"Bye Doctor, bye Jack. See you in a few." Rose pressed a kiss to Jack's cheek and gave the Doctor a quick hug, before she slung her bag over her shoulder and turned to leave. "Don't be late, Doctor."
"One time. You overshoot one time and you never hear the end of it," the Doctor grumbled. "Give my best to Jackie." There was a twinkle in Rose's eyes, at the Doctor's words and Jack made a mental note to ask his friend for details about the relationship between the Doctor and her mother. Somehow, he had the feeling, that it would turn out to be an interesting story. For now though, he had more important matters to focus on, namely an extremely irritated Time Lord. As soon as the door of the TARDIS had closed behind Rose, the Doctor's mask fell away and he marched over to the console.
Jack didn't dare speak, while the Doctor pushed buttons and levers, until the TARDIS gave a lurch and they went flying. Judging from the extremely short flight period, Jack assumed that the Doctor had simply sent them into the Vortex. Apparently, he wasn't in the mood for any more adventures, at the moment and Jack was thankful for it. Their latest one would last him for a while. Taking a deep breath, Jack was reminded why exactly he wasn't in the mood for any more running, when a sharp pain accompanied the inhale.
"Doc..." Jack started slowly and pressed an arm against his chest. Apparently, his ribs hadn't taken the beating as well as he had expected.
"What were you thinking?!" Jack jumped back at the angry shout and barely suppressed a wince, when the movement sent a stabbing pain through his ribcage. The Doctor either didn't notice or care about his reaction, since he continued to stalk towards Jack. Usually Jack was all too happy, to be the centre of the Doctor's attention. Now though, the murderous expression on his face made Jack want to hide away from these stormy blue eyes. The Doctor only stopped a few inches away from Jack and glared down at him.
"Did you even stop to think once?!" The Doctor all but snarled in his face and Jack got the distinct feeling, that it was only due to sheer willpower that he didn't hit him. "Rose could have been hurt and it would have been your fault!" Jack flinched back at the accusation. He knew that he had screwed up, but he had also done his utmost best to protect Rose today. His ribs could attest to that.
"Doc," Jack attempted once more, to inform the Doctor, that he needed medical attention, but the rest of the words got stuck in his throat, at the glare that was sent his way.
"Leave!" The word was all but a growl and the Doctor turned abruptly away from him and stalked back to the console, leaving Jack frozen on the spot. Certainly he didn't mean...
Jack took a shaking breath, that only intensified the pain in his chest. His hand shook, when he wiped cool sweat from his forehead and tried his best to keep from trembling, while he stared at the Doctor's back. He couldn't mean that. Yes, Jack had made a mistake today, but the Doctor couldn't simply throw him off the TARDIS for it. Alright, of course the Doctor could throw him out, it was his ship after all but...
Jack dug his fingernails into the heel of his hands, to keep the burning sensation in his eyes at bay. It shouldn't feel like that. After all he had only come aboard the TARDIS, about two weeks ago. It should be easy for him, to grab his belongings and walk away, after such a short time. He had done it often enough: left everything behind without a look back. The thought of leaving the TARDIS though, of leaving Rose and the Doctor, was almost unbearable.
Jack inhaled deeply through his nose and was almost thankful for the burning pain, in his chest, that momentarily distracted him from any other feelings. He didn't want to leave. Not like that. Not when he had found a friend in Rose and something, that felt more like home, every day, on the TARDIS. Somehow, Jack had also believed, that he had found something with the Doctor. Something special, if the smiles and affectionate touches, the Time Lord often bestowed upon him, had been anything to go by. Apparently, Jack had been wrong on that account or the Doctor wouldn’t be about to throw him out. "Doctor..."
"Why are you still here?" The Doctor glared at Jack, over his shoulder. "Go to your room. I don't want to see you right now."
