By midday on the fourth day after they had parked in the wilds of Vermont, the TARDIS had yet to move an inch. Rose would have found this surprising, if it hadn’t been for the events of the last two weeks. For once, nobody seemed to be in a rush to travel on, and there was an unspoken agreement that it was time to take things slowly.
They were each still recovering, still searching each other out, reluctant to spend too much time apart. They were also hesitantly feeling out the changes in their three-way relationship.
In their giddy celebration around the bonfire that first night, there had been snogging. In the moment, it had been lighthearted and entirely lacking in thought for the consequences.
The main consequence Rose had noticed was a certain awkwardness between them, even as they found themselves spending more time together than they ever had before.
Though she had been forgiven and no longer consciously blamed herself, by the morning after the bonfire Rose had regained her hesitance about touching the Doctor. It was partly a reaction to the Time Lord’s continued jumpiness, but she was also beginning to question where they stood in their physical relationship. The result was that she thought twice before touching him, and often just tried to give him his space.
Jack continued his openly protective shadowing of both her and the Doctor, clearly uneasy if either of them were out of his sight for too long. But he also seemed to be treading carefully near the Doctor. He would make a point of touching the Time Lord, but always carefully and with plenty of warning.
The Doctor had been forcibly cheerful, and to Rose’s surprise he also seemed to be the most comfortable of the three. He would still jump if unexpectedly touched, but had begun reacting by drawing closer instead of pulling away.
Consequently, she had noticed, much of the subsequent snogging that had occurred over the next several days had been instigated by the Time Lord.
While working on some repairs around the console once during that time, Jack had tripped and instinctively grabbed the Doctor to steady himself. On the other side of the console, too far away to help, Rose had watched as the Doctor startled and tried to jump away. He and Jack had both wound up sprawled together on the grating.
Jack had tried to pull away, muttering, “Sorry! Sorry.”
But the Doctor had just taken a steadying breath and pulled Jack back towards him. Apparently tired of hearing those apologies, he shut Jack up in what seemed the most efficient manner.
“Mmmph!” Jack had said, before relaxing against the Doctor and enthusiastically turning his attention to the kiss.
When they broke apart, it was Jack who looked pleasantly stunned and the Doctor who grinned triumphantly.
The Doctor had similarly surprised Rose a few times during those days as well, but never did events go any further than that. It always seemed to simply be a quick distraction from the bad memories that plagued all of them, and then the Doctor would be off across the room doing something else.
Rose didn’t quite know how to respond to this. She wasn’t displeased with all the kissing, but she was confused by it.
She and Jack had continued to sleep together in Jack’s room, occasionally sharing a few kisses of their own. But, as they always did, they followed the Doctor’s lead and never took it further. Instead, they talked.
“I’m surprised you haven’t gone looking for him yet,” Rose observed as they lay in bed together, lazily refusing to move even as their fourth morning in Vermont turned into midday.
“Noticed that, did you?” Jack sighed.
“Yeah, kinda,” Rose admitted.
“I know he doesn’t need us checking up on him every ten minutes, but…” Jack trailed off.
“I know,” Rose said, understanding. “You just want to see him, to make sure.”
“But I don’t want to smother him, so… here I am,” Jack said, sighing again.
“Yes, you are,” Rose agreed with a smile, and there was a pause in the conversation to allow for further snogging.
“Are we ever going to do more than this?” Rose asked some time later.
“Do you want to?” Jack asked in reply.
“I think so… yeah,” Rose said, smiling at him again but then looking worried. “But the Doctor…”
“The Doctor’s been kissing both of us at nearly every opportunity, Rose,” Jack reminded her. “I don’t think he’s going to have a problem if we team up and drag him to bed.”
“Team up?” Rose asked, the idea mildly surprising her. She hadn’t thought of that, not that it was unappealing now that she had thought it.
“Sure!” Jack replied. “Like I said, he’s been kissing both of us. And we both like it. And each other. So why not?”
“Well, that’s what I just asked. Why not? Why’s he been kissing us like that but never… doing anything else?” Rose wondered.
