Behind Closed Doors by ZephyrHawk
Summary: So what now? Life goes on in the alternate universe.
Categories: Tenth Doctor
Characters: Rose Tyler, The Doctor (Duplicate 10th)
Genres: Alternate Universe, Angst, Het, Romance
Warnings: Explicit Sex, Non-Con, Swearing
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Chapter 22: Epilogue
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Author's Notes: This story started off as a horribly bitter companion piece to Journey’s End. But as often occurs with the stories I write, it got away from me a little bit, and by the time I was halfway finished, I realized it wasn’t quite as bitter anymore. And neither was I.
Copyright Notice: If I actually owned anything worthwhile do you seriously think I’d be wasting my time writing fanfiction? As a side note, any superficial similarities you may find in this story to the excellent fan video “Nobody Sees” by seduff are not at all coincidental and entirely a result of the fact that I cannot get the damn thing out of my head.
Musical Accompaniment: “Second Best” and “Home”- both by Barenaked Ladies, “When I See You Smile”- Bad English.
Behind Closed Doors
‘I’d nothing to do with war: I guarded peace and doorways,’
'And this,’ he said, showing his key, ‘was my weapon.’
— Ovid, Fasti, I:254-255.
“So what now?”
It had to be said. It had been said, to a certain extent, in the looks they had given one another after the TARDIS disappeared. In the confused and concerned glance that neither could adequately answer, and so both had returned their gaze to the empty beach in silence; dropping the hands that had briefly joined them. It had taken Jackie Tyler, a frustrated and rather chilled Jackie Tyler, to ask it aloud.
Rose turned again to the Doctor. The not-Doctor. The half human-half Time Lord-one hearted-completely lost looking-not Doctor who still, for all his vaunted alien intelligence, did not appear to have the answer. Rose sighed and bit at her lower lip. They were looking to her. They would be looking to her. Ever since she had come to this god-forsaken universe people had been looking to her. Her mum. Mickey. Torchwood. And now him. The Doctor. Sort of.
She did what she always did when people looked to her. She led.
“Call Pete,” she said, stuffing her hands with some difficulty into the tight front pockets of her jeans. Her fingers were white and cold from the biting wind of the beach, and she really wanted to discourage any further hand holding. “Get him to find us a room and a taxi, and get us some transportation home.”
Home. Jackie nodded and slipped her cell phone out of her pocket, moving off to make her call in relative privacy. She knew where her home was. It was a mansion, on the outskirts of London, England, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, the Universe. This universe. She knew where to call to find her way back there, too. Rose had a home, but her cell didn’t work anymore. And besides, it was a lot harder to track down a little blue box that refused to remain spatially or temporally static. She looked from her mum to…him (she was just going to have to start thinking of him that way…anything else required too much exposition). He was watching her with the same cornered look that told her he was at least as disoriented as she was. Probably more so; at least she knew the ins and outs of this universe already.
Shrugging her shoulders at him with her hands still in her pockets, she moved off towards the black rocks bordering the muddy beach. The tide would be coming in soon, and she didn’t want to get her trainers soaked. He followed. She didn’t look back to confirm this or strain to hear his footsteps crunching into the semi-solid sand, merely felt the change in the air behind her indicating that a person was there. That a real, solid, heat emitting being was accompanying her on her lonely path. She didn’t need to turn around. She could imagine what he looked like. She knew that face as well as her own. It had haunted her dreams, the good as well as the bad. It had replayed in her memories over and over; repeated so often on purpose, lest it be forgotten. And she knew it would be hidden beneath a half-bowed head stacked upon slumped shoulders. Her mind filled in a brown pinstriped suit and a long tan coat swaying in the ocean breeze, even though she knew neither were part of his current wardrobe. Some things were just too ingrained in memory to be eliminated.
Lowering herself to the pockmarked crown of one of the more comfortable appearing rocks, she pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms about her legs. It was cold here out on the bay. She remembered that from her last visit, and she slipped her fingers underneath the cuff of their opposite sleeves to keep them from freezing off. He came to a halt in front of her and she looked up, confirming her mental impression of him, minus the coat and suit combo.
She wondered if he would break the silence. He hadn’t said anything, yet. Not since he’d whispered in her ear. Whispered words she’d wanted to hear in that voice, coming from those lips, for oh, so long. Words that had sent burning, golden tendrils straight into her chest. Words that she would have given anything, gone any distance, paid any price, to hear the Doctor say.
He didn’t speak. Settling himself next to her on the rock, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands before him, not breaking his gaze with her through any of this. He was waiting for her, she knew. She had led with her mother and he was looking for her to take the lead in this relationship as well. It wasn’t something she expected; she wasn’t accustomed to deference. Not from him, anyway. She wondered if it was a half-human thing or just regular old fish-out-of-water nervousness. Then realized it had to be the former. The Doctor had never been nervous, even when he was playing the proverbial carp on the sandbank.
“This will take some getting used to,” she said, voicing her thoughts aloud. He nodded, then broke his gaze with her to stare out at the inrushing sea; at a spot on the damp sand where just a few minutes previously the most marvelous, most innocuous phone box in two universes had stood. She followed his gaze. The wind howled through the rocks, whistling against their jagged corners. Rose could hear her mum’s voice raised in a half shriek of petulant anger over something Pete has said on the phone, and his voice caused her to jump with the closeness of the sound.
“Must be easier than last time, though.”
“What?” she asked, unable to keep her annoyance out of her tone. Easier than what, exactly? The last time she’d sat shivering on this beach she’d at least had Mickey and Pete and a four-wheel drive vehicle. She’d at least been able to fool herself into thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Doctor would have finished his sentence, if he’d only had the time.
He didn’t look at her. “No new face, no new voice, no new-new Doctor.” He was rationalizing and missing the point, and then he did look at her, for confirmation. His confidence grated her, especially after his reticence of just moments before. He forced her to be the first to speak, but then came back with self-assured assurances that, surely, it couldn't be that bad.
It was that bad. It was that bad and worse and she’d been willing to let him slide because she knew he was in shock, just like she was. But if he was going to challenge then he was going to have to know how it was.
“You’re not him.”
Ouch. That had hurt. She could see it in his eyes. His face might not have twitched a muscle in response, but the eyes told the story. She remembered that look from before. Can you change back? Do you want me to? Yeah. Oh. And for the briefest of moments she felt vindicated. She felt right causing him this pain because she was sure as hell going to go through enough of it herself. Felt that this face deserves to look like this, with the eyes gone all dark from a special kind of despair. Felt her cheeks grow warm against the icy air in justified resentment.
And immediately she regretted her actions, because it was true. He wasn't him. He didn’t leave her here again, on a windswept beach. He didn’t break his promise. Her mother saves them from any more uncomfortable conversation by striding up, flipping her cell phone closed with an audible snap.
“Right,” she began, noticing the tension shivering in the cold air, “Pete’s got us all fixed up. There’s a little bed and breakfast in the town up the road with our name on it, a taxi on the way to take us there and three economy class zeppelin tickets to jolly old England waiting for us at the heliport.” The two silent figures on the rocks failed to flinch at her announcements. “Care to come out to the road with me and flag down our ride?” Once again, her question was met with a total lack of response. With a put upon sigh, Jackie turned on her heel and stalked away from the two sulking teenagers. Silence reigned a moment longer on the rocks after her departure.
“You should go with her.”
“Why don’t you go?”
“She’s your mum.”
“Your point being?”
“She hates me.”
“You blame her?”
He unclasped his hands and, with a heavy sigh, pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. “No,” he all but moaned from beneath his lowered head. “Not really.”
Rose looked at him again. She supposed this was progress. They had managed what amounted to a full conversation without either of them breaking down, leaving without a proper goodbye, or leaping passionately into one another’s arms. That seemed to be a record for this beach. Also, Rose noted, she had managed to make it through the entire exchange on rhetorical questions alone. That was a very Doctor-ish thing to do. She knew she had picked up some useful skills flitting about space and time, but she’d never before thought they’d work on him.
He turned to her then, and his darkened eyes held more than just pervasive sadness. There was a spark of fury there now too, and Rose found herself simultaneously terrified and mesmerized by its appearance.
“If it’s any consolation, Rose Tyler, right now, I hate me too.”
Rose’s brow darkened. “Don’t try and tell me you weren’t in on it.”
“I’m not.” He was still angry, and it was making her angry, but it was better than it was before when there was nothing but cold despair. “It’s not as though I didn’t know what he was thinking, that I didn’t realize there was only one way this scenario could play out. But that doesn’t mean I liked the idea.” He shook his head, and his wind tousled hair flipped unflatteringly into his face. “There couldn’t be two of us hanging around in the same universe, I know I’ve explained that much about paradoxes to you before.”
“You don’t have to tell me about paradoxes, I wrote the book.” And there was the irritation again, clear in her voice. She couldn’t seem to help herself. Bitter much? Yes. All right. But not at him. And it wasn't as if it wasn’t true. A short book, mind you, really just a manual. The Torchwood brass had been appreciative, though she couldn’t expect any royalties.
“One of us had to go,” he sighed. And there was an entire universe in that sigh. All of time and space, the massive playground of existence, swept out of reach.
“So what, you got the short straw then?” He whipped around to face her and his eyes were blazing. She was reminded, suddenly, of the fact that he dispatched an entire race of beings just a few hours previously without batting an eyelash. But she'd been pushed too, pushed and shoved and cannoned all over the multi-verse. All to be deposited back here on the same stupid beach she stood on three years ago and cried her eyes out, vowing to whatever powers there were in the universe, and to one in particular, that she would find a way out of this personal purgatory. “And me, I get to try out a new title. Rose Tyler, Interdimensional Therapist.”
“You didn’t seem to mind so much before, what with the kissing and all.”
Rose closed her eyes. She could still feel that kiss. Could still feel the remnants of the emotions that had washed over and through her in that moment. Emotions she wasn’t entirely certain were 100% her own. It had been real, that kiss. He knew that. Had to know that. Still…
Rose sighed, opening her eyes and bathing him in what she hoped was a somewhat more friendly look. “Would you have left if I hadn’t?” She saw the confusion wash over him, the narrowing of the brows that was so adorable when framed by oversized spectacles, but right now just looked pained. She stayed silent while he puzzled it out. These pronouns would be the death of them.
“You mean, would he have left if you hadn’t kissed me?” Rose nodded and realization began to light his face. “You ask,” he went on, “knowing that he wouldn’t. That I wouldn’t. That we could never leave knowing you were alone and unhappy here and that he had to leave, of course, before the rift closed and left everyone stranded in a paradoxically doomed universe and bloody hell you did that on purpose.” The Doctor slammed his fist down on the pebbled rock surface. Turning a gaze upon her that was, at the same time baffled, awed and absolutely furious, he spat through gritted teeth. “You used me.”
Solemnly, Rose nodded. “So, did you. Use yourself, I mean. So don’t go blaming me for doing what’s necessary to protect my home universe. It wouldn’t have a chance without the Doctor.” She looked more kindly at him then, feeling bad for her earlier treatment; for the Doctor’s treatment of them both. “And I won’t go blaming you,” she finished lamely. He dropped his face back into his hands.
“I’ve been calling, can’t you hear me?” Jackie waddled up on the uneven ground, clearly exasperated. And Rose is suddenly aware of how much her mum had been put through recently. Rose would never have thought she’d leave Tony, not to go chasing after her wayward firstborn. But she’d been there when Rose needed her most. Had always been there, in fact. Which was considerably more than she could say for the majority of people who supposedly cared for her. Rose knew she never gave her mum enough credit for all the things she did, and apparently still had enough decency left to feel guilty about it.
“Sorry, Mum, no.” She pulled a stray lock of hair out of her mouth and said, “Must be the wind.”
“Well, the taxi’s waitin’. Let’s get a move on.”
Rose stole a glance at her watch. “Mum,” she started, painfully aware that Jackie was not going to like what she had to say next, “Look, can I catch you up?”
“Catch me up? And just where are you runnin’ off to? There’s only one taxi!”
“It’s just…” She couldn’t look her mum in the eye saying this, but she couldn’t look at him either, and by coincidence she was forced to look out at where the TARDIS had been standing. There was water all around the spot now. Any square impressions it may have left in the soft earth would have long since washed away. Soon there would be several feet of salty tidewater covering it all. “I thought I’d wait about here for a bit.”
“Oh, not this again.” Jackie threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes dramatically. Raising one accusing finger, she jabbed it forcefully at his nose. “She did this last time, too, you know. Wouldn’t budge, no matter how we tried to get her to move. And in the middle of winter, too.” Jackie removed her finger and placed her hands aggressively upon her hips. “And just what, tell me, is the big deal about five and a half hours.”
He blinked up at her in surprise. He glanced sideways, briefly, at Rose. “I,” he croaked, and cleared his throat. “I once told Rose to always wait five and a half hours.”
“And for what, exactly?” Jackie’s tone was reaching the critical screeching point.
“For me,” he answered, and immediately flinched under the fury of Jackie’s wordless scream.
“Look, Mum,” Rose interjected, trying to placate her, “Why don’t the two of you just take the taxi, check us in, and send the car back to me in another 5 hours or so, okay?”
“Oh, yeah, like I’m gonna take him and leave you out here to freeze.”
“Then just go yourself, he can stay with me and we’ll both catch you up later.” Rose’s voice was rising now to match her mum’s, and she stood up from her rock to match their heights as well.
“Far be it for me to break into this little love fest, but if you haven’t noticed I’m standing right here.”
Rose and her mother turned mutually blazing gazes on the man who had dared to interrupt their familial showdown. All three of them were standing now, in the heat of the moment. His eyes shifted quickly between the two women, apparently finding it difficult to meet both their eyes at the same time. It was, strangely enough, Jackie, who backed off first.
“He’s right, you know,” she said in a much more reasonable tone than any of them had been recently using. “There’s no use waiting around when the Doctor’s already here.”
Rose folded her arms beneath her breasts and turned back to face her mother. Slow and forceful, she enunciated every word. “He’s. Not. The. Doctor.”
