CHAPTER SIX

“So — tell me about myself.”

Rose cut her eyes to the side, unable to see more than the very side of Jack’s head from this position. Her neck was aching, her knees were sore from kneeling for so long, and she was very sure that the sunburn she had worried about was a reality after spending the entire afternoon with her bare skin exposed like it was. There’d be something in the Tardis to take the sting off, she was sure. Provided they ever made it back to the Tardis, that was.

“The me from your universe,” he prodded. “What was he like?”

“Wonderful,” Rose said without thinking, happy to have something — anything — to take her mind off of the situation they were in. All around them the bazaar moved on at its normal pace, the citizens of this backwards little rock of a planet going on with their lives, making no move to help the two poor visitors that had been put up on display for them all. Every now and then someone would stop — usually a male — and leer at her, but otherwise the experience had been only mildly uncomfortable once she’d resigned herself to the fact that she was almost completely naked in the middle of a crowd of strangers.

“Wonderful, huh?” Jack asked, voice light but curious and more than a little teasing.

“I cared about ‘im a lot,” she admitted softly, giving voice to something she hadn’t been able to in the reports or in the casual conversations she’d had with either of them in the short time since she’d joined them in the Tardis. “He was such a flirt but with a real heart of gold, you know?”

Jack laughed. “Yeah, I think I know.”

Rose blushed and then laughed at the irony of what she’d said, his reaction. “I s’pose you would, at that.”

Jack was quiet, and Rose sighed, shifting a bit to try to get comfortable. Well, more comfortable anyway, seeing as how they didn’t look to be getting rescued any time soon. She wondered if the Doctor had even realized yet that they were in trouble and not just spending more time in the bazaar than he had thought they would. That was nothing more than her being silly, though, because of course the Doctor knew they were in trouble. He always managed to know things like that, even when logic dictated that there was no way he should know. Really, then, she didn’t need to even wonder if he knew, only what he was doing about the knowing.

“What happened to the other me?”

Rose stiffened, Jack’s question rolling over her like a thousand stinging slaps. She sucked in a breath through her teeth and tried to turn her head just enough to look at him more fully. “Jack —“

“I know it’s something you don’t want to talk about,” he cut her off, voice quiet and sympathetic. “Even in your report it was all Jack died, nothing more, nothing less.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, that entire report felt like it was lacking in detail, but that’s not my point.” Another pause. “The point is this — you say you cared about your Jack, but he was sort of nothing more than a footnote in your report.”

It wasn’t fair that this question was being put to her here and now, with all of these people around that could overhear. Not that she thought any of them cared to listen. They had their own boring lives to attend to and didn’t need to hear any part of her own dramatic saga. This was the sort of question she had always expected that one — if not both — of them would ask her, and she’d been almost prepared for it… well, as much as she could be.

But she thought that question would come while they were traveling or late at night, sipping tea in the Tardis’ little kitchen. Maybe drinking with Jack. Not that she had given this much thought in the few hours she had been back in their company …

… except she had. She’d gone over it a million and one times in her head — how exactly to admit to what happened on the Game Station.

And here Jack was, asking her when they were bound, him bare from the waist up and her in just her knickers.

Sometimes life wasn’t fair.

“’s’nt a bit odd, wantin’ to know how the other you died?” she asked him, stalling. On some level she was hoping that she could — maybe — distract him enough that he might let this go for right now. If he really wanted to know and got tenacious about it, then she would tell him. She wouldn’t lie. Lying wasn’t the best way to start a new friendship, and being Jack’s friend mattered to her more than just about anything right now.

“Why do I get the feeling this story has less of a happy ending than I already knew it did?” Jack asked her. A second later she realized that they were close enough that he could, with some effort, reach out one leg to nudge her calve with the tip of his foot. She half-smiled and sighed again.