“I don’t know,” Jack admitted. “Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on in his head. That’s more your department.”
“I don’t know, either, or I wouldn’t have asked,” Rose pointed out.
There was another pause in their conversation, this time without any kissing.
“How do you think he’s doing, otherwise?” Jack asked her then. “Has he said anything to you?”
“No,” Rose answered. “You?”
“Nope,” Jack replied.
“He’s not been ignoring what happened, like he normally would,” Rose said, “or we wouldn’t still be parked in Vermont.”
“He’s still jumpy, but now instead of ducking away he always kisses me,” Jack added. “Strange, but lots of fun.”
“He does that with me, too,” Rose agreed. “Do you think he’s… I don’t know… using kisses to distract himself? Or us?”
“Would it be a bad thing, if he was?”Jack wondered.
“I don’t know,” Rose replied.
“We could ask him,” Jack ventured.
“Would he tell us, if we did?” Rose asked, sadly skeptical.
“I don’t know,” Jack replied.
The conversation paused again, again without any kissing to fill the empty moments. They had drifted apart as they talked, and were now both sitting upright on the bed.
Rose nudged Jack’s shoulder with her own.
“What a brilliant pair we make,” she joked. “We don’t know a single thing between us.”
“But we look good,” Jack replied with a smile, reaching over to take her hand in his.
“Flatterer,” she accused, accepting his hand.
“I just call ‘em as I see ‘em,” he said, grinning.
Suddenly, the TARDIS was in her mind, nudging at her insistently. Looking up at Jack, she could see that he had felt it as well.
As there always had been in the telepathy she had felt from the TARDIS, there was an echo of the Doctor attached to her message.
He was distressed. She was telling them to go to him.
They both scrambled off the bed, nearly tripping over each other in their haste to obey that mental command. Rose didn’t so much as think of her shoes, let alone changing into clothes other than what she’d worn to bed.
She headed straight for the door, barefoot and in just an oversized T-shirt. Jack was right beside her in his flannel trousers, equally barefoot and obviously just as unconcerned.
“Why did I pick now to try to make myself give him some space!” Jack berated himself as they reached the door.
“Not your fault, Jack, so stop it!” Rose insisted, thumping the same shoulder she had playfully nudged before.
They stumbled to a halt just into the corridor, and Jack rubbed at his shoulder.
“Okay, okay,” he acquiesced. She could tell by his tone of voice that he knew she was right, and was still desperately trying to believe her.
“Good,” Rose said with an air of finality. Then she stroked the corridor wall beside her, asking the TARDIS, “Where is he?”
The TARDIS’s response was another mental nudge, again with an echo of the Doctor.
Fear, pain. Go left!
They went left. They ran left, until they hit the next turn in the corridor.
Just past that turn, Rose recognized the door to the Doctor’s bedroom.
It was a room no one frequented often, though occasionally even the oh-so-superior Time Lord had to sleep. Apparently, he had actually gone to bed some time after she and Jack had the night before.
Jack pulled the door open, and Rose dashed inside with him on her heels. They found the Doctor curled up in as tight a ball as physically possible beneath the blankets on his bed. It was a position heartbreakingly reminiscent of how he’d curled up on the floor of his cell during their days of captivity, trying desperately to be a smaller target.
Proximity lent power to the telepathy, and Rose caught one of the familiar dual communications from the TARDIS and the Time Lord as she and Jack both stood, in shock, just inside the room.
Help him / no more please no more / help him help him help / pain pain pain!
Both gasping, Rose and Jack pulled each other towards the bed. As they neared the Doctor, Rose could see his pained features, and his hands fisting tightly into his blankets. He was shifting restlessly in his sleep, whimpering in pain and fear.
They came to a halt again just beside him. Rose wanted to do something, but was afraid to touch him and unsure what else to try. Jack, standing beside her, seemed equally at a loss. Even the TARDIS, in their dual telepathy, had sounded like she was too rattled by the Doctor’s nightmare to know what else to do.
For a long moment Rose and Jack just held each other and helplessly watched the Doctor as he was tormented by the nightmare.
