The gentle humming of the TARDIS greeted Jack when he woke up. Soft light filled the room, just the right amount to give the impression of an early morning on Earth. Only the chirping of some birds outside the window were missing, to make the illusion perfect. It was absolutely lovely.
Jack stared numbly up at the ceiling. He knew that this was the TARDIS' way of letting him know that her night cycle was over and that her other occupants were awake and about. Usually Jack would have thanked the ship with a wink, got dressed - because the Doctor was very strict about wearing clothing on his ship - and then found Rose in the kitchen, to make her blush over a cup of coffee. Today though, even the thought of getting up was exhausting. Not to mention the idea of interacting with Rose and the Doctor.
Jack swallowed and kept watching the play of shadows and light on the ceiling. He knew, that he had to get up at some point, but he just couldn't find it in himself to make the first move by throwing back the covers. The knowledge of all the other things, he would have to do once he got out of bed, was daunting. It was so much and only imagining it was enough to make him want to sleep again. If he had still been on his own, Jack might have managed to get up and move through the day step by exhausting step, but now... Now, he would have to engage in banter with the Doctor and flirt with Rose, until she slapped him playfully, when he couldn't even manage to stretch his lips upwards, to imitate a smile.
Not that Jack didn't enjoy the interactions with Rose and the Doctor. Quite the contrary, he liked to be around them. In fact, Jack feared he liked it too much. Liked them too much. Rose with her cheeky smile and her warm, kind eyes, who had welcomed Jack on the TARDIS and in her life, with open arms. And the Doctor with his gruff remarks and his piercing blue eyes, who had shown Jack more kindness and understanding than anyone before him ever had.
Jack glanced down at the covers, which he had drawn up to his chin and felt his lips twitch sadly. It went without saying that he didn't have a chance with either Rose or the Doctor. Nevermind that Rose enjoyed flirting with him and laughed at his innuendos, Jack could never compete with the Doctor. As long as he was around, Rose wouldn't consider anything serious with someone else. Just like the Doctor only ever had eyes for his beautiful, blonde companion. Which was fine with Jack. He had known that these two were madly in love with each other, since he had watched them dance together, in the middle of the equivalent of a zombie apocalypse. No, he certainly didn't want to come between them - even if they hadn't yet managed to take their relationship to the next level - but... somehow a part of him had hoped that they might allow him to dance with them.
A bitter sound echoed through the room, as Jack realised just how presumptuous an idea that had been. Even if Rose and the Doctor were interested in a polyamorous relationship, they certainly wouldn't want him to be part of it. He simply wasn't worth them. Not after all the things he had done, both as a Time Agent and then as a conman. People like Rose and the Doctor deserved better than a cowardly liar, who cheated his way through life, with flirty smiles.
Jack swallowed against the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. He was so stupid. Since Rose and the Doctor had saved his life and allowed him on the TARDIS, Jack had tried to change. A part of him had been convinced, that if he only tried hard enough to become a better man, he would be worth of his friends' affection. It had been a foolish notion, as he came to realise now. No matter how hard Jack tried, he would never be worth of Rose and the Doctor. The best, he could ever have hoped for, was for them not to see just how unworthy of them he was. So far, Jack thought he had done a good enough job, but now he couldn't even pretend anymore.
Jack bit down on his lower lip to distract himself from the burning in his eyes. Rose might forgive him for not entertaining her for a day, but as soon as the Doctor noticed just how useless Jack actually was, he wouldn't be allowed to stay much longer. And then he would be on his own again. Alone, after having got a whiff of what he could have, if only he were different. If he weren't a complete failure. His breath hitched, but Jack clamped his mouth shut against the sob, that threatened to escape. He refused to be even more pathetic by starting to cry.
"Jack?" A knock sounded on the door. Of course, Rose would choose this of all times to come to his room. "Are you ready yet? The Doctor seems eager to get out of the Vortex, again. I told him, that you should choose where we’re going this time. Only fair, since I chose the last time. Not that it worked out very well," Rose's laugh sounded through the door, when she apparently recalled their latest adventure, "But maybe we won't have to run for our lives this time. Never give up hope, right?"
Jack didn't respond. And what was he supposed to say, really? If he told Rose, that he wasn't interested in going anywhere today, he would only hurt her feelings and then the Doctor would certainly chew his head off. But he also couldn't find the strength to get up and choose a destination for them. The thought of going to another alien planet and pretending to enjoy himself was even more terrifying than the idea of staying on the TARDIS and interacting with his friends.