Relief washed over Jack at the words. The Doctor wasn't throwing him off the TARDIS... at least not for now. Gasping in some air, Jack stumbled from the console room, as fast as he could, before the Doctor could change his mind. He passed the med-bay on his way to his room and for a second, he thought about checking himself out, but dismissed the idea. He didn't even know how to work most of the equipment, in the med-bay and if he damaged something the Doctor would be even more angry at him. Never mind, that he had failed to check Jack over himself.
His vision became blurry, but Jack refused to cry, when he stumbled into his room and kicked his shoes off, before carefully lying down on his bed. Until today, he had thought that the Doctor cared about him, at least a little but... He hadn't even asked how Jack was. In fact, he hadn't so much as looked at him, until Rose had left to visit her mother and even then, his eyes had only been filled with anger. No hint of affection or even care, in his expression, when he had eyed Jack like an especially disgusting specimen. A tear slipped down his face, followed by another, when Jack recalled how happy he had been, only hours ago.
"Look at all these!" Rose beamed at Jack and her eyes sparkled, with pure joy, as she gestured to the market stalls. Jack's enthusiasm about various forms of jewellery and trinkets wasn't that big, but he still smiled warmly at Rose. It was heart-warming to see her so happy. Joyful and still innocent enough, to find beauty in a simple market place.
"I am sure they would look lovely on you." Jack nodded towards a blue pendant, on a golden necklace, that was on display at one of the stalls.
"Don't you think it's a little too big?" Rose stepped up next to him, to check out the pendant.
"Not if you wear nothing else," Jack winked playfully at Rose and laughed quietly, when she slapped his arm.
"Watch your mouth, Mister." There was no heat in Rose's voice, even as she shoved him with her hip.
"Captain," Jack corrected, with a twinkle in his eyes and grabbed her arm to turn her around. He had only just closed his arms around her, for a quick hug, when a hand landed on his shoulder. "Are you two married?"
It only took Jack a split second, to notice the guards, behind Rose and figure out the correct answer, to the question. Sadly, Rose beat him to it. "No, we are just friends. Hey, what..." The carefree smile vanished from Rose's face, when two guards grabbed her and dragged her away from Jack, while he was subjected to the same treatment.
"What did we do?" Rose tried to turn in the guard's grip, but was shoved forwards.
"You know exactly what you did!"
Jack twisted his mind, to figure out, what this was all about, while they were dragged through the streets and towards a building, that was likely the equivalent of a police station. The natives of the planet Virtus weren't known for hostile behaviour, towards off-worlders, if Jack recalled his lessons at the Time Agency correctly. And the Doctor hadn't warned them about anything either, when he had sent them off, to have a fun day, with enough credits, to buy the whole market.
"Inside!" Jack and Rose were both shoved into what appeared to be a large holding cell. That in itself wouldn't have worried Jack at all - he had been arrested countless times - but the fact, that the guards didn't leave them alone, made alarms ring in his head.
"We are off-worlders," Jack tried to reason with the guards, even as he slowly inched sidewards, to position himself between Rose and the guards, "We are sorry, if we did anything wrong but..."
"Not being from this planet is no excuse for your indecent behaviour, in public."
"Indecent," Jack echoed and then paled. The hug. Of course, he had forgot about one of the laws, the Time Agency had warned them about, if they ever came to Virtus: Public displays of affection, of any kind, were only allowed between married spouses. Fuck, he should have thought of that, but it had been a long time, since he had studied, at the Academy and he had needed to memorize the costumes of so many planets and times, that this vital piece of information, had simply slipped his mind.
"If this beauty here wants some affection of course, we can help her," one of the guards leered at Rose and Jack shifted more obviously, in front of his friend. "You won't touch her." His words earned Jack a backhanded slap, but he only glared at the guard. "It's only for your own good. Won't want you to break the law after all, do you?!"
"We are not in public anymore." Another guard informed him, with a dangerous smile and Jack felt Rose take a step back, towards the wall. He didn't need to look at her, to know that her eyes were wide with fear. Fuck, but Jack wouldn't allow these bastards, to get their dirty hands on her.
"I didn't mean that law," Jack put his most innocent smile on his face and changed his stance, to better balance his weight, "But the one against bestiality. I don't believe, that it allows for a young woman, to lie with the likes of you."