“Yes. He. Is.” Both women looked at the man who had once again stepped uninvited into the middle of their argument. He stood with fists clenched at his sides, leaning slightly forward at the waist. His head was cocked slightly off from center, and this time he had no trouble meeting both of their glares at the same time. His own eyes were liquid pools of ebony fire…if such a thing were possible. Dark stars. Rose found herself frozen by his gaze, unable to turn away. Blood pounded through her ears, a rolling crash of surf against a barren beachhead. Rose became uncomfortably aware of a dampness under her arms and between her shoulder blades; Sweat breaking out despite the chill in the air, and cooling almost instantly against her skin. She found herself quivering with the shock of the cold, and something else as well. This, she realized, must be what it feels like to face the oncoming storm.
By contrast, the air around him seemed to shimmer, like waves over pavement in a sweltering summer heat. With a frustrated sniff, he shook his head and looked away, breaking the contact which held them petrified. Somehow, she could still feel his eyes on her. Freezing her. Thrilling her.
“He wouldn’t come now, anyway. Not so soon after…” His voice trailed off.
“How can you say that?” She was surprised to hear her own voice; had been unsure that she would be able to speak at all. “How can you know that?”
He didn’t look at her this time. His tone was annoyed, reminiscent of her first Doctor’s voice when he had once again needed to explain something intuitively obvious to his stupid ape of a companion. A clipped answer that brooked no further questioning, and denied outright any chance for debate. “Because I wouldn’t.”
He turned on his heel and stalked off towards the roadway. He didn’t ask her to follow; didn’t turn to look behind, but his last words hung in the air, an open invitation. She didn’t quite agree with them, but she couldn’t contradict him. Giving a last glance to the now turbid waters, foaming and crashing where once she had stood flanked on both sides by the man she loved more than anything, more than stars and worlds and galaxies, more than her mum and Mickey and the man she almost but not quite thought of as her dad, she fell into step behind him.
Back to index
Chapter 2: Chapter 2It was a two day flight to London by zeppelin, and that was two days too many for the Doctor. At least back at the village there had been things to see and do, for all they spent less than a full day there. He had wandered country lanes with Rose as the sun dipped low in the sky, setting early at this latitude and time of year, but not fast enough for his purposes. He had pointed out to her the local plant life, waxed poetic about oaks and acorns, and thrilled silently at the quirked smile his explanations brought to her face. It was the first he’d seen from her since their coming here.
“Didn’t know you were such a fan of oaks.”
“Well, Earth flora is just as fascinating as any other planet’s,” he said, returning her smile with a disproportionately enthusiastic one of his own. “It doesn’t always have to be fuchsia leaves and sentient stalks, you know.”
“Yeah,” she had replied, her eyes drifting off down the dusty lane and away from him. “But it’s got to get boring after a while. Same old thing.”
“Nonsense,” he replied quietly, glad he didn’t have to meet her eyes. It was a lie, of course, and she’d know it was anyways, but it least it wasn’t to her face.
They had waited in a fallow field for the stars to come out. Here, far out from any major cities, they twinkled bright even in the purple twilight, but not bright enough. The atmosphere would get in the way, whatever they did, and pollution didn’t help either. Still, the same stars, mostly, in the same constellations. It was pretty much as the Doctor would have expected. And if one ignored the dark form of a zeppelin crossing as a slightly darker ink blot against the charcoal sky, the whirr of its engines a distant buzz that reached their ears a short time after its passing, one could believe this was the same old universe they’d always gone stargazing in.
You couldn’t see the stars from inside the zeppelin cabin. The Doctor had tried, craning his neck at the thick glass window until he got a crick in it, but all he could catch sight of was the underside of the great balloon above them. There were, of course, no trees to discuss either, and the limited conversation provided by the perfectly acceptable tea and meals could only be stretched so far. Jackie appeared unable to engage in more than two topics; those being what she would do when she got home and how she couldn’t wait to see Pete and Tony. Rose had been uncharacteristically silent, and though she had offered to play cards, she had turned his suggestion of chess down flat.
“What’s the point in playin’ a game I know I’ll lose.”
The Doctor failed to see why she thought she would be more successful against him at cards (she wasn’t), however, he’d dived at any chance of social interaction which didn’t involve an in depth analysis of primary school quality versus proximity to the Tyler mansion. But cards could only motivate Rose for so long, and in all honesty, had held the attention of the former Time Lord for even less time.
Rose suggested reading, but the zeppelin’s limited library selection of trashy romance novels, dime a dozen crime thrillers, and out of date Norwegian language newspapers left him cold. He could have killed for a scientific paper on string-theory, if only for the comedic value. He eventually retreated to the cramped cabin he had been assigned, and lying flat on the fold out bunk with one arm tucked behind his head, took to analyzing with particularity every difference he could pinpoint between his prior and current physiology.
The one heart aspect was obvious. And annoying. Seriously annoying. It was a wonder he could still think with the minute amount of blood flowing to his brain, not to mention having to coordinate walking and talking at the same time. It was exhausting. He’d actually slept that night at the inn, after Rose couldn’t take anymore of his staring heartsick into the sky and insisted they return for some rest. Slept the whole night through, waking to early rays of sun peaking through the window shade and the sounds of birds chattering in the bushes outside. Waking in a sweat, with a gasp of momentary terror as his mind searched futilely for his absent TARDIS.
Which brought to mind two other changes of note. Namely the complete absence of a respiratory bypass and the still questionable status of his psychic abilities. He was wary of testing the latter, too afraid he might find they had left him entirely. He thought they wouldn’t, as humans technically had the ability to engage in psychic communication written into their DNA, and he was certain to have locked into that code during his generation (not regeneration, mind, that option was out). However, there was a strong chance they would be significantly reduced, and that was not something he wanted to think about just yet. Not that he hadn’t thought about it. One plus in his favor was that he stilled seemed able to manage a good twenty or so different lines of mental process at the same time without too much effort, and as such, the worry that his telepathic brain functions might be hindered had managed to slip into his consciousness a number of times against his will. For now, he just preferred to push that train of thought to the back of his mind whenever it arose.
Ooh, right, body temperature. It seemed to be wavering somewhere around 36 or 37 degrees Celsius. Normal for a human, but bloody damned hot from his perspective. It had been cold on that beach. He had noticed. And even that evening out in the field had brought a chill that had seemed to seep all the way into his bones. He was beginning to comprehend Rose’s fondness for all those hooded jackets. He didn’t look forward to feeling the temperature like this all the time.
And as for his other senses? Well that was a good question. They seemed to be pretty much online, but once again, he hadn’t gone out of his way to test. He’d had a strong desire back at the heliport to lick the material that made up the zeppelin balloon for analysis (it looked like a hyper-glass matrix, but he couldn’t be too sure). He’d managed to curb his desire at the last possible moment. For one thing, he was certain it would annoy Rose. For another, he didn’t want yet another devastating disappointment. Food tasted…well, odd. Less, somehow. Muted. He had, however, taken note that the bananas they’d had for breakfast remained excellent sources of potassium in this universe, and he felt this was a good sign. He was fairly certain humans couldn’t detect things like that.
Hearing seemed okay. He’d caught the sound of Rose hitching her breath in a muffled sob all the way from her own cabin the night before. He had shot up from his own bunk at the sound, wondering if he should go to her. Caught trying to decide whether he was the last person she wanted to see right then or the first, he’d hesitated, and her breaths had soon calmed to the soft wisp of sleep.
His eyes, though. He wasn’t too sure about those. In general, things seemed pretty clear, except that outlines seemed to waver a bit the closer in they got. At first he’d thought it was just a side effect of the generating process, but as days had passed and it hadn’t gone away, he’d started to worry. Practicing now, he held his thumb out at arms length above him. Squinting one eye shut, he moved it slowly towards his face. Clear. Clear. Pristine. Hang on, bit fuzzy now. Urgh, rather fuzzy. Now clearer again. And clear. His thumb hit his nose. Bugger. He might actually need those glasses now.
He hadn’t had much cause for smell the past few days, and in actuality had been tuning it out as much as possible. Rose’s scent had plagued him on the TARDIS, long after the other indications of her former life there had dwindled away. It had been like a curse, the way he would every once and a while get a whiff of her presence in an empty control room. It would literally stop him in his tracks, as he inevitably tried to lock onto its location. But always it wafted ghostlike about him, only to fade in a moment’s time. Martha and Donna had no doubt thought him bonkers. He had always offered excuses for his momentary inattention, laughing aloud at himself while cursing himself silently for being such a fool. For searching for a hint of someone years gone from the TARDIS hallways.
Now he was terrified she’d smell different to this more human nose, that he’d lose that part of her forever. That part which had, for so long, been such a burden to him, and at the same time such a comfort.
And touch. Well, that had been surprising. The TARDIS floor grating had been too sharp against his bare feet, his hastily thrown together wardrobe too scratchy on his back and shoulders, and then when Donna had gripped his elbow in concern he’d almost yelped at the contact. It had only gotten worse from there on out. No new Doctor, perhaps, but new-new skin and ouch. He wondered if normal humans felt like this. It might explain the temperature sensitivity, but no, that couldn’t be it. He was fairly certain they wouldn’t spend so much time relaxing on beaches if salty, sea air always felt like that whipping against their cheeks. And though the rocks they had perched on the other day had nearly driven him mad with their sharp edges, Rose hadn’t seemed to mind them that much.
Then there was that kiss. He had been trying not to think about it, and failing of course. There was such a confusing mix of emotions associated with it right now he didn’t know what to think. Except that it had felt nice. Better than nice. Extremely better than nice. Her lips and hands, and his hands, which had momentarily seemed to be under some foreign control as they roamed and clasped about her body. But seeing as how Rose was acting like it had never happened in the first place, it was probably best to leave it be. For the moment anyways. He wondered if this strange sensitivity would last. He wondered whether he wanted it to.
He thought that covered it, all the major senses. Of course, there was time sense, but that wasn’t really a sense. It was just the way he’d chosen to describe it to various companions over the years. Hard to relate it to anything they could understand. And that, it appeared, was just gone. A complete void there in his mind where a swirling mass of potentialities used to be. Well, good riddance. He didn’t particularly see how it had helped him all that much in the past. All that supposed knowledge of the way things were destined to be, and he still spent most of his life running around in complete ignorance of what was coming up next. Preferred it that way, really. No point in reading the last page first. It was really only good for piloting the TARDIS, and he didn’t think he’d be needing those skills much any more. No extra-sensory baggage needed on this flight.
He sighed aloud, the sound echoing weirdly around the tiny cabin, and wondered how long he could keep up this valiant attempt at convincing himself.
A knock at the door brought him out of his reverie.
“Yes?” he queried, not wanting to get up unless he had to.
“It’s me,” came Rose’s querulous voice from the other side of the door. The Doctor waited for her to go on or to ask for admittance, but when she did neither he swung his long legs off of the bunk and got up to open the door. She was standing just outside with her arms crossed, elbows nestled comfortably in her palms, her eyebrows drawn together in thought. She looked worried. He could relate.
“Hello,” she said, looking up at him.
“Hello,” he replied, with equal solemnity.
“I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
The Doctor blinked at her. Was she serious? He stepped back a bit to give her a better view of the sparse cabin. “Exactly what do you think I could be doing in here that you’d be interrupting?”
Rose shrugged, her eyes drifting over the meager accommodations. “Don’t know…reading?”
“That tripe?” he asked, referring to the tepid selection in the ‘library’. “Actually, that’s offensive to tripe, which is a lovely dish, really, once you stop thinking about what it’s actually made of. Honestly, you’re dad’s a billionaire, you’d think he could buy us passage on a higher class zeppelin.” It occurred to him, belatedly, that Rose might find this comment a bit rude, but then he didn’t exactly feel like making nice at the moment. Besides, she should be used to that sort of thing from him by now.
Rose eyes flew to meet his own. “He’s not my dad.”
“I know that.”
“No, I mean, yes he is my dad…and no he’s not really…but the point is he’s not supposed to be.”
“I…” The Doctor ran through that sentence again in his head, to see if it made more sense the second time. It didn’t. “What?”
“He’s my uncle.”
The Doctor blinked hard for the second time since the start of this conversation. “And that makes perfect sense.”
“Don’t be a git,” she said with a huff, and smiled warmly. He found himself hating, just a little bit, the way his stupid single heart seemed to trip drunkenly over itself at the sight of that smile. “Peter and Jacqueline Tyler were married for twenty years without children before they decided to renew their vows on their anniversary. Everyone knows that. Fabulously wealthy, childless couples don’t just go unnoticed by the tabloids. So Pete can’t be my dad.” Her smile widened then and she raised an eyebrow meaningfully. “He’s my Uncle Pete, mum’s my Aunt Jackie, and Tony’s my adorable little cousin.” Her eyes scanned the cabin again. “And as for sittin’ in the cheap seats, we’re traveling under the radar on the Torchwood account. It’s not all that easy sneaking an ‘illegal alien’ into the country.”
“Right,” he said. He hadn’t put much thought into what would be involved with his integration into alternate universe society. Luckily, it appeared that Rose and Pete had. He remembered Rose’s comment from the other day. ‘This will take some getting used to.’
Rose glanced nervously up and down the corridor, making sure it was empty of passengers. “This is probably not a conversation we should be continuing in the hall,” she said hinting.
“Oh, yes! Well, no. I mean…do you want to come in?” He stepped farther back from the doorway, giving her clearance to pass into his stateroom. She sidled past, brushing her shoulder against his chest in the narrow passageway, and causing him to take in his breath slightly at the rasping contact. He hoped she hadn’t noticed. Dropping abruptly onto his bunk, she leaned back against the wall. He shut the door as quietly as he could manage, though what he was trying to avoid disturbing with his caution he couldn’t have said. He turned to her as she was finishing her quick survey of the room.
“It is a bit spare, but mind you, the one mum and I are sharing isn’t much larger.” She turned to him, smiling again, and he wondered why she seemed to be smiling so much all of a sudden, when she’d barely done it at all the past few days. Was she trying to make up for lost time? Make a special effort to comfort him? Fix him, as his other self would say? Did she really think he needed that? “I should have picked you up a National Geographic or something at the heliport. Should have known you’d be half out of your mind with boredom.”
“Only half?” he said, lifting his eyebrows at her teasingly and crossing the cabin in three strides to flop down on the bunk beside her. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. There seemed to be a curious lack of helicopters at that heliport.”
