It had been one of the more miserable nights of Jack Harkness's life.
Not the most miserable, he decided, because there was some pretty stiff competition for that particular crown, but definitely in the top ten. He distracted himself as he crawled out of his bathroom and across the floor of his bedroom with making a list of the other nine. Torture, murder, the occasional bout of really bad sex in pursuit of Agency goals, not to mention the night he'd spent chained to his shower courtesy of John Hart, may he rot in hell.
No, this probably wasn't the most miserable night of Jack's life, but it was in the running. Jack had a fifty-first century body and he was a former Time Agent. He didn't get sick as a matter of course. But he had tonight. Spectacularly. He and Rose both had eaten or drunk something on that last planet that had severely disagreed with them. They'd been about ten feet shy of the TARDIS when Rose said, "Doctor . . ." in a small, shaky voice before being violently ill all over the springy blue grass of the meadow they'd parked in. Jack had been downright mortified when he'd followed, fifteen seconds later.
The Doctor, of course, had swooped in immediately to gather Rose up, cradling her against his chest protectively. He'd shepherded Jack into the ship and ordered him to bed, saying he'd come find him as soon as he knew what was wrong with Rose - and, presumably, with Jack as well - before disappearing into the depths of the TARDIS. Jack, woozy with nausea and stunned by the suddenness of the attack, had only roused himself from his position slumped in the jumpseat when he realized it was either move or be sick on the console floor. He'd staggered off to his bedroom, where he proceeded to spend the next four hours with his head in the toilet, wishing fervently that he were dead.
He still felt horribly sick, but he suspected that was mostly from dehydration. His head pounded, his muscles didn't want to obey, and his mouth was entirely dry. He'd been sweating on and off as his fever rose and fell, and between that and the vomiting he was in a bad way. He had to get to the medlab, where he knew there were IV bags of saline. He was way past the point where a cup of the Doctor's tea would make a difference.
Not that he wouldn't kill for just that. But it was beyond him at the moment, and he'd be damned if he went begging to the Doctor for it. He hadn't looked in on Jack even once in the last four hours - not that Jack had expected anything else. Rose needed him more, and Jack could take care of himself. He'd been on the ship less than two weeks anyway, it was no skin off their noses if he died, and he didn't have any right to ask for more. Or to wish, in his lowest moments, for the touch of a cool hand on the back of his neck and a few murmured words of sympathy.
He made it as far as his bed before he had to rest. His soft mattress, with the duvet that was somehow never too heavy or too light, called to him but he knew he'd regret it if he didn't get fluids into his system right then. He used the bed to haul himself to his feet and stood swaying, perilously close to falling over. He had never felt so wrung out, as though he were a tea towel someone had got wet and then squeezed the holy hell out of.
Beds. There were beds in the medlab, too. They weren't as comfortable as his bed, but by the time he got there he wouldn't care. Beds and saline and painkillers - everything he could possibly want.
If only he could get there without passing out.
"Ohh, my bed," Rose moaned in relief as she slid beneath the duvet. She rolled over and buried her face in her pillow, inhaling deeply, then turned her head to look up at the Doctor. "Did you change the sheets?"
"TARDIS must've," he said, checking her temperature again. Thirty-eight point five degrees Celsius and holding. High, but not terribly worrisome. The saline was probably helping keep it down. He checked the pack strapped to her arm and found it almost drained. "Need to get you a new one," he said, tapping it with one finger.
"Mmph," she said, nearly asleep. But then she stirred, blinking drowsily up at him. She was flushed and glassy-eyed from fever and she still had a faintly sour smell about her, despite the bath she'd taken. "Could I have tea, please? And something for my stomach? Heating pad or hot," she yawned, "hot water bottle? M' muscles're so sore . . ."
"'Course," the Doctor said, though he doubted she'd be awake to drink the tea. Never mind, he could use a cuppa himself after a night like that, and he could bring Jack one when he looked in on him.
"Doctor," Rose said, when he was nearly out the door. He turned back. "Thanks. Doesn't get much more domestic than holding someone's head while they sick up their dinner."
He gave her a tiny smile and a nod. The truth, and he was pretty sure she knew it, was that doing domestic wasn't horrible when it was for Rose. He hadn't even thought of it that way tonight; she'd needed him, and so he'd been there, without a second thought - not even for Jack, he realized with some guilt. The man was a former Time Agent and very used to handling himself. The Doctor was sure he'd be fine, especially once he'd run Rose's blood through an analyzer and realized they were having reactions to a certain organic compound common to the food on the planet they'd just left - unpleasant but not lethal.
Still, he probably should have looked in on Jack once or twice throughout the night. He'd just not been able to tear himself away from Rose while she'd been so ill. Jack couldn't possibly have expected anything else, and the Doctor was sure that if he'd asked the man, he'd have more than agreed. He'd only been on the TARDIS a few days, but even the Doctor could see he'd come to care about Rose - more than the Doctor might wish for, some days.
