They were sitting at breakfast, the three of them, the TARDIS humming softly in the background, when the Doctor asked the question. "Tell me, Captain Jack Harkness, is there somewhere you'd like to go?"
Rose giggled over her orange juice. "Oooh, so formal. It's "Captain" Jack now, is it?"
"Shhh, Rose," and the Doctor was suddenly serious, "let the man talk. Anywhere. Mean it."
Jack gulped down the last of a slice of toast and smiled slowly. "Ever been to Thelea? It's orchid season, you know."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows and seemed, for once, at a loss for words. "'Course I have. Just not—lately."
Rose looked from one of them to the other and knew there had to be something interesting going on. She put on her best wheedling face. "Oh, Doctor, can we go? I love orchids."
"Yes, Doctor, can we?" Jack smiled slyly. "Unless…you don't like orchids any more?"
"All right," the Doctor sighed. "Thelea it is. But let's not get carried away, hmm?"
Rose gazed at the gigantic blooms, twelve feet high and three across. "You weren't kidding about the orchids." She sounded almost disappointed. The Doctor was some distance away, examining a particularly colorful flower.
"Well, of course," Jack said, trying, and failing, to feign innocence. "Why else would I have recommended this place?"
She leaned closer to him. "So why was the Doctor so embarrassed? He never gets like that. Unless—" Her eyes opened wide. "There's some kind of sex thing, isn't there?"
Jack smiled. "It's part of the Orchid Festival. Kind of a carnival atmosphere. Everyone's encouraged to choose partners for the night from the crowd, and it's considered very bad form to refuse." He shook his head. "I've had some great times here."
A tall, slender woman with the pale blue skin of the native Theleans approached them. "Well, Captain Jack," she exclaimed, "how lovely to have you back again. It's been too long." She raised her palms to his in greeting, and he raised his to meet hers, interlacing fingers and touching foreheads for just a second before parting. "And what…lovely companions you've brought," she cooed, looking Rose over.
"Oi! I've been here too, V'leth." And just like that, the Doctor was right beside them. "Looked a little different then, but surely you haven't forgotten the Doctor?"
Rose dropped her jaw in amazement as V'leth and the Doctor greeted each other for just a fraction longer than she'd spent with Jack. When they parted, V'leth looked knowingly at them. "I do hope we'll see you tonight." She melted back into the crowd admiring the field of giant flowers.
"Doctor!" Rose laughed. "You really have been here before."
Just as suddenly as the Doctor's face had seemed to open, it closed again even as he put on a sheepish grin. "Nine hundred years, Rose. You make a lot of friends. Shall we?" Jack rejoined them as they went on through the field.
Thelea's twin suns were beginning to set in a colorful night sky as Rose, Jack, and the Doctor stood with the rest of the crowd on a beach around a dais built of fragrant wood. Most were native Theleans, but many others were clearly off-worlders like themselves, here for the festival and whatever else that might entail. V'leth stood on the dais surrounded by a group of other beautiful Theleans of both sexes. Each of them held many long, multicolored strips of fabric which looked almost like—
"Scarves," the Doctor said simply, looking almost wistfully at the dais. "Used to be mad about scarves; wore one myself a long time ago. Not one of those," he added quickly. "It was much less…delicate. Lot longer, too." He broke off suddenly and beamed at Jack and Rose. "Well, I expect you've both got your eye on someone for tonight. Just hold up your hands for scarves and put them around the neck of whomever you choose. And enjoy yourselves; after all, we're on holiday." He crossed his arms and stepped back as people began to motion for the scarves. Each choice was greeted with an announcement from one of the Theleans on the dais and a cheer from the group, after which the lucky pair—or small group—broke away from the others and out into the night.
Not for the first time, but with a new sense of wonder, Rose moved closer to the Doctor and really looked at him. She gazed into those eyes of his, those beautiful blue eyes in which nine hundred years of love and pain, loneliness and joy, were inexorably mingled, eyes in which universes of sadness were barely held at bay, and wondered what he really felt. Rose couldn't imagine what it must be like to be the last of your kind, able to go anywhere and do anything except save your family and friends. What could she, what could any comparatively short-lived, small-brained human ever give him that could even begin to ease that pain? Slowly, Rose held out her hand for the brightly-colored cloth. She'd never forgive herself if she didn't take this chance. Whatever happened, she had to try.
The Doctor's eyes clouded. "No, Rose. You can't. We can't. We shouldn't. It wouldn't be—"
Rose took the cloth, which was surprisingly heavy considering how diaphanous it looked, and slipped it around the Doctor's neck, then kissed him. And with that kiss, she felt electric, as though blue fire were running down every nerve in her body. She closed her eyes for just a moment, savoring the feel of it, and then took his face in her hands. "You know what they say, Doctor; when in Rome…"
Out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw Jack, standing alone with a drink in one hand and offering her a little salute with the other, looking at them with a mixture of envy and lust. Rose looked at V'leth, opened her mouth to ask. "Of course," the tall woman laughed. "Both of them, if you like. We are not so—" she waved her hand— "limited."
No sooner had Rose turned to him than Jack bounded up to them both, sliding an arm around each of their waists and ducking his head a little to receive a portion of the cloth. Rose took the ends of the cloth and lifted them up. V'leth raised a hand. "She has made her choice. Let none oppose it." A few local youths slunk back disappointedly into the crowd even as a cheer broke out among the rest.
The three of them walked off down the beach to the guesthouse they'd engaged for their stay—"Why not?" the Doctor had said when they arrived, "Let's really make a holiday of it"—without speaking, Rose walking between the Doctor and Jack and sneaking the occasional glance at them. Away from the cheering throng, this seemed more real, maybe even a little frightening.
Rose opened the door to her room with a wave of her hand over a panel on the doorframe and looked straight at them both. "Come on in," she said, breaking into a big nervous smile. A look passed between the two men that she almost didn't notice, a silent agreement that this night would be about her and what she wanted, and they both walked in. She closed the door and went straight for the Doctor, who was still wearing the scarf around his neck.
As Rose drew him close to her, the Doctor put his hands on her shoulders. "Rose." His voice was gentle. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
She nodded, eyes shining, and removed the scarf. "I've never wanted anything more in my life." She took his hand and Jack's and led them both to the bed. Whatever happened to her, to them, Rose knew she'd always have her memories of this night to sustain her.