There was a collective snarl, at the insult and Jack only had time to raise his arms, to protect his face, before the guards were on him. He didn't even try to fight back against the six angry men, but only attempted to protect as much of his body, as possible, as fists rained down on him. Said fists turned into boots, when Jack found himself suddenly lying on the ground. He gasped for air, when one kick landed against his chest and blood filled his mouth, when he bit down on his lip, to keep himself from screaming. If they kept this up, then...
"Stop!" A commanding voice sounded and the men moved away from him, right away. Jack fought to get back to his feet and was aided by a hard grip on his shoulder. He groaned in pain, when he was drawn to a standing position. A man, probably the commanding officer, going by his uniform, looked him up and down and then glared at his men. "These two are to be released, immediately."
"No!" The officer glared at the guard, that had dared to speak up. "They are the friends of a man, that is a hero, on this planet. You don't want the king to hear, how you treated them."
Paling, the guards rushed to lead Jack and Rose out of the cell. Every step hurt, but Jack still smiled, when he noticed the familiar leather jacket, amongst the red uniforms of the guards, outside the building. "Ah, there you are! Thanks for releasing them, Rajow."
"Certainly, Doctor. No need to make a big deal out of a minor offence." Jack scoffed at that and opened his mouth, to wonder aloud, when it had become a minor offence, but froze at the dark look, on the Doctor's face. The expression turned more pleasant, when his eyes fell on Rose and Jack watched quietly, as his friend was enfolded in the Doctor's arms. Something clenched painfully in his chest, when the Doctor took Rose's hand and led her towards the TARDIS, without sparing another glance at Jack, who was left to follow behind them.
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, against the anguish, the memories caused him. Getting beaten up took a toll, even on him, but getting no comfort, at all afterwards, was even worse. Not that Jack had often received comfort, after receiving such a treatment, but that had been before meeting Rose and the Doctor. A part of his mind told him, that he was being unfair. Rose had been worried about him. She had asked after his well-being, only to have the Doctor proclaim, that Jack looked just fine, without even sparing him a glance. Jack had stopped any protest, coming from Rose, not wanting to get into any more trouble, for complaining about his injuries. Then Rose had decided, that she wanted to visit with Jackie, for a few days and... Well, here he was.
A bitter laugh fell from Jack's lips, that jostled his ribs and sent stabs of piercing pain, through his chest. More tears ran down his cheeks and Jack didn't even bother wiping them away. There was no use in it. There was no use in anything. Not when the Doctor apparently didn't care about him. Maybe, it would be best, if he simply fell asleep and didn't wake up again, Jack mused, as exhaustion overtook him and he sank into a fitful sleep, despite the pain, that came with every breath.
"Ouch!" The Doctor glared at the console, when a painful zap hit his hand. "What's your problem? I am simply trying to repair... Ouch!" Another zap, this one even more painful and accompanied by an angry hum. The Doctor sighed and sat down on the jump seat. The TARDIS was pissed off at him and for once, he even understood the reason for her anger. His treatment of Jack had been abysmal. It had been obvious from the moment, that he had arrived at the guards station, to retrieve his companions, that Jack had been shaken by the arrest. Instead of comforting the lad though, the Doctor had turned his back on him and focused on Rose.
He could excuse these actions, with the fear, for his companion’s safety, that had grabbed him, the moment, he had learned about the arrest. The guards of Virtue had a reputation for sexually assaulting female off-worlders, that happened to get arrested. Nevertheless, after seeing for himself, that Rose was fine, if a little shaken, he should have made sure, that Jack was fine, as well. But he hadn't. He hadn't, because he had been too ashamed, to face Jack. After all, the Doctor should have thought of the strict laws, on this planet and warned his companions, from behaving indecently. It had been stupid of him, to expect Jack to remember these details, from his studies, at the Time Agency. The lad would have needed to study the history and costumes of countless planets, in countless times. It had to be expected, that the laws of such an unimportant planet - for the Time Agency, at least - had slipped his mind.
