“Now, what shall we do with them?” Jack glanced up from his kneeling position on the floor to watch the Empress glide down the steps of her throne.
“Your father, his late Majesty, would usually order any trespasser executed and…”
“Silence!” Silver eyes flashed at the guard who had dared to make that suggestion. “If I want your input, I’ll ask for it. Don’t forget your place, just because you were one of my father’s favourite toys!”
Jack glanced sideways at the guard, who had spoken out of line. He looked truly shamed and usually Jack would feel sorry for him if he hadn’t just suggested that they should all be executed. At least, the Empress’ outburst made him hope that they would get away with a milder punishment. As long as they were all alive, they would get out of this situation.
Jack turned his head to the left to catch the Doctor’s eyes but only earned a slap to the back of his head for his troubles. “Eyes down and front, don’t disrespect our Empress.”
With a roll of his eyes, Jack did as he was told. There was a time and place for talking back, but right now it would only earn him another slap – or worse. If he had been by himself, he might have still risked it – just to see where it got him – but he couldn’t risk his friends’ safety. He would never forgive himself if some stupid decision of his led to either Rose or the Doctor getting hurt. So far, they were all unharmed – except for a few bruises from the arrest. No outsiders were allowed on the planet during the month-long festivities to honour the new Empress.
“My father was much too fast to execute people.” The Empress stepped closer to them – the light blue fabric of her dress trailed behind her. “He’s never understood that it’s better to use your resources to the fullest. No farmer would kill a perfectly healthy cow, after all.”
Jack noticed Rose shift to his right and he didn’t need to catch her eyes to know that there was fury written in them. Admittedly, being compared to livestock didn’t make the Empress more likeable to him either, but at least it reassured him that they would survive this day.
“The old one can work on the new construction side. He isn’t much to look at, but he appears healthy and strong enough.” Jack bit down hard on his tongue when he heard the dismissive voice of the Empress sentence the Doctor to manual labour. If she only knew how much better he was in comparison to her – or almost anyone that Jack had ever met. Besides, Jack rather liked how the Doctor looked – big ears and all.
“The female appears young and healthy, she’ll make a nice gift for my brother. He’s been looking for an addition to his harem for ages.” Jack dug his fingernails into his thighs and forced himself to remain calm. There was no way, either the Doctor or he would allow Rose to be given to anyone as a concubine. To escape before anything of the sort happened though, they needed to stay collected. It wouldn’t do for Jack to jump up and tell the Empress that Rose was a thousand times the woman, she could ever hope to be – no matter how tempted he was.
“Now, let’s look at you.” Gem adorned high-heels came to stand in front of Jack. “Lift your head!” The command was accompanied by fingers clutching his hair and the contact made Jack tingle all over.
Swallowing, he lifted his head and met the silvery eyes of the Empress, whose pale lips turned into a surprised smile when she got a good look at him. “You’re a real beauty.” One elegant hand cupped his cheek almost reverently and Jack bit down harder onto his tongue to hold back a traitorous whimper. He couldn’t stop himself from leaning into her hand, though. Her skin was warm and soft and while he would like nothing more than to give her a piece of his mind, for what she had said about Rose and the Doctor, Jack couldn’t help but enjoy the simple contact. It had been so long…
“And so responsive.” The Empress sounded awed as she slid her hand from his cheek down his throat and to his nape, running her fingers through the soft hairs at the base of it. Jack’s eyes slipped close at the gentle caress and he practically purred when the Empress traced the lines of his face with a single finger.
“I thought about giving you to my daughter to get beautiful grandchildren, but I think I’ll keep you to myself.” One hand cupped his cheek while the other one stroked down his chest and finally slipped underneath his shirt. “You were their pet, weren’t you?” A long fingernail scratched his stomach. “They certainly trained you well. Don’t worry, I’ll treat you well. You’ll want for nothing.”
Jack almost gagged at the Empress’ condescending voice when she leaned in to whisper into his ear. He desperately wanted to inform her that he was neither a pet nor would he ever want to get anywhere near her even if she was the only sentient being left in existence, but… his body didn’t want to cooperate. Instead of jerking away from her touch in disgust, Jack couldn’t help but lean into her caresses. His nerves were tingling from the contact and he was fighting against the urge to lean into it even more and bask in the sensation of being touched.
Sadly – or not, depending on who you asked – the contact didn’t last long. Jack was only barely aware of a commotion to his left and then a high-pitched sound that had him grimace in discomfort while the Empress and her guards collapsed with pained groans. Their ears were much more sensitive.
“Come on, lad!” A lovely, cool hand grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet. “ Need to leave before they recover.”
“Right.” Jack stumbled after the Doctor, who had taken hold of Rose with his free hand and led them quickly through the corridors of the palace.