Still, Time Agent or not, it couldn't have been pleasant, sick like that and on his own. One quick stop in the medlab, the Doctor decided, and then off to see Jack.
The light in the medlab was on. The Doctor frowned to himself and cocked his head to listen as he approached. There - a soft sound, a . . . a sob? He sucked in a quick breath. Had to be Jack.
He paused in the threshold. Jack was slumped on the edge of one of the medlab beds, holding a crumpled saline pack in one hand, its needle in the other. He had two puncture wounds in his elbow, both still trickling blood. His head was bowed, but the back of his neck was ashy gray and damp with sweat, and his t-shirt was soaked through in places. "C'mon, you bastard," Jack muttered to himself, readying the needle for another try. But even from across the room, the Doctor could see how badly Jack's hands were shaking.
"Jack," he said quietly, stepping into the room.
Jack's head jerked up, eyes wide, and the Doctor tried to cover his wince. There were deep grooves to either side of Jack's mouth and between his eyebrows. His shadowed, reddened eyes somehow made him look simultaneously very young and as though he'd aged twenty years in the last four hours. "Doctor," he said, trying to force himself upright.
"Let me do that," the Doctor said, holding his hand out for the needle.
"No, 'm okay."
Jack looked down at his arm. "Oh," was all he said.
The Doctor took the needle from Jack's unresisting hands. He swabbed his elbow with antiseptic, wiping away the traces of blood, and found Jack's vein. He got the needle in on the first try and strapped the pack of saline to Jack's arm. "There," he said, then sighed. "You should've had one of those going all along."
Jack gave a listless, one-armed shrug, and stared down at the needle in his arm. "Doc," he said at last, quietly. "What's wrong with me?"
Oh bloody hell, he hadn't even told Jack what it was. "Allergic reaction. Severe but not fatal. I'll have to make sure to note in the TARDIS logs that if I ever end up there again with a human companion, we should avoid the food."
"Oh." Jack's shoulders slumped a little further in relief. "Figured you'd tell me if it was anything lethal, but . . ." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "How's Rose?"
"On the mend. Sleeping. You should be, too."
"Don't think I can yet." Nevertheless, Jack let the Doctor help him lie back. He curled up beneath the blankets, the grooves around his mouth deepening. His misery was palpable, and the Doctor felt a pang of guilt for having assumed Jack would be all right on his own. Jack was new, and the Doctor's feelings about him were mixed, to say the least, but deep down he liked the man. He had a kindness in him the Time Agency hadn't managed to kill.
"What can I get you?" the Doctor asked.
"Jack." The Doctor made his voice firm. "What can I get you?"
Jack's eyes fluttered open, then shut. He winced. "Water, please. I'm so thirsty."
A dangerous understatement, the Doctor suspected. The Doctor got him water from the sink, not too cold, and helped him sit up to drink it. Once upright, Jack started listing precariously; the Doctor wrapped an arm around his shoulders and held him up, steadying the glass so Jack could drink from it, letting Jack rest his head in the crook of the Doctor's neck between each small, careful sip.
Slowly, the rest periods became longer and Jack's head grew heavier. The Doctor finally set aside the half-drunk glass and shifted Jack around to help him lie back. Jack made a sleepy, protesting noise, then subsided. His face was gray with exhaustion, and a quick scan with the sonic screwdriver showed a fever of over thirty-nine degrees. The Doctor wet a towel and draped it over Jack's forehead; Jack shifted beneath the covers, moaned weakly, then went still again.
The Doctor went about gathering up the things Rose had asked for, plus a few others he'd wished for over the past few hours. She wasn't too badly off at this point; he'd kept her as hydrated and comfortable as possible throughout the ordeal. She needed rest and fluids now, and the Doctor knew his urge to fuss was mostly for his own benefit. Not that that'd stop him doing it.
Finally satisfied he had everything Rose could possibly need, he turned back to check on Jack one last time. He found to his surprise that Jack was awake, lying on his side and watching the Doctor. He held the wet towel to his own forehead with one hand.
The Doctor cleared his throat. "Anything else you need? Should be getting back to Rose."
Something in Jack's eyes shuttered, closing itself off. Or tried to. He shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut and then pushing the towel down so it covered most of his face. But his mouth twisted unhappily and the brief, hitching breath gave him away. "Sorry," he managed, voice cracking, "sorry . . . 'm fine."
"You don't sound it," the Doctor said bluntly. "What's wrong? Apart from the obvious."
"Nothing. My head hurts, 's making me loopy."
"I don't believe you." The Doctor took the towel away and forced Jack to meet his eyes. "What's wrong?"
Jack looked away, picking at the fuzz on the blanket. "Hurts."
