A Wound in Time
Take one uneasy threesome, two inexplicably deserted ships, one immortal's mysterious past, and a rip in space and time. Shake well and step back quickly.
Antennapedia, and Kivrin
Notes: This was not an easy story to write, and it would never have happened at all if not for my betas. Thank you to Kivrin and Fuzzyboo for cheerleading and line editing and letting me ramble at them for six solid months. Thank you to Antennapedia for 5k of commentary, helping me see the forest for the trees, and forcing me kill my darlings. The story is a thousand times better because of them; any mistakes are, of course, my own.
It was after his death on Argot Station that Jack realized how wrong he'd been.
The death was an ugly one. Getting shot in the stomach was never a good way to go, and Jack knew he was unlikely to enjoy the aftermath either. He had the tendency to wake up as soon as his body was able to sustain consciousness, but before everything was back in its proper place. Getting shot in the head meant one hell of a migraine. Getting shot in the belly - with bullets that extruded nasty little blades, no less - meant several hours of extreme unpleasantness while his intestines squirmed themselves back into position.
Jack didn't think about that much at the time. He wasn't thinking about much at all beyond the pain, until he coughed and then he was thinking about the blood in his mouth and throat, choking him.
"Jack!" River was there, filling his field of vision. Jack turned his head, squinting to see if the guards who had shot him were still there or if they'd gone. "Jack, stay with me -"
"G' be okay," Jack managed. She'd only been with him and the Doctor a few months and she'd never seen him die. She knew he'd wake up again, they'd told her that right away, but she seemed to have forgotten. She was trying to staunch the bleeding with her bare hands.
Jack appreciated the effort, but it wasn't going to help. He coughed again. Knives of pain split apart his stomach and his mouth filled with blood. He gagged on it, unable to breathe. He tried to tell her again that it'd be okay, the Doctor would come for them soon, but all that came out was a desperate gargling noise. River's hands were covered in Jack's blood, and Jack was -
He woke up in the TARDIS medbay. The bright lights made his head ache, so he closed his eyes, listened to the comforting thrum and hum of the ship, and waited for the Doctor to notice he was awake. He'd obviously missed out on the rest of their misadventure, but he couldn't feel too sorry about it. It was just as unpleasant as he remembered, feeling his insides slip around.
Eventually the disorientation eased enough for Jack to sense that something was off. He blinked his eyes open, half-afraid he'd mistaken his location, but he hadn't. It was the TARDIS, only . . . no Doctor.
That was strange. The two of them had what almost amounted to a ritual for the aftermath of these adventures, the bad ones where Jack died. The Doctor took it hard, and after a few hundred years of playing fast and loose with his own skin, Jack had learned to avoid it if he could. Since rejoining the Doctor a couple decades earlier, he'd only died a few dozen times. But the hours after each of those times were etched into Jack's memory as some of the sweetest, most intimate moments of his long life.
Nothing could take away the pain of dying. But waking up warm and clean on the TARDIS to an extremely solicitous Doctor went some ways towards offsetting it. Jack was always freezing when he woke, his core temperature having dropped while he was dead. The Doctor didn't give off much body heat, but he'd tuck a self-heating blanket around Jack and crawl in beside him, wrapping him up in those wonderfully long, lanky limbs. Jack would fall asleep in his arms, and when he woke again they usually made love before taking the TARDIS to London for fish and chips.
For Jack to wake up without the Doctor waiting for him was very strange and a little alarming. More alarming was that he still wore the same blood-soaked shirt and trousers he'd died in. A blanket had been tossed over him, a bit haphazardly. Jack sat up and frowned at the empty medbay.
His initial fear, that something had happened to the Doctor, passed quickly enough. They were in the Vortex; River couldn't fly the TARDIS on her own, and the TARDIS's hum was normal, not the higher pitched frequency that meant she was frightened or upset. What would - oh. Oh hell. River.
Jack had tried to take as much of the guards' ire as possible onto himself. Obviously he'd succeeded. Too well, in fact. Dead, he'd provided no protection. Who knew what they'd done to her once he was gone?
Jack threw off the blanket and went pelting out of the medbay. Or tried to; he stumbled immediately, a wave of dizziness and nausea crashing over him. Gagging, he lurched for the sink, where he vomited blood. It was just leftover from the internal bleeding before he'd died, but it was exhausting and painful, and his hands shook as he rinsed out his mouth. He leaned heavily on the sink and closed his eyes, imagining a strong arm sliding around his waist to hold him up and help him back to bed.
After a minute, Jack opened his eyes and started making his slow, wobbly way out of the medlab and down the hall to the room the Doctor and River had shared nightly for weeks now.
The door was ajar. Jack heard the Doctor murmuring in a low voice and stepped through to see the two of them curled up in the bed. River was dressed in pajamas and cradled in the Doctor's arms, eyes closed. She had a bandage taped across her forehead, a spot of bright red blood showing through. The Doctor kissed her temple and nuzzled her neck, and she sighed.
The Doctor looked up. "Oh good, you're awake."
River's eyes opened to half-mast. "Jack," she said groggily.