The Doctor glared at the console. Of course, if he had only avoided Jack, due to shame, that wouldn't have been too bad. Still unacceptable to treat a companion this way, but not too terrible. Instead, the Doctor had snapped at Jack. He had hurled words - that lacked not only in truth, but in empathy as well - at Jack, with the intention to hurt. The Doctor cringed, when he recalled, how he had told the lad, that the whole disaster had been his fault, when nothing could be further from the truth. When he closed his eyes, he could still hear Jack’s pained gasp, when he had told him to leave. By Rassilon, the lad had thought he was throwing him out of his home and all of it, only because the Doctor had been furious with himself. It was almost like the time, Rose had saved her father's life, in the past, and let the Reapers loose on the world. Instead of accepting the blame for this disaster, he had placed it on Rose, although he couldn't have expected her to understand the consequences of her actions. He hadn't explained to her, why she couldn't change the past, only that she couldn't.
The Doctor rubbed a tired hand over his face. It seemed, he didn't learn from his mistakes. First, he had made Rose miserable for days and now he had hurt Jack, more deeply than he could probably imagine. And all of that, because he couldn't handle the anger at his own failures.
With a sigh he got up from the jump seat. He would make it up to Jack, when the lad woke up from a much needed rest. Let him decide which place and time to visit next and apologize for how cruelly he had treated him. Nodding to himself, the Doctor moved back to the console, to take up his repairs, when the TARDIS hummed urgently at him. He arched an eyebrow towards her ceiling. "Jack is sleeping right now. I will go see him later. No need to wake him now and... Ouch!" The Doctor shook his stinging hand. "What was that for?!"
The humming got even more insistent, with the TARDIS urging him to go check on Jack. There was a hint of panic, coming from her and with another frown the Doctor finally pocketed his screwdriver and left the console room. The first door he encountered, in the corridor, was the one to Jack's bedroom. Apparently his TARDIS was adamant, that he saw the lad now. When the Doctor pushed the door open, he also realised, why she had been in such a hurry, to get him to the lad's side.
"Jack!" With two hurried steps, the Doctor was next to his bed. Jack was turned onto his side, his face was scrunched up in pain, as he coughed and gaped for air. Splatters of blood marred the covers and the floor. Their source was unmistakable, when another cough sent more crimson drops flying from Jack's mouth. "Bugger!"
The Doctor lifted Jack from the bed, in one swift motion and hurried to the med-bay. The TARDIS had already prepared an exam table and turned on all the equipment, that could possibly be needed. The Doctor sent a mental thank you and placed Jack carefully on the table. "You will be alright, lad," the Doctor whispered soothingly, even though he wasn't sure, if Jack heard him. While he appeared conscious, he was more busy gasping for breath than paying attention to his surroundings. The reason for that became apparent, when the Doctor finished a quick scan of Jack's chest. Two of his ribs were broken and four more were fractured. That in itself wouldn't be too bad, if one of the ribs hadn't punctured Jack's left lung.
"Fucking guards!" There was no doubt, how or by whom Jack had sustained the life threatening injuries. Another wave of guilt, for not taking better care of the lad, crashed over the Doctor, as he calibrated the tissues regenerator. He should have taken Jack to the med-bay, after their little adventure. Alternatively he could have listened to Rose, since she had tried to tell him, how badly the guards had treated them. Instead, he had been so caught up in his own shame and anger, that it had almost cost Jack his life.
The Doctor cursed himself in every language, at his disposal and aimed the tissue regenerator at Jack's chest. Only a few seconds later and a green light informed him, that all injuries had been healed. Jack's regular breaths also indicated, that he wasn't in danger anymore, but the Doctor only allowed himself to relax, when another scan confirmed, that the ribs and the lung had been completely healed.
With an exhausted sigh, the Doctor sank in a chair, next to the exam table and stroked Jack's hair. He didn't stir, but before the Doctor could even start to panic about it, the TARDIS informed him, with a gentle hum, that she had put the lad to sleep. And while the Doctor had wanted to talk to Jack, to make sure that he wasn't hurting anywhere, he was well aware that he needed the rest.
