They’re in bed together, Rose’s chin propped on the Doctor’s bare chest, when she first makes an observation about their newest companion.
“Jack wears his heart on his sleeve, have you noticed? Yet, the way he flirts – he never goes too far, like he’s holding himself back. I think that he wants us, Doctor – both of us – but he’s afraid.”
The Doctor quirks an eyebrow at her and says, “What’re you gettin’ at, Rose? What’s on your mind?”
“I was just wonderin’ how you might feel about . . . bringing Jack into bed with us.”
They haven’t been this – them – for very long. Just since Satellite Five. So Rose feels justified in her nervousness about suggesting that they expand their relationship to include another person. It goes against all of her cultural norms. And quite possibly the Doctor’s, for all she knows. She waits, unable to meet his eyes.
The Doctor cups her chin in his hand and raises her face to his; her eyes snap shut. “Look at me, Rose,” he says. She does, and is surprised to find him smiling. “I think that would be fantastic. But whatever gave you the idea?”
“I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Doctor. The way he looks at me. I’ve also seen the way you look at him when you think no one’s watching. There’s no reason for us to make ourselves miserable when we all want the same thing.”
Now that she’s started, she can’t seem to stop. It’s like word-vomit, or something. She has to say everything now, get it all out into the open before she loses her nerve.
“I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, though, convincing Jack that our feelings for him are genuine. He’ll think that it’s all some great cosmic joke at his expense. You remember how he was, when he first came on board – the way he tip-toed around us, keeping his head down, when all the while he was waiting to be thrown out on his ear. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still expecting for you to dump him somewhere like so much garbage. That’s why I think you should be the one to proposition Jack. It’ll be more believable coming from you, I think, and we both know that he won’t make a move on me without your explicit permission.”
“Rose, you’re a genius!” exclaims the Doctor, grinning wildly at her and claiming her lips in a brief, fierce kiss.
Of course, that’s when everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
Jack runs into the room in time to see Rose fall to her knees, clutching her head. There’s a strange light in her eyes, and she’s surrounded by a golden glow that seems to be emanating from the TARDIS. Jack suddenly feels frightened, more so even than when facing down the Daleks.
The Doctor’s frightened, too. He’s crouching over Rose, hand outstretched but not quite touching her. He looks up at Jack’s approach. “Jack,” he says with visible relief. “I need for you to kiss Rose. She looked into the time vortex – something that no mortal is meant to do – and now she’s being consumed by the heart of the TARDIS. But if you kiss her, you’ll be able to pull the energy into yourself and save her life. Do it, lad.”
Jack obeys without question. He’d always known, even from the short time he’d been traveling with the Doctor, that if it ever came down to a choice between saving his life and Rose’s, that the Doctor would choose Rose. He doesn’t mind, sacrificing himself for her. He’d said before that she was worth fighting for. Well, apparently she and the Doctor are also worth dying for. (He ignores the little voice in his head telling him that he had already decided this back in 1941, when he’d followed the Doctor’s orders to take a bomb onto his ship without any hope of rescue).
Reaching for her, Jack frames her face between his hands. “Rose,” he whispers. “I am so sorry, Rose. So very sorry.”
And then he kisses her – a chaste kiss, by his standards, determined and desperate in equal measure. He doesn’t have the right to do this, he knows. He might have kissed both Rose and the Doctor before leaving to confront the Daleks, but that was different; he was going off to certain death and thought that he would never see either of them again. Yet now for some reason the Doctor needs him to do this, and so he does.
He feels Rose collapse in his arms, and then the Doctor is there, holding them both up and whispering reassurances to him. “You did well, lad. Everything’s going to be all right now. Jack, you can let go.”
And Jack does, welcoming the darkness that claims him. At least, he thinks, I’ll have died with a smile on my face.
He is therefore understandably confused when he wakes up in his bedroom on the TARDIS a short time later, gasping for breath and feeling like his heart’s about to beat right out of his chest.
“Good to have you back, lad,” says the Doctor in greeting.
“What happened?” croaks Jack. His throat feels raw, like he’s been screaming himself hoarse. But that can’t be right. When facing down a Dalek, there isn’t time enough to scream . . .
“Here.” The Doctor helps Jack to sit up, offering him a glass of water with a straw to sip through.
Jack takes it but finds that his hands are shaking. Something’s changed, something’s different, but he doesn’t know what.
The Doctor takes Jack’s hands in his to hold them steady, and guides the straw up to Jack’s parched lips. “Slow sips, lad,” he says. “You’re dehydrated.”