“The ‘heli’ comes from helium,” she explained, shaking her head derisively. “I keep forgettin’ how much you have to learn about this place.”
The thought brightened his spirits and he beamed at her. “Well now, learning about new places, that’s very me.” His smile faded and his brow creased. There was something wrong with that. Something in the phraseology that just felt…uncomfortable. “What is it with all the zeppelins anyway?”
“Funny you should ask that, it took me a while to figure out when I first came here. There’s a lot of places where this world’s timeline diverges from our own, and sometimes it’s hard to suss out exactly what event made what difference. However, I think I can pin this one on the Hindenburg explosion.”
“Oh,” he asked, not having to feign his interest in the slightest. He shifted himself slightly back from her (she was sitting just at that range where things started to lose focus for him) and settled himself more firmly onto the thin mattress. “How’s that?”
“There wasn’t one.” She tilted her head in thought. “It was easy to miss because the Hindenburg wasn’t important here at all and there wasn’t much info on it period. It was just an early passenger ship that was quickly eclipsed by safer and more efficient helium models.”
“That’s just weird,” he commented, placing both hands behind his head and leaning back against the wall with a disaffected air. “No, Hindenburg. No, ‘Oh, the humanity!’ I wonder what people say, then, when they would say ‘Oh, the humanity!’ Mind you, it’s kind of a trite phrase, ‘Oh, the humanity!’ And not very applicable outside of Earth. So we’re probably better off without it. What else here is different that I should know about?”
She laughed aloud at his enthusiasm. Not the free and bell like sound he remembered, but a laugh nonetheless. And that was definitely the first time he’d heard her do it in this universe. He could not have stopped the smile that spread across his face if he had tried. “A lot,” she breathed, “You wanna hear it all?”
“Of course,” he flashed his teeth at her, “Bit of a change, though. You knowing all about a place and teaching me what’s what.” That seemed to sober her a bit. She covered well, though; continuing to smile, albeit sadly.
“Well, the big one…the thing which I found the most amazing…was that there was no World War II.”
“Get out!” The Doctor dropped his arms and leaned forward in his excitement. Mentally, he chided himself for sounding just like Donna. He was going to have to work on curbing that more annoying aspect of his new personality.
“I know!” Rose answered in the same excited tone. She didn’t appear to notice anything out of the ordinary. “I couldn’t believe it either.” She turned to face him fully on the bed, sitting Indian style. “And it’s not something that just comes up in everyday conversation, you know. ‘Hello, do you mind telling me if we ever had a second World War?’” Rose was beginning to sound a bit like Donna herself, but she was on a roll with this and the Doctor didn’t want to stop her. “You wouldn’t believe the blank looks I got at work the day I jokingly referred to the witchy receptionist as a Nazi. I ended up going online to figure out what was up. Turns out Hitler was a starving artist who’s famous only for breeding the first German Shepard to win Best in Show at Crufts.”
The Doctor couldn’t help a bark of laughter from escaping his chest, although in retrospect, laughing at a genocidal maniac (almost, he supposed) may not have been in the best of taste. He had known this other world was different, he just hadn’t realized how much. A whole earth generation had basically been defined by that war. He was fascinated to find out how they had turned out without it. Eager even. It was almost like visiting another world, while staying on his favorite one. Almost, but not quite. Even Rose seemed affected, and the red tinge which had always seemed to light her cheek while they were traveling together blossomed momentarily on her face.
“You can’t imagine the shockwaves of change from our own universe that resulted from that.” She had said it conversationally, but he took it as a challenge.
“Oh, I bet I can.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly willing to rise to the competition, but justifiably wary of the gloat-fest that was likely to follow in its wake. “All right,” she drawled out slowly, and he could see the shrewd light in her eyes.
“Have a go then. Give me five.”
The Doctor held up his hand and ticked off five historical facts (well, facts from his universe’s point of view anyways) which were likely to have been affected by the lack of a second great war. “No state of Israel. No atomic bomb. No moon landing. No unending conflict in the Middle East. And Great Britain overthrows the old monarchical/Parliamentary system in favor of an entirely republican form of government.” He raised his eyebrows at her. Come on, he thinks, I’m right. You know it. Now tell me just how impressive I am. He’d be disturbed by just how much he wants to hear her admit just that, but he remembers that he’s always felt that way. This was an aspect of his personality he knew he couldn’t put down to the newer, baser human half of him.
The smile which crosses her lips turns his insides cold. “Correct, correct, significantly delayed, wrong entirely cause unrest in the Middle East appears to be a universal constant, and the last one doesn’t count because you found out about it when we came here during the Canary Warf incident. Hah!” She’d got him. She knew she had got him, and her smile was triumphant.
Strangely, the Doctor couldn’t care less about losing.
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Chapter 3: Chapter 3Rose had her own flat in the city. It was tiny, and had taken some getting used to as well. She had moved from the unending halls and spacious rooms of the TARDIS directly into Pete’s humongous mansion, and then into the flat. Had she not retained her memories of living on a council estate, she would have found the transition deplorable and the accommodations all but unlivable. As it was, she found them vaguely comforting. It had two bedrooms, one bath, and a great room that served as kitchen, dining room, and living room combined.
“Why on earth do ya’ need two bedrooms?” her mother had asked. “You could find one with a master bedroom twice this size for the same price, and a larger kitchen too.”
“It’s for when Mickey comes over,” she explained, “When he gets hammered and can’t drive himself home.”
“Seems to me he could sleep with you jus’ fine,” her mum had murmured mutinously, “You didn’t used to mind.” Rose had merely rolled her eyes. Her mum never seemed to recognize that particular ship had sailed. Well, flown. Well, whatever you call it when a ship slips between dimensions. Point being, she couldn’t come right out and out tell her mum that what she really wanted was a place to store her Torchwood ‘acquisitions’; the things she found at work that were too dangerous or just too ahead of their time to allow the Torchwood leadership to get wind of them. Jackie of the incapacitating pregnancy hormones would have pitched a fit. Would have argued it was yet another symptom of Rose’s refusal to accept that the Doctor was gone. It was dangerous. It was most certainly against company policy.
Mickey had, in fact, used the room on more than one occasion. The morning after the first time he’d slumped in to breakfast, pensive and uncharacteristically quiet. He couldn’t have missed the objects littering the desk; couldn’t have mistaken their origin. Rose wondered if her stash had given him pause, or if he was just hung over. She wondered too, briefly, if he would turn her in; if their friendship had been so strained by her relationship with the Doctor that now all trust was gone. But the men with badges didn’t come to take her away, and a couple days later Mickey showed up on her doorstep with a cardboard box from his own flat.
“For your spare bedroom,” he’d said, handing it over. Then they’d gone for chips.
And now, the ubiquitous bedroom would have a new occupant. Oh, yes, they could have stayed at the mansion. Jackie would have been overjoyed, but Rose could not personally think of a worse torture for either of them.
“Make yourself at home,” she introduced with a sweep of her hand. She watched him take in the entire expanse of the flat in one quick flick of his eyes. “Spare room’s down the hall on the right, mine’s on the left, and bathroom’s right at the end.” She looked at him critically. Although he wasn’t exactly suffering from a severe lack of personal hygiene (he’d washed up at the hotel and on the zeppelin), he could do with a shave and his hair was lying criminally flat against his head. Also, he’d been wearing the same clothes for three days straight, and she wasn’t sure she had anything adequate to replace them.
He noticed her watching him, and turned to her with the same tentative air he had used on the beach. Of course, she thought, this was new ground. Her territory, yes, but strange to him. Just as the universe itself was new ground. He was looking to follow her lead in this, and not for the first time since they’d come here, she wished he’d just plunge in headfirst. Wished he throw himself into the adventure, half-cocked or otherwise, like the Doctor would have in the same situation. Tiny flat? Marvelous! Zeppelin shadowed London? Fascinating! Got bananas? Brilliant!!
“You might want to take a shower,” she suggested. “You can use my razor.” His eyebrows shot into his low hanging brows and he lifted a hand to caress the underside of his chin. Thick stubble covered it, a mixture of chestnut and ginger highlights that didn’t make it all the way up his sideburns.
“Right,” he said, sounding amused. “Can’t have me being the evil Doctor from the alternate universe now, can we?” Her mouth quirked in response.
“Right,” she affirmed with a nod, and led him down the hall to the bath. “Towels under the sink, razor’s behind the mirror.” She smiled encouragingly, and he returned it, looking a little sick. The door closed behind him, and in a moment she could hear the water splaying across the porcelain bottom of the bathtub. Sighing heavily with relief, she entered her bedroom.
It was a mess, still. There had been a time when it had been kept fairly organized. Back when working for Torchwood was just a job and paperwork was her biggest problem. Back before the stars started going out and she started spending less and less time at home. Back when she’d had some sort of motivation to actually pick her clothes up off the floor, launder them, fold them, and place them neatly in the overlarge wooden dresser.
Back when she knew that, every day, she’d be coming home to this same location.
She would have to get back into the habit of cleaning again. And cooking. And working, in general. She started now by removing a wayward sweatshirt from the foot of her bed and depositing it in the hamper in the closet. While there, she looked for something that he could wear while she washed the few clothes he did own. Not much of hers would fit him, but it would only be for sleeping in anyways. They’d need to get him something else to wear tomorrow. Now wasn’t that domestic. Clothes shopping with the little woman. He’d probably just love that.
She found an oversized t-shirt with the name of a local pub emblazoned across the front. She’d won it for being able to recite Pi to more digits than any of the other inebriated patrons. Jake’s jaw had hit the table. Mickey had just shaken his head, not surprised by anything she did anymore. In the back of her closet she found a pair of men’s boxers that she’d bought to sleep in. Forest green without pattern, but very comfortable. Not exactly high fashion, but this would just have to do for now.
She continued cleaning, occupying her mind with mundane matters so she wouldn’t become preoccupied with what would happen tomorrow…or the next day…or the day after that. How he would deal with the changes. How she would deal with him dealing with the changes. How she would manage to keep being strong and friendly and caring and smiling, when inside she was weak and scared and bitter and this list was just going to keep getting longer and more depressing if she didn’t stop soon.
Right. That colander certainly did not belong in her bedroom. How had it even gotten there in the first place? It was wrong, totally wrong. Never belonged here. Not either of them. And she had broken down on the zeppelin, curled into a ball on her little bunk, thinking this very same thing. That he was just as wrong as she was, only more so, because at least she could still be herself. Could still be Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth. Regular old human girl doing completely irregular things. But he could never be the Doctor. Could never have a TARDIS. Could never pilot through time and space, stopping wherever and whenever he wanted like it was his own personal parking lot. Could never make her palms quiver with the beat of the two hearts it ached for. No, for all her pain, for all her anger, for all her discomfiture with her current situation, she had gotten off easy. She can’t hate the Doctor, it’s not a possibility, but if it were, she thinks this might have done it. And she had promised herself, then and there, stifling her sobs into her pillow in the tiny airship cabin, that she would be strong for him. That she would be there for him and support him and try to love him for who he was and not who she wanted him to be. That she would stop her crying right now you stupid ape, because he’s just in the next room and he’ll hear you and what is he going to think then, huh?
The sound of running water from the bathroom dissipated; resolving itself into solitary and definitive drips. Quickly, she wiped at her damp eyes with the heels of her hands. There was nothing she could do about the redness he would undoubtedly detect there. She opened the door to find him just outside, having exited the shower clad in nothing more than a purple towel wrapped about his hips. He was holding his now rank and wrinkled outfit in one hand and a hairbrush in the other.
“Clothes,” she said, holding out her hand imperiously. He handed them over to her without objection and she replaced them with the outfit she had managed to cobble together. “Here,” she wrinkled her nose. “It’s not much, but it’ll do for just tonight.” He nodded his understanding and looked at the brush. “Yeah, you can use it.” His hair was plastered in sloppy curls against the sides of his face. She noticed that he had shaved and made a mental note to get them both new razors. Pointing at the slightly ajar door across from her own, she stated, “Guest room’s all yours.” Nodding again, he entered the room and the door clicked shut behind him.
Had she just managed an entire conversation with him not saying a single word?
Shaking her head as if to clear it of cobwebs, she attacked the situation as if it were a Torchwood crisis. Okay, normal guest procedure. Provide clean towels. Check. Bed linens. Errr…check? She thought they had been washed since Mickey’s last stay. Clothes. Well that wasn’t normal, people usually brought their own clothes, but an honorary check anyways. Offer food. Bugger. Who keeps food in their flat when they expect any minute to be moving permanently to another universe. Well, not her certainly. She’d have to order in. Okay, what would he like? Would he like what the Doctor had liked? Come to think of it, was there anything the Doctor hadn’t liked to eat? Pears. No pears. That should be pretty easy to avoid. Not a lot of pear heavy take-out cuisines in central London. Chips? No. Too old Doctor. Old-old Doctor. Pizza? Cliché. Thai? Yes, Thai would work. Hopefully. If not, he’d just have to deal.
Happy to have something to do other than hover outside his door (His door? It was her spare bedroom for goodness sake. He hadn’t been here twenty minutes, how could it already be his room?) like an expectant father, she hurried off to peruse her extensive collection of take-out menus.
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Chapter 4: Chapter 4He found her standing before the little fireplace with her head bent, staring blankly at a folded piece of paper. Her mobile held limp and forgotten in her other hand. She looked lost. That makes two of us, he thought.
“Rose,” he said gently, not wanting to startle her from her reverie. She looked around at him, her hands dropping to her sides as she came to herself. “Do you know there’s a Moralvian Temporal Displacement Rifle sitting on your bedside table.”
“Yes,” she answered swiftly. “Well, no. I didn’t remember what it was called,” she gave a wan smile, “Just that it was bad.” She tipped her head to the side so that a long stand of blonde hair which had come loose from her ponytail brushed at her shoulder. “It is, right? Bad, I mean.”
“It is, in fact, bad.”
“Thought so.” She nodded confidently, and set the phone and paper down on an end table. Her hands, thus freed, seemed not to know what to do with themselves, and settled on wringing each another nervously. “I ordered us some food. It’s Thai. Hope you’re hungry.”
“I am,” he said. He was.
