"Have you seen Jack, Sweetie?" River asked as she entered the regrown TARDIS library. The Doctor grunted absent-mindedly at her and she sighed and walked to him. "Sweetie," she said with barely-concealed exasperation, leaning over him, "have you seen Jack?"
The Doctor looked up from the... contraption... he was fiddling with and sighed. "Don't know where Jack is, why?" He took a closer look at her face. "Are you alright, River? Did Jack do anything to upset you? If he did, I'll... I'll... well, I don't know what I'll do! But it will be unpleasant. For Jack, that is, not for you, because you didn't do anything wrong. Er... did you?"
Her expression lightened as he chattered, and she smiled at him. "I did not do anything wrong, Sweetie. And neither did Jack."
"Mmm... did I?"
She laughed. "Not unless you count the chronic difficulty involved in getting your attention, dear. I'm just fretting about him. Jack. He's... he's acting like he did when we first picked him up, that kind of shell-shocked moodiness, and now he's just nowhere to be found..." she trailed off, and he hid a smile. He was so proud of her accepting another person into her tiny inner circle of close friends, because it wasn't easy for her to... to allow herself to be vulnerable like that. Not after what she'd been through, what they'd done to her, what he'd done to her, what the universe had done to her. He stood and embraced her, breathing in the scent of her hair.
"Have I told you recently how very perfectly Riversongy you are?" He smiled into her hair and shivered as she began to nuzzle at his throat
"Why, no, my love, you haven't, not for a few hours at least. Slacker. Mmmm..." she trailed off as he returned her caress, running tiny kisses down the line of her jaw to her mouth. She parted her lips to let him in, and then it was all little breathy sighs and murmurs and moans as they loved each other.
"We should ask the Old Girl where Jack is," said River, hours later as she snapped her trousers and settled the modified blaster her husband had gifted her in its holster around her hips. "I don't know why didn't think of it before." She shook her head. "I really am worried about him, my love." The Doctor smiled at her and took her hand, almost dragging her from the library, narrowly missing dumping her into the pool on the way by. They entered the console room, and he swung into the jump seat, pulling her into his lap.
"Voice Interface, come on. No emergency," he said, and the V.I. hologram of Idris appeared between them and the console. The Doctor's face lit up - he loved Idris - and he bounced in the chair, nearly dislodging River. "Hello, Idris," he said, almost shyly, "how are you today?"
"Voice Interface enabled," responded the hologram, "there is no 'today' in the TARDIS. The TARDIS is irrelevant to space-time." River rolled her eyes. She loved the TARDIS. Idris. Sexy Thing, Old Girl, whatever her name was, but she was if anything even more difficult to get a straight answer from than the Doctor was. Even on one of his bad days.
"Let me, my love," she said to the Doctor, "and then you and Idris can chat while I track Jack down, okay?" She stood up and turned to the V.I. "Can you tell me where to find Jack Harkness?"
"Yes," said the hologram.
River waited a beat and then sighed. It was going to be one of those conversations. She'd have to cut to the chase. "Where is Jack Harkness?"
"Captain Harkness is in Gymnasium Three," said Idris, startling River. She hadn't thought anyone went into Gym 3 but herself; it was where the TARDIS had set up a holographic arena for sparring and exercise; sometimes she needed to blow off a little steam.
"Thank you, Idris. Now, you have a little chat with our husband while I go find Jack."
"Captain Harkness is in Gymnasium Three," said the hologram, and then she turned slightly to look at the Doctor. "Goodbye, my beautiful idiot."
He beamed. "Hello, you sexy thing..." he said, and River shook her head fondly as she left the console room.
Oh, Jack, she thought as she slipped through the door of Gym 3, what have you done to yourself? She watched as he fought the virtual Cybermen and Daleks bare-handed on the narrow holographic footbridge spanning what looked like a stream in the English countryside in the middle of the room. It was heart-wrenching to watch as he was swarmed under again and again; he'd obviously taken the safeties off all the sparring protocols, knowing that he couldn't die, not permanently. Finally, when he came back to life, gasping on his hands and knees, for the fifth time since she'd entered the room, she silently instructed the gym's computer to stop the program.
The Daleks and the Cybermen and the river and the countryside vanished, and Jack just... didn't get up; he crouched where the virtual bridge had been, gulping in air, and presently River realised that what she had thought were gasps were actually wrenching sobs wracking his body. She found herself on her knees on the mat beside him, arms around him, rocking him like a child as he cried.
When he eventually shuddered to a stop, he wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve and sat back on his heels. He didn't - maybe couldn't - meet River's eyes. "Thanks," he said finally, as casually as if she had handed him a spanner, and then he winced as he heard himself.
She smiled at him. "Any time," she said, "can I help with anything else?"
He shook his head. "You couldn't possibly understand," he said shortly, and got to his feet. "See you." And he left the room.
River sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, not knowing whether to feel rejected, or just worried, because this was definitely not normal behavior for Jack. She sighed and called up the program he had been using as she pulled her modified blaster from its holster. She turned the safeties back on; she didn't have Jack's resurrective advantage. "Come on, boys," she purred at the virtual aliens at either end of the holographic bridge "Show me what you've got."