There’s silence, for a time, but Jack has to know. Has to know what happened on that Game Station. Has to know what Rose did and if she’s all right. Jack doesn’t care about himself. Okay, so maybe he’s slightly curious as to why the Doctor basically ordered him to commit suicide. But he can live with a little mystery, really. So long as Rose and the Doctor are fine, he is, too.
“What happened?” he asks again.
The Doctor settles himself back in the chair he had positioned by Jack’s bed. “You died. Twice,” he says at last. “And it’s all my fault.”
“I see,” Jack says slowly, before shaking his head. “No, actually, I don’t see. Care to explain?”
“You’re probably wondering if the Dalek missed shooting you entirely, or if it only dealt you a glancing blow. Am I right?”
“I’m sorry to say it, lad, but you were shot and you did in fact die.”
“But then, how can I be here talking to you and very much alive?” Jack demands of him.
“Rose,” says the Doctor, a fond smile tugging at his lips that Jack finds himself unconsciously mimicking. “She brought you back to life. Unintentionally, I’m sure. But bring you back she did – forever.”
“What?” Jack’s suddenly finding it hard to breathe. It feels like a bucket of ice water has just been poured on top of his head, drenching him.
“In a word: immortal,” the Doctor continues blithely, either not seeing or choosing to ignore Jack’s distress. “You can never die, Jack. That is to say, you can still die – it just won’t stick. You’ll always come back.”
“I see,” Jack says again. “Does Rose know about any of this?”
“Not yet, no. She’s still sleeping off the aftereffects of absorbing the time vortex.”
“That sounds like a good idea, actually,” says Jack, yawning widely. He hopes the Doctor can’t tell that he’s faking. He just wants to be left alone right now, to come to terms with . . . everything.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” says the Doctor. He gets up and makes as if to reach for Jack, before clearly changing his mind. His hand falls back to his side and he leaves the room without another word, not even sparing a backward glance at Jack’s crestfallen expression.
As soon as the Doctor’s on his feet, Jack is already wishing for him back. He can’t be alone right now, he realizes. He’ll only fall victim to a vicious cycle of bad thoughts. But the Doctor’s already gone; too late to call him back. Jack settles himself against the pillows in resignation and closes his eyes.
He remembers the feel of the Doctor’s arms around him, back on the Game Station after Rose had collapsed and Jack had pulled the energy of the time vortex from her. Such strength in those arms. He remembers the Doctor’s voice in his ear, how soothing and comforting his words had sounded. All hollow promises. Nothing’s ever going to be all right ever again. The Doctor didn’t say as much, but Jack hadn’t needed him to. He’s a freak of nature, now. He can tell that he leaves the Doctor’s senses reeling – and not in a good way. Better for everyone if he’s dropped off at the next habitable planet. Or uninhabitable. Makes no difference now, not in his condition.
Jack throws the blankets off and swings his feet over the side of the bed. He staggers upright and slowly makes his way towards the bedroom door, gradually adjusting to being vertical again. He can’t stay in that room, in that bed, for another minute. He has to get up and walk, shake off this restless energy. Maybe find the gym, throw a few punches.
Instead, after many minutes spent aimlessly wandering the TARDIS corridors, he winds up in the kitchen. There’s an impressive array of liquor bottles and a tumbler on the table. He takes a seat and throws back one drink, then another and another and another, until he’s lost count.
Drums. There are drums pounding in her head.
Rose wakes with a low moan, and instantly the Doctor is there, just like he always is. He holds a glass of water with a straw up to her lips. “Slow sips, now,” he says. “You’re dehydrated.”
“Thanks,” she murmurs, shooting him a tired smile. “What happened?”
“You looked into the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed the time vortex.”
“If I did that,” she says slowly, “then how did I survive?”
There’s a smile tugging at the Doctor’s lips that she doesn’t understand. “Jack,” he says. “He kissed you and pulled the energy that you had absorbed into himself. Just like drawing poison from a wound.”
“Oh god.” She can feel her eyes welling up with tears. “You mean he’s . . . dead?”
“No,” the Doctor assures her hurriedly. “Sorry, no. He’s fine, just fine.”
“But, how is that possible?”
The Doctor can’t meet her eyes. He’s rubbing the back of his neck and looking decidedly awkward. “When you showed up as the Bad Wolf, you brought Jack back to life after the Daleks had already killed him. Only – you brought him back permanently, making him immortal. He can still die, but it won’t stick. No matter what happens to him, he’ll always come back.”
Rose looks at him, horrorstruck. “Oh god,” she says again. “Where’s Jack now?”
“I left him in his room. The lad said he wanted to rest awhile.”