“Good.” She dug into the tight pockets of her jeans and pulled out a much tattered note. “I’m going to go take a shower. If the delivery boy shows while I’m in the bath-“
“I should run and hide behind the couch before he sees me dressed like this,” he finished. She blinked. Her eyes ran slowly down his body and back up again, as if noticing for the first time the awkwardness of his outfit. Her head pulled back slightly and simultaneously, her lips sucked themselves back in behind her teeth. The Doctor recognized the signs of desperately hidden laughter an instant before Rose broke out into uncontrollable guffaws. She doubled over, bracing herself against the back of her couch. Her eyes squeezed shut and tears leaked helplessly from their corners.
“You chose it.” He gave her a withering look and held his arms out as if to show he was powerless in the face of fashion. She paused in her hilarity only enough to look up at him, and seeing the look on his face, broke out into fresh laughter. Something deeply ingrained in his personality, something stoic and superior and Time Lord-y, was offended by her reaction. Was encouraging him to stare down at her with irritated ice blue eyes he didn’t even have any more. Was telling him he should be put out and sulk a bit before letting her beg her way back into his good graces.
Luckily for the Doctor, the voice was drowned out by his own laughter.
“God.” She drew the word out, gasping for breath after her near apoplexy. “You’ve got a point there. I’ve got a reputation among the local delivery boys, you know. Can’t have them thinking I just invite poorly dressed weirdos around for tea. I’ll make this quick, okay? Be out before the food gets here.” She gave a crooked smile and slipped past him to the bathroom. He was alone in the living room, then. Rose’s living room. For lack of direction, he stared around at its contents.
It was small, like the rest of the flat. A love seat faced a medium sized, flat screen TV. Beneath was a mass of wires and boxes, amongst which the Doctor counted what appeared to be at least three game systems. His brow creased in concentration, that didn’t seem much like Rose. More of a Mickey thing, and he supposed it still was. There was a coffee table set in front of the couch, littered with magazines. This was a familiar Rose aspect. He’d been forever clearing her periodical detritus from the TARDIS console and stacking it in neat piles that never seemed to diminish in size despite his pleas that she get rid of them. However, in those days the stacks had been full of Cosmopolitan and People and 10 Celebrity Make-Up Secrets Revealed. Now, apparently, it was Popular Science.
The fireplace opposite the television was flanked by two bookcases. There was also a shelf of books in the guest bedroom, and he had already looked over those titles while he was getting dressed. Physics and astronomy and Torchwood manuals. Here were the everyday books, for lack of a better term. The Doctor recognized what looked like a whole series of romance novels. There were books by a number of science fiction authors he was familiar with, and one or two he didn’t recognize. Some historical fiction. Jane Austen. Conan Doyle. Lovecraft.
The Doctor straightened, unable to imagine Rose reading Lovecraft.
A book with a striking yellow and black striped binder stood out from the others on the shelf and he removed it for a better look. Time Travel for Dummies. The Doctor’s brow creased further and he flipped through the pages. It took a while for him to realize it was meant as a joke, and not as an actual primer on temporal mechanics. He flipped to the contents and snorted in amusement. Chapter 6: Time Paradoxes- How Not to Kill Your Own Parents. Chapter 10: Looking the Part- What Not to Wear on Your Temporal Adventure. Flipping all the way to the front, he noticed an inscription scrawled on the title page.
Just in case. Happy Birthday!
The Doctor smiled ruefully and replaced the book on the shelf. Wandering over to the fireplace, he noticed a number of objects sitting on the narrow white painted mantelpiece. Mantles, he knew from experience, were where humans like to keep their nicest objects; where they could display their prized possessions. In the times before television, sitting around the fireplace had been one of the primary forms of entertainment, and everyone was likely to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at the mantle and its contents. Although the focus of human entertainment had shifted a bit since then, the purpose of the mantle, apparently, remained.
On the left end was a photograph of Jackie and a very frazzled looking Pete. The Doctor thought he had even less hair in the picture than the last time he’d seen the man. Jackie was cradling a little pink bundle in a blue blanket. Tony, he presumed. Jackie was radiant. At the other end of the mantle was another photo. This time of Mickey in what looked like Army fatigues, grinning madly and with his arm wrapped around the shoulder of another vaguely familiar young man. Perfectly normal mantelpiece decoration, it was the items in the center which were striking.
Rose had a Dogon Sixth Eye.
The Doctor could guess where she got it from: the same place as the Displacement Rifle. He wondered if she knew what it was. He wondered if Torchwood knew. He wondered if they knew she had it. He wondered why she would want it. The Dogon Eye was harmless. Well, relatively. Well, he said harmless, but it could, in fact, be very emotionally damaging to use one. Regardless, nothing along the lines of the Displacement Rifle or the other items he’d caught a quick glimpse of in the bedroom. Mostly, he wondered why she’d put it on her mantle for all to see when everything else alien was relegated to the back bedroom. Certainly it was pretty. Maybe that was the only reason. Maybe she thought it was just a nice rock. Yeah, and maybe he’d given up on underestimating her after she launched herself across a dozen universes to help him keep the stars from blinking out.
Perhaps more curious from a different standpoint was the phone. The pink one. The one he’d fixed for her in the year five billion and watched in dismay as she immediately called her mum; so sure she’d run right back to her old life. It was leaned against the wall in order to keep it standing up straight. Its little screen was blank and gray. Dead.
Seriously, who keeps a phone on their mantle?
However, the oddest item of all had to be what sat in the center. The place of honor, as it were. The Doctor recognized it, of course; he was a student of Earth history. It was balanced awkwardly, all crazy arms and odd curves. It looked like something out of an alien spaceship, but it wasn’t. It was old, too. Brass and battered. Scratches marred its once pristine surface. And there, draped from its highest point, hung a slim gold chain and a single silver colored key. Where the device was warm and gold in appearance, the key reflected a cool, almost blue hue. Tentatively, he reached one long finger out towards it.
“It's an antique,” said a voice behind him, and he whipped around. Rose was clothed in a light pink tank top and matching flannel pajama bottoms with little flowers all over them. Little roses. Something in his chest fluttered at the sight of her. Not from excitement or desire or any normal reactions human males are supposed to have to a woman in her bedclothes, but from thankful recognition. Relief flooded through him at the appearance of this oh-so-familiar Rose in these disturbingly different surroundings. She had worn sleeping outfits just like that when they had traveled together before, and his mind reeled with the number of memories these simple articles of clothing brought to mind. Rose sitting Indian style on the jump seat with a steaming mug of tea held in her lap. Rose passing him sleepily in the hallway on her way to breakfast. Rose collapsed in laughter on the floor grating, with Jack standing proudly over her wearing only a strategically placed tube sock. Rose asleep in front of his own fireplace, head pillowed on one arm.
“I found it in a shop,” she said, reaching one hand up to lay it on the mantle next to the object in question. “That’s what mum does now. Antiquing. Says it’s relaxing. Dreadfully boring is what I say.”
He tore his eyes from her and focused them back on the mantle. “You know what it is?”
He nodded. He knew her too well already, the new her in this new world, to be surprised. “And you know what it’s for?”
Her hand’s grip tightened upon the mantle’s edge and she leaned her weight away from it, balancing back on her heels. “Sailors used it, back in the day. They looked at the stars through it and were able to figure out their latitude and navigate all over the ocean.” Her voice was soft and dreamy, as her eyes floated over the strange and spidery apparatus. “Traveling by starlight.”
Her eyes shifted to him, then, and he felt as if she were looking right through him. Looking past him. Gazing into a different universe, a different time, a different place. A different person. Someone with two hearts beating a syncopated staccato in his chest. Someone who could still feel the tilting of the earth beneath his feet as it twirled endlessly upon its axis. Someone who wouldn’t be caught dead wandering around in nothing more than a T-shirt and boxers.
“Rose,” he started softly, then stopped himself before he could finish his thought. He hated this. This whole situation. The dreadful awkwardness of it all. He hated that she kept looking, hated that he couldn’t entirely blame her for doing it, hated himself for putting them into this situation, hated the heat of fury he felt coiling in the pit of his stomach, hated that he couldn’t quite quell the sickly, boiling acid sting of it, hated most of all the fact that he had already been through this once before. The look she was giving was the same, her voice was the same, every bloody damned thing was the same except this time he didn’t feel like he was about to collapse with exhaustion and explode with exhilaration at the same time. No, this time he just felt confused and stupid and slow and useless and…and wet.
A knock at the door provided a much needed distraction.
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Chapter 5: Chapter 5They ate on plates, which was a bit of a change. Meals on the TARDIS had never been steeped in that sort of formality. Silence had descended upon the flat almost immediately after the delivery boy had departed. It was not, however, the type of silence you could blame on the fact that everyone at dinner was voraciously scarfing down their food. Quite the contrary, as Rose only picked at her meal absentmindedly, while he held each piece of food up before him and examined it in detail before devouring it with slow, pensive bites. Remembering her duties, her self imposed one as well as that given to her by the Doctor (which, coincidentally, were exactly the same), Rose made a effort to break the silence.
“We’ll have to get you some clothes.”
He paused in his examination of the peanut he had raised delicately between the tips of his chopsticks to look at her.
“You can’t go around wearing the outfit you came here in forever,” she explained further, and he grimaced with distaste. She continued in an exasperated tone, “Or maybe you could. Seems to me you never changed out of that old brown suit of yours.”
“Not true.” He popped the peanut into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “Had a blue one as well, not nearly as sophisticated.” He raised an eyebrow. “And before that it was jeans and leather.”
Rose flinched. She hadn’t thought about that old outfit in a long time. Hadn’t thought about the old Doctor in a long time. And now she felt guilty, and almost violated, hearing him talk about the man who had become among her most precious of memories. What gave him the right?
“Still, you’re probably right,” he conceded. He frowned again, and this time it wasn’t brought on by any reaction to his dinner. “I might, uhhh…” Rose looked at him with concern. He seemed embarrassed about something. He raised a hand, and in a hauntingly familiar gesture, rubbed nervously at the back of his neck. “I might need to go see an optometrist.”
He had mumbled and his comment had been lost even in the small amount of space that the table put between them. “What?”
He sighed. “I might need to see an optometrist.” Rose figured it was impolite to stare at him with her mouth hanging open. Unfortunately, it was too late to correct her actions.
“What?!” she asked again, dubiously.
He seemed put out by her continued line of questioning. He set his chopsticks down on the plate before him and pushed back from the table. Crossing his arms, he stared darkly at her. “I need glasses, Rose.”
“You do?” she sputtered.
“Yes.” His voice was cold.
“Why?” He made a noise of frustration and threw his arms out to the sides as if to say, ‘Why the hell do you think?!’
“Right, sorry,” she went on, not waiting for a verbal response. “Stupid question. So, you can’t see?”
“I can see just fine, Rose.” The irritation was still clear in his voice. “Just…just not perfectly.”
“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. This, more than anything he had said or done since…well…since he existed, was proof to her that he was not the Doctor. Would never be the Doctor. Would spend the rest of his short human lifespan dealing with human issues and concerning himself with human problems. He knew it, too, and it clearly bothered him as much as it did her. Probably a whole lot more. And something inside of her whispered that she should just let it go. Just take the easy path for once, and avoid the issue. Act like it was something neither of them had to think about ever again. To just move him along his new path and pretend the old one never existed. It could never be again, why dwell on it?
She had heard that voice before and always ignored it. It had told her that Mickey and her mum and her friends needed her more than some time traveling, universe hopping alien. It had told her to leave the TARDIS to gather dust and just enjoy her chips and beans on toast. It had told her to leave, just leave, before she got left behind. It had told her to accept her position, stop obsessing about impossible means of escape and learn to love life in this crazy alternate universe.
It had told her to throw herself at the Doctor. To scream and cry and beat upon his chest, and beg him not to leave her. Not again. Oh, please no, not again. She couldn’t take this again.
“What else is different?”
He looked surprised. Obviously he had expected her to just leave that conversation be. It was, of course, what he would have done. Avoidance was his middle name. Well, that or denial. If you ignore something long enough, it will just go away. Which may work if you’re going to live for thousands of years, but it wasn’t going to work anymore. Not for him. His brow creased. “A lot.”
“One heart?” she listed and he nodded. “Need glasses, for real this time.” She started racking her brains for things the Doctor had told her were different about his Time Lord physiology. He hadn’t been particularly forthcoming, and she hadn’t been the type to push him into discussions he clearly was uncomfortable with. She guessed she did listen to that nagging little voice on occasion. “No regenerations, you said. And I guess you can’t just give up parts of your lifespan on a whim anymore. Errr…how’re the teeth?”
His look was quizzical and amused. “Pretty much the same.” He picked up a chopstick and used it to absently push a peapod around his plate. “Taste though, that’s a bit different.”
“Is that why you keep making faces?” she asked.
“Yeah, I guess so. Sorry, didn’t realize I was doing it.” He looked like the apology was sincere, not just something that was said to fill space. He was so uncertain in these surroundings; her flat, in her universe. She realized that in all their previous relations, he had always been the one in control; had always been in a position of power. Now he was thrown for a loop. He couldn’t even guess what was waiting for him just around the corner.
Or could he?
“Can you still…” She broke off, not knowing exactly how to put this into words. It was something she’d never really understood in the first place, a concept just too alien for her to fully grasp. “Can you see what’s gonna happen? Like kinda…what could happen…only maybe...” She trailed off again, confused by her own question.
“No,” he answered simply, and gave his head a rueful shake. “The earth doesn’t turn beneath my feet anymore.”
“I’m sorry.” She was. He just shrugged and took another bite of his dish. He didn’t exactly scowl this time, but his eyes went vague for a moment and she knew his mind was somewhere other than their conversation. Then he focused on her.
“You’ve changed too.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “Alien weaponry in the extra room, plates with take-out, books lining the shelves.”
“Hey, I read on the TARDIS,” she broke in with indignation.
He pointed his chopsticks at her. “Romance novels?”
She rolled her eyes. “Those’re mum’s. Keeps givin’ em to me.”
Rose felt the corners of her mouth slip upwards against her will. “What can I say, the idea of terrible ancient gods lying asleep just beneath the surface of human awareness seems a lot more realistic after you’ve dumped a bunch of anti-plastic on the Nestene Consciousness.”