Dammit, thought Jack, I didn't mean for her to see that. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He was afraid he'd hurt her feelings but he couldn't really bring himself to care, and that just made him feel worse, because what kind of a person was he, not to care when he'd hurt someone? Mrs. Doctor River Song was one of his favourite people, and if what the Doctor had told him was accurate, she'd go through plenty of the crap the universe had to give later on in her own timeline. And he'd gone and callously brushed her off when she was only trying to help.
Jack was pretty honest with himself; he knew that he wasn't above callous behaviour when it was warranted, but River hadn't done anything to deserve that reaction from him, and it hadn't been an emergency where he'd had to treat her that way, either. He shied away from that thought; he'd had enough of that kind of emergency back on Earth, and he didn't want to think about it. So he switched mental gears; best to apologize to River right away, whether he felt it or not, to keep the peace. He turned on his heel and headed back to Gymnasium Three.
"Right," said the Doctor to his other wife, "I should find River and Jack. Know where they are?" She always answered him properly when in this holographic form, his lovely Idris, no matter how vaguely his questions were stated. But she's amused by frustrating anyone else who asks.
"River Song is in Gymnasium Three. Captain Harkness is standing in the corridor outside Gymnasium Three." The V.I. smiled at him. "Hello, my thief," she said, and disappeared. A shower of sparks erupted from under the console and the Doctor dived under it to see what had happened.
Jack leaned against the door frame of Gymnasium Three and watched River fight against the aliens on the little footbridge. She's magnificent, he thought, she makes fighting look like a dance, so graceful. She even managed to stay on the virtual footbridge while spinning in circles and taking the aliens out with her blaster, and she was using his program, the one he'd made to challenge him with that tiny bridge in the park in Cardiff. Staying upright on that scrap of wood was no small feat; he'd "fallen" off it more than once himself. The aliens she was fighting were humanoid, tall and thin, with large rounded bald heads and pointed chins and round mouths and too few, too long, fingers for human comfort.
Even for Jack's comfort, and that was going some; Jack didn't usually worry overmuch about what people looked like; they were people and therefore interesting (and usually sexy). But these guys - these guys gave Jack a terrified and atavistic shiver down to his core, and he couldn't even remember ever having seen them before. He shuddered and the small movement caught River's attention. "Hold," she said, and the aliens froze in place. She turned toward him, outwardly cool, but Jack thought that he saw something wary about her eyes. Shit, he thought, I did hurt her after all. "Nice program, Jack," she said simply, "I hope you don't mind that I used it." He inferred from her tone that she didn't care one way or the other if he minded, but she would go through the motions of being polite. Jack winced.
"I'm thrilled that you like it," he said, flashing her a smile, which seemed to leave her unmoved, "but I came back to apologize for... well, for being an ass. You were only trying to help. Can we be friends?" He stuck his hand out for her to shake.
River took it, and then hauled him in for a hug. "I thought we already were," she said, and let him go. She sat down on what looked like a park bench but was probably a pile of gym mats, and held out one hand to him, patting the bench invitingly with the other. He sat and she took both his hands in hers. He relaxed. "Now," she said, "d'you want to talk about it? I promise I understand more than you think I do." She smiled at him.
"I... " Jack started, and choked on the words. "River, I don't think you can understand. I've been the cause of terrible things - deadly things - happening to people I loved." He had tears in his eyes now, and his speech was barely audible. "Ianto, and Gray and Owen and Tosh and Ste..." His voice failed him entirely, and River made a sympathetic noise low in her throat and put her arms around him. He took a deep breath and tried again, his words muffled by her hair. "I loved them, and I was responsible for their deaths. How could you possibly understand?"
River shifted to look at him, her own eyes full of tears, but her voice rock-steady. "Jack, you are only responsible for one of those deaths - Steven's - and you were forced into that." She smiled a little at the shocked look on his face as he registered that she knew all about the 456 and Gray and the aftermath that had so destroyed him. "Jack, I'm an archaeologist; and these things have long since been declassified. And..." she gave a little sigh, "I've been both the sacrifice and the one forced to sacrifice someone I love. One day I was both at once. So you see that I do understand."
"She does," said the Doctor's voice from the doorway behind them. "Although she didn't at the time, not until..." he looked carefully at Jack's face and decided now wasn't the time to point out that when he had been the one River had sacrificed, he'd finagled it so he'd lived. "Oh, never mind the details, the point is she didn't realise what was going on at the time any more than you did; she felt that everything was her fault, even though the choice was taken away from her. You had no choice, Jack; you're too good a person to sacrifice a whole world for one child, no matter how important that child is to you." Jack was weeping openly now, and River and the Doctor sat on either side of him and together they held him until the sobs subsided and his even breathing showed that he had fallen asleep.
"Hi," said Jack quietly, coming up behind River and laying a hand on her shoulder. "Where's the Doctor?"
"Fiddling with Sexy's controls," River said, "she's been throwing off some sparks. I think she was trying to distract him so you and I could... build our bridges on our own."
"I almost burned them," Jack said guiltily, "and that would have been a shame. I've done that before, you know, burned my bridges. I'm too old for that now." His expression lightened and he leered at her in a friendly fashion. "Besides, well... a man gets to be a couple of millennia old, he wants his friends on his side of the bridge... where he can keep an eye on them." His gaze raked her up and down, and he obviously enjoyed what he saw. She laughed and bid him good night, turned to leave the room, but his voice called her back.
"River? Thanks for helping me build that bridge. Couldn't have done it without you."