Beta babe: plaid_slytherin
Characters/pairing: Nine, Rose, Jack (implied future OT3)
Rating: All ages
Summary: Jack steps in front of an arrow for Rose, and the TARDIS crew must learn to deal with their growing feelings for each other.
Author's Note: Wendy's original prompt for this set-price, minimum 1000-word fic was, "Jack tries to sacrifices himself for Rose or the Doctor (or both) before he's immortal. You may choose to deal with the fall-out from that or not". I chose to deal exclusively with the fall-out from an act like that, and ended up with this.
The walk back to the TARDIS was nearly-silent, an unusual occurrence. Usually Rose and Jack chattered and shouted and jumped about like loons, but not this time. This time Jack walked with the miserable, hunched-over, dejected trudge of a four-year-old denied a sucker, and Rose seemed to withdraw into herself, shoulders forward and head hung down. The Doctor marched, his eyes forward like lasers and his hands set in fists.
When the TARDIS door opened, the Doctor entered without hesitation, but Rose and Jack lingered outside, staring at each other like guilty children.
"I don't suppose either one of you wants to be left on Kryik Yor, so get a move on!" the Doctor snapped, already flipping switches and pressing buttons, cursing in eloquent Gallifreyan that the TARDIS refused to translate.
Rose was the first to come inside, her hand trailing along the outside wood of the door before she stepped into the green glow of the console room. "Doctor?"
"I think," the Doctor said, very distinctly, "that it might be best for everyone who is not a Time Lord on this ship to be quiet until I get us safely in the Vortex, is that all right?"
Rose's mouth opened and closed in near-shock, but Jack came up behind her and grabbed her hand, squeezing it, his eyes meeting hers when he turned her around and wrapped her in a warm hug that somehow reached the frozen place where her stomach had been. She let a few of the tears she'd repressed on the walk home swell up in her eyes and leak out, without sound, onto the sleeve of Jack's jacket.
The grinding sound of the TARDIS dematerializing made them lift their heads, to find the Doctor staring at them, arms crossed over his chest. His face, which had been so furious before, seemed to have something different illustrated there -- something like longing or loneliness.
"I'm sorry," Rose said first, dropping the hug but clinging to Jack's hand. "I really am. I know you said not to touch the babies, but I really didn't mean to, I swear."
"It's all right," the Doctor said shortly. "It's all over. No need to natter on about it. You apes probably need sleep, anyway, and I haven't gotten in a good round of solitaire today, so..."
"Doctor," Jack broke in, "don't you want to talk about it? We had a serious communication breakdown out there that jeopardized our team unity. We should debrief." He paused. "Sir."
The Doctor's lips thinned into a mockery of amusement. "Is that what you call willful, stupid pigheadedness in the Time Agency? Serious communication breakdown? What a load of --"
"He was just trying to..." Rose interrupted, waving a hand, "you know..."
"Make himself look good," the Doctor said.
Jack winced. "Ouch, Doc."
"He doesn't have to make himself look good, Doctor, he stepped in front of that arrow that was meant for me and..."
"Which was completely unnecessary," the Doctor said. "No unnecessary heroics on this TARDIS." He crossed his arms. "New rule. New number one rule."
It was Jack's turn to cross his arms, dropping Rose's hand to glare at the Doctor. "So what was I supposed to do? Let the arrow hit her? I think we both can agree I'm the expendable one in this situation."
Rose's breath caught in her throat and before the Doctor could say anything, she yanked on Jack's arms until they hung loose at his sides, and then she cupped his face in her palms. "No, you're not."
"Rose, I think we both know where the priority is in this TARDIS and..."
"Stop it," Rose said, tears really rising to her eyes. "Look at you, Captain Jack. You know about nanogenes and understand more than half of what the Doctor's talking about. Everywhere we go, you make new friends. You are not expendable, do you hear me?" She let her hand escape, running it through a section of his hair. "You're anything but."
Jack could feel the heavy eyes of the Doctor on him, but he couldn't stop staring at her. Nineteen years old, that's what the Doctor had said, and oh, so beautiful. He'd been from one end of the universe to the other -- seen dames and broads and trees that walked and talked, but there was something about her: a perfect specimen of 21st century humanity that soothed him somehow. The way she looked at him -- he remembered Gray looking at him like that a few times: it was a look of pure trust and loyalty. But... there was something more there. She definitely didn't trust him in a big brotherly way.
The Doctor cleared his throat. "She's right, Jack. Don't be stupid because of some ludicrous self-esteem issue. Trust me next time. I'll get there in time." But his eyes never quite met Jack's.
Rose yawned then, and they all laughed nervously. "I think that's a sign for me to find my bed," Rose said with a smile. "Goodnight." She smiled. "See you guys in the morning.
"No such thing as morning in the TARDIS," they all said together, and the Doctor grimaced at his own predictability.
"Right," he said. "Goodnight."
Her footsteps echoed eerily down the hallway for a long moment before the Doctor straightened and looked Jack in the eye.
"You're not upset with me because I tried to save her," Jack said, his hands in his pockets. "You're upset because you weren't there with her."
"All my companions matter to me," the Doctor said, flatly.
"Yeah, but not all your companions are Rose," Jack said. "She's..."
"Yeah," the Doctor said, and then patted his pockets, looking for anything to occupy his hands so he wouldn't have to face what was coming head-on. "Thank you, Jack."
Jack nodded, and was about to leave the console room when he stopped.
"What are you going to do when you lose her? Who's going to remind you to be kind?" Jack asked, filling the sudden silence. "She's as human as they come; she's not going to last forever. I think you need her, Doctor. I think you need someone to remind you about mercy."
The Doctor's eyes were as hard as stone. "I suppose I'll keep living my life, day after day."
"Yeah." Jack sighed. "Don't suppose you've got another choice."
"There is," said the Doctor, "but it's not the choice for me."
Jack smiled, and scraped the heel of his boot along the grating until a response came to him. "No going gently into the good night for you, huh?"
The Doctor beamed, and it was like someone had turned the switch on in a dark room. "Nope!" Jack turned, heading for the hallway. "Jack."
"All of my companions matter to me," the Doctor said, so quietly Jack had to strain to hear him. "But Rose... and you... you're special."
Rose, standing in the doorway, laid a hand over her mouth and another over her stomach. She would probably never hear that he loved her -- Jack was much more likely to say such things, but an admission like that was enough to set butterflies aflight in her gut. She watched as Jack laid his hand on the Doctor's shoulder, and the two stood there in complete silence for a moment.
Just as quietly as she had padded up to the doorway, she crept back to her room and crawled into her bed. Just before she closed her eyes, she laid a hand flat against the TARDIS wall.
"I'm glad it's not just me reminding him anymore," she whispered, and she could have sworn she heard the TARDIS whisper "yes".