A/N: Written for an anon's prompt on tumblr. Set after Last of the Time Lords, before Jack and Martha leave.
but he who dares not grasp the thorn
After grabbing a bite to eat, he leaves Martha and the Doctor in the galley, and makes his way through the TARDIS corridors. He's got this sudden compulsion to explore, to see if his room is still there – if her room is still there.
A year on board the Valiant being tortured to death hundreds of times over means he's had a lot of time to think about his past, particularly the months he'd spent with the Time Lord and – and Rose.
Even though meeting up with the Doctor again caused him a lot of pain, he's glad that he did. He's glad that he knows Rose is okay – alive and well in a parallel universe. But that conversation with the Doctor way back, before the Master revealed himself, has been the only opportunity they've had to talk about her. He's not even sure the Doctor would want to reminisce. He'd probably dismiss it as something too human. Jack knows that too human is just a synonym for too painful. So he won't bring her up again, won't try to make the Doctor tell him what happened, won't ask him all the questions he so wants to ask.
Finding her room answers some of those questions anyway, it turns out.
He holds his breath as he turns the handle and steps inside, then lets it out slowly and shakily as he takes in the mess. Hell, it looks the same as ever. Clothes on the floor, bedside tables cluttered with souvenirs and books, her duvet rumpled and hanging off the bed. Looks like she's just popped out for some milk and will be coming back any minute.
He wonders if it's the Doctor or the TARDIS who preserves her room so well. Must be the TARDIS, he thinks, as there's no trace of dust or anything, and they've been away from the TARDIS for a while.
He doesn't know what he expected; something in him didn't really believe that his friend would've tidied or boxed up all her stuff after she left. Then again, he hadn't been sure whether the room, let alone all her stuff, would still be here or not; the TARDIS is able to delete rooms, after all, and the Doctor is one to run away from the past.
But no, it's still here, and it's still the same, and as Jack sits on the chair by Rose's dressing table he drops his head into his hands. It isn't fair. She's not dead, so he should be happy, but he'll still never see her again, and that hurts. He wonders if she knows what she did to him that day on the Gamestation. If she does, he wonders if she knows he forgives her, doesn't blame her, still loves her.
When Jack envisioned finding the Doctor, for years he'd assumed Rose would still be with him, what with their frequent trips back to 21st century Earth to visit her mum. But then he'd seen the list of the dead. Something in him hoped it was wrong, but he'd mourned her all the same. It seems odd, now, to be surrounded by her stuff, in this room, knowing that she's alive but never, ever going to return.
After a few minutes, Jack stands up, meaning to leave. But then he realises that there's an extra door next to her ensuite that hadn't been there back in the old days. He chuckles lightly, because he remembers her trying to persuade the TARDIS to move the wardrobe room closer to her bedroom. The old girl doubtlessly gave in. She'd always had a soft spot for Rose.
As he nears the door, however, it opens from the other side, and the Doctor steps in. They simply look at each other for a few seconds, startled by one another's presence. Then Jack looks over his friend's shoulder, and his eyes widen.
The Doctor tugs on his ear awkwardly. "Uh, hello Jack."
"You have an adjoining door," Jack says, his lips twitching. "To your – is that your -?"
"Well, yes. It was just – easier. It wasn't – it wasn't for – It was just, um," the Doctor stumbles over his words, evidently flustered.
"Did you two finally - ?"
Jack raises his eyebrows. "Little quick on the denial, there, Doc."
"I mean, we – it's complicated."
The Doctor sighs and averts his eyes from Jack. "I don't really want to talk about it."
"I kinda figured that," Jack says, rolling his eyes. "Look, you don't have to. I was just about to go, anyway." He makes for the door to the corridor.
The Doctor's words still him immediately. "Yeah?"
"I haven't really spoken about," he starts, before swallowing hard, "About her, not to anyone who knew her. Well, I visited Sarah when it happened, but since then…I couldn't bear to talk to any of her friends, or…" He closes his eyes. "I think maybe I'd like to, just for a bit. If that's – do you want to?" He opens his eyes again and regards Jack with a hopeful look.