Carefully, he scooped Jack's sleeping form up in his arms and carried him back to his room to tuck him into bed, before he sat down on a chair, strategically placed, next to the bed, by the TARDIS. He would watch over Jack, until he woke up and then apologize, for his terrible behaviour. The Doctor smiled sadly, as he brushed a strand of hair from Jack's forehead and the lad snuggled into the contact. He only hoped, that Jack could forgive him. After getting to care about him so much, the Doctor would be devastated, if Jack wanted to leave, after what the Doctor had put him through. There was nothing to be done about this now, though. He could only wait and hope. The Doctor settled more comfortably back in his chair to watch over Jack, for as long as necessary.
Jack came awake slowly. The low hum of the TARDIS greeted him and for a glorious few seconds, he floated in the warm land between dream and wakefulness. It didn't last long. A deep breath and an unpleasant feeling, in his chest, were enough to bring reality crashing back down on him. The guards, the beating, the Doctor's hurtful words and his trouble drawing breath.
His heart jumped at the painful memories, but when Jack took a deep breath to calm himself down, it didn't hurt as much as he had expected. In fact, it didn't hurt at all. There was merely a sore feeling, in his chest, like one got, after a coughing fit. Carefully he inhaled again and got the same result.
"Ah, you are awake." Jack's eyes snapped open and widened in surprise, when the face of the Doctor swam into focus. He had apparently watched him, from somewhere in the room, but had made his way over ,when Jack had woken up.
Blue eyes peered down at him in worry. "How are you feeling, lad?"
Jack looked warily up at the Doctor. Only hours ago, he had treated Jack like the plague itself and now he was suddenly all nice again. Jack couldn't find it in himself to trust, that sudden change of heart. "A little sore," he admitted and arched an eyebrow at the Doctor. "What happened?"
"Your ribs were fractured and one of them pierced your lung." The Doctor's Adam's apple popped up and down. "You almost died. Why didn't you tell me that you were hurt?"
Jack would have laughed at the question, if he wasn't afraid, it would hurt his still sore chest. Instead he settled for a bitter smile, that he hoped masked most of the pain, he felt at his own, honest reply. "I tried, but you didn't care."
The Doctor looked crestfallen, at that and with a tired sigh he sat down on the mattress. "I’m sorry, lad. I should have made sure, that you were fine and I also shouldn't have treated you, the way I did. What happened," the Doctor paused and visibly fought with himself, until he managed to continue, "It was never your fault. I should have warned you. The blame is all mine."
Jack could only stare at the Doctor, in disbelief. He hadn't expected an apology, much less the Doctor to admit, that he had been wrong. It soothed some of the pain, although it didn't erase it completely. Still, Jack couldn't help himself, but to lean into the touch of the cool hand, when the Doctor stroked his cheek. The caress almost made up for his suffering. Almost.
"I shouldn't have taken my anger out on you," the Doctor murmured with a remorseful look. "I was only angry at myself, for not warning you or taking you to this planet at all. It's no excuse for how I treated you. I should have taken care of you, right away."
"I understand," Jack kept his eyes fixed on the wool clad chest of the Doctor, "You were worried about Rose." Jack was certain, that the Doctor wouldn't have lashed out like that, if only Jack had got arrested. But on top of the Doctor's own failure, had come the worry for Rose and it had apparently been too much to handle, even for a Time Lord, without snapping. Jack understood it, of course. Since he had come on board of the TARDIS, it had been obvious, that Rose would always come first, for the Doctor. Funnily enough, he didn't begrudge her the place, she held in the Doctor's hearts. He couldn't, not when she had become the best friend, he could ever remember having.
