Summary: Jack, Rose and the Doctor work spectacularly well together. But they can also misinterpret, misunderstand and misjudge each other, to sometimes spectacular ends.
Edited: the spectacular dr_whuh
Author's Notes: I wrote this for yamx , who won a story for me in the help_haiti auction, and it's part of their* Same Prompt Project. That prompt? "Jack annoys Nine and has to face the consequences (can be gen, or Jack/Nine, or Jack/Nine/Rose, or undetermined)." The story got away from me at one point, but I believe I coaxed it back into the land of the germane.
Disclaimer: I might wish it were otherwise, for I love them greatly, but I don't own anything in the Whoniverse, nor do I own any characters who originated in Doctor Who; both are owned solely by the BBC and their various creations. I earn nothing and intend no infringements.
* I've learned my lesson. Neutral (if somewhat ungrammatical in the traditional tradition) pronouns until one can be reasonably sure of gender.
"I'm not listening."
"Yes you are."
"Nope. Heading to bed, because it's been a long day, and I want to recover from it."
Jack heard the warning note, but he didn't give a damn. Without looking back, he added, "Actually, I want to recover from you making it a long day. For everyone."
The TARDIS thrummed around him, but he didn't think She'd take the Doctor's side on this one. She'd felt unsettled ever since Rose had stormed in and headed somewhere — anywhere — the Doctor wasn't. Jack didn't blame her. He was basically doing the same thing right now, after his own five minute blowup with the Time Lord.
He'd promised those people — those children — that he'd get them out of that imperially-sanctioned brothel.
He'd had every expectation that he could do it. He had the element of surprise, because no one had thought anyone could get into the Imperial seraglio. He had weapons, because they came in handy occasionally, no matter what the Doctor said, and he knew how to use them, and he'd used them to help Rose and the Doctor on more occasions than the Doctor would admit. He'd had Rose's enthusiastic backing — Jack's lone good memory of this day would be Rose, eyes flashing, arguing with the Time Lord. Pleading for those kids' lives.
Just six kids, she'd said. Out of 196 people in this miserable place. You already said the fire is the node, not the people; you know we've got wiggle room. She'd been magnificent, shouting at him, three of the kids clustered round her legs, fearful and painfully aware that these three strangers were somehow deciding their fates.
No, he'd said. Not up for debate. We're leavin', they're stayin', he'd said, eyes as cold as glaciers. He'd turned his back and broken into a lope on his way to the little-used passage in which the TARDIS stood. Jack and Rose had looked at each other, angry and helpless. She'd bent down and kissed one girl's cheek, promised her that she'd straighten it out, then sprinted to catch up. And he'd followed.
Jack reached his own room, threw open the door and walked in, kicking the door closed behind him.
He'd followed the Doctor. He'd done the cowardly thing, and raced to safety with his friends, and he'd left those little ones, eyes like Grey and lives just as prematurely cursed. He hadn't even thought to bring them along, to dare the Doctor not to let them into the TARDIS.
Jack tensed when he heard the knock, then relaxed when he recognized it as Rose's. "Come in." The TARDIS knew when to unlock his door and when to keep it safely barred.
She entered, bringing her frustration and sorrow with her. She looked singularly unglamorous — face red and blotchy, eyes swollen, mascara a smear across her cheeks. He thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd seen all day. "Over here, darlin'."
She came without a moment's hesitation and he pulled her to his side and let her cry.
"'M so angry ... I know you can't save everyone, Jack. I know it," she said, her voice muffled by his shirt. "I'm not stupid. I learned after Dad. I know better.
"And that's the thing." Rose straightened and wiped her nose. "I understand a lot more about timelines than he thinks I do. I know the place had to burn, and a lot of people had to die, or the revolution wouldn't have happened and that ... that monster would still be in power.
"But taking six kids out before it went up in flames? No one would ever know they were gone. We could've found them some place t'grow u-u-up ...." She controlled what threatened to be another descent into tears, tightening her lips and scrubbing at her face until she regained her self-control. When she looked at him again, he was floored. Her eyes might be red rimmed and swollen, but they were as cold now as the Doctor's had been. "He can be an arrogant bastard, sometimes."