"Hey, River," Jack said. "You all right?"
She nodded, then winced. "Mostly. How 'bout you? You," she interrupted herself with a yawn, "sorry. You look like hell."
Jack smiled wryly and leaned against the wall, attempting to look nonchalant and not as though he were about to fall over. "Thanks. I'm a bit sore and queasy, but I'll be okay." He was more than a bit sore and queasy, but he didn't want her sympathy. The Doctor, on the other hand, if he bothered asking . . .
He didn't. An awkward silence fell. River dozed; the Doctor seemed entirely preoccupied with watching her.
At last Jack cleared his throat. "Is she really okay?"
The Doctor looked up, wide-eyed as though he'd forgotten Jack was there. He nodded, but his mouth visibly tightened. "She had a nasty time of it. I treated her for shock, gave her something to help her sleep."
"But they didn't," Jack hesitated, "they didn't hurt her, did they?"
The Doctor frowned. "Her wrist is sprained and she has a lot of bruising. Mild concussion. I fixed what I could, and the rest will just take time. But anything more severe . . . no."
Jack exhaled in relief. It could have so easily been so much worse for her. All the same, this display of naked affection from the Doctor was weird. They'd had a bad day, but River could handle herself. It didn't really tell him why the Doctor had left him alone in the medlab.
And it didn't tell him why the invitation to get his ass into bed didn't seem to be forthcoming.
"I . . ." Jack began, then stopped. He'd woken up feeling as though he'd been slugged in the stomach and it was only getting worse. "I should shower," he said at last, lamely.
The Doctor nodded. "Get some sleep, all right? We'll do fish and chips once you're both up and about."
Jack suddenly felt very unsteady on his feet. "Right," he managed, and ducked out of the room, praying the Doctor hadn't seen his face. He didn't think he'd covered very well for how he really felt: shocked, shaken . . . abandoned. Jack didn't do jealousy, but it was hard not to feel cast aside when the Doctor hadn't even asked if he was all right.
River was mortal, Jack tried to remind himself as he stumbled down the hall to his own room. He'd probably been horribly frightened for her. He knew Jack would be okay.
Somehow, that didn't make him feel much better. He'd died, dammit, and the Doctor was the one who kept insisting he shouldn't just risk his life willy-nilly, that death was significant even if it wasn't permanent. Jack had been a bit bewildered at first, especially considering the Doctor's old attitude toward his immortality, but lately he'd started to believe him. The way the Doctor treated him each time he died . . . Jack had started to believe his life might really be a gift.
He was still reeling when he made it into the shower. He needed five minutes under the hottest spray he could stand to stop shaking, and then his stomach rolled again and he doubled over, heaving blood all over the tile. He leaned against the wall, willing a familiar hand to draw back the curtain and turn off the water.
It took him ten minutes to make it out of the shower. He fell into bed still damp and rolled himself up in the duvet, angrier now than he had been. When he woke up, Jack decided, all three of them were going to have a very serious discussion about the relationship configuration on this ship.
But when Jack woke it was to both of them crawling into bed with him. The Doctor kissed him, while River sprawled out and watched avidly. Up close, Jack could see that the Doctor had been right about the bruises - most of them were already faded to yellow and green, but there was one along her jaw that was still dark.
It was hard to be angry after that. Generally speaking, Jack preferred sex to a spoken apology. He let it go.
Things settled back into their usual pattern - planetfalls, playing galactic tourist, running for their lives, and having fantastic sex when everything was said and done. If there was a whisper of unease in Jack's mind, if it seemed that he and River had even less to say to each other on the rare occasions they found themselves alone . . . well, that wasn't so different from how it had always been.
Everything was fine, he told himself, and it wasn't even much of a lie until they stopped moving for a few days. The mauve signal indicator on the console started acting up, flickering on and off in strange patterns, and the Doctor parked them in the vortex for repairs. The Doctor spent hours under the console, muttering to himself and the TARDIS in Gallifreyan, River curled up in the library with materials for the exams she'd take when she eventually returned home, and Jack wandered the corridors, unsure why he found himself avoiding both of them.
But it wasn't until he found himself fully sheathed inside the Doctor and yet so desperately lonely it made his chest ache, that he realized how badly wrong things had gone.
He gritted his teeth and thrust hard, trying to hurt the Doctor a little, or at least get his attention. He wanted the Doctor to groan his name, reach for his hand, turn his head for a kiss - anything at all. Instead, the Doctor slid forward, deeper into River, who moaned and arched her back. The Doctor buried his face in River's hair and mumbled something Jack couldn't make out.
Jack's throat tightened. For the first time in his life, he just wanted to come and be done with it. The Doctor and River had more than proven they were capable of taking care of each other, no help from Jack required. If he could just get off, he could roll away and let them finish and neither of them would care when he went off to shower and didn't come back.
Except getting off was easier said than done. None of this was working at all for him anymore, and ninety percent of Jack's fantasies involved the Doctor. Realizing once and for all that that would never, ever be mutual felt an awful lot like being hit mid-coitus with a bucket of cold water. Even if it was a bucket he'd seen coming for weeks now.