The rest of their journey back to the TARDIS – including hiding in back alleys and ducking behind garbage bins – was a bit of a blur to Jack since he was mostly focused on the feel of the Doctor’s fingers around his wrist. He bit back a protest when the hand fell away from him as soon as the door of the ship had closed behind them.
“Think, we’ll take a little break after this mishap,” the Doctor announced cheerfully and sent them into the Vortex.
“Sounds good to me,” Rose agreed, but with an edge to her voice and Jack cringed when she glared at him. “Enough time for you to explain why you practically threw yourself at that… woman!” The last word was spit like an insult. “I thought you would roll over and beg to be petted, any second.”
Jack flinched at the disgust and anger that were mirrored in Rose’s eyes. He had never wanted to have her look at him like this… although he probably deserved it. Still, he forced a carefree smile onto his face as he replied. “It was the distraction, the Doctor needed to activate his screwdriver and allow us to escape, wasn’t it?”
Rose only raised an eyebrow at that and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You are telling me that you planned this, all along?” If she hadn’t sounded so sceptical, Jack might have tried to go with that explanation, but he doubted that it would go over well.
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t, but it still worked.” He flashed her his most brilliant smile but slumped when Rose only scowled at him for his efforts. “I couldn’t help my reaction, it’s been weeks since I’ve been touched by anyone.”
“Really now?” Bitterness echoed in Rose’s voice. “You snuggled up to this woman because you haven’t got laid recently?”
“What?” Jack’s eyes widened at the accusation. “No, that’s not it. I don’t mean sex, I mean,” Jack ducked his head, heat rising to his cheeks, “just simple touching: holding hands, hugging, cuddling together during a movie, nothing more.”
Surprised silence followed his words and Jack didn’t dare look up, for fear of what look he would see directed at him – from either Rose or the Doctor. Usually, he wasn’t self-conscious about his needs, but usually, people also weren’t averse to touching him.
“But,” Rose protested, “We hold hands and hug all the time.”
A bitter laugh escaped Jack at that. “No, we don’t. You only do that with the Doctor.” Jack slung his arms around himself to ward off the phantom chills that were creeping all over his body. It had been bad before, but the lack of physical contact was almost unbearable now after the little he had experienced, today.
“You never gave any indication that you would want that.” Rose narrowed her eyes at him, but Jack was glad to note that her anger – as well as her disgust – had vanished. “You always flirt, but you never just hug me.”
“Probably because he,” Jack nodded at the Doctor, who was watching their exchange from the console, “made it clear that I had to keep away from you and then also always stops me from getting anywhere with whomever I’m flirting with.”
Jack had lost count of how often the Doctor had dragged him away from a potential conquest since he had started traveling with them. If it weren’t for his overwhelming need to simply be close to another, living being, he wouldn’t even have minded. Anonymous sex had lost its appeal when he had come aboard the beautiful ship and found himself with the two most amazing people, he had ever met. He could happily go without taking strangers to bed if only these two would hug him from time to time.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you weren’t just from the 51st century but also a colony?” The Doctor frowned at Jack, who shrugged helplessly. “I didn’t think it would matter.”
“Why does it matter?” Jack glanced up to catch Rose’s confused gaze, but before he could say anything, the Doctor started speaking.
“You humans are a very tactile species. Probably goes back to when you were still living in caves,” the Doctor mused before he continued his lecture. “Even in your time,” the Doctor nodded at Rose, “studies about the consequences of too little physical contact exist. Babies that aren’t cuddled enough don’t develop as well as others and even as adults, you can get touch-starved if you go too long without any physical contact.”
“That said,” Jack swallowed when the focus of ancient eyes shifted to him, “human colonists get touch-starved even more easily. It’s not just because humans are more tactile from when Jack comes from, but there’s also an evolutionary component involved. It’s speculated that it’s due to the necessity of close contact while travelling to another planet and also because it’s safer to stay close when setting up a colony in a possibly hostile environment. Besides,” something like amusement flashed in the Doctor’s eyes, “if people crave bodily contact, it also leads to more children being born, in the long run. Therefore, the need for touch is of advantage to colonists, but humans that live on the mother planets usually opt to have the need decreased by biogenetical methods.”
“But Jack didn’t because he’s from a colony,” Rose concluded after the Doctor finished his explanation and Jack glared at the grating. He knew that there wasn’t any malice behind Rose’s words, but he hated them talking about him as if he wasn’t present. Or worse, as if he was a mere, scientific curiosity.
“Exactly!” Jack looked up when the Doctor stepped away from the console. “I should’ve noticed it sooner.” A frown appeared on his forehead, but it smoothed over again when the Doctor grinned and opened his arms wide. “Still, it’s not too late to make up for my oversight.”