“Pulses!” Rose gasped then, and they both moved closer, each prying one of the Doctor’s hands out of the blankets.
He resisted their touch at first, reacting only with increased agitation. But they each patiently held the fingers of one of his hands against the pulse point of their wrist, and waited breathlessly.
Slowly, the Doctor quieted. His fingers grasped their wrists voluntarily. His expression cleared.
“Oh my God,” Rose whimpered quietly after he was still.
“It was just a nightmare. He’s okay, Rose,” Jack replied.
“The telepathy…” she whispered, feeling gutted. “He was so hurt… so scared…”
“He’s okay,” Jack repeated. “He’s okay now.”
“He can hear you,” came a soft, irony-laced voice from the bed.
Rose looked down at him, again in shock. She hadn’t realized he was awake, and she’d completely forgotten that he was healed. She’d forgotten that they could have used their voices to reach him.
“Of course you can,” Jack said, laughing nervously. Apparently he had forgotten, as well.
Rose slowly reached her free hand over to stroke the Doctor’s hair, her gaze not quite meeting his.
“Are you? Okay, I mean?” she asked him.
He didn’t quite answer her question, instead saying, “Come on, you two, into bed.”
Rose looked at him in surprise. He replied by dropping their wrists and tossing aside his blankets in invitation, revealing his rumpled T-shirt and boxers.
“Are you sure?” Jack asked gently.
The Doctor gave him a fond stupid ape look in reply, and scooted himself across the bed to make room for them.
“Of course I’m sure,” the Time Lord said as he grabbed for their wrists again and pulled. “Cuddles for everyone! I could really do with some right now, and it looks like you two could, as well.”
Sharing a somewhat amused look as the Doctor thus preempted their half-formed plan to team up and drag the Time Lord into bed, Rose and Jack allowed themselves to be pulled forward. Jack wound up spooned behind Rose, reaching over her so that both of them could drape an arm over the Doctor, who had quickly snuggled up against the humans.
“You’re trembling,” Rose said after they’d settled.
“Am I?” the Doctor replied mildly, sounding a bit distant as the after effects of the nightmare began to hit him. He hid his face in Rose’s shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut.
They cuddled together as the Doctor shook with reaction.
“I was scared,” he admitted, speaking without raising his head from Rose’s shoulder, his voice as shaky as the rest of him.
“Safe now,” Rose reminded him gently.
“We’ve got you,” Jack agreed, squeezing his arm around both of them.
“I know,” the Doctor replied, opening his eyes. He lifted his head a little so he could look over Rose and see Jack as well. “That’s why I said I was scared. I’m not any more. I’m really not.”
His shivers contradicted his words, but Rose could tell that he was speaking honestly. He was perhaps still shaken, but he was no longer afraid.
The Doctor dropped his head back down, and not too long later his shaking slowed and then stopped, soothed away by their embrace. His breathing also slowed, evening out as if he was beginning to fall back to sleep.
Wanting him to rest, if that was what he needed, Rose remained quiet. Jack seemed content with the silence, as well.
But eventually the Doctor raised his head again. He propped himself up on one elbow, and pulled away from them a little without actually dislodging their arms from where they lay across him. He looked between them and opened his mouth to speak, but then he hesitated, like he wanted to say something but was having trouble finding the words.
“What is it?” Rose prompted him.
His gaze settled on her. For the first time in days, he seemed to be really looking at her. This time there would be no surprising her with a kiss before dashing away.
“You two have been taking care of me like this since… since we got back to the TARDIS,” he finally said. “I know it hasn’t been easy. And I know we talked a little by the bonfire, but I haven’t really asked… how are you both doing? Really?”
“We’re fine,” Rose answered. “We’ve just been worried about you.”
“I heard you when you thought I was still asleep, Rose,” the Doctor reminded her. “You did not sound fine.”
“Neither did you,” Jack pointed out.
The Doctor sighed. He wiggled underneath their arms, pulling his own free arm loose so he could reach it across them.