In the end, Jack was saved having to dredge up an old fantasy or piece together a new one. While he was still trying to muster the energy, the Doctor stiffened, gasped, and came. Muscles clamped and locked around Jack's cock, and Jack's orgasm ripped through him. It left him slumped, panting, over the Doctor's back, and a little more inclined to magnanimity. There were innocent explanations for everything that'd happened so far, most of which boiled down to the Doctor being an inconsiderate jackass. Jack wanted to believe the Doctor was just blinded by the newness of his relationship with River. All it would have taken to convince him was a gesture on the Doctor's part. Not a grand one even. Just a little one.
But the gesture didn't come. Instead, Jack watched as the Doctor and River petted and caressed and nuzzled each other, both of them clearly having forgotten he was there at all. It was so fucking unfair, he thought, unable to help himself. All the affection he'd had to win from the Doctor, which he'd only just won a century or two ago, was hers for the taking. He hadn't had to be coaxed or cajoled. River had never had to prove her worth or earn her place on the TARDIS. From the moment she'd stepped on board, it had been a given.
That should have told him, Jack thought bitterly. He had clearly made a terrible mistake in assuming there was room for three on this TARDIS, just because there had been once before, with Rose. They all three of them had to want it, and none of them really did.
Well, fuck that.
Anger carried Jack off the bed, out of the room, and down the hall, but it didn't last. It ran out about halfway through his shower, while he was standing under the too-hot spray. There was a lump in his throat that wouldn't quit, no matter how many times he swallowed.
He wanted to be angry. He wanted to be furious. Better yet, he wanted to be indifferent. He didn't want to care so fucking much. He was five hundred years old, for Christ's sake, not counting time spent buried alive and mostly dead. He didn't do jealous.
But he wasn't jealous. He was hurt. And that was so much worse.
Someone rapped at the door. "Jack?" the Doctor called.
Jack hunched instinctively. "What?" he said, striving for normal and probably sounding anything but.
He hadn't invited the Doctor in, but he came anyway. "Blimey, it's a sauna in here. Are you trying to boil yourself alive?" Jack didn't answer. The Doctor pulled back the shower curtain a few inches, just enough for Jack to see that he was naked, too. His hair clung to his forehead in curls damp from sweat and steam.
Finally noticed I was gone? Jack wanted to ask, but there was no universe in which that didn't sound bitter. "River kick you out?" he asked instead.
The Doctor shrugged. "A bit. She told me rather pointedly to find you."
"Yeah?" Jack tilted his face so that water splashed over his closed eyes. "Why'd she do that?"
"Dunno. Maybe something to do with how you disappeared on us? Look, Jack," the Doctor went on, before Jack could reply, "turn the hot water down a bit so I don't get scalded to death and let me soap your back."
Jack turned the water off. "Don't need you to soap my back, Doc."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "All right. What's going on? River seems to think we did something wrong, but I really haven't the faintest -"
"We, Doctor." Jack ripped the towel off the rack and started to vigorously dry his hair. He wanted to wrap the towel around his waist, cover himself up, but he resisted. It would only look defensive. "That's the problem. The we on this ship isn't you and me, it isn't you and me and River, and it sure as hell isn't me and River. It's just you and River."
The Doctor frowned. "There's a we that's just you and me, too."
"Bullshit," Jack said flatly. "Tell me, how many times have the two of you had sex without me?"
The Doctor's eyes widened. He flushed. "If you're not, er, available -"
"Right," Jack said, not bothering to point out that he was always available. "And when was the last time you and I had sex, just the two of us?"
The Doctor's jaw dropped. "Hang on just one -"
"I get it, Doc. I'm not an idiot." Jack finally allowed himself to wrap the towel around his waist, while the Doctor stared, stunned into silence. Would wonders never cease. "But I don't enjoy having it rubbed in my face."
The Doctor finally found his voice. Sort of. "Having what rubbed in your face?"
Jack glared. "Doctor, I had my cock up your arse, and you never even looked at me."
Jack expected the Doctor to flush and frown, but instead he went very white and still. "Bit hard to do in that position, isn't it?" he said, coldly. "Not everyone is as flexible as you are."
It was the last straw. Jack turned away to brace himself against the wall of the shower. "Fine, then. I think it's time I was moving on. I'd like you to drop me some place with a spaceport, please."
The Doctor's mouth fell open. "You're leaving over this?"
"Yeah," Jack said, "I am."
He expected an argument, but the Doctor merely stared for a moment, then nodded and turned away. The ache in Jack's throat got just a little bit worse, though he should have known better. The Doctor never argued with a companion who wanted to leave.
Just before he left, the Doctor turned. "Jack?" Jack looked up, warily. "I'll take you anywhere and anywhen you want in twenty-four hours. But I want you to think about it till then. Decide if this is really what you want."
Jack shook his head. "No, Doctor, it's not what I want. But I can't do this anymore."
The flinch this time was so small, Jack thought he might have imagined it. The Doctor nodded. "All right," he said, and closed the door quietly on his way out.