It took Jack’s brain a second to realise what the Doctor was up to, but when it did, he took a step backwards. It was the hardest thing, he had ever done because his whole body screamed for him to accept the Doctor’s obvious invitation and threw himself into his arms. He wasn’t that desperate though.
Okay, he was, Jack conceded and hugged himself closer, but he still had some pride left. “I don’t need a pity-hug,” he pressed out through clenched teeth even as he yearned for the physical contact the Doctor offered.
“It’s not meant as a pity-hug.” The Doctor took another step towards Jack – his arms still wide open. “If you must, you can take it as an apology for me being an insensitive, possessive, old Time Lord.”
Genuine regret was reflected in ancient, blue eyes and Jack finally gave in to his needs. His breath hitched into his throat as he stumbled towards the Doctor and strong arms closed around him and drew him against a woollen clad chest. He pressed his face against the soft fabric and clutched at the Doctor’s leather jacket, his body trembling with relief. He had given up hope, that he would ever get more than an accidental brush of hands over the breakfast table, and if it weren’t for the fingers carding through his hair, Jack would believe himself to be dreaming.
A warm body pressed up against his side and when Jack looked down, he met soft, brown eyes when Rose joined their embrace. The sensation of having his two friends holding him was almost too much after so long without any kind of prolonged contact. Still, even if it was a little overwhelming, Jack would have happily stayed like this forever. Of course, he could never be so lucky.
Much too soon, the Doctor’s arms loosened their hold around him and Jack was prepared to step back when a cold hand closed around his own and gently led him deeper into the ship. After a short trip, they ended up in the library, where the Doctor sank onto the huge leather sofa, drawing Jack down with him.
“Now, that’s more comfortable,” the Doctor announced with a big grin, and Jack could only agree when an arm was slung around his shoulder and he was urged to lean against the Doctor’s side.
Tentatively, he placed his head on the Doctor’s shoulder and relaxed completely against him when he received an encouraging hum in reply. Jack tensed again when the sofa dipped anew but sighed happily when Rose cuddled up against his other side.
“Sorry, for not doing this sooner.” Jack blinked down at Rose, who was looking at him apologetically. “I wanted to, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it and I didn’t really realise how much distance we kept.”
“Not your fault, Rosie,” Jack murmured and wrapped a silky strand of hair around his finger, smiling reassuringly at her.
“No, if anything it was my fault. Nine hundred years should have taught me that you little apes get cranky when you don’t get enough cuddles.” If not for the hand that had pushed up his shirt and the arm that was now slung across his – mostly – bare chest, Jack would have protested against the description. As it was, he closed his eyes and basked in the skin-on-skin contact. His whole body was tingling with pure pleasure and he all but purred when Rose bedded her head on his chest. She giggled but snuggled even closer to him at the same time and Jack found all the tension drain from his body until he was so relaxed that a question simply slipped from his lips.
“Why did you stop me from taking other people to bed?” Jack craned his neck to catch the Doctor’s eyes.
“I already told you, I’m possessive.” The Doctor frowned at him, but stroked the fine hairs at his nape, at the same time.
“I thought,” Jack shivered from pure bliss when Rose rubbed her cheek against his chest, “that was only in regards to Rose.”
“No, of course not.” The Doctor flicked Jack’s ear in irritation. “Don’t be daft.”
“What?” Jack made to sit up, but a strong arm held him in place, and he didn’t find it in him to struggle against its hold, since it was keeping him exactly where he wanted to be. “I don’t understand,” he still added and received a snort from his left in reply.
“Men!” Rose rolled her eyes at Jack when he glanced down at her. “The Doctor’s trying to tell you that he likes you, too.”
“Oh!” Jack peeked up at the Doctor for confirmation, who scowled at both his companions but gave a jerky nod.
“Oh,” Jack repeated and fell silent. He hadn’t expected that. Yes, he had realised that the Doctor had warmed up to him over the past few weeks, but he hadn’t – even in his wildest dreams – dared to believe that he meant even nearly as much to the Time Lord as Rose did. Somehow, the realisation made this situation even more meaningful.
“Does this mean, I’ll get cuddled more often from now on?” Jack teased to lighten the atmosphere, which had suddenly become heavy with potential.
“As often as you like.” The Doctor’s reply came as a surprise to Jack, as did the chaste kiss to his forehead.
“You can count me in, too.” There was a flush, high in Rose’s cheeks, and yet her smile was genuine.
“I,” Jack swallowed, unsure of what to say, and then settled on something simple: “Thank you.”
The words weren’t enough to convey all of his feelings, but it was all he dared saying since he wasn’t yet sure where exactly he stood with his friends. The potential from before was still there between them, but Jack wasn’t ready to analyse it further. For now, it was more than enough to be held close by Rose and the Doctor. It was more than Jack had ever dared to hope for and as for everything else: they had all the time in the world to figure it out.