“Or stood beneath a black hole on an impossible planet,” he countered.
“Exactly,” she finished, and took a bite of her food. It was perfectly good, not too spicy. He really had nothing to complain about.
“No Harry Potter?”
Rose abruptly dropped her hand, chopsticks and all, to the table. “You know they don’t have them here?” she said, sounding scandalized. “I thought of writing them myself. Make a cool million or two. Would have felt bad, though, like I was stealing.” She raised the chopsticks back to her mouth, “’Sides, it’s not like I need the money.”
“So,” he said slowly, “You never got to read the seventh book then, did you?”
“No,” she glared at him in mock anger. “Someone never let me have it. Somebody told me patience was a virtue.”
“Maybe someone will tell you how it ends.” He flashed a crooked smile. “If you ask nicely.”
She considered him as she chewed. He looked…like she expected him too…which was something of a shock. Well, aside from the silly pub tee and the slicked down hair, that is. And with that thought she had the intense urge to lean across the table and mess his hairstyle up a bit. It didn’t look right all tamed and smooth like it was now. It didn’t fit with the look he was giving her now, the twist of his lips and the glint of his eyes. That was a look she remembered. That was a look the Doctor would wear when they teased each other over chips. Was that what he was doing? What they were doing? Teasing? Was it just that this was something familiar, something they both remembered how to fall back on? And they were both reaching for anything that was familiar at this point.
She cocked her head. “Would I like it?”
“What, the book?” She nodded, and he answered, “Of course.”
“Is there a happy ending?” His eyes seemed to pierce through her skull with the intensity of his gaze. He must know she wasn’t talking just about the book. He must know what she wanted him to say. What she wanted to hear. What she knew, knew now at least, he would have no answer to.
Shaking his head and averting his eyes, he evaded her question. “Spoilers, Rose.” Something seemed to strike him then, and he nearly jumped in his seat. His eyes went vacant and cloudy, and his face became utterly blank. Well, he hadn’t lost that ability, then. He could still look like a marble statute when the justification arose. Chiseled and emotionless and unearthly. As established as the expression was in her mind, it frightened her just a little to see the image plastered on the human face before her. Reaching across the table, she set her fingers lightly upon his hand as it rested thoughtlessly against the wooden edge.
If he felt her, he didn’t show it. “Hey,” she said, trying to get his attention. His face turned towards her, his eyes still distant. “You in there?” He blinked, and saw her. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
“Sorry,” and she heard a real apology in his voice again. So strange, that self-deprecating lilt. “Just…remembering…something.”
Remembering what, he didn’t say, and this time Rose listened to the little voice in her head telling her not to push the matter. Either he would come around and tell her eventually, or he wouldn’t. She was just going to have to get used to that again. She felt a little flame of frustrated anger burn in her chest. There was so much she wanted to know, so much she needed to know! And him! She knew he had questions too, thing’s he’d need to know in order to survive this messed-up alternate existence. Why was he asking her about romance novels and not the difficult questions? Why was this so bloody hard? Had she really had this much trouble talking to the Doctor before?
Another little voice inside of her said, yes. This one, she knew, spoke the truths she didn’t like to hear.
A thought came to her then, on how they could get around some of the discomfort inherent to the situation. How, when she had decided to ask the Doctor one of the tough questions…one of the things she knew he’d balk at telling her…she had gone about it.
She looked at him, her face an open book, and asked, “I could murder some tea right now. You?”
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Chapter 6: Chapter 6Rose handed him the warm mug, and he thanked her. He hadn’t realized his fingers were cold until he felt its comforting heat pressed against them. Flopping down on the sette, she reached for her own glass. Sipping it thoughtfully for a moment, she turned her full attention towards her house guest.
“I have a proposition.”
He was sipping when she spoke, and jumped at her intrusion into his thoughts. The mug shook against his lips, splashing tea against them and scalding them slightly. He pulled rapidly back from the cup, yet held it steadily above his lap so as not to drop any more on his sensitive skin. Turning to her, he asked in a gravelly voice, “What kind of a proposition?”
“Questions,” she said matter-of-factly. “You ask one and I have to answer, then we switch and you have to answer anything I ask. No rules on the topics, but you have to give the truth.” She raised her eyebrows, and he recognized a challenge from her when he saw it.
The Doctor blinked. “Seems to me I’ve heard of this game before. However, usually there’s ‘dares’ involved.”
“Nah,” she responded gaily, “Truth ‘r Truth. More fun that way.”
The setting sun angled through the vertical blinds and left crooked bar patterns of light and darkness across the couch and Rose and Rose’s light blue mug of tea. “All right then,” he humored her. Setting his own mug gently upon the end table where it could do no more immediate damage, he glanced sideways at her. “What do you want to know?”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head violently. “I came up with the rules, you get to ask the first question.” He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her. Fine then, if this is how she wanted it then he could play along. It was a strange way of going about things, though. Leaning back against the corner of the couch he considered her. Her face was narrower than it used to be. A sign that maybe she hadn’t paid as much attention to caring for herself recently, as if she’d missed a meal or two…or ten. Her hair was longer now, too. She had left it loose after her shower so that it fell in gentle waves past her shoulders. She was smiling at him from behind the edge of her mug, but it didn’t reach her eyes; and he had the distinct impression that this is the way all her smiles looked now. As if she just assumed those watching her wouldn’t notice that they were faked. Or that they wouldn’t care.
Folding his hands gently in his lap, he focused on his intertwined figures. “How long has it been?” He raised his eyes to her and saw only a momentary flicker of surprise behind her lashes.
“You mean since I originally came here or since Bad Wolf Bay?”
She seemed to ponder this for a moment. “It’s been almost three years since you came to me on the beach. A few months longer since Canary Warf.” He nodded his understanding, and she retorted with her own question almost immediately. “And for you?”
“Two years, Earth time. Weellll, I say two years, but it was really three. For me anyway. And Martha. And Jack. And Martha’s family, I suppose.” He smiled at her obvious confusion. “Sorry, time reversed itself for a tad, there. Long story.”
She considered that a moment. He broke into her thoughts with another question that had been bothering him for some time.
“You remember Bad Wolf?”
“What words haunting us through all of space and time? Yeah, kinda hard to forget that.”
“No,” concern wrote itself across his brow. “I mean, you…” This was difficult. He didn’t want to say anything that might disturb her, might shake her world view, if she didn’t already know it. He sighed heavily. “You remember what it means…where it came from?”
She looked at him as if he was being dense on purpose. “It’s a warning,” she said simply, and shrugged her unconcern. “I said it to Donna ‘cause I figured you’d recognize it. That you’d know who sent the message even though I couldn’t tell her my name.”
“Oh,” he replied, trying not to sound disappointed. She didn’t know. Didn’t remember. Didn’t know how those words had gripped his hearts when he heard them. How his eyes swam with golden starbursts and his breath caught in his throat. How his blood thrilled with the sense of time swirling about the two of them, making a whole of them.
“How come Jack’s immortal?” She broke him out of his haze of memory. Strange that she should ask that now, given his last question. He wondered if, despite her claims to innocence about the Bad Wolf, some part of her did make the connection.
“You noticed that, huh?” He almost laughed. “He’s not exactly immortal, mind you, and it…ummmm…it’s complicated.” He didn’t mean to be evasive, but it was so ingrained within him he didn’t really know how else to be.
“I figured that.” Her voice is clipped and icy. She’s not letting him get out of this explanation, and she waits expectantly. He had thought himself home free. No such luck. And at this point he wasn’t even sure he wanted to deny her the answers. In all honesty, he didn’t want to deny her anything.
He looked away from her, because he couldn't quite meet her eyes. Couldn’t let her see what it did to him to remember this. “You…you remember opening the heart of the TARDIS?” She nodded. He didn’t see it, of course, but he knew she was made some sort of affirmative response. Some undefined sense of his still apparently working full force. “The TARDIS…you…that’s not supposed to happen.”
“I know,” she said, and there was apology in her tone. “You told me so. Told me not to do it again; that it was dangerous.”
“No.” He was shaking his head and still avoiding her eyes. How could she know so much, and understand so little? “The heart of the TARDIS is time itself. Time and reality and possibility incarnate. No one’s supposed to touch that. Even Time Lords, we only look. Look and turn away in terror and awe.” He’s smiling now and he can’t help it. The memory is so blindingly clear, so inextricably linked in his mind with…other things. He’s afraid that he must be breathing heavily in remembered excitement. He hopes he’s not scaring her too much. “So beautiful,” he says, letting the full range of his emotions quiver through his voice. He’s never spoken to her like this, could never bring himself to be this open before. He’s a little disturbed at how easily it seems to come to him now. “With that kind of…of power…anything is possible. Literally, anything. Daleks are as motes of dust. Death just a meaningless word. The universe quivering at your fingertips, waiting to bend to your will.”
He turns to her, then, no longer afraid of what she might see in his eyes. He’s already taken this explanation much farther than he intended to. Going back is not an option. She’s staring at him wide eyed, as if she has no idea who he is. It occurs to him that she might not. “You did that?” she gasps. “You sang a song and made the Daleks run away. Touched the universe and made Jack…” Her voice trailed away, and he can’t tell if it’s shock or pride she’s feeling right then. Knows his next words will change things. Hopes they change for the better.
“No, you did.”
She blinks. Her brows contract, and it’s not with confusion, but with utter disbelief. Perhaps, he thinks, it’s better if she doesn’t believe him. “Pull the other one.”
He turns his palms up and looks away from her again. “You asked, I answered.” He hears the irritation clearly in his voice. This game of hers is getting uncomfortable. Not that anything they had been doing beforehand was particularly comfortable. It was all pointless, really, talking about the past. Silly and too human and grating on his nerves. Which had nothing at all to do, of course, with the fact that he had all but poured his soul out to her, and she had met his barely contained emotions with bland skepticism. “If you don’t care to take what I say as truth…” He left the thought open for her to finish.
“No, no.” She answered quickly. “I’m sorry, it’s just…” She tapped her fingernails against the ceramic of her mug. “’S a bit much to take in. That’s all.” She’s thinking about it now, and he can all but hear the gears turning inside her head. “That it was…me…I was the one who killed them…killed them all.” And he can see clearly the thought she doesn’t vocalize: ‘I’m no better than you.’ “But…” she says aloud, seeming to have come to some sort of conclusion.
“It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, yeah, it makes a little sense. ‘Cause I never really knew what went on after I broke into the TARDIS, never really remembered what happened before I woke up on the floor next to the console. Just…that song. And the light. This golden light. I used to dream about it.” She ran the fingers of her left hand through her loose hair and looked up at the ceiling. “Haven’t had those dreams in a long time. Not since comin’ here.”
She looks again at him, and there’s an abiding sadness in her eyes. “But, if what you say is true, an’…an’ I had all that…power you were talkin’ about…well, why didn’t I use it to save you?”
He smiles, and looks again into his lap. “You did.”
“No, no I didn’” She argues, a flush coming to her cheeks. “You…you died-“
He holds up a hand to stop her mid sentence. “Regenerated.”
“Doesn’t matter.” She’s not going to be dissuaded from this path, and it’s not as if they haven’t had this discussion before. There’s no point in rehashing the same Doctor-different face argument, when there are brand new confusing aspects of him to be dealing with. “I lost you! And if there’s one thing I remember…one thing that I can pull out of the music and the light an’ all…it’s that I would have done anything…absolutely anything…to keep you safe.”
The Doctor sighed. This conversation had been a long time in coming and, as he’d discovered in the past, these things didn’t get any easier when left to molder. He can’t look at her. Can’t see the hurt in her eyes that he didn’t tell her this beforehand. Silently curses his other self for forcing this on him as well. Couldn’t have given just a bit of a hand in this department, could you? No, of course not. He turns his eyes up to the cracked ceiling and realizes why she had done the same only moments ago. It seemed easier to go on this way.
“You did Rose. You kept me safe. You and the TARDIS. You made the Daleks go away and you gave life to Jack and then you were burning.” His breath catches, and he’s caught between his reticence about going on and the lightheadedness that always crashed over him like a wave at the memory of the incident. “No one is supposed to touch time. Not a Time Lord, and certainly not a human. Not like that. And you would have died, died and no regenerations. And I could not…would not let that happen. Not to you.”
He lowers his head, and he knows he has to look at her sometime; that he cannot expect to spend the rest of his truncated existence on this backwards planet avoiding her eyes. He turns and says, “So I took it from you. All of it. And it was beautiful and terrible and I died and you lived and I would do it again in an instant if I had to.”
Her face is an absolute mask of fury. It’s not unexpected. “How could you do that?!? What were you thinking?! What if somethin’ had gone wrong? What if you hadn’ been able to regenerate, or somethin’?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” His voice rose slightly with his frustration and he tried to regulate its tone unsuccessfully. “Looking into the heart of the TARDIS. What were you thinking? You can’t have known what it would do, but you had to know it would be bad. You saw what it did to Margaret.”
That mollifies her, and the look that comes over her face at his words makes him wish he could take them back. Or at least start them over. He’s not entirely sure where this seemingly ever present antagonism in him is coming from. He wonders if it’s a normal human condition. Wonders how his assistants ever put up with him as long as they did if it was. Life with him must have been maddening.
“I…I’m sorry.” And with that, he’s no longer angry. Not with her anyway, or with the situation that had stranded them here in this very wrong universe where everything tasted like lightly flavored sand. And he realizes, suddenly, that in her anger she’d spoken to the Doctor. That she railed against the man with the magic blue machine who had been so foolish as to kiss gilded death out of an amazing young girl that the universe could certainly not live without. That she had been speaking to him, to him. And that, more than her contrite manner, stopped his ire in its tracks. “This back and forth, your side-my side, it’s good yeah?” Glancing back up at him, she’s chastised, “Please go on.”
He narrows his eyes. He’s not sure he should go on, not sure it will accomplish anything if he does. But she seemed so fervent in her request, and he’s never been one to deny her something that was in his power to give. This was just words.
“Why do you live here? In this flat? Why not stay with Pete and Jackie?”
Rose snorted. “Do ya really need an answer for that, one? You wanna live with my mum?”