"That's no excuse. You are my companion, too and therefore you are my responsibility." Jack was sure, that the words were meant to soothe, but they only hurt. It had been glaringly obvious, from the beginning, that the Doctor had only allowed Jack on board of the TARDIS, because Rose had insisted on it. Jack had believed, he could live with that knowledge, as long as he could have Rose as his friend and fool himself into believing, that the Doctor was starting to warm up to him. Hell, he had even been stupid enough to read more into the Doctor's flirtatious replies, to his own innuendos, than was there. Now though, the illusion had been shattered. The Doctor had just told him, that Jack wasn't more than another responsibility to him. A task, that needed to be taken care of. Sadly enough, this was still the best, Jack had had in years.
"It's fine," Jack finally managed to get out, although the words almost got stuck in his throat. "You care about Rose."
A shocked inhale sounded from above him. "I care about you too, lad."
"Not the same way, you care about Rose."
Jack squeezed his eyes shut and took a slow, deep breath, while trying not to choke on the pain, this admission caused. He had known it, of course, but having it confirmed, was different.
"I see," he pressed out, without opening his eyes.
The mattress shifted and Jack half hoped, that the Doctor would get up and leave, before he could make a fool of himself, by losing his fight against the moisture, that was burning behind his eyelids. Instead, there was a huff of warm breath on his face and then a light pressure against his lips. Jack's eyes flew open, just in time, to watch the Doctor lean back, after he had kissed. The Doctor. Kissing him. Jack pinched himself, but he didn't wake up. "Doc..."#
"I care a great deal about you, Jack."
His chest warmed with tentative hope, but Jack clamped down on the feeling. He couldn't risk feeling like that. Hope was for bright, young women, like Rose, not for people like him. Because hope was the only thing, that could truly destroy him, if Jack allowed it to take hold of him, when it would be taken away from him, again.
"I fear you have to be clearer, Doc." Jack looked up, into ancient blue eyes. "I am too tired for guessing games. What are you saying?"
"I’m saying, that I like you more than I should, considering that you are..."
"A conman?" Jack finished bitterly.
"Human," the Doctor ended his own sentence, with a frown at Jack, but didn't remark on his words. "A bright, brave human. And here I am. Old, foolish alien, me and yet still drawn to you, despite knowing, that it can't end well. It never ends well. And that... scares me, but I’m still here. I’m not running away, because I want to stay. Stay with you. What do you think of that, Jack?" There was a hesitant note in the Doctor's voice. A quiver, that Jack had never heard before and on any other day, that would have been more than enough for him. But now, after everything that had happened, Jack was at a loss of what to do. He was still sore. There was pain lingering inside him, that had nothing to do with his healed ribs and everything to do with how the Doctor had treated him. And yet, he couldn't help, but also feel a spark of happiness, at the Doctor's honest confession. It was all too much, to put into words and therefore Jack could only look quietly at the Doctor, as he tried to hold onto one feeling, long enough, to say something. Apparently, he took too long.
The Doctor sighed in resignation. "Only fair."
Panic welled up in Jack, when the Doctor made to get up and before he could think better of it, he grabbed his wrist. Blue eyes widened, in confusion and Jack stared helplessly back at the Doctor. He was still torn and he knew, that he would need time, to work through everything, but he was also confident to know, which answer he would find, at the end of that process. It had been there all, the time. "Stay."
If possible, the Doctor's eyes grew even wider. "Are you sure, after everything..."
"Yes, I... just stay." Jack looked pleadingly at the Doctor and hoped, that his eyes could convey, what he couldn't put into words, just yet. He lifted the covers, to make his invitation clearer and after a painfully long second, the Doctor finally relaxed. His shoulders slumped, as if a huge weight had been lifted from them and he kicked off his boots, before he climbed into bed. After another second of hesitation, strong arms wrapped around Jack and he was drawn against a wool clad chest.
"Okay?" Jack only snuggled closer, to the Doctor and inhaled the unique and comforting scent of him, as he bedded his head on his chest. The soothing rhythm of the Doctor's double heartbeat helped Jack to further relax. And when his eyes started to drop and gentle fingers stroked his hair, Jack allowed himself, for the first time in years, to believe that everything would turn out fine.