"Jack?" Apparently, he had remained quiet for too long. "I am coming in. I hope you are decent."
Slowly the door opened and Rose's blonde head peeked in. "Jack, where... why are you still in bed?" Worry tinted Rose's voice and in a matter of seconds she was next to him. "Are you ill?" Jack glanced up in her worried, warm eyes, but averted his gaze, a moment later. He couldn't face her right now. She was too good for him and he didn't deserve her concern.
"I am fine," he croaked out.
"You don't look it." A warm hand touched his forehead and Jack forced himself to stay completely still, instead of either leaning into the touch or shying away from it. "I don't think that you have a fever, but you look a bit peaky. I will get the Doctor."
Jack didn't even try to call her back, when she hurried from the room. Instead, he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable. Certainly, the Doctor would only need to take one look at him, to know what was amiss and that would be it. He wouldn't have to worry anymore about them realising, that he wasn't worth their company, afterwards. No, the Doctor would certainly throw him out, the next chance he got and Jack couldn't even blame him for it. No commander of a spaceship would want a liability, such as him, on board. People were certainly much more open about mental health, in the 51th century than they had been throughout most of human history, but this openness didn't extent everywhere. If Jack hadn't bribed the psychologist, that did the mental evaluations for the Time Agency, with a night of fantastic sex, he wouldn't have got accepted by them. If you wanted to work in any position, that came with space and time travel, you had to be fit. In every sense of the word, all the time, without exception or no one would trust you with the work. And here Jack was on the most amazing ship, in the universe and even a blind man could see, that he wasn't fit. That he wasn't useful. And the Doctor was far from being blind.
"What seems to be the matter, lad?" Jack's eyes flew open, at the unexpected voice. He must have drifted off, if he hadn't heard the Doctor come in. His eyes flickered sideways, to where the Doctor was perched on the edge of the mattress, with Rose hovering anxiously behind him.
"It's nothing." Jack kept his eyes fixed on the Doctor's chest. There was no way he could meet these piercing, all-knowing eyes right now, without breaking down completely.
"And nothing keeps you in bed." The Doctor's voice was perfectly neutral, but Jack thought he detected a hint of criticism in it.
"I just don't feel well." At least that was the truth.
"Mhm." The sound of the screwdriver sounded right above Jack and he held himself completely still, while the Doctor scanned him.
"Physically you are fine," the Doctor's gruff voice announced, after a few seconds had passed and a relieved sigh sounded from Rose's direction. "So, why are you in bed?" A finger was pressed underneath Jack's chin, until he looked up and into the dangerously calm eyes of the Doctor. "Too good to travel with us, are you? Rather going to chill here all day, 'stead of spending time with us." The scorn, that dripped from the Doctor's words, accompanied by the sneer in his face, was more than Jack could bear.
"You don't understand," he heard himself say and jerked his chin out of the Doctor's grasp. "You don't understand how it is to feel like this. Too feel like you are suffocating on your own thoughts. Like you are swallowed by darkness and you want to scream, but... you can't. You can only lie here, uselessly and... I didn't ask to feel like this. I didn't." Jack took a shuddering breath and turned his head away. Now he had blown it. He had ruined everything. Again.
Tears escaped down his face, even as he fought to control himself. The Doctor was awfully quiet, after his little outburst and apart from a shocked gasp, Jack hadn't heard anything from Rose, either.
"Don't worry," Jack managed to get the words past his trembling lips, "I will be out of your hair soon. Could I... would you let me choose where and when I disembark the TARDIS?" Jack didn't dare ask to stay on board, until he felt better. The rejection of such a request would only be more painful than if he had never asked in the first place.
Jack sucked in a gulp of air at the curt reply and clenched his hands into fists. "A planet with a suitable atmosphere would be nice, though." His attempt at joking sounded weak, even to Jack's own ears. He only hoped, that the Doctor and Rose would leave the room, before Jack lost the grasp on his emotions completely. With the moisture burning in his eyes and the sobs lodged in his throat, he doubted that it would be much longer, until he made a complete fool of himself, otherwise.
"You are not leaving!"
