Title: Conflicted, or Blues and Grays
Fandom: Doctor Who
Warnings (including spoilers): Quick sexual references, spoilers for Father’s Day and Parting of the Ways, mild for The Doctor Dances.
Wordcount: 1,952 words
Author’s note: Written for the who_contest prompt ‘Rivals’ and for the 'Loved ones' square of my love_bingo card.
Summary: “He’s like you, but with datin’ and dancin’,” she’d said. She’d also said that she trusted him, but... that was before she knew just how flexible he was.
Sometimes-- not often-- the lights in Rose’s room are dim. The only sound is her own breathing, and that is unlike anywhere she’s ever been before. London is always full of the noises of life-- doors closing, people chattering behind walls, the radio in a car somewhere far off. Even away from cities, in woods or fields or on beaches, there are birds, there is wind in grass, there are the sounds of her own footsteps.
Sometimes, the lights in Rose’s room are dim, and the only sound is her own breathing. She wakes up, knowing, somehow, that time has stopped. A hot hand rests on her hip, a soft face nuzzles her shoulder or her neck, and Jack is alive. The Doctor is there, eyelids allowing the universe its privacy from his all-seeing gaze. There is space between them, always, but his knee nudges hers, and he is alive.
There is no sound but her own breathing, and Rose knows that this is all there is.
Rose is fairly certain that the Doctor will always hold her hand. She hasn’t pushed the theory too far, but it’s been several months of cohabitating in the Tardis, traveling the universe together, eating things she wouldn’t have believed were food if he didn’t swear to her, and he has never pulled his hand away from hers. It’s a strange thing to think about, but she has time.
Rose sips from a strawberry daiquiri, letting a pink sun slowly tan her skin. The Doctor lectured her about the artificial atmosphere keeping out unhealthy radiation, and then he grumbled when she insisted on finding a resort to take advantage. He really should know her better by now, she thinks, and smirks around the straw.
Across the swimming pool, the Doctor is conversing with a portly, medium-blue fellow who Rose can see through if she squints. She wonders what they’re talking about: intergalactic travel, the latest presidential election, where to find good bananas. Her sunglasses are from Earth, and they don’t work well with this planet’s sun, giving the scene a washed-out, sepia tint. She looks away when the Doctor glances in her direction, then wonders why.
After she saved her father’s life and nearly cost the Doctor his, he was careful around her for a few days. They still traveled and she tried to act naturally, but the Doctor’s gaze on her felt like distance, like an amber traffic light, like the static that had hung in the air when she and Mickey were about to break up. She took his hand by mistake, and she hadn’t even realized that was what needed to be fixed. His fingers tightening around hers were the first deep breath on a clear morning.
Jack appears behind the Doctor’s chair and offers him a drink. Rose peeks over the edge of her sunglasses; the drink is yellow, though it looks light brown through the pink sunlight that Rose will never get used to. The Doctor gets a look; Jack grins and gestures, and offers the drink again. The Doctor passes it on to the blue man, who chugs it in one go. Jack crosses his arms, and Rose know that whatever he’s saying would be cutting if it weren’t sheathed in his not-completely-real smile.
She settles back into her tanning chair. The Doctor will always need to get the last word, and Jack will always push. It’s part of who they are. Jack walks away, looking confident and playful despite yet another rejection. She could get up, follow him under the mottled, spiky awnings, buy him one of those yellow-light-brown drinks, but… he really should know the Doctor better by now.
As she shifts on the chair to sun her back, Rose tries not to feel guilty (tries not to feel smug) that the Doctor will always hold her hand.
Kissing the Doctor is like walking along a tightrope, where one wrong move could upset your balance and send you flying. Touching the Doctor is like petting a tiger that might chose to purr or to rip into you at any moment. Holding his hand is being absolutely sure that no matter what happens, you are safe.
Kissing Jack is taking one shot too many-- Rose shakes and feels dizzy, but the heat is so good and she’s on top of the world. Touching Jack is being touched back, and both are sexy and freeing and flying. Holding Jack’s hand is being a child again, laughing at his gleeful smile and hands a bit too sticky, like they ought to let go but don’t know how.
When Jack and the Doctor kiss each other, Rose grins and asks if she can join in. When they touch, her stomach trembles like club music on too high and adrenaline and being grown-up.
When they hold hands, she has to hide her fingernails digging into her palms.
“He’s like you, but with datin’ and dancin’,” she’d said. She’d also said that she trusted him, but... that was before she knew just how flexible he was.
It’s like they have a language that she doesn’t speak, sometimes, and not just that they both have years of experience with time and space travel and Rose has only got a few months. It’s not about places or history, or getting each other’s references. It’s about sad things and hard things, like when people get hurt and she wants to fix it and they both have the same expression of denial. Or when they look at each other and Jack will give a half grin and a shrug and the Doctor will not-quite roll his eyes-- like she can’t see it!-- and then one of them will explain something to her in a voice that has just enough condescension to make her feel completely miniscule. Their moral beliefs line up: somehow, despite Jack’s relaxed attitude and the Doctor’s uncompromising stubbornness, they see eye-to-eye in ways Rose just can’t agree with.