“Point taken. But wouldn’t it be easier? No rent to worry about. No utilities. Cleaning service, or at least, I assume there’s a cleaning service. Can’t imagine Jackie cleaning. Especially that marble behemoth of Pete’s.”
“Easier, yeah maybe.” She set her tea down on the coffee table and leaned towards him. “But I’ve got other issues with that house as well.”
“Issues like where to properly display a Moralvian Temporal Displacement Rifle?”
“Not exactly something you want to keep near a rambunctious toddler.”
“Or the head of Torchwood?”
“That too.” She sighed, and he noticed that the shadows from the windows had changed position. One side of her face was bathed in muted orange light, the other was shrouded in darkness. Her eyes fluttered closed, and he’s momentarily struck by how dark her lashes look against the pale curve of her cheek. Almost immediately, they flash open, shining with emotion.
“Did you mean it?”
Ah, and here we get to the main point. He’d suspected from the beginning that this is what she’d wanted to ask. She could have just come out with it at the start, but it was clear that she was nervous about it. Had been looking to soften its blow by burying it amongst a laundry heap of other difficult questions. Giving her yet a further chance to avoid her query, he feigned ignorance. “Mean what?”
“What you said,” her hands were wringing again, “On the beach.” Her eyes didn’t leave his face. He read hope there, and fear. He wasn't sure which emotion was coming out stronger.
It’s a simple answer for a very un-simple question, and suddenly, her eyes are wet. Tears fill her lower lids, shimmering in the faint light peaking through the windows. And she loses her own game, along with her composure, as she queries him again, not waiting for his turn. “Then why couldn’t the Doctor say it?” And she’s sobbing now, openly. The tears are leaving damp tracks down her cheeks. He’s never been good at dealing with this sort of thing, never knows how to react when they cry. Especially when he knew they were crying because of him.
He reached for her, because he knew it had worked in the past; remembered her crying into his shoulder, leaving dark tearstains on his suit jacket. Clearly, she did too, as she gripped at the t-shirt as if she expected it to have lapels and buried her face into the crook of his neck. He brought a hand up behind her and cradled her head. It was difficult to move given their position on the couch, but he sways gently back and forth as he would were they standing. He thinks that he should try to say something soothing. Something to make her think it will be all right, it will always be all right, because he’s always all right.
He surprises himself.
“I did, you know.”
He feels a stutter in her sobs; knows that she’s listening. “Said it to an empty room. Said it with no one but the TARDIS listening in, hovering above a dying star. Took me a moment before I realized, you’d never even heard.” Her shoulders have stopped shaking, and he feels her palms pressed against his chest. One hovers over the beat she can almost certainly feel through the thin cotton, the other rests where, despite any expectations either of them might have, a twin beat would never reverberate. She pushes back and looks up into his face. “I meant it then, too,” he adds, in all seriousness.
Her eyes again hold incredulity, but this time it doesn’t rankle. She’s not doubting him. She’s not even doubting the other him. She’s in disbelief that the universe could be both so wonderful, and at the same time so cruel. It’s a feeling he’s spent the last 900 years getting used to. He slides his hands down from where they’ve come to rest against her shoulders. Caressing her arms, he feels the tiny hairs leaping to attention in the wake of his ministrations. His hands find hers and their fingers curl about each other, finding their natural fit. Her eyes drop to where they lay clasped, and he follows her gaze. She was watching where his right hand gripped her left. Ah, yes. That hand. Of course. He should have known.
Dropping her other hand, he whispered, “Rose?”
She raised her head to gaze up at him.
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Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Author's Notes: A little less conversation, a little more action, please.
A little over a week later, he found a Demarcian Furon Disk amongst a mess of dimensional cannon blueprints on the desk in his bedroom. Rose heard his wordless cry from the kitchen where she was just setting up the tea, and ran, her eyes wide with concern, into the hallway. She pulled up short when she found him there, standing just outside his door with the small, flattened, circular object cradled on a pillow before him. He was staring at it with a look that confused her because of its absolute unfamiliarity.
She had never seen him terrified before.
Flicking his eyes in her direction, he spoke in a deep and slow voice she remembered from her travels with the Doctor. “Rose, stay back.”
“Okay.” She replied, her gaze sweeping back and forth between his face and the object on the pillow. “Why?”
He shook his head. “Do you have a…a box or something that I could put this in? Preferably metal?” Rose thought quickly. The tremor in his voice was bringing out an instinctive fear in her. She knew when the Doctor talked like that it was serious. It was not the time to be bothering him with stupid questions like, ‘Why?’ Act now, ask questions when we know the world is still going to be here.
“There’s…ummm.” God, why was this suddenly so hard? Had she always been this rubbish in pressure situations? “I’ve got some shoeboxes in my closet, yeah? They’re cardboard, but-“
“Get one. Anything else?” He stepped backwards into his room to give her a wide berth. She sprinted past him into her bedroom and dove for her closet, still thinking hard. “I’ve got a hatbox. Ummm…a foot locker.”
“Get both those out too, empty them and then leave the room.” She obeyed as quickly as she could, backing out into the hallway and watching as he slowly advanced into her bedroom. He had never gone into her room before. Not here, not on the TARDIS. She understood without ever having to ask that he held the privacy of such areas inviolate. Now he was entering her personal space like it was an unmapped minefield.
With extreme care, he set the object into the shoebox she laid out for him, never touching it with his bare skin. Arranging it in the center of the tissue to soften any inadvertent movement, he covered the box. Lifting it just as carefully as he had held the pillow, he set it into the hat box. That too, was covered and set inside the foot locker. He padded the inside with some spare towels he pulled from beneath the sink. Afterwards he raised himself to stand next to the locked container. Rose could see his hands shaking and wondered how he’d managed to keep them so still during the transfer process.
Not turning around to face her, he asked in a strained voice, “Do you have anywhere safe you can put this? Some place metal and shielded and inaccessible?”
She swallowed hard. “At Torchwood. There’s a volatile objects storage facility.”
“We need to get this there quickly.” He turned, and she noted that the fearful look had not entirely left his face.
“Okay,” she said, trying her best to sound calm. “I’ll call a cab.”
She’d been using it as a paperweight.
Life had somewhat settled back into a routine for Rose, and like clockwork she had fallen into step with the way her life had been before the lights had started to go out in the sky. Things were never exactly normal when you worked for a semi-secret multi-national government agency that dealt with extra-terrestrial incidents, but they could at least be regular. Get up with the alarm, get dressed, quick breakfast, go out into the world, do whatever was necessary to make it through another day, return near dusk, make and eat dinner, read or talk or watch TV, and then to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
She had taken several days off to help him acclimate, but after a day spent dragging him around to different men’s clothing establishments and getting him fitted for eyeglasses, she had started thinking with some nostalgia of the quiet monotony of a day at the office. Grocery shopping had been even worse. Aliens at work might threaten to destroy the planet, or look down their noses at her for not knowing every codicil of the Shadow Proclamation, but they never spent thirty minutes staring blankly at a shelf and trying to decide amongst a myriad of hair care products.
And then she had the brilliant idea of visiting her family.
Nothing had exploded. No one was killed or driven insane. Even all the china managed to make it through the evening meal intact. And this was what had just about driven her to the breaking point. Dinner with her mum was not supposed to be quiet. It was not supposed to be polite. It wasn’t supposed to be her mum and Pete making small talk, and him responding all subdued, flicking his eyes constantly in her direction in an attempt to gauge her response. He wasn’t supposed to want her guidance, her protection. He wasn’t supposed to need her approval. She wanted him to fix her mother with a withering glare. Wanted him to contradict Pete when he oh-so-pompously asserted that he (whether Pete meant the Doctor or the man in front of him was not entirely clear) had made the right choice. Wanted Jackie to slap him and Tony to wail and for the two of them to leave exasperated and laughing and sharing a mutual misunderstanding of her relations.
There had been one bright spot in the whole evening.
Tony had run into the marbled foyer, arms held up to be swung into her arms. He had watched silently at her elbow as she complied. Setting the young boy against her hip, she had turned to introduce the two. Tony, however, beat her to the punch.
“Yer the Doctor,” he asserted.
He raised his eyebrows at her upon hearing that, and then, bending over, addressed the boy in her arms. “What makes you say that?”
“’Cause yer wearin’ a suit.” He rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. “Mum says the Doctor always wears suits.”
“Lots of people wear suits,” he admonished, and Tony had looked troubled. Then, as if coming to the only logical conclusion, Tony answered.
“Yer not lots a people.”
That had made him smile. Smile with eyes twinkling through the thick black rimmed glasses he had picked out; the ones that looked exactly like his old pair. “And you’re Tony. Tony Tyler. That’s not lots of people, either. Not too many Tony Tyler’s running around out there. Pretty darn special. And alliterative. Two T’s. T-two. No, sorry, that’s a Schwarzenegger flick. T squared, now that’s a good one!” He seemed pleased with his breakdown, and clapped his hands together loudly while straightening back up to his regular height. Reaching forward, he offered his hand and Tony took it. Pumping vigorously, he said, “Nice to meet you Tony “T-Squared” Tyler.”
“Nice ta’ meet yah, Mr. Doctor,” he replied, looking a bit apprehensively at where his tiny palm was buried in the much larger one that grasped it.
“Nah,” he said, releasing the boy’s hand. “It’s just Doctor.”
“’K,” was the only response. Tony turned to Rose and wiggled in the way that meant he wanted to get down. Feet firmly planted on the floor, he ran off towards the dining room where Rose knew the rest of her family was waiting.
“You do know a T-square is a type of drafting tool?”
“Yep!” He popped the ‘p’ and looked sideways at her. “Every kid needs a cool nickname.”
“Hope Aunt Jackie’s prepared to pay for the years of therapy you have no doubt doomed him to with your cringe-worthy definition of ‘cool’.”
That had been five days ago, and he had done nothing, said nothing, since then to give her any indication that what he had told her little brother was in any way true. That he was, in fact, the Doctor. With many apologies, and a fair amount of guilt, she had returned to work. Just half days, rushing home for late lunch every afternoon. Finding him waiting patiently for her return and reading whatever most recent material she had provided for him. He looked bored. He was almost certainly bored. She became sure of it when she returned to the flat and found him cleaning. She’d shaken her head in disbelief, and gone to put on some tea.
That’s when he’d made his discovery.
He carried the locker down the three flights of stairs to the street like it was made of glass. He wouldn’t let her touch it, refused to put it in the taxi’s boot, and rode with it balanced on his lap to the Torchwood offices.
After the disc was squared away, with him dropping repeated admonishments to the caretakers that it was not to be touched, moved or disturbed in any way…or kept at above 40° Celsius, he dragged her to the infirmary. He didn’t even know where the infirmary was, but this didn’t stop him. Never letting go of her hand he had rushed her to the elevators, given a cursory glance at the floor map, accosted a passing tech in a lab coat to ask where he might find medical supplies, thrust Rose into the car, jammed his thumb into the 4th floor button, and waited tapping his foot with impatience for the doors to slide open again. Her protests that she was fine, that there was no need to see the doctors, that he was hurting her wrist with all this jolting around, fell on deaf ears. Finding the infirmary, he brushed past the indignant doctors staffing it, ignoring their protests that he “couldn’t go in there”, and physically lifted Rose onto one of the examination tables. Only then did he let go of her. Sweeping the room with burning, desperate eyes, he bent beneath a counter and buried himself in the equipment cupboards.
“What the bloody hell is going on here?!” An exasperated doctor with a stethoscope looped about his neck burst into the exam room, leaving the door swinging wildly behind him.
Whipping his head out from beneath the low cupboards and standing up to his full height (hair and all), the brown suited man advanced upon the intruder. The older gentlemen quailed a little at this fresh onslaught.
“Do you,” he asked, speaking slowly and enunciating every vowel, “Have a gravinometric spectrometer?”
“What?!” the doctor blurted, backing up until his shoulders hit the glass paneling that ran waist high along the walls.
“A gravinometric spectrometer. No? How about a huon-alpha-wave/particle register?” The doctor looked at him like he was crazy. “An MRI?” he begged finally, seemingly at the end of his wits.
The doctor’s eyes darkened behind their little half moon spectacles. “I’m calling security.”
“No need for that doctor.” Both pairs of eyes swung towards Rose at the sound of her voice. She ignored the hopeful, searching look in the first’s gaze, to concentrate on dealing with the confused expression in the second’s. She held up her badge importantly. “Official business.”
She had gone through an MRI. Had a blood test. Had her hair examined under a microscope. Been scanned by some weird beeping device she’d never seen before. Had her hands and any other part of her that might have touched the object washed repeatedly in antiseptic foam. And, in a final indignity, had been asked to pee into a cup and found herself completely unable to do so. He read the final analysis printouts standing right in front of her. She swung her legs like a little kid, eager to remove her bum from the cold, uncomfortable surface of the table. He looked up at her.
“’All righ’ then?” she asked, her tone as conversational as she could manage.
Something changed in his eyes. Something that bled the fear out of them and replaced it with…something else. Not answering her in words, he reached behind her head and pulled it towards him. She felt the soft press of his lips against her forehead. He pulled her closer then, burying her head into his chest and nestling his cheek on top of her hair. His one hand squeezed her shoulder almost painfully while his other arm snaked around her waist. It was a moment or two before she felt something hot drip onto her head and tickle its way uncomfortably down to her ear and neck. It was a moment or two longer before she realized they were tears.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he whispered, pleading. “Don’t ever do anything like that ever again.” He pulled back from her, hands on both her shoulders, and she looked up into his pained and watery eyes. “I’d never forgive myself.”
The next day she went to see Pete about giving him a job.
“Rose, it’s not as though I don’t believe he would be a great asset to the organization. I know he would!” Pete reclined in his leather desk chair and meshed his fingers together on his lap. “It’s just he a loose cannon! If we put him out on patrol he’d like as not blow up half the city. Do you really think a man like that is going to respect the chain of authority?”
“He’d respect me,” she replied, not backing down.
He pointed a finger meaningfully at her. “Respect maybe, but obey? Not a chance.”
