, or not specifically- he’d never been shy about his kisses. But kissing Rose, just like that, well, that’s different. He’d had this whole plan, slow and careful, and here he was, two days later, standing in a dirty alleyway in twenty-fourth century Kyoto kissing Rose Tyler. Not a deep, passionate kiss, just a pressing of lips on lips that was more chaste than anything he’d had for years, but it was still perfect.

She pulled away first, but she didn’t go far. Her arm was still looped through his, after all, and she didn’t look like she was going to take it back any time soon. She was blushing, not as much as he knew she could, but just a delicate tint of pink that made her look absolutely adorable.

She cleared her throat. “So? Where are we headed?”

He grinned down at her. “There’s this fountain you’ve got to see- all pretty lights and colored water and, well, you’ll like it. And there’s a bar nearby that had the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in all my years of time-travel. After that… Flip a coin?”

“Sounds good to me,” she said, and stepped a little closer, hugging his arm tight with hers and curling her tongue over her teeth the way she did when she was about to say something cheeky. “So let’s stop standing around and go, yeah?”

And normally he would have had an excellent comeback for that, but just then he’d seen someone come down the alley. And he wasn’t exactly wearing a skinsuit.

“Rose?” he said, not moving.

“Yeah?”

“I hate to tell you this, but it looks like the Doctor dropped us off at 1336 instead of 2336.”

“And that’s bad, yeah?”

“Well, that guy right there doesn’t look too welcoming.”

She looked up to see the soldier starting in their direction, a scowl on his face, one hand already going to his sword. “Skinsuits not really the style?”

“Not really, no,” he said.

“Told you,” she said. “Run?”

“Definitely,” he said, and they did.

~*~

He didn’t have long. Nothing was going right, and they needed to get the hell out, and sooner rather than later. Thank god the TARDIS was here, or they’d be all kinds of screwed.

And then he stopped. Because there it was, slung over the handrail right by the console. Rose’s jacket. He remembered her putting it on as soon as the Doctor had showed up to rescue them from angry fourteenth-century Japanese warriors, probably in an attempt to preserve a little modesty. Her skinsuit had gotten ripped in the chase, right up the side, and a whole lot of Rose-skin had been showing. She’d taken it off again before she’d headed back to her room to change, and as Jack had followed her out, he’d seen the Doctor absent-mindedly grab it from where it had been tossed onto the console and fold it over the rail.

He stopped to touch it. They didn’t have long, but he could take this. This was mourning Rose, the best friend he’s ever had or ever will had, the only way he could. And not just his friend, but the possibility of more that tasted like ashes in his mouth.

The Doctor has driven him and inspired him and earned his respect and his trust, but he wasn’t why Jack had stayed. Jack’s been with them longer than he ever stayed, and there’s one reason, one person Jack thought was worth sticking around for. There was only one person in the entire universe that he loved more than himself, and she was gone.

~*~

“You would destroy Daleks and Humans together. If I am God, the creator of all things, then what does that make you, Doctor?”

“There are colonies out there,” the Doctor said. Jack could hear the desperation in his voice, the wild stray chance of hope. “The human race would survive in some shape or form, but you’re the only Daleks in existence. The whole universe is in danger if I let you live.”

The Doctor looked up at him through the viewscreen. “Do you see, Jack? That’s the decision I have to make for every living thing. Die as a human or live as a Dalek.”

And the Doctor stared at him, for one moment in time, helpless for an answer. “What would you do?”

And Jack thought about it, seriously. For all of a second.

She was worth dying for, too.

“You sent her home. She’s safe. Keep working.”

“But he will exterminate you!” the Emperor Dalek shouted.

Jack grinned, his old, reckless grin. He’d always known he was going to go down fighting. “Never doubted him; never will.”

A lie, but it’s what the Doctor needed to hear. Jack watched as he jumped up, newly energized, and strode across the room to the viewscreen.

At least he got to say goodbye, he thought. That was worth a lot. Whatever else he had or hadn’t done right in his life, at least he was going out fighting. And at least he’d gotten to say goodbye- to the Doctor, and to Rose.

~*~

Regeneration, as a rule, was probably a lot easier to deal with when you knew it was actually possible. Which Rose hadn’t. It was one of the only times that Jack thought the Doctor had really let her down.

Jack had known it was possible, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. Watching a man he knew, trusted, possibly even loved disappear in a blaze of light, replaced by a stranger with too much hair and too many teeth and a very different sort of manic grin, well, it was a little much for even someone like him to take in.

Rose was devastated, on the verge of giving up, and while giving up was something he didn’t go for as a rule, he couldn’t really blame her this time. There was something about resurrection in any form that was just so damn unsettling to deal with.