“I just bet he did,” growls Rose, throwing back the covers and getting to her feet in one graceful movement. She ignores the Doctor’s outstretched hand in favor of slapping his arm. At his indignant look, she says, “For a Time Lord, you can be incredibly thick sometimes.” The Doctor continues to look confused, so she elaborates. “That may have been what he wanted initially – to be left alone. Certainly it’s what he wanted you to think he wanted. But you have to remember, Doctor, that Jack is human and that his first instinct will be to push away the person he most wants comfort from. I have to find him, talk to him. I only hope he’ll still want us after this.”
Rose quickly changes into the Union Jack shirt that she was wearing when she and Jack first met, hoping that it’ll put him more at his ease. The Doctor’s still standing where she left him, no doubt lost in thoughts about how monumentally he’s managed to screw this up already. “Hey, now, none of that,” she says, pressing a lingering kiss to his cheek. “Come find us in a little while, okay?”
The Doctor nods and then she’s out the door. With the help of the TARDIS, she soon finds Jack in the kitchen, attempting to drown his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle.
“Mind if I join you?” she asks from the doorway, refusing to enter until she’s been invited.
With a wordless gesture, Jack motions her across from him to a chair that wasn’t there a moment ago.
Ignoring the empty bottles surrounding them, Rose reaches across the table for Jack’s hands. “Jack,” she says, “I’m really, really sorry about what happened. I mean, of course I’m glad that you’re alive; I would never want you dead, that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. But I am sorry that I had to bring you back permanently, that there wasn’t another way to save your life.”
“ ‘S not your fault, Rosie,” says Jack, his words sounding slightly slurred. “You were just tryin’ to do good. Can’t fault you for that. And if it’s apologies we’re making, then I’m sorry for kissing you without permission.”
“You saved my life,” Rose protests.
“And I would gladly do it again,” says Jack, “even without knowing that I would come back.”
“Didn’t you know the first time?” Rose asks. When Jack shakes his head in the negative, a frisson of fear goes down her spine. Does Jack really think so little of himself that he would sacrifice his life on the Doctor’s orders without question, without a moment’s hesitation? “You mean that you kissed me to save my life,” she says, “and you didn’t even know that you would come back?”
Jack shrugs, affecting nonchalance. “The Doctor told me to kiss you, so that’s what I did.”
“I’m gonna give him such a smack,” she says vehemently. “Imagine, using you like that.”
“I didn’t mind. I was glad to be of use, Rose,” insists Jack, “especially if it meant saving your life. And don’t blame the Doctor. I’m lucky he didn’t just leave me there.”
“What d’you mean?” Rose wants to know.
Jack’s not drunk. He suspects that his newfound immortality prevents that. But the hours he’s spent drinking have still managed to make his tongue uncomfortably loose.
“I’m a freak of nature, now,” he says matter-of-factly in answer to Rose’s question.
“Oh, Jack,” whispers Rose, squeezing his hand in what Jack hopes is only sympathy and not pity, although the two are so closely related that they’re sometimes hard to tell apart. “You can’t honestly believe that, do you?”
“Doesn’t matter what I believe, or what I think, or even what I feel. This is the Doctor’s ship and I have to follow his rules. And he’s not gonna want me around anymore, not now that I’ve become a fixed point in time and space.”
Jack doesn’t feel sorry for himself, not exactly. He just doesn’t want Rose to be hurt when the Doctor inevitably kicks him off.
“You’re wrong, you know,” says Rose. “You have no idea how wrong you are. And I can prove it to you. C’mere.” She pulls Jack to his feet and winds her arms around his neck. Then she’s kissing him and Jack’s brain goes offline.
This is wrong. This is so very wrong, on so many levels and in so many different ways. But it’s also so very right, too. And he can’t deny that he wants this. Has wanted this since 1941. Jack is just starting to kiss back when he hears someone clear their throat from behind him and Rose. He freezes.
It’s the Doctor.
He would laugh if Jack weren’t looking so panicked. The naked fear on the lad’s face breaks both his hearts.
Jack wrenches away from Rose and moves to stand directly in front of the Doctor. Like he’s trying to draw the Doctor’s fire, keep his attention fixed on him and away from Rose. Like he thinks that the Doctor might hurt her or something.
As if he ever could.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” says Jack, speaking slowly and calmly like he’s trying to soothe a wild animal. He pauses, clearly considering what he’s just said. “Okay, so maybe it’s exactly what it looks like,” he admits wryly. “But it isn’t Rose’s fault, Doctor. I kissed her, you have to believe me.”