Oh Rose! Fierce, beautiful Rose. Jack wanted to smile at her reassuringly, but he didn't trust himself not to start crying, the second, he laid eyes on her. He should have expected her to argue against him leaving the TARDIS. After all, she was still new to time and space travel and wouldn't understand, why the Doctor was more than justified to throw him out. Actually, thinking about it, Jack wasn't even certain that Rose had understood his little outburst. She originated from the beginning of the 21th century and Jack thought to remember, that mental health issues weren't discussed openly back then, at all. Jack was brought out of his musings by a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"She is right, lad. You aren't leaving the TARDIS. At least not, if you don't want to go." Jack's eyes widened in disbelief, when he looked up and took in the mixture of guilt and embarrassment, in the Doctor's eyes. "I am sorry for snapping at you, lad. Already figured out what was plaguing you. Still needed you to tell me yourself. Provoking you was the fastest way, to get you talking. Ow!"
"You deserved that," Rose replied unapologetically, after her fist had connected with the Doctor's shoulder. "Making Jack feel worse, when he's already feeling down, isn’t nice. We’re supposed to help him not make him feel like shit."
"Rose," Jack started although he wasn't sure where to go from there.
Warm, gentle fingers stroked his hair tenderly and Rose smiled understandingly at him, as she leaned around the Doctor, to reach him. "It's okay, Jack. I promise, we will be here for you, whenever you feel like this.” The way she said it, had Jack thinking, that he had underestimated her. Apparently, Rose understood more than he had given her credit for. Or she was simply even kinder than even Jack had thought possible.
He threw an uneasy look at the Doctor though, when Rose continued to comb her fingers through his hair. While he enjoyed the comforting caresses, he didn't want to risk the Doctor changing his mind, due to jealousy. The Doctor had a possessive streak, a mile long, when it came to Rose. Instead of contempt, or strained tolerance, Jack only found quiet longing, in the Doctor's gaze. Longing, that didn't appear to only be directed at Rose. Before Jack could even hope, to make something of that look though, it was hidden again, behind a big smile.
"Right, that's settled then." The Doctor jumped up from his place on the mattress and Jack didn't even notice Rose's hand falling away, from his forehead, since he was too busy staring at the Doctor. He had already shed his leather jacket and was working on taking his boots off, when Jack finally found his voice. "What are you doing?"
The Doctor arched an eyebrow at Jack. "Can't get into bed like this, can I?" Thin lips twitched up into a small smile. "It's never a good idea to stay alone, when you feel badly, so I’m going to keep you company." The Doctor's smile dimmed a little and turned nervous at the edges, when Jack only kept staring at him. "Only if you want company, of course."
Jack stared at the Doctor in disbelief and then shifted his gaze, to the other side of the bed, where he had detected movement, out of the corner of his eyes. Rose had already taken off her jeans jacket and was playing with the hem of the covers, as she waited for him to invite them in.
Jack swallowed against an invisible pressure in his throat. His good sense was telling him to refuse. Certainly, it would only make everything worse, if he allowed them into his bed, now. Nothing good could ever come from it, not where Jack was involved. He should save himself the pain and heartbreak and tell them to leave him alone. But God, Jack wanted them. He wanted them both. Wanted them with all his heart and even if it would destroy him, in the end...
"Please," he whispered and thankfully that was all the permission, both Rose and the Doctor needed.
Strong arms enfolded Jack and drew him back, until his head rested comfortably on a wool clad chest. A soft weight settled against his side and hairs tickled his nose briefly, as Rose snuggled up against him, with an arm around his waist and her head resting on his shoulder. Jack took a shaking breath and the scent of Rose's shampoo and of the oil, the Doctor had used to lubricate parts of the engine, filled his nostrils. He couldn't remember the last time, he had felt so safe and at peace. Still, Jack felt like he needed to clarify something. "I fear this will get boring for you, soon. I’m not really in an entertaining mood, right now."
Strands of hair brushed against his neck, when Rose raised her head. Her eyes were incredibly soft, as she looked at Jack. "It's not boring to be here. I’m only happy, if it helps you, at least a little." Rose kissed his cheek softly and then snuggled back against him.
"Rose’s right, lad. You can worry about entertaining us another time." Jack blinked in astonishment at the words. Was he imagining things or had there been some kind of innuendo hidden in them? Usually, Jack was good at telling, when someone was flirting with him, but today it was hard to gather his thoughts. Judging by the light blush in Rose's cheeks and the way she hid her face, against his chest, Jack should probably give this conversation more thoughts, once he felt more like himself, again.
For now though, Jack was just happy to be allowed this moment. And when he closed his eyes to the double heartbeat of the Doctor’s hearts and Rose's even breathing, Jack felt the first tentative flutter of hope, in a long time.