So she told him. She told him all of it in a voice so broken that she wondered how she’d ever thought that she’d moved on past those memories. Wondered if she would ever really feel healed from what had happened in that brief, brief time. Rose felt her heart wrench in her chest when she laughed off Jack’s kiss goodbye to both herself and the Doctor, heard Jack give a little chuckle as if to say that a’ boy.

“He tried to send me away,” she told him softly. “Tricked me into the Tardis and sent me back to my mum. Thought he was doing what was right, he really did. Never stopped once to think that I wouldn’t want to —“

She stopped, voice faltering, remembering that day on the beach when she’d finally been able to tell the Doctor how she’d felt. That was the last time she’d seen him. That him, anyhow. There was this him in this reality, but it wasn’t the same. Her heart leapt at the sight of him because he was familiar in looks, and even sometimes actions, but he wasn’t her Doctor. That man was — quite literally — in another universe. Locked away from her.

And, oh God, it still hurt. Still ached and bled deep inside with the pain of a thousand cuts that she was sure would never heal over. Not completely.

“You loved him,” Jack said simply.

Rose nodded. Maybe it was because he was Jack - and she’d never had trouble talking to her Jack about her problems and feelings — but she realized that it wasn’t so hard to admit. The world could have stopped around her right at that moment and she wouldn’t even have noticed it, though; so caught up in the painful memories.

“I loved him,” she repeated. “And I wasn’t about t’let him go off and die by himself, stupid git.”

Jack laughed, and after a moment Rose joined him. The hardest part of the story was still to come, she knew, and it took her a long moment to work up to speaking again. Long enough that Jack prodded her again with his foot, jarring her from thoughts of memories from a lifetime ago with one simple question.

“What did you do?”

Rose bit her lower lip, trying to find the words. “I was des’prate, just so you know. I needed to get back to him, and all I had was the Tardis … but I couldn’t fly her. So I got into her… into her heart. Took the Vortex into myself.”

Jack gasped, a sharp hiss of air through teeth. Rose had the feeling that he’d be giving her a look of complete and utter shock and maybe despair if he could get his head to turn that far in the stocks. She couldn’t say she blamed him. The Doctor had sat her down a few months after his regeneration and explained just what she did, why it was so dangerous, and why she must never, ever get such a foolish idea in her head again. He might not be around to save her next time, he had warned, and even as he said the words, she’d laughed them off to herself because the Doctor would always be around.

“I don’t remember much about what happened after that,” she told him, honestly. “The Doctor filled in the blanks for me. I came back t’the Game Station, wiped the Daleks from all of time — or, I thought — with just a thought and a wave of my hand. And then the Doctor… he…” she choked around the words. “He had to take the Vortex back from me, because it was burning me inside. It was killin’ me.”

“Rose… hey…”

She sniffled, blinking back tears of guilt and sadness. “’S why he regenerated. Because of me. I killed him.”

“Oh, honey,” Jack sighed. “But, it sounds like you saved everyone.”

“Everyone except the two people that mattered t’me the most,” she said, the matter-of-fact statement coming out broken and whispery.

Jack was silent for a moment, then finally spoke, “Now, I can only speak for myself, of course. This me, right here and now — but it seems like you did the right thing. Don’t get me wrong — it was very risky, and if you ever think of doing it again, I might have to punish you.”

Rose choked on a laugh. She didn’t need to see Jack’s face to know there was a playful leer on it. God, she’d missed him. So very, very much. This — being in danger with him by her side — it felt so much like home that she wondered when she’d fallen off the deep end. How could she have ever lived out a normal life after what she’d seen and done?

How could she have survived for her entire life without these two, without the heart pounding fear and excitement?

Rose didn’t really want to figure any of that out.

“On second thought, maybe we’ll work the punishment in there somewhere anyway.”

That was it. She was done. Rose laughed. Heads turned in the bazaar, and she wondered what those crazy aliens were thinking. Probably that she was completely off her rocker, laughing like she was while she was being held prisoner and subject to public humiliation.

It only made her laugh more.

END