Jack's breath hitched again. "Everything. I tried to take care of m'self. Couldn't." His head lolled to the side on his pillow, and he pressed a hand over his eyes. "I'm so thirsty," he whispered. "And so tired and I feel so sick. And I'm so . . ."
Lonely. The Doctor tried not to react. "Leaving you on your own was a mistake. But I thought you'd be able to look after yourself."
He knew instantly he'd said exactly the wrong thing. Jack's flushed face reddened further. "Sorry," he muttered, turning his face away. His throat moved as he swallowed. It looked painful. "I'll be okay. Just leave me a saline pack, would you?"
The Doctor frowned. "You'll probably be asleep when that one runs out," he pointed out. "And then you'll wake up worse off than you are now. No, can't take that chance. C'mon, sit up."
"No, please, no," Jack moaned, even as the Doctor hauled him upright.
"Yep. First step to standing." The Doctor paused when Jack went white as chalk and broke out in a sweat, clearly on the verge of passing out. The Doctor gripped him by the jaw and said his name until Jack's eyes focused again. "Okay," the Doctor said, mostly to himself, "plan B. Hold this." He put the heating pad he'd grabbed for Rose into Jack's arms, along with several packs of saline. He proceeded to scoop Jack up, one arm under his shoulders and one under his knees. He was hot as a banked coal against the Doctor's chest. And yet he stiffened immediately, pushing weakly against the Doctor. "Stop fighting, you idiot. You're going to drop Rose's heating pad."
"Please," Jack managed. "Y'can drop me off next planet. Jus' please don't -"
"Don't what?" the Doctor demanded, stopping dead in surprise. "What exactly do you think I'm going to do to you, lad?" Jack shook his head mutely. The Doctor squeezed through the doorway of the medlab into the hallway beyond. "Need to be getting back to Rose. Can't leave you on your own to get even sicker. Only one option."
Jack's mouth twisted. "Airlock?"
The Doctor chuckled darkly. "Don't give me any ideas," he said, and pushed open the door to Rose's room.
Rose woke slowly from her comfortable doze. She stretched carefully, feeling sore all over but otherwise much improved from a few hours earlier. She'd been sicker than ever before in her life tonight, but she was already feeling miles better - not up to running for her life, but she thought she might just manage the tea the Doctor had promised.
It wasn't until she was blinking the last of the cobwebs from her brain that she realized what had woken her. There was a warm - very warm - presence in the other half of her bed - Jack, she saw with a start. His eyes were closed, but somehow Rose didn't think he was asleep. He looked wrecked: shivering hard, hair limp with sweat, skin the color of milk that'd gone off beneath his five o'clock shadow. Jack always smelled wonderful, a clean, male scent that went straight to the back of Rose's brain, but right then he smelled of feverish sweat and puke.
Not attractive, all things considered. But she'd been in the exact same spot a couple hours earlier, and the Doctor's sympathy and kindness had made all the difference in the world.
This was Jack, though. He was a bloke, and a fiercely independent one, too. Rose knew she'd have to start small.
"Hey," she said softly, reaching a hand out towards him. "You awake?"
His eyes fluttered open. "Hey, Rose," he whispered hoarsely. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
"S'okay." She shifted a little closer, wincing at the pull of sore stomach muscles, and reached to stroke his fringe back from his forehead. He turned his face into her palm, his breath hot against her wrist. "Jack," she murmured, stroking the backs of her fingers against his temple, "don't take this the wrong way, but you look terrible."
For a moment, Rose was sure Jack would try to joke it off. Then he crumpled under the onslaught of sympathy, ducking his head to hide his face against her shoulder. "Oh, Rose. I feel awful."
"Shh," Rose murmured, shifting to cradle him closer. She rubbed a hand between his shoulder blades. "It's gonna be okay. Where'd the Doctor go?"
"Tea." Jack hesitantly crept a little deeper into her lap, a wary, injured animal seeking some small scrap of comfort. Rose's heart ached. He looked up at her, blue eyes huge and dark in his pale face. "How're you?"
"Better. The Doctor took good care of me."
"Lucky girl," Jack said, in a very strange tone. Rose frowned. The words were his usual teasing, but behind them was . . . resentment?
Rose felt suddenly chilled. The Doctor had taken care of her . . . but who had taken care of Jack?
No one. Jack had been left to fend for himself. Rose cringed, thinking of how frightened she'd been, even with the Doctor there to hold her hand and tell her she'd be all right. Jack'd had it just as bad, without the reassurance. She hadn't even once thought to tell the Doctor to go check on him. The Doctor'd been almost sick himself with worry about her - she should've guessed he wouldn't think of it.
"I'm sorry," she managed, tightening her hold on him. She stroked his hair back from his face again. "I'm so sorry, Jack."