“It was just a nightmare. My unconscious mind tossing memories around,” he said. “But thank you for pulling me out of it. And now I’d thank you to stop dodging my question.”
“We could say the same,” Rose told him. “It’s not like you’ve really said how you’re doing.”
“I’m…” He stopped himself short, clearly rethinking his words. “All right, so none of us are really okay yet. But if I… if I tell you how I’m feeling, will you tell me how you’re feeling? Then maybe we can at least all stop worrying so much about each other.”
“It’s worth a try,” Jack replied. “I’ll even go first, I guess. I know it’s stupid, but I keep feeling like I need to check on you both to make sure you’re safe.”
“It’s not stupid, Jack,” Rose told him.
Jack snorted. “Of course it is. We’re in the TARDIS. There’s no safer place we could be.”
“But that’s not the point,” the Doctor said. “You protected us both while… until we could escape. And you did it brilliantly. But it was stressful and that hasn’t faded yet.”
“But it is fading, Jack. You didn’t jump out of bed first thing this morning to go looking for the Doctor,” Rose reminded him.
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, but Rose thought he still sounded skeptical. “I know all that in theory, but it’s just not sinking in.”
“That’s normal,” the Doctor reassured him. “You just need to give it time.”
“Yeah,” Jack said again, now sounding less skeptical and more resigned.
Rose watched as the Doctor gave Jack a reassuring look, before turning his gaze back to her.
“What about you, Rose?” he asked her.
“I…” she started, but trailed off and closed her eyes for a moment.
She could feel Jack and the Doctor tightening their arms as they cradled her between them, but both of them waited quietly for her to speak.
Rose took a deep breath to steady herself, and then opened her eyes.
“I still feel guilty,” she admitted, and then had to stop their protests with a determined, “Wait! Let me explain.”
They quieted, though reluctantly, and she continued.
“I know you forgave me, and I know it wasn’t even really my fault, but I did hurt you, Doctor,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever really forget that. Or having to watch them hurt you like that. It’s like Jack said, I know you’re healed and safe now, but it just hasn’t really sunk in.”
“Well, if it’s all right for me to feel that way, then it’s all right for you, too,” Jack said, squeezing his arm around her and the Doctor.
“I might not like it, because it really wasn’t your fault, but Jack’s right. And it will fade for you, too. The memories will be replaced with better things, like our food fight around the bonfire,” the Doctor told her, smiling slightly as he mentioned their epic marshmallow and chocolate battle.
“I know,” Rose agreed, nodding without lifting her head off the pillow. “It does help to hear you say it, though.”
“Any time, Rose,” the Doctor replied gently.
“Your turn, Doc,” Jack said then, reminding the Time Lord that he had also promised to tell them how he was feeling.
“Okay,” the Doctor readily agreed, but then he abruptly dropped his head and shoulders back down to the pillows and went silent.
Rose and Jack both pulled him closer. He once again fit himself snugly against her, his arm still reaching over her to rest across Jack’s shoulder.
“It’s as if I’ve reclaimed all of my senses except for touch,” the Doctor explained with total honesty, even as he snuggled closer to them. “I’m really not afraid any more, but a little part of me still thinks that I should be. So I’ve been fighting it. Trying to retrain myself.”
“Has it been working?” Rose asked, remembering all the kisses of the past few days.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” the Doctor pointed out. And then he clarified, “And that isn’t just because I’m forcing myself. I want to be here. This is nice.”
“Except for the nightmare part,” Jack said, and Rose made a small noise of agreement.
“Yes… except for the nightmare part,” the Doctor also agreed, shivering a little.
“They’ll fade, too,” Jack said.
“Yes, in time,” the Doctor replied, even sounding as if he almost believed it.
“We’ll be here until they do,” Rose promised him. “And after. If you want?”
“I do,” the Doctor answered. “I do.”
“Good,” Jack said, and Rose watched as his fingers unerringly found the Doctor’s cheek even though she knew he could no longer see the Time Lord’s face.