Rose rolls her eyes at him from behind Jack, who’s stepped in front of her like he’s anticipating an attack and is determined to bodily shield her from any blows. “I knew it should’ve been you who did this,” she says with a throaty laugh.
Jack opens his mouth again. The Doctor holds up a hand to silence him and Jack’s jaw snaps audibly shut. The Doctor suppresses a wince that’s compounded by the way Jack flinches at his raised hand. He takes in the lad’s military-rigid posture, and wonders what Jack expects from him. Merely a verbal reprimand? Or perhaps something more physical? He feels his stomach give an uncomfortable lurch. Does Jack really think him capable of personal violence?
But apparently he’s been silent and still for too long.
Jack steps forward. Rose reaches for him, but he shakes her off. “I made a mistake in 1941 that I was reluctant to take responsibility for. No more. This is my fault. So, I’ll go and you never have to see me again.”
“That won’t be necessary, Jack,” says the Doctor. “You’ve done nothing wrong.” He takes the final step separating him from Jack and deliberately places his hand at the base of Jack’s neck. The lad is tense, thrumming with nervous energy.
The Doctor closes the remaining distance between them and kisses Jack, who whimpers against his mouth. The Doctor swallows the sound and gradually feels the tension drain from Jack as he begins responding to the kiss. His arms come up around the Doctor, squeezing. The Doctor responds in kind, running his hands up and down the length of Jack’s back and holding Jack close like he wants to consume him, even as they continue to trade kisses – sloppy and desperate, tender and sweet.
There’s a glassy sheen to Jack’s eyes when, at last, they separate. “What was that for?” he whispers. His voice sounds wrecked, to the Doctor’s ears, and not at all like he believes that what just happened could ever be for real.
“Because we love you, Jack,” says Rose, stepping forward to take the metaphorical bull by its metaphorical horns, “and because we want you, too. Both of us.”
“Too?” Of course Jack would fixate on that one word.
“We’ve seen the way you look at us,” says the Doctor, gently (so gently). “But looking goes both ways, lad, and we’ve been looking back.”
Jack shakes his head emphatically. “You can’t want me,” he says to the Doctor. “I’m unnatural. You couldn’t get out of my room fast enough, before.”
“That was shame, lad. I couldn’t face you with what I’d done.”
“Which was what, exactly?”
“I heard you die, I could feel it, and there was nothing I could do. I’m sorry, lad. So very sorry that I made you go through that all by yourself. And—” he pauses, “—I’m sorry for being a selfish bastard and using you to save Rose when I could’ve spared you. It should have been me who absorbed the time vortex. But, it would have meant changing.”
“Changing?” Rose sounds confused; Jack merely looks thoughtful.
“Time Lords have this little trick, sort of a way to cheat death,” the Doctor explains. “But it means a new face. A new everything. I’d still have my memories, but I wouldn’t be your Doctor anymore. Selfish of me, I know, to use you like that, Jack. I only hope that one day you can forgive me.”
Jack shrugs. “Could come in useful, having an immortal companion. Maybe now you won’t have to risk yourself quite so much. Let me take some of the heat for a change.”
Letting a companion – someone under his care, who’s his responsibility – risk themselves in place of him goes against all of his instincts. But, reluctantly, the Doctor agrees. “Only if it’s a matter of life and death, though,” he insists.
“When is it not?” says Jack with a cheeky smile that doesn’t quite manage to reach his eyes.
“Promise me, Jack,” says the Doctor, giving Jack’s neck a squeeze when he remains stubbornly silent. He’s not trying to hurt the lad, merely drive home the point that he’s deadly serious about Jack’s safety.
“Don’t worry, Doc. I know how highly you value my life,” Jack quips a trifle bitterly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Were you just born thick, or is it an acquired trait after nine-hundred years?” snaps Rose suddenly. “Don’t you remember when we first met Jack? He was ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity – on your orders. If I hadn’t insisted we go back for him . . .” She shudders, once, before seeming to collect herself.
“Then, on the Game Station,” she continues, “Jack saved my life – again, on your orders. That’s twice, now, you’ve basically ordered him to commit suicide. Three times, if you count the Daleks. And while I’m sure he’d say we were both worth it, you haven’t exactly shown that you feel the same. That you value him as highly as you do me.”
“You’re right, and I’m sorry.” He’s clearly surprised them both. “Jack, I haven’t been very fair to you, have I? I brought you on board and gave you a key. But I didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat, did I? I made you doubt yourself, and your place here with us.”