Jack's eyebrows hit his hairline. He'd never heard Rose speak of the Doctor like that. She'd been angry before, but this ... "It's because they were kids, isn't it?"
"Got it in one."
Funny, he thought, how, when she got angry, she sounded just a bit like the Doctor.
She grinned, but there was nothing but fury in her eyes. Sometimes, he thought with a little chill, she could look like him, too.
"And I'm gonna do something about it."
Jack felt like he was jumping off a cliff when he said, "No, darlin'. We. Us. We'll do it."
"Rose, honey ... Rose? Come on, sweetheart, breathe .... shit, come on, sweet—" He stopped talking, and pounded on her back until she coughed, a painful whoop that made him thank every god he'd ever pretended to believe in.
"Aaah ... Jack, you can stop that, I'm alright. But my hand —"
"Don't worry, we'll get you back—" He broke off and coughed himself. The smoke was thickest at floor level right now, but the rolling clouds were starting to rise. He was more worried about the smoke than he was about the flames, at least for now.
"I shouldn't have touched that door handle back down the last hall," she said almost conversationally. "I think the skin's comin' off. Do you have anything I can wrap it in? " Jack's realized that her calm response to the injury meant she was in shock. A quick look at her hand showed him why; those were second degree burns at the very least. On the other hand, Rose calm and shocky was better than Rose demanding they try to go back and rescue the kids.
This had been a debacle.
Things had started well, with a stroke of unexpected luck from his and Rose's point of view. Far from heading the TARDIS back into the Vortex, the Doctor had apparently gone off on a sulk of his own after his two companions had quarreled with him. Once they realized he wasn't in the console room, they'd checked the surveillance cameras and realized they were still in the palace, and still unnoticed.
It was easy enough to make their way up to the Imperial harem. The route they used was the one by which they'd found themselves in the concumbines' suites during the first visit, a stairwell built well before the current dynasty, and long-since supplanted for use by other approaches. In fact, it was well on its way to being forgotten, the way other empty rooms and apparently lost corridors were in this sprawling complex — the Doctor had called the entire palace "another Gormenghast" although neither Rose nor Jack knew what that meant.
When they'd reached the top floor, however, they'd found every previously-open entry locked or barred. They could hear shouts and cries from inside, and Rose had climbed onto some furniture to see over one of the service entry transoms. She'd quickly climbed down, her face white. The guards were questioning, and beating, some of the harem inhabitants over some apparently serious infraction. She'd told him she saw at least one young man holding his head, his face streaked with blood from blows he'd received. The children were nowhere to be seen.
They'd had no chance to figure out what it meant, beyond trouble for the people inside, because a small patrol of very large guards had come around a corner, seen them and given chase, blocking their way back to the stairwell.
Jack had grabbed Rose's hand and off they'd pelted, down one corridor and then another, getting themselves farther and farther into the upper palace's labyrinthine reaches, and ever farther from their exit. As fast as they were, the guards were gaining on them. Jack was simultaneously figuring out whether he could bluff the four into letting them go, and deciding how best to use the narrow corridor in a physical confrontation, when the walls rattled and the floor shifted with a grumbling roar that quickly drowned out every other sound before subsiding.
The guardsmen had stopped dead, stared at something beyond Jack and Rose in the corridor, then retreated, cursing and shouting. The two of them had turned and seen why. A column of smoke and flame was growing behind them, eating its greedy way up from the floor beneath them and licking the wood and paper walls in both directions with a frightening alacrity.
Rose had taken the lead then, trying to find their way back. She'd done well; her sense of direction was usually better than Jack's or the Doctor's. but when they turned the last corner, they'd run straight into another field of flames, twin to the one behind them and rendering the way ahead equally impassable. Jack's blood had run cold at the screams he heard coming from the smoky conflagration. He'd had to hold Rose back; she had wanted to brave the fire, to somehow get back to the seraglio and save someone, anyone.
Just when he thought he'd have to do something drastic to stop her, another explosion shook the floor. This time whatever exploded fed the flames in front of them, and Jack heard the sounds of glass and timbers collapsing.
That's when Rose's survival sense had kicked in. Through her tears, she had turned to the left and pointed to a small utility door, yelling at him to help her kick it in. "I saw a servant going in there! Before! Come on!"