Rose felt the Doctor’s arm move, shifting from Jack’s shoulder and towards his head. She didn’t need to see behind her to imagine the Doctor’s fingers weaving into Jack’s hair.
“Is that what you both want, as well?” the Doctor asked, shifting his head just enough so that his gaze could meet Rose’s.
Rose didn’t need words to reply. She moved her hand to cover Jack’s against the Doctor’s cheek, and then she leaned in to kiss him.
It was neither a kiss of distraction, nor a kiss of passion. Instead it was almost innocent, a kiss full of promise.
Their faces remained mere inches apart even after they broke apart for air. They smiled shyly at each other.
“Hey,” came a mildly disgruntled voice from behind Rose. “Getting lonely over here.”
The Doctor winked at Rose, and then he sat up to lean over her. Rose turned between them so she was on her back, watching as the Doctor slid the hand he’d threaded into Jack’s hair around to the back of his neck. He used his grip there to pull Jack up to meet him, and they bumped noses awkwardly. In the next moment, they were kissing.
This, Rose could clearly see, was a kiss of passion. Tongues dueling, hands in each other’s hair, on the verge of grappling for dominance.
When they broke apart, they were both flushed and panting slightly. They both glanced down at Rose, as if to check that she approved of this development in the conversation.
“Don’t mind me,” she said, enjoying her front row seat between and beneath them. She waved one hand imperiously. “Continue.”
Jack smirked. “As the lady wishes,” he said, and then turned back to the Doctor. “Hey, Doc, I’ve been meaning to ask since you’ve collected so much data lately. Who’s the better kisser, me or Rose?”
The Doctor grinned cheekily. “A Time Lord doesn’t kiss and tell, but I will say one thing. Surprising you for once is much more fun.”
With that, he pulled Jack into another kiss. It was slower and less confrontational than the first had been, but just as ardent. Hands began to roam, including Rose’s, until the three of them became a single, tangled, six-armed creature.
Jack and the Doctor eventually pulled away from each other, and Rose took that as her chance to sneak in for her own chance at trying to surprise Jack. They had grown familiar with each other’s kisses over the last few days, but even though their embrace was practiced it was no less full of passion.
When they came up for air, it was to the sound of the Doctor’s yawning.
“Are we boring you, Doc?” Jack chuckled.
“No, no,” the Time Lord replied. “Sorry. Just still tired, that’s all.”
Still wrapped in Jack’s now motionless arms, Rose turned to regard the Doctor carefully. She found it easy to switch gears from playful passion back to loving concern. She’d been ready to see what would come after the Doctor’s newfound love for kissing, but she also knew that he hadn’t slept well for days.
Jack released her, and she could see similar concern grow across his features. He too was putting aside his passionate curiosity in favor of concern for the Doctor.
“Do you think you could sleep with us here?” Rose asked the Time Lord, leaning over to hug him.
“Yeah,” the Doctor replied, smiling and returning her hug. “I’d like that.”
With relaxed, gentle kisses and touches, they cuddled back down into the pillows together. They wound up in almost the same position they had started in. Jack spooned up behind Rose, and both of them stretched an arm over the Doctor. The Time Lord happily curled himself up against them after pulling the blankets up to cover them.
The small kisses and roaming hands continued beneath the blankets, the Doctor as guilty as the humans even though he was the one yawning. Slowly, the touches drifted to a halt, until all was still except for their breathing and the small motions of one of Jack’s hands. Rose could feel his fingers move in a repetitive pattern as they rested on the Doctor beside her own hand.
After only a few iterations of the pattern, she realized that he was tracing his ‘J’ into the Doctor’s side. Not too long later, the Time Lord squirmed and complained that it tickled.
Considerably more tickling and squirming followed directly afterwards. They giggled like little girls at a sleepover until the Doctor yawned again, and then they finally settled down. Rose found herself smiling happily as she felt the Doctor first relax, and then settle heavily against her as he fell back to sleep.
It was the start of a new TARDIS tradition. No one slept alone, and everyone indulged in their newfound comfortable closeness.
Rose never did remember to ask the Doctor if his kisses had really been meant as distractions.