Rose snorted and looked away. The fact that it was true didn’t make her argument any easier. “Then don’t put him in the field. Keep him in Unidentified Artifacts or R&D. He can’t do too much damage there. Have him figure out the ins and outs of every piece of bloody technology Torchwood has in the archives, it shouldn’t take him long. Couple of months, even given all the stuff we’ve got littering the warehouses. He’s still a genius, remember.” She fixed her pseudo-uncle with a Jackie worthy glare of ire. “If he does anything to make you classify him as a ‘loose cannon’ or whatever, or if he decides that he doesn’t like working with Torchwood’s leavings, then fine. But you need him. Torchwood needs him. He’s the best damn thing to ever happen to this universe and you’d have to be a moron to just throw that away.”
A frown spread across Pete’s face. He was angry, of course. Angry that she had accosted him like this, taking advantage of their familial relationship to barge into his office unannounced. Angry that she would challenge his authority in this manner. Angry, perhaps most of all, that she was very likely right.
Rose stood up, straightening her back and all but clicking her heels together in prim reserve. “You know why I had that…that thing at my flat in the first place?”
“No,” he said, and his voice was threatening now. “And I’m having a devil of a time explaining that to the Board of Directors, I’ll have you know. Why my own niece had a Torchwood acquired, highly dangerous piece of God-knows-what stashed in her spare room.” He expected that to give her pause; make her think, perhaps for just a moment, that maybe she should be thanking him for sticking his neck out for her, rather than berating him in his own office. Much to his dismay, she never flinched.
“Because a couple of months ago I caught a bunch of techs horsing around in the sub-basement and took it away from them.” She met his eyes, and locked onto them. “They were using it as a hockey puck.”
The next morning, Rose Tyler rode the tube to work next to Dr. John Smith, the new head of Torchwood’s Unidentified Artifacts Division.
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Chapter 8: Chapter 8With his first real paycheck, the Doctor took her to dinner. He brushed off her comments that it wasn’t necessary. He was fairly certain that there was some kind of human custom about using one’s first paycheck to do something special. Plus he owed her. Owed her for the clothes and the spare room, and for finding him a job, and for feeding him the past few weeks until he could offer her just one meal in return.
Well, and of course for everything else she’d ever done for him. But seeing as how there really wasn’t any means of repaying that kind of devotion, he didn’t even bother with an attempt.
He asked her to choose, and to choose someplace nice. Someplace where they could have a regular adult conversation without having to shout over the noise of the football match on the telly and the enthusiastic fans crowded around it. She had made the reservations and changed into something ‘more appropriate’. More appropriate apparently meant a dressy pair of black slacks and an attractive blue blouse that clung nicely to her curves and left her shoulders bare. No heels, she didn’t even own any from what he could tell, and she was better off that way. You never knew when even the most innocuous occasion might require a quick life-or-death dash to safety. He had glanced down at his own brown pinstriped suit and trainers, and asked whether he needed something more appropriate as well.
“No,” she said, smiling encouragement, “you’re perfect.”
The meal was not so perfect. Well, it was as perfect as it could be, he supposed. He tried his hardest not to squint every time he placed a piece of food into his mouth and had it taste almost, but not entirely, like it should. He wondered if he’d ever be able to recognize when food really was ‘off’, seeing as how it all sort of tasted that way to him. He resigned himself to a life of checking the milk expiration date and smiled forcibly around his fork at Rose.
She, at least, seemed to be enjoying her food. And the wine, which flowed as freely as the conversation. They had been rehashing old adventures, recalling old friends. The Doctor managed to forget his disappointment at the mediocre meal in the subtle glow of the candlelight and the tinkling laugh of his dinner companion.
“Hmmm…” she pondered, resting her lips at the edge of her wine glass and making it hum along with her. “My favorite Jack moment…” She giggled then, her eyes lighting up with the memory she had yet to share. Taking a quick sip from her glass and setting it down, she asked, “Remember Kyoto? When he propositioned the samurai?”
The Doctor groaned and, nodding, covered his face with his hand.
“And then, the samurai said he didn’t bed boys.” She giggled louder, and the Doctor joined her chuckling. “And Jack was soooooo indignant. He was brooding for days!”
“Your calling him ‘boy’ every chance you got didn’t help.” The Doctor waited until she raised her glass again to her lips, before continuing in a mocking falsetto. “Come along, boy, time to go. Here boy, I cut your steak into little pieces for you. Silly boy, you never mix whites and colors.” Rose snorted aloud into her drink, almost spilling it, which was the reaction he had been hoping for. Her cackling laughter approaching a girlish shriek in her hilarity, she pounded her palm upon the white tablecloth. The other patrons in the restaurant turned in their direction with disapproving glares. The Doctor unselfconsciously beamed around the room at large.
Blinking, suddenly, he removed his eyeglasses and held them in front of his nose for examination.
Rose composed herself, her breaths still wheezing out of her. “Okay, next time you warn me when you’re gonna do that.”
“Hmmm,” the Doctor replied, subdued. “More fun this way, though.” He started polishing the glasses with his cloth napkin.
Rose squinted at him from across the table. “Somethin’ wrong?”
He flicked his eyes up to her. Rose appeared as though he was viewing her through a soft focus lens. He blinked again. Hard. “Nah,” he answered, fitting the glasses back over his ears. The image was not much improved.
“Been meanin’ to thank you,” Rose continued, finishing her glass.
“You’re welcome!” he replied brightly. “Whatever for?”
“For this.” She swung her hand around to indicate the restaurant. “For takin’ the job when Pete offered it. For…” Her voice trailed away, and she stared into the empty bulb of her glass. “Stayin’.”
Not for the first time, he felt a cold, irrational fury sweep itself through his entire being. Irrational, because really, how can you be furious with yourself? Time and again he had asked himself, would he have done this to Rose? Left her here with only an imperfect copy to keep her company. Grounded her here: one planet, one time, one universe. Taken her free spirit and chained it for the duration of her forever. He’d like to think that he was a better man than his double.
He knew better.
“No thanks required.” He drained his own glass, then leaned forward to remove the wine bottle from the coaster and offer it towards her empty glass.
“Shouldn’,” she said, glancing at the bottle. “Already a bit giddy.” Then, as if her arm was being metaphorically twisted, she held the glass out towards him.
He filled it carefully, noting with some trepidation that his hand was shaking slightly. “If anything,” he continued, “It’s me who needs to thank you.” He poured the remainder of the bottle into his own goblet. There wasn’t much left. Sitting back in his chair, he gazed into the glass. The wine was a lovely color. Velvet burgundy with reflected hints of gold. “I owe you, big time,” he murmured. Now, that was an odd phrase. Something Jack might say. It tasted strange. Not the wine. No, that tasted quite nice actually, despite the fact that just about everything had tasted less than nice to him ever since he had come here. The phrase. Big time. As if time had size or shape or could be measured. Stupid phrase. What did it even mean? He bet Rose would know.
His eyes snapped up to her, and his vision swung into place half a moment later.
Okay. That was odd. He blinked again. It didn’t help. He raised his fingers and rubbed at his eyes under his glasses.
“You all righ’?”
“I’m always all righ’,” he answered automatically, lowering his hand and blinking furiously. Things remained fuzzy. He wondered if it was his stupid spectacles after all.
“Got somethin’ in your eye?”
“No, I…” He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. The world swung. “Whoa.” He blinked up at her, staring until his vision came to rest. Her face was tight with concern. “Sorry,” he hurried to reassure her, “’S nothing, really.” She looked very much as if she didn’t believe him. As if she was thinking of tossing him into a cab and driving straight to the Torchwood offices for an immediate physical. “Jus’ a bit dizzy, that’s all.”
When the hell had he started sounding like Jackie?
Rose’s eyes went wide. One hand flew to her mouth and color rushed into her cheeks. “Oh my God!” She squeaked out, between uncontrolled giggles. She pointed an unsteady hand in his direction, “You’re hammered!”
“What?!” He was indignant, “I never!” He was certainly not hammered. Was he? He hadn’t had that much to drink. He glanced at his half filled wineglass and tried to do a mental calculation of how much he had consumed during the course of the evening. He found himself momentarily flummoxed; trying to remember exactly how many times his glass had been filled.
“Yes,” said Rose elatedly, nearly bouncing. “Yes, you are!”
The Doctor closed his eyes and took a moment to examine the situation. He couldn’t just ask whether or not he felt intoxicated, because truth be told, he wasn’t sure he ever had been intoxicated. At least not alcoholically so. He had often enjoyed alcoholic drinks for the variety of tastes they presented and for the agreeable company that generally went along with them, but his body had always quickly metabolized the liquor; recognizing it for what, in essence, it really was. A poison. In his memory, which he had to admit was a bit hazy…everything was a bit hazy right now…he couldn’t actually recall an instance where he had allowed himself the benefit of a buzz. And if his current situation was any indication, it was in no way similar to the various psychotropic toxins he’d been exposed to over the years. Or morphine, for that matter, which an overenthusiastic Earth doctor had once administered to him. Taking physical pain out of the equation, it turned out, increased his reckless stupidity tenfold, but was otherwise not particularly enjoyable.
This, however, was somewhat pleasant. Warm and…floaty. He didn’t think that was really a word in English, but it seemed appropriate. The way his vision seemed to be working a step or two behind his eyes was a bit disconcerting, but not so much that he would worry. Worry, in fact, seemed a somewhat distant concept. As if there were a muffling curtain between himself and concern. For instance, he recognized that Rose’s laughing at him would normally put him out of straights, but at this point he was merely enjoying it for its pleasant bell-like tone. He opened his eyes to meet orbs dancing with mirth. “Perhaps I am a bit tipsy,” he admitted sheepishly.
Rose laughed again, throwing her head back with abandon. “What’s so funny?” he asked, unable to curb the smile which stretched across his face at her reaction. He had always loved her laugh, her smile. Her. Somehow the floating feeling made it easier to think that. It would probably make it easier to say, as well. Some part of him knew he should be worried about that, but luckily that part of him was locked firmly on the other side of that lovely wall erected between himself and sensibility. “’S a normal human reaction.”
“’S jus’,” she shook her head, cheeks glowing red in the flickering candlelight. “You. Gettin’ sloshed. Never thought I’d see the day.”
“You’re one to talk.” And really, she had nothing to brag about. She had tossed off the last of her own drink while he’d been pondering, and her eyes now wandered lazily about the dining room as if not entirely under her control. She was dangerously close to knocking her fork onto the floor with an errant elbow.
Suddenly, the somewhat snooty waiter was there, as if just appearing out of the ether. Rose declined dessert, and the Doctor did as well (making sure to do so verbally and not bring on the vertigo a simple head shake seemed to instill). He paid the check (how domestic was that?) and found that he wavered only slightly upon lifting himself from his chair. Rose took his proffered arm, and leaned upon it, her eyes dark and shining. Outside, the crisp, cool air whipped into his face, and things almost immediately became clearer. He made to hail a cab, but she tugged on his arm and he looked down.
“Le’s walk,” she said, and he noticed her swaying a bit, still attached to his arm. “’S a nice nigh’, an ‘s not far.” He begged to differ with her assessment of the weather. It was cool, bordering on nippy, and he could feel it like a layer of icing over his surprisingly warm skin. Her cheeks, however, were flushed. Her eyes glassy. “Need ta’ sober up a bit,” she explained further.
Assenting to her wishes, he strode off down the sidewalk in the direction of her flat. She soon left off clinging to his arm and instead wrapped herself around his waist. It was not a particularly comfortable way to walk. She shuddered, and he realized she was pressed closely to him in order to take advantage of his body heat. This, he realized, was something she had never done before. Even on the frozen surface of Woman Wept, she’d kept to her own parka; knowing, of course, that physical contact with him would not do her any good. This heat, was his alone. Was something his genetically superior Time Lord body would never produce, would never see the need for. This was something his other self could not give her.
He held her tight, enjoying the remaining hum of apathy burning with the strange heat inside his veins, and the feeling of her hands against the soft cotton of his shirt. Eventually, she moved away, the brisk walk having leeched warmth into her muscles. She held his hand, no longer swaying, but appearing not entirely steady all the same. She was quiet, thoughtful, and he refused to break the silence; not wanting to do anything that might rupture the peace of the evening.
She stopped suddenly, as if caught in a thought, and he found himself jerked back towards her after reaching the end of her extended grasp. He turned a quizzical look upon her. She was smiling secretively, and gazing off towards the children’s play park across the way. The Doctor didn’t know if he liked the idea of Rose having secrets. Well, secrets yes. Mysterious was good. He liked mysteries. Liked solving mysteries. Regular Sherlock Holmes, him. But he didn’t much like the idea of Rose keeping secrets from him. Although, now that he came to think of it, he was hard pressed to come up with a reason why. He supposed it was just another facet of him wanting to know more about everything there is to know than any other single individual in the universe. And when, on those incredibly rare occasions, Rose knew something he didn’t…well…she’d better share.
She turned a blazing smile on him. “Come on,” she said, tugging at his arm and skipping into the street. He followed helplessly in her wake.
They crossed the narrow roadway and slipped between two parked cars at the opposite curb. Stepping over the low metal chain link divider at the sidewalk’s edge, she tread lightly upon the dew wet grass of the abandoned park. Moonlight glinted off the blue green ground cover, and off the creamy curves of her shoulders. She twirled to face him, and the same silvery light made waves in her hair. It looked almost white in the washed out colors the stars and moon allowed them to see with. She giggled, still holding his hand tightly and waited for him to step over the low slung chain and join her.
“Little late for a ride on the swings. Is this park even open?” Someone had to ask the adult questions on this excursion. He was merely surprised that it was him.
“Don’t be daft,” she answered, and stuck her tongue into the corner of her mouth, flashing the enigmatic smile he knew so well. “Course ’s open. Don’t see any bars, do yah?” He didn’t see any bars. He didn’t see much of anything at all. Just that smile. That quirky, unpredictable, absolutely baffling, perfectly adorable smile.
He stepped over the chain.
She tugged again at his wrist and led him off across the slick grass. This was a traditional London park, and though they had entered near the play area, Rose soon took him past that more prosaic entertainment to the wide open lawns that lay beyond. A great green expanse of field faced them, dotted here and there by an ubiquitous London Planetree. He had seen similar places before on the other Earth. Hyde Park came to mind, and come to think of it, this might even be this universe’s equivalent of Hyde Park. He wondered what the name of the place was as Rose led him across the turf.