It took the two of them precious seconds to force the door. By the time they'd ducked inside and Rose had pulled the door closed behind them, they could hear the flames were roaring down the corridor outside, and Jack was very glad of the wall's stone construction. The tiny passage in which they found themselves was less a hallway than an artificial tunnel, possibly left over from some earlier wave of bulding and used only by servants. They'd had to crouch to move along it, but had been making progress until the smoke overtook them. Rose had inhaled a cloud of it, and collapsed while trying to regain her breath. The minute it took Jack to get her back on her feet and pound the smoke out of her lungs had seemed endless.
Rose was still wheezing badly. If they got back to the TARDIS — when they got back to the TARDIS — he was going to get her to the medlab and make sure there wasn't any lasting damage down there. Of course, when the Doctor found out what had happened, what he'd let happen to Rose, Jack imagined he might well need medlab ministrations himself. If he was lucky. If he hadn't been chucked out the door to disperse into a cloud of Vortex potentialities.
"Jack, there's a room ... I can see a room at the end down there," Rose said, bringing him back to the present. "Maybe there's another way out from there. And the smoke is getting heavy again."
She was right. "Good girl."
The room was some sort of laundry collection point, with a chute the only other exit. When they heard the crackle and hiss behind them, they knew flames had eaten through the little door's wood and were chasing smoke down the corridor; Jack risked a look and saw their tongues flicking closer and closer.
She nodded. "You said it."
They looked at each other, checked the chute's dimensions and tried to see where it ended; they couldn't.
"I'll go first," Jack said. "No arguments."
She rolled her eyes. "Wasn't gonna argue."
It wasn't that far down, perhaps three stories, and the chute was built at a significant cant, so their progress wasn't as precipitous as it could have been. The second leg was fearfully hot, and Jack realized only after they'd hurtled down through the heat that they might have passed through the heart of the fire. As landings went, they'd had worse; they tumbled into a gigantic pile of dirty laundry, which meant no broken bones, and — more important in the short term — no twisted ankles.
"My hand's starting to hurt bad," Rose said with a tight smile.
Jack winced; he'd forgotten. "Let's see," he said, pulling his handkerchief from a pocket in his trousers. "No. Too small. " He pawed through the pile of dirty laundry and found a reasonably clean towel. "Here. Hold still, and I'll wrap it."
Once she was bandaged, she asked. "Do you think we're anywhere close to the TARDIS?"
"I think so, but I'd rather depend on you for directions" he told her. "Let's see where we are, alright?" He was reasonably sure there was enough stone here in the lower floors of the palace that they weren't going to get hit with the flashover that was even now devouring the upper levels, but he didn't want to risk running into more guards. He went to the door of the laundry room, opened it just wide enough to ascertain the coast was clear, then motioned to her.
In the distance, they could hear people shouting out orders, and, more faintly, cries and screams that they would have to ignore.
Rose, right behind him, touched his shoulder, then jerked her chin to the left. "I think we should go in this direction."
Jack didn't argue, and Rose's internal GPS proved true once more. They found the TARDIS without being intercepted by anyone.
"Look, Rose," Jack said, as they approached it. "Let me—"
"Let you what?"
Both of them jumped, as the Doctor opened the door and they got a look at his face. Jack's heart sank. The Oncoming Storm was about to break, and they were about to feel its fury.
"Is the lady back?"
Anything they might have wanted to say in their own defense died unsaid, as one little head poked out from behind the door, followed by two more. "Is the Captain? Are they coming in?"
The Doctor said nothing, just gestured Jack and Rose inside. They obeyed wordlessly, and were surrounded by a covey of children.
"What I can't understand is why the two of you thought I'd actually leave them there!"
"Oh, I don't know ... 'We're leaving, they're staying, no debate' seemed like a good clue."
"Didn't think to ask me why I said it when we came back. Oh, no, you just took off to sulk, instead. Apes ... typical."
"Oh, now we're back on apes. That's what's typical — you, decidin' things without tellin' us, then blamin' us when something goes wrong because you didn't tell us!"
"And you didn't come to us with any explanation once we were here. You knew where to find us."
"Now I'm supposed to run after you? I had better things to do — a spot of child retrieval, for one — than soothing the hurt feelin's of two humans who, apparently, forgot to use the brains they were born with!"