And Jack was speaking from personal experience, here. Waking up choking on recycled air in that space station had been one of the worst moments of his life, and he had quite a few to choose from. Even waking up to two years of cold, terrifying nothing where his memories were supposed to be didn’t compare. If he hadn’t made it back to the TARDIS in time, he’d probably be facing quite a few moments that were way worse, but he’d been lucky. If he’d stopped to poke at the piles of dust where the Daleks used to be- well. He wouldn’t be sitting here, in Jackie Tyler’s flat, listening to Rose make tea in the kitchen and watching a stranger sleep.

He’d never really gotten a chance to ask just what the hell had happened. He’d run into the TARDIS to see the Doctor setting coordinates for something and Rose lying unconscious on the floor. He’d asked, even begged for an explanation, but the Doctor had just shaken his head and said that things were going to be different now. And then Rose had woken up, and the Doctor was talking about change and Barcelona and Jack knew, knew, knew what was going to happen, but it was still a shock to see him taken by a beam of golden light and a stranger standing in his place. Rose had clung to him, tears still in his eyes, while the Doctor had careened around the TARDIS and sped things up and just generally acted like a nutter, and then they’d crashed and he’d collapsed and here they were.

Rose came back in, two steaming cups in her hands. She handed one to him, and he knew without looking that it was coffee, not tea. He smiled gratefully at her. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” she said. She set her own cup down on the night stand without actually tasting any of it, and stood next to his chair, resting one hand on his shoulder. “How is he?”

“About the same,” Jack said. “At least he’s not worse.”

“Point.” Her hand slid sideways, her fingers combing almost absently through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. Despite the fact that he knew she wasn’t doing it with intent, that she probably didn’t even realize she was doing it at all, he still had to suppress a shiver. “The old Doctor- the proper Doctor- he wouldn’t have done this. He’d wake up. He’d save us.”

Not quite true, but he didn’t know how to explain it to her. This was the Doctor’s job, damn it. This was his life. Lives, anyway. Jack shouldn’t have to follow behind and pick up the pieces his carelessness left behind.

So he said nothing, just brought his hand up and let it rest on Rose’s forearm, with as much reassurance as he knew how. Her tendons were like coiled steel under his palm, relaxing only slightly under his touch. But it was enough.

Stuck in this holding pattern, he’d had a little time to slow down and think about things. And now, more than ever, he wanted answers. But somehow, he didn’t think he’d be getting them any time soon.

~*~

“The yellow girl, she has the clever blue box. Therefore, she speaks for your planet.”

“But she can’t,” the Prime Minister said, even as Jack tightened his grip on Rose’s elbow elbow. Rose smiled, a little grimly, and kept her gaze on the Sycorax leader.

“Yes, I can.”

“Don’t you dare,” Mickey said, behind her.

“Someone’s gotta be the Doctor,” she said.

“They’ll kill you,” Harriet said, making a grab for her arm. Rose ducked away.

“Never stopped him.”

”Or me,” Jack said. “Or you. Don’t sell yourself short.” She turned to look at him, and found herself caught by his intense blue stare. “If we’re doing this,” he said, “we’re doing it together. Deal?”

She smiled at him, and slid her hand down his arm till she was palm-to-palm, and slowly and deliberately laced her fingers through his. “Deal.”

She cleared her throat and turned back to the Sycorax leader, her hand firmly held by Jack’s. “I, um, address the Sycorax according to Article Fifteen of the Shadow Proclamation…”

She was defenseless, clueless, and completely without the Doctor, but she had Jack and she had her wits, and that would just have to be enough.

~*~

Jack heard the sound of sneakered feet on the floor grills and for a moment he thought, Rose, because of course the Doctor always wore boots, heavy black work boots, and he was damn light on his feet for a man of his size, but even he made some noise in those things. And then he remembered- the Doctor wore Chucks, now. White ones, for some inexplicable reason. It was probably him, coming back from wherever he’d disappeared to- stalking Rose, most likely. She’d gone off with Mickey to some New Year’s bash one of her old friends was throwing, and the Doctor had puttered around for all of ten minutes before muttering something about parts and bouncing out the door in her wake.

“What’d you do, Doctor, insult the wrong ape and get yourself kicked out from the party?”

“Actually, he left on his own,” came Rose’s voice, unexpectedly. Jack managed not to jerk up hard enough to bang his head on the underside of the console, but it was a near thing. “He showed his face for all of a minute before wandering off to look for spare parts.”

He carefully wriggled out from under the console, setting the aside the (regular) screwdriver and stretching slightly as he turned around to face her. “He’s gonna need them. He really did a number on the old girl, crashing her like that- we’ve been here almost a week and he’s still got a few days’ work left. Assuming he got the parts.”