He shook his head. "No, no. Didn't mean it to come out like that. S'okay."
"It's not," she said softly, sliding down under the covers to look him in the eye. "But it will be. We'll make it up to you, Jack, I promise." She tucked his head beneath her chin. He let out a long, shaky breath against her collarbone and pressed himself close, right up against her, just like she'd imagined ever since he'd joined them onboard. These weren't the circumstances she'd have chosen, of course, not in a million years; he was too hot and too sweaty and if she wasn't mistaken he was weeping a little into her cleavage, but on the other hand . . . he trusted her. Weak as he was, he trusted her. Rose had the feeling her and Jack's ideas about sex were worlds apart - three thousand years apart, to be exact - but even she knew this was much more intimate for him. Scarier, too, she'd just bet.
"I'm here now," she said, pressed a kiss to the crown of his head. "Not going anywhere."
He nodded, but then he pulled himself away with a sigh. "Doc'll be mad," he said when Rose tried to stop him.
"It'd serve him right for leaving you on your own," she said darkly, but she shifted so she was propped against her pillows, then drew his head down to rest against her stomach. "There. Innocent enough even for him."
"Mmm." Jack's eyes slid closed. Rose found a comfortable place to rest her head and let her own do the same. Her little catnap hadn't done much for her, and Jack's head was a comforting weight in her lap. It should've been like this from the beginning, she thought, threading her fingers through Jack's hair. None of them should ever have to feel alone again.
She surfaced briefly a short time later, when the Doctor returned with two mugs in hand. "Sleep is better for you right now," the Doctor said, when she muzzily started to force herself up. "It'll be here when you're ready."
"Thanks," she mumbled, and slipped back under.
She woke again when Jack, still damp and warm but clean this time, slid in beside her and wrapped an arm around around her waist. "You smell better," she mumbled.
"Doc made me take a shower. I brushed my teeth, too." Jack touched his lips to hers, briefly and lightly, before laying his head on her shoulder and cuddling up close.
"How're you feeling?"
"Sore. Weak. Got dizzy in the shower. Doc said we'll both be feeling this for a few days."
"I believe it," Rose sighed. "Poor Jack. You caught the worst of it, didn't you?"
"Nah, wasn't so bad. Well," Jack amended, when Rose raised an eyebrow at him, "okay, guess it was." He winced. "Think I've blocked some of it out - been awhile since I was in that sort of pain. 'S different from being shot or stabbed," he added, musingly. "Not as intense, I s'pose, but God, I still thought I was gonna die."
"I'm so sorry," Rose said again, helplessly. "I can't believe he just left you there like that."
Jack shook his head. "No, no, Rose - don't be pissed at the Doctor over it. He did exactly what he should've done - what I'd have done, if I were him. He took care of you, because -"
"I'm a girl?" she challenged archly. "I'm don't know how to take care of myself? I-"
"Because he loves you," Jack finished firmly. "And because you were here first. I haven't even been onboard two weeks, and I was on my own for a long time before that."
"So? I love him and he loves me, but that shouldn't mean you suffer for it. And you're not alone anymore. That's the point."
Jack frowned. "Of what?"
Rose shrugged, then stroked her thumb over the arch of Jack's cheek. He really did have the most beautiful face. "Of everything. We're together, whatever happens, good or bad. Yeah, Doctor?" she added, raising her head. "Isn't that right?"
"Yeah, seems about right." The Doctor sat down on the edge of the bed as Jack twisted round in surprise. "I don't say this very much, Captain, so cherish it: I'm sorry. No matter how worried I was about Rose - and I was very worried," he added, reaching over to brush the pad of his thumb across her lips, "you deserved better."
"We're a team, yeah?" Rose said, grinning at both her boys. "Team TARDIS! We look out for each other."
"And if it happens again -" the Doctor said, before Jack could say a word.
"- which it won't," Rose added pointedly.
"- don't wait till you're half-dead of dehydration and exhaustion before saying something."
Jack smiled faintly. "Duly noted."
It was only later, while nursing a cup of sweet tea and listening to the Doctor describe the beautiful and (supposedly) harmless planet he wanted to visit while they were recovering, that Rose realized it had probably never even occurred to Jack that he could ask for help. I was on my own for a long time before that, he'd said, so matter of factly that she'd almost missed it. How long? And why? She couldn't imagine a life without her family, her friends, even if they were very far away most of the time. And then there was his remark, uttered so casually, about this pain being different from getting shot or stabbed - as though he'd been up close and personal with both those kinds. Probably more than once.
She looked down at Jack's dark head, resting against her hip as he dozed, and stroked a hand through his hair. She glanced up and caught the Doctor watching them. She bit her lip, expecting to be glowered at, but instead he put his hand very deliberately on Jack's back, right between his shoulder blades.
Rose smiled and sipped her tea.