Jack, the Doctor and Rose glared at each other across the console room, deep into the middle round of what appeared to be turning into a first class donnybrook.
The children were sleeping in a room the TARDIS had provided, worn out from a combination of excitement, grief, and food. The blowup had been delayed by unspoken mutual agreement until the Doctor had sorted Rose's hands, and the last of the youngsters had been comforted and tucked in (Jack's insistence that the TARDIS also provide a nightlight had generated an opaque look from the Doctor, but no opposition).
Delayed, but not stopped. As Jack had feared, the storm broke fast and furious; the Doctor rounded on them with a vengeance the minute they were out of the children's earshot. Rose and he initially endured the Time Lord's wrath — a particularly unhappy blend of lecture and sarcastic asides, coupled with loud self-admonishments about the stupidity of traveling with humans — in silence, but that hadn't lasted long, not with Rose's temper easily equal to the Doctor's.
Once the two of them were fully engaged, Jack had tried to stay out of it. It proved impossible. His own temper slipped its tight leash when the Doctor suddenly looked at him and said, "I blame you, Captain. I thought you were more responsible. Lettin' Rose go off on an empty-headed jaunt — no, worse, joinin' her —"
He wasn't allowed to finish the sentence.
"Hold on one damn minute —"
"You sayin' he's supposed to be my keeper?"
"—would think you thought more of Rose than that —"
"— case you hadn't heard, suffragettes gave me the vote —"
"— and she got us out of the fire and back to the TARDIS, not me —"
"— you've got a problem, you take it up with me, not Jack!"
The two of them now stood shoulder to shoulder, barely a foot away from their opponent; Rose quivering with indignation and Jack steaming beside her.
The Doctor's mouth hung open for the briefest of moments; it was obvious he'd not expected his own umbrage to spark so coordinated a response. When he realized he was gawping, he shut it, then started to say something, only to think better of it, and try a second time, before retreating again into silence.
His efforts to respond turned The Oncoming Storm into a landed carp. It also turned the donnybrook into a damp squib.
Rose and Jack looked at each other, back at the Time Lord, and fell about the place.
"Oh, my god, you should see your face!" Rose managed to gasp out as she made her way to the jump seat and recommenced giggling.
"Doc, I wish I had a camera ... "
The Doctor looked from one to the other, trying to maintain some gravitas. He failed miserably. The first unwilling quirk of his lips broadened into a rueful grin.
With that, the quarrel ended and the real communication began.
"Here's the thing," the Doctor said, smile still on his face, but eyes serious. "I know both of you are capable of takin' care of yourselves. Both of you." He looked at Rose. "Don't know what it sounded like to the two of you, but it wasn't like I thought Jack had to babysit you, Rose; I've seen you in action. And you, Captain?" He grimaced, then smiled again. "Apart from the odd nanogene accident, you've proved yourself half a dozen times over since you came on board."
He stopped for a minute, considering his next words. "But you two ... you go off half-cocked sometimes."
Jack raised an eyebrow, Rose regained her mutinous look, and the Time Lord quickly held up both hands. "So do I. But I've had 900 years of experience to fall back on when I make a stupid mistake. And even then I've mucked things up more than you can possibly imagine."
He came around and leaned on the rail above Rose. "I've learned that I do best when someone's beside me, tellin' me to slow down, to think, to ask questions."
Jack wasn't sure what to make of that, nor of his next reluctant words. "Learned something else, lately. I do even better when I've got the two of you beside me. The three of us, we're a ... we work well together. We balance." A look of happy bewilderment slid across the Time Lord's face and was gone before Jack could be sure it was there.
"You're the brains, then? I'm the brawn, and Rose is the heart? Sounds good to me," Jack ventured, making sure that his smile was casual, that there was no shade of hurt in his voice at being assigned that role.
"Nope. Not what I mean at all, Jack," the Doctor said with a flash of irritation. "Here ... shove over." The last was directed at Rose, who made just enough room on the jump seat for him to perch on its edge like a stork balancing on the lip of a chimney.
"A team isn't a collection of one trick ponies, y'know. All of us have been the brains of the outfit at least once or twice - yes, even you, Captain. And seein' as how every one of us has had to climb walls, break down doors, run like hell, an' help each other up from the occasional mine shaft, think we're all entitled to boast about our brawn."