"Yeah, I do," Jack answers honestly. "But – and I don't often say this - I think we need beer."
Five minutes later, Jack and the Doctor sit themselves down on the library sofas with a few bottles of beer between them. "Where do you want to start?" Jack asks, taking a sip of his drink.
The Doctor leans his head against the back of the sofa, staring up at the ceiling for a moment or two. "I don't know," he replies eventually.
"Okay. I'll start, then," says Jack. "Did you get to say goodbye?"
"Yeah. Briefly." He turns his head towards Jack and murmurs, "She told me she loved me."
"Well, we all knew that," Jack grins, clinking the neck of his bottle against the Doctor's.
"It was the first time she'd said it," continues the Doctor. "And I didn't - "
Jack frowns. "You didn't say it back?"
"Ran out of time."
"Jesus. I'm sorry, Doc."
"She knows, though."
"And there's nothing you can do to bring her back? Or even get a message to her?"
"Nope and no. Tried everything, those first few weeks. But it's impossible. She's stuck there. Tell you what, though, I never thought I'd spend a whole year being glad of that." He lets out a long breath. "He would've killed her."
"You really think so?"
Jack silently agrees. The Master probably would've made the Doctor watch.
They sit quietly for a few minutes, neither feeling up to continuing the conversation down that route. Then, abruptly, the Doctor blurts out, "I want her back, Jack."
"She – I was so - " He struggles to voice it, but Jack understands.
"I know, Doctor. I know how much you must miss her. At least she's with her family."
"So," Jack begins slowly, "This connecting door of yours…"
The Doctor huffs. "It's none of your -"
"Come on, Doc, throw me a bone. For centuries I've been wondering if you two ever saw sense and just got together already."
Heaving a sigh, the Doctor tells him, "Things were…different, yes. But only – it was new. We hadn't even really talked about it, we'd just gradually – well, got closer. And then she – we were happy, and then she was gone."
"You still keep her room exactly the way it was when she left."
"Do you go in there, much?"
"No. Occasionally. There's – it's – memories, you know. Her photos and stuff, I look at them sometimes."
"It must be hard for her, having to leave all her stuff behind."
"Will you ever…"
"You know. Lock it away? To move on, I mean, you gotta - "
"It's staying where it is."
"But if she's never - "
"It's staying where it is," the Doctor repeats firmly.
"Right, yeah," Jack nods. "How much does Martha know?"
"Oh. Not much. Just that we were together and now she's gone."
"Do you have someone, Jack?"
Jack is startled by the question. "What?"
"Back in Cardiff, waiting for you? You said earlier on that you wouldn't stay, that you've got things to do."
"Oh. Yeah, I…there's…"
"Yes?" the Doctor prompts.
"The team, you know. Responsibilities. But…I need to…there's Ianto, I need to ask him – we were, uh," Jack says. "Undefined, before I left. I need to check – to ask - "
The Doctor smiles gently. "If you've learnt anything from me, from my mistakes, learn not to waste time."
Jack nods. "Yeah." They sip at their beers for a few minutes in silence. "Doc?"
"Will you…will you ring me, if you do find a way to see her again?"
"Jack, I've told you, it's impossible."
"I know, I know, but…just in case. Ring me if that changes, yeah? I'd like to see her again."
"She doesn't know what she did to you," the Doctor admits in a quiet voice. "I didn't tell her. I didn't want her feeling guilty about it for the rest of her life."
"Oh." Jack swallows thickly. "Well, I hope she still thinks of me."
"Of course she does. You're her Captain," the Doctor smiles sadly.
Jack feels a sudden rush of affection for both of them. "It made me better, travelling in the TARDIS. Made me a better man. I loved you two so much. I only ever wanted you to be happy together. When you left me there, on the Gamestation, I…I admit, I was angry at you. Never her. I could never hate her."
"I know. I don't blame you."
They share a smile, then Jack stands up. "I think I need to go and see Ia-the team, now."
The Doctor nods, and gets to his feet. "I'll go and fetch Martha. She'll want to say goodbye."
"You've got a good one, there, Doctor. Martha's – she's a star."
"Yeah," the Doctor smiles, "She is."