“Yeah, but that’s his job,” she said, looking down at the oil stains on his hands. “Not yours. You could’ve come out tonight, you know.”

“We don’t really do New Year’s in my time,” he said, which was a blatant lie, but at least one that she probably wouldn’t be able to call him on.

“Yeah, but parties, drinking, loose women- all good things, or so you’re always tellin’ me,” she said. “Why’d you stay in?”

He dodged her question by asking one of his own. “You’re here, you’re sober, and it’s-“ he checked his wrist, “-still fifteen minutes till midnight. Why’d you leave before getting a little New Year’s kiss from Mickey?”

“Don’t be stupid, I’m not with Mickey anymore,” she told him, with annoying equanimity. “And it wasn’t much of a party, really. Loose women don’t do all that much for me, and the only drinks they had were the cheap stuff. Guess I’ve gotten spoiled, lettin’ you buy for me all the time.”

“Well, I do have good taste,” he said. “Still, you could’ve gone to see your mum.”

“She’s celebrating with Howard,” Rose said, curling up her nose in a ridiculously adorable expression of disgust. “I don’t think so. Besides, I wanted to talk to you.”

“Well, I’m all ears,” he said with an easy grin, trying to ignore how fast his heart was suddenly beating. “Mind you, not as much as some, but-“

Rose just smiled at the joke, instead of getting distracted like he’d hoped. “Good.” She settled back against the railing, getting comfortable. He mimicked her pose, making sure that none of the knobs poking him in the ass were actually important.

No way out of this conversation, might as well bite the bullet and get it over with. “So what did you want to tell me?”

She didn’t answer right away, instead twisting her fingers in the hem of her shirt in a gesture that should have been nervous, but instead seemed, somehow, thoughtful. “Things are different now,” she said finally.

He remembered her telling him that, once before. It hadn’t meant good things then, and he doubted it was much better news this time around.

“I know,” he said, and he did. He’d checked himself out in the medlab a couple days ago, and physically, he was exactly the same as before his death. But he felt different.

“I’m different,” she said. “Whatever happened up there… I’ve changed, is all. But mostly, the Doctor’s different.” She ran one hand restlessly through her hair. “I still love him.”

Oh, yeah. This wasn’t going anywhere good at all.

“He was the first bloke I ever really fell in love with,” she continued, apparently oblivious to his complete and total lack of any desire to be hearing this. “And chances are, I’m never going to fall back. That’s just the way it is.”

“I understand,” Jack said, through a tight throat. His voice came out a little hoarse, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. It was all he could do to keep it level, keep it from cracking, keep it from revealing just how much this hurt. He’d known she loved the Doctor, he’d thought that things might change between her and this new, much… friendlier Doctor, but he hadn’t had time to prepare, to brace himself for this little talk. It came out of nowhere. He wasn’t ready.

“I doubt it,” she said, sounding amused. He looked away, refusing to let her meet his gaze. Damn it, he wasn’t ready.

He didn’t just hear her sigh, he felt the breath on his skin, because suddenly, she wasn’t three feet away, she was right next to him, standing right up in his personal space. And normally that was fine, he was happy to have her close anytime, but this was different, and if she was going to break his fucking heart less than a week after he’d finally figured out he even had one, he’d like a little distance to at least try to pretend he was fine with it.

“Jack,” she said, trying to get him to look at her. He refused, and she gripped his jaw with surprisingly strong, slender fingers. When she’d sufficiently gotten his attention, she said, deliberately, “Things are different now,” and when he didn’t respond, she sighed again, went to tiptoe, and kissed him.

It wasn’t a passionate kiss, exactly, but it was firm and lingering, a declaration of intent. She rocked back down to her heels, letting go of his chin, and smiled faintly when he just gaped at her.

He’d seen that smile before, on the Doctor’s face, when he’d done something especially clever and/or nice but was pretending to have nothing to do with it, but never on Rose. She was right- she had changed. And he had a feeling he was going to like the changes.

“Oh,” he said.

“You idiot,” she said, fondly. “I said he was the first bloke I fell for. Not the only one.”

Oh,” he said. Her smile got wider, and he grinned back in response, foolishly. He felt like a schoolboy for the first time since before he’d actually been one. “Got it.”

“Took you long enough,” she groused, but he just held out his hand, still smiling like an idiot. At least he was an idiot in love, and when she took his hand, lacing her fingers tight through his, he knew that at least he wasn’t alone. He held her hand and he kissed her and it was still a few minutes to midnight, but that was okay.

He could wait.