"As for heart?" He stopped, and Jack understood the look he darted at Rose. He'd looked at her that way, himself. He didn't dare allow himself to figure out the way the Doctor was looking at him. "Not only have you two got heart in spades, I've got two of 'em!" He grinned that daft grin as he said it; neither of his companions could resist smiling back.
He grew serious again. "We all make mistakes, too. But you make mistakes, Jack, we're there to stop you. When I make mistakes, I can count on you two to bring me up short, right?" Jack and Rose nodded.
"Jack, tonight you should taken that role with Rose. You should have told her it was smarter to come pick a fight with me, to ask about the situation, than to mount some hare-brained rescue mission on your own. Especially once you saw we weren't in the Vortex, and that I wasn't in the console room. You should have asked yourself why. That's the military thinking I expect from you, Captain."
"Doctor, it wasn't his fault," Rose said. She was looking increasingly stricken as the Doctor's message hit home. "It was mine."
"Oh, no mistakin' that," the Doctor agreed. "And I know why. Too much heart an' not enough forethought can cause problems. But Jack should have seen that, and he should have told you to slow down."
Then, clearly hating to have to say it, the Time Lord added, "Me, I should have told you what the plan was when we were still at the palace. It's just ...I couldn't risk lettin' anyone there know I'd bribed the seraglio's major-domo to sell me the children, because I'd no way of knowing if there were informers listenin'. They had to think that the crazy alien gatecrashers just wanted to leave, otherwise the guards would have been on us faster than we could reach the TARDIS. We wouldn't have had time to get out of custody and get back to the seraglio for the kids before the fire started.
"Still, s'pose I could have let you know on the way back." He grimaced. "By the time we got to the control room, though, you two were well an' truly on the warpath, so I thought that was right out."
"Yeah," Rose said, embarrassment written all across her face. "I waltzed off like ... like a kid myself." She seemed to shrink in a little on herself, until the Doctor reached round her with a leather-clad arm and gave her a quick squeeze. "We survived, didn't we? I'm just glad you were able to get you and Jack out of trouble as easily as you got yourselves into trouble."
She smiled faintly, then frowned just as faintly. "I'm still puzzled by one thing, Doctor. Couldn't we have taken the children with us when we left the first time? Wouldn't that have solved everything?"
"They mightn't have left voluntarily, even though they liked us. Seraglio's the only thing they knew. And some were old enough to have heard rumors of what happened to concubines' kids who foul up succession lines, " the Doctor answered. "They were forcibly taken away for their 'sale' to me." He radiated disgust as he said it.
With that, something in Jack's head made a soundless pop. He could have slapped himself. "That's why you yelled at us back there," he said. "You weren't angry at us, you hated the deal you had to make."
"I hated everything about it, Captain. What, you thought I was mad at you? Not then." He abruptly glowered at both them, "When I got back here with six confused and frightened children and no one to help me deal with them — then I was mad at you."
Jack ran his hands through his hair. "I feel like a prat," he said.
"Think you have one already, or haven't you looked in the mirror?" His lopsided grin made the Doctor's jape at his expense bearable.
"Here's another one," Rose said, relief evident in her happy smile. "'S a good thing you suffer fools gladly."
"Only the two foolish enough to travel with me," he replied, while he jumped up and made his way to his usual spot at the console. "And that's the end of that, alright? We've got half a dozen kids to find homes for, and time's a-wastin'."
"You said it," Jack agreed, happier, perhaps, than he had a right to be. A team, huh? Perhaps it was worth the sturm und drang to hear the Time Lord admit that that's what they were. "So. Where to now, oh rescuer of children, and wisest of team members?"
Before the Doctor could respond, however, a little voice piped up from behind the three of them.
"Lily's gone to the bathroom in her bed," the pajama'd little girl standing at the hall door announced solemnly, her eyes glued to the Doctor. "Come and change her, please."
The nonplussed silence all three adults presented her apparently didn't go over well. "Now!" she said, knitting her brows perilously and extending a regal little index finger.
"Me?" The Doctor managed to look simultaneously outraged, and like a deer caught in headlights.
Which, he had ample time to realize over the next two days of nappy duty, was not his best tactical move.