(It’s times like this when the rose-colored glasses come off and suddenly, she’s on a spaceship with an alien who’s hundreds of years old and a man who can shoot as easily as he can seduce, and she’s sleeping with them both. Jack’s smiles aren’t sweet-- they hide the con artist he told them he was. The Doctor isn’t her protector-- he’s powerful and unknowable and he can decide when or if she goes home.)
And sometimes, when she isn’t supposed to see, the Doctor takes Jack’s face in both hands and they’ll stare at each other. Jack’s lips are pursed and his hands never quite touch the Doctor, and he looks half-broken and half-blessed.
Rose turns away and tries not to feel relieved (tries not to feel jealous) that the Doctor will never look at her like that.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Rose said.
Jack looked up from the camera he was fixing for her. “I’m not apologizing,” and there was something in his eyebrow, in his voice, the way boys could always make her feel stupid and they never even noticed that they did it. “But… I wish it didn’t hurt you,” he said, and none of the other boys ever looked guilty, so she forgave him.
“It doesn’t, though,” Rose said quickly. “I mean, I don’t really understand-- I’m confused, but I’m not hurt. Could you… explain it to me?” She sat down across the workbench from him.
Jack’s room has dull gray walls. Rose’s has bright blue walls. Jack claimed that his room was what the interior of a spaceship was supposed to look like, and she always wondered why ‘supposed to’ was important enough for him to live surrounded by gray.
His eyes were obscured by the bangs he hadn’t gelled that day. “You had a boyfriend back home, right?”
“Yeah, Mickey. What’s that got to do with-”
“You love him?”
Rose did a half-choke sort of laugh. “Well, I mean, I’ve known him since I was a kid, but-”
“It doesn’t take psychological analysis, Rose,” Jack interrupts, and she wants to glare. “Quick answer, do you love him?”
“I guess so. But more as a friend.” She moves awkwardly in her chair.
“And you love your mother too. It’s not any different than that.”
She wrinkles her nose. “I hardly feel the same way about them.”
“But you do love them both,” he explains, and looks at her with eyebrows raised for emphasis. “Rose, I’m not saying I feel the exact same way about the Doctor as I do about you. I’m saying that I love both of you, and in my time, people usually see loving more than one person as a good thing.” His shoulders droop and he shakes his head. “Maybe this is just too far ahead of your time.”
She wants to argue, but he hands her the camera-- fixed like new-- and leaves her alone in his gray room.
The morning after their first time together, Rose wakes up to the Doctor bringing in a tray of food and Jack snoring alongside her. It’s all of her favorites and Jack’s on the packed tray, and she sees the glint of uncertainty behind the Doctor’s Kevlar façade. She kisses it away and suddenly this is the best morning of her life.
Turning around, she decides to kiss Jack awake, and his soft lips slowly respond until one of his hands is in her hair and they’re trading slow, sticky-wet kisses until the Doctor grumbles about the food going cold.
Rose steals the biggest waffle but passes on the green, spiky fruit that she insists tastes like old coins. Her (boyfriends?) share it, arguing over whether the Doctor cut it unfairly. Rose watches them bicker and show far more emotion in their eyes than they ever will with words, and-- for that perfect morning-- she understands what Jack meant about loving two people at once.
Sometimes, the Tardis is silent. Rose walks with soundless footsteps and feathery breaths, and even the ever-present hum of the ship’s engines is missing. The lights are empty and still and the Doctor is never anywhere to be found. The clothes strewn about her room look useless and childlike, the blue walls unreal, and she never stays there long.
Jack’s door opens, but the hinges feel stiff and she has to push past some barrier that isn’t really there. His walls are still gray, his clothes are still in his wardrobe, and she sits down at the workbench and pretends like he just walked out in a snit, like in three days she’s going to kiss him as his blood seeps into the knees of her jeans, and once there are two transfusions of artificial blood inside of him he’ll kiss her again, and then he’ll kiss the Doctor with a look of defiance and she’ll feel like they’ve been flung off a cliff and she doesn’t know if they’ll fall or fly.
Sometimes, she closes her eyes and remembers that Jack whispered ‘I love you’ into her neck as he moved inside her, that he pulled her along by her hand, but never faster than she could run, that he stepped in when the Doctor’s insults got too cutting and even, once, made the uppity Time Lord apologize.
Other times she remembers him playing with the cuff of the Doctor’s jacket, quiet for once as aqualine eyes weighed him down. She remembers eyebrows that cut sharp into her palms. She remembers the feel of a spaceship disappearing from beneath her as she falls, and those times, she leaves that gray room and slams the door behind her and tries not to feel devastated (tries not to feel glad) that he’s gone.