“That’s another thing, Doctor,” Rose interjects. “Jack has this crazy notion that you’re going to kick him off the TARDIS because he’s immortal. Something about being a fixed point in time and space, he says.”
“Oh, Jack.” The Doctor turns his old, sad eyes on him and opens his arms to Jack, feeling gratified when Jack immediately steps into the embrace. “How could I have failed you so badly?” he murmurs in his ear.
“So I can stay?” whispers Jack, and the Doctor hates hearing that note of uncertainty in his voice, knowing that he put it there.
“Of course you can.”
“And were you both serious before? About wanting me?” Jack asks. He pulls away with obvious reluctance, his eyes swiveling from the Doctor to Rose and back again.
The Doctor nods and smiles, and sees Rose doing the same. He’s therefore surprised when Jack doesn’t relax, or even smile back, instead squaring his shoulders like he’s going into battle.
“You won’t regret it, I promise,” Jack assures them. “I’ll make it good for you, I swear.” This last is said with his customary leer and accompanied by a suggestive waggle of the eyebrows.
The Doctor exchanges a significant look with Rose. “We don’t want a performance, lad. Understand?” he says. “We just want you – Jack Harkness and no one else.”
“Yessir,” mumbles Jack, looking down at his feet in chagrin at having already fucked this up.
“Hey, now, none of that.” The Doctor tips up Jack’s chin until their eyes meet. He gently brushes his lips against Jack’s. “Talk to me. To us. What’s going on in that head of yours, lad?”
“I’ve wanted you both from the moment I came on board,” Jack says slowly. “But I saw how you two were together and figured that there’d never be room for me in your relationship. But, to find out that there is, that you both want me . . . Are you sure you mean it, Doctor? You’re not just humoring Rose?”
“I swear to you, Jack, that I want you with both my hearts.”
Rose has plastered herself along Jack’s back. She now pulls him out of the Doctor’s arms and turns Jack around to face her. “Kiss me,” she demands, having clearly decided that the time for talk is past and the time to act is now.
Jack looks at him once – for permission, the Doctor thinks – before complying, kissing Rose as he hadn’t allowed himself to kiss her before. When it ends, both are breathing heavily. Jack smiles shyly at Rose, who answers with a blinding grin and pecks Jack once more on the lips. He shoots the Doctor a hesitant, almost fearful glance, as if checking that they’ve not gone too far or crossed some invisible line of the Doctor’s. Resisting the impulse to roll his eyes, the Doctor holds out a hand to Jack, who accepts, albeit with visible trepidation.
With Jack’s hand in his, the Doctor pulls him tight against his chest. “Trust me,” he breathes against Jack’s lips. “Trust this, trust us.”
When he had kissed Jack before, it was to signify his desire. Now the Doctor kisses him to show his possession – a searing kiss that takes as much as it gives. When this kiss ends, it’s with an audible smack that leaves Jack chasing after the Doctor’s lips, desperate for more.
“Can we go to bed, now, please?” Rose begs them.
Jack’s laughter echoes along the TARDIS corridors. The Doctor smiles to hear it.
Despite everything that’s been said and done in the last few hours, Jack still expects for it to hurt, for maybe the Doctor to be rough with him. Instead, both his partners are incredibly gentle. And after everything – after his body’s sated from both giving and receiving pleasure beyond his wildest dreams – Jack falls asleep.
He doesn’t mean to. He had, in fact, intended to sneak out before he could be kicked out. Just because the Doctor and Rose have said they want him – Jack hesitates to think the word love, even now – doesn’t mean that he’s good for anything more than a one-time shag. But the softness of the bed and the warmth generated by shared body heat conspire to lull Jack to sleep.
He wakes up some indeterminate amount of time later and thinks that now’s his chance. But he’s sandwiched between the Doctor and Rose, who has a proprietary hand on his hip, while the Doctor’s arm is like a vice around his waist, and when Jack tries to sit up, a low voice rumbles in his ear, “Just where d’you think you’re going, lad?”
“Would you believe me if I said I needed the bathroom?” Jack laughs nervously.
“I would not.” The Doctor tightens his arm around Jack. “You still don’t trust us – trust this – do you? Believe me, Jack. We want you here. I want you here. Honest. Cross my hearts and hope to die.” He smiles at Jack. “You’re right where you belong,” he continues, more softly still, “between us. And you’re not going anywhere, unless you decide that this is no longer what you want.”
“Never,” Jack vows. “I’ll want this – you and Rose – forever.”
“Good lad. Then come here—” he pulls Jack down against his shoulder, “—and go to sleep.”
As he drifts off again, Jack thinks that he’s never had a more comfortable pillow.