The strange quality of the light over the empty parkland gave an eerie cast to the scene surrounding them. The great dark sky arched above, hung with tiny diamond stars like sequins on a black velvet dress. Beneath their feet slid the quicksilver stalks of grass. The whole universe broken down into a simple chessboard black and white. It made him feel for a moment as though there was nothing else in this universe but the shining earth and the sable sky, and two tiny figures stuck in the middle. A part of both and a part of neither. Running furiously in the space between, because they had nowhere else to go. Running because it was all they really knew how to do.
And now they were running uphill, and he had to work to keep his feet stable on the slippery ground. Rose was still hanging gamely onto his hand, slipping and nearly going down herself in her enthusiasm. Laughing gently, and helping one another along, they made it to the top of the little rise. There was no tree or monument mounting the crest of this hill, nothing to block their view of the park stretching out all around them. And there, beyond its tree lined edges, was the city. The Doctor could see that it too had been reduced to greyscale. That the buildings, and bridges and streets and cars, and even the winking houselights (which would no doubt appear warm and yellow were one to get any closer) had their color leached from them with the setting of the sun. It was like looking out on an alien world and he wondered if this is what she had meant for him to see.
She was looking at him, watching him take it all in, with that all too knowing smile quirking her lips. “Go on then,” she said, tilting her head and raising her eyebrows meaningfully. “Lie down.”
Something in the Doctor’s chest fluttered like a caged bird, and he was made suddenly aware of exactly what was meant by that strange human euphemism about having one’s heart in one’s throat. Something of his surprise and confusion must have shown on his face, because it prompted an almost immediate response.
Rose rolled her eyes. “’S not like that, I jus’ want to show you somethin’.” She sat down on the ground and he joined her. “You have to lie on your back,” she said, putting action to her words. Her arms splayed out to either side of her, one coming to rest against his thigh. “Like you’re makin’ a snow angel,” she clarified.
The Doctor shifted away, giving himself the room to stretch out, then joined her. The ground was cold and damp against his back. He could feel a chill seeping into his hips and shoulder blades, where they pressed more solidly into the earth than the rest of his body. It was not the most comfortable of sensations. He could come up with 20 more sensible places to go stargazing just off the top of his head. And anyway, the stars weren’t half as clear here as they had been in Norway.
“You have to relax,” she said. “Let your body jus’ sort of…meld into the earth. And don’t think about anything.”
The Doctor reluctantly relaxed his muscles until he could feel the press of the hard earth beneath the dew soaked grass. Exhaling all the air from his lungs in a calming breath, he turned his attentions to the distant firmament. Stopping his mind from racing was another matter entirely. Not thinking was not a possibility. Thinking, in fact, of only one or two things at once was difficult to imagine. He couldn’t just shut it off like that. He could, however, let it wander out of his conscious control. Yes, maybe that would do it. Wandering and wavering and traveling in and out of the void and the vortex and through dimensions, unfettered, unanchored by gravity or time or-
The Doctor gasped and sat up straight. Eyes wide he turned to her. She was watching him, and her smile was smug.
“You can feel that?!” he wheezed, when he could find his breath again. She nodded. “Always?” he asked, incredulous.
“No,” she said, turning her gaze back up to the sky, “Not all the time.”
He took a few more heavy breaths, then lay back down. Letting his thoughts take a holiday, he concentrated on the feeling of the ground beneath him. On the damp grass and the cold dirt. On the harder, warmer dirt beneath that, on the molten mantle and the burning core, and he felt it again.
The world was spinning. Twirling on its axis. Moving so quickly that he was bound to be tossed off; thrown into the freezing dark of space from which no regenerative return would ever again be possible. It was a terrifying feeling. Like there was nothing at all holding him to the surface of this blindly careening object. His whole body froze with the blind panic of a child who has begged to have the merry-go-round pushed faster — faster — realizing only too late that he can’t quite keep his grip. His fingers scrabbled irrationally at the dirt, searching desperately for purchase. Reaching for something, anything, to help him hang on.
His hand brushed up against Rose’s, and she took it. Their fingers wrapped about one another, and the motion of the Earth slowed to a stop. Feeling it was safe, now, to turn his head without the threat of falling off the edge of the world, he looked at her. She returned his gaze solemnly. Her hand squeezed his, and he returned the pressure.
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Chapter 9: Chapter 9The last person she wanted to deal with today was Jenkins.
Check that, pretty much the last person she wanted to deal with ever, was Jenkins. In fact, Rose could think of a number of comparatively pleasant Slitheen she’d much rather be dealing with.
It wasn’t just that Jenkins was an arrogant prick, and a chauvinistic blowhole to boot. He was clearly envious of Rose’s position, and complained (out of her earshot) to everyone and anyone that it was horrible how rampant nepotism was in the agency. He also smelled funky, and his hair seemed perpetually slicked back with its own grease. He left a slimy feeling on your skin, even if you didn’t touch him in the slightest. Complicated by all this was the fact that he was obviously very attracted to Rose, and had no idea of any sensible means of dealing with it.
“I understand your position Ms. Tyler,” he almost sneered her name, “But we are well and honestly full up in R&D. No room for another copy machine, let alone another body.”
“Dr. Jenkins, I’m certain you and your team would be willing to make room for someone with his…impressive talents. Surely you’ve heard about all the good he’s done down in UA.”
“Exactly my point,” Jenkins replied in a somewhat brighter manner. “Why transfer Dr. Smith when he seems to fit in so perfectly where he is now.”
Rose sighed. It was a predicament. He was good for Unidentified Artifacts. Too good. It turned out her early guesstimate to Pete that it would take him a few months to sift through and identify all the Torchwood paraphernalia lying around was anything but conservative. In a little over a month he had cleared the main storage facilities and they had started having to truck in items from the various warehouses they kept outside Cardiff. Even that had proved less than a challenge for him; his speed in identifying, fixing and cataloguing the unknown devices seemed hampered only by the speed at which the lorries could drive cross-country to deliver them. The one or two new items per week picked up by Search and Retrieval weren’t enough to keep him occupied, and they’d started outsourcing him to their American contacts. Not only that, but he’d restructured the entire department, rearranged everyone’s desks into a “free flow pattern” which he insisted improved work capacity, and instituted Pizza Thursdays. Everyone in UA thought he was certifiably insane, and loved him to death. But he was getting bored with it all, and that, she knew, was a very dangerous situation.
Add another moniker to the list: Rose Tyler, Minister of Time Lord Entertainment.
She had tried to fill his plate with other things. They had gotten him a library card, and he spent most work evenings sprawled on the couch reading everything from Dickens to Dawkins. It came to the point where they were stopping off at the library to exchange finished copies for new ones every other day. And even that, really, wasn’t enough to keep him occupied through the slow, dark hours between the time he awoke after just a few hours’ recuperative nap and when her alarm went off at six fifteen. When she’d caught him reading through her mother’s bodice-rippers for lack of an alternative, she knew she had to come up with some other form of distraction fast.
She had suggested he watch TV, and though he was reluctant at first, he took the proffered remote from her. For an entire Sunday, and into the early morning on Monday, he sat flipping through the various channels. He turned off the idiot box when she came in for breakfast and joined her at the table.
“That show Mythbusters?” he began, apropos of nothing.
“Yeah,” she had answered, vaguely familiar with what he was referring to.
“Do they always blow something up?”
“As far as I’ve seen.”
“Oh?” He raised his eyebrows. “I kind of like that.”
“The show or the blowing things up?”
“Both.” He focused on his cereal. After a moment, she pressed for more.
“Do you like any of the other shows?”
“Nope.” He popped the ‘p’, and Rose gave up on turning him into a couch potato.
The following weekend they’d gone to the zoo. It had been nice day and they had eaten fish and chips at a small wrought iron table pulled up close to the otter pond. The otters were playful, splashing and sliding; apparently unaware, or perhaps unconcerned, that their entire world was encompassed by a chain link fence and a plexi-glass underwater viewing area.
“Looks like fun,” he had commented.
“Yeah,” she had agreed, wondering if the two of them could ever be that free.
The weekend after that, it was the natural history museum. Wandering through the life size dioramas of ancient peoples, they both paused at the scene of some prehistoric hominid painting esoteric symbols on an animal hide stretched taut by a rectangular frame. The educational sign said something about the birth of art, language and culture. They only had eyes for the skin. Turning to one another, they simultaneously shouted, “Bitchy trampoline!” A security guard interrupted their laughter and asked them to please keep it down, there were children present. They fairly skipped out of the museum, sharing their favorite Cassandra quotes.
“Talk to the face,” Rose commanded.
“Moisturize me! Moisturize me!” He shrieked in falsetto, causing her to nearly collapse in hysterics.
He was disappointed by the British Museum. Said it was better with the Elgin Marbles. She promised him they’d go see them on the Parthenon the first chance they got. It was a silly offer, as she knew he’d already seen them; seen them in their heyday, when they were still painted garish colors and men in long robes paced genially beneath their classic scenes. But it was all she had to offer him, all this universe had to offer. He seemed grateful to have even that.
She took him to see a musical in the West End and he had sat enraptured, elbows on his knees and head cradled in his palms. She bought the CD, and he complimented her singing along with it as she dried the dinner plates. When she asked him to join in a duet, he declined.
“Come on,” she pleaded, “Bet you have a lovely singing voice.”
“Maybe I do.” He gave her a solemn look and let the soapy water gurgle down the drain. She let the matter lie.
They had watched the horse guards, taken the train to Hampton Court, and hopped a bus for a day trip to Dover. Rose was rapidly running out of clever diversions.
It was then she conceived of moving him to Research and Development where his tinkering skills might be better put to use. It was a bit more highly regarded than his current position; would mean a raise in pay grade. Her main concern was that he would have to work under Jenkins. She didn’t think she could convince Pete to install him as the new Director of R&D, despite all his improvements to UA. She worried he would balk at any imposition of authority. As it was now, he answered only to Rose, and her only to Pete. He considered them his friends, and he didn’t seem to think of his reporting to them as being the equivalent of serving an employer. What she hadn’t counted on was Jenkins not wanting to add the talents of her new ‘genius scientist bloke’ to his own team. It was bound to result in accolades, which Jenkins, she knew, would take primary credit for. What was he playing at?
“Besides,” Jenkins continued in his unctuous voice, “R&D just doesn’t have the monetary resources to employ yet another full time researcher.” Rose narrowed her eyes at him. R&D had one of the biggest budgets in Torchwood. Was he trying to angle for additional grants? He should know she didn’t have that kind of clout with the Board of Directors. Or maybe he thought she would bully Pete into proposing it just to get her ‘boy toy’ (yes, she knew all the names people around the agency used for him behind her back) a higher paying job. She was about to loudly disabuse him of whatever ill conceived impression he was working under, when they were interrupted by a commotion in the hallway.
“What in the world?!” she half stood behind her desk while Jenkins, being unaccountably helpful for once, rose to open the door. He peeked his head out into the hall, and immediately removed it back into the room as a handful of security personnel went barreling past the doorway, stun guns at the ready. What followed was a confusion of shouts and what sounded like the crash of a filing cabinet being tipped over. Jenkins’ eyes were huge. Rose was growing concerned. She stepped out from behind her desk and joined him at the door.
A familiar brown and pinstriped blur flashed past going the opposite direction, followed closely by three security guards, two lab coated members of R&D, a janitor, and what looked like half the staff of Unidentified Artifacts. Suddenly, their leader skidded to a halt. “Rose!” he exclaimed, spinning to face her. “There you are! Been looking all over for you.” He reversed his direction, and immediately caused yet greater commotion as the various people who had been jogging in his wake slid to an abrupt halt to avoid running into him. He weaved through the crowd, nimbly avoided the grasp of the nearest security person, and virtually leapt through the doorway to her office, causing Jenkins to stumble back in shock. “You won’t believe what I found!”
Rose’s eyes migrated from his shining face to his hands, which she now could see were cradling a small object. He was holding it like it was a priceless gem, and reaching out to her almost in supplication, as if begging her to take a look. Her eyes went back to his face. She hadn’t seen him this excited, this alive, since…well…since they had defeated the Daleks and driven the TARDIS home as a group, Earth in tow. One big happy world-saving, universe-hopping, time-twisting family of misfits. She wanted to ask him what it was in private, not wanting share with others what could inspire him to such ill concealed happiness. But people were already shoving their way through her door, jostling the two of them and Jenkins farther back into the room. She flashed an angry glare at the guard who approached with his gun drawn.
“Holster that weapon,” she told him, and he obeyed without question.
Seeing that she was going to need to create enough room to fit everyone and their brother in her office, she returned to the space behind her desk. Everyone was looking at her. She took a deep breath. She should be used to this kind of attention by now.
“Mr. Hollister,” she addressed the guard with the stun-gun, having caught sight of his ID badge and made note of his name. “Why are you and your fellow officers running around with your weapons drawn like chickens with your heads cut off?”
Hollister pointed. “He came onto the floor without an ID badge, mum. It’s policy.”
She cocked her head. “If he didn’t have a badge how did he even get off the elevator?”
“Why he came up the stairs, mum,” Hollister’s eyes were wide with innocence. “Jumped the turnstiles, set off the silent alarm…wouldn’t stop when my men challenged him. And then all this lot-“ He upended his hands at his sides, both to indicate the crowd around him and to show that he was helpless.
She nodded. “And Mr. Jones,” she said, recognizing him from her trips down to UA, “Why exactly are you here?”
The man in the prim suit held up a keycard. “Sorry mum, Dr. Smith forgot his badge in his hurry and I thought I should follow to make sure there weren’t any…misunderstandings.” Good man, Ianto. Rose again considered telling him that in another universe he was something of a hero. And bisexual. She wondered what Mrs. Jones would think of that.
“And you, Dr.-” Rose had to think a moment to bring the woman’s name to mind. “Carmichael. What reason do you have for being here?”
The young doctor raised a notebook before her like shield and answered in a quavering voice, “I was takin’ notes on the newly arrived artifacts, Miss Tyler, and when Dr. Smith ran off with one…well…I just thought I should keep taking notes.” She looked like she thought Rose would bring the wrath of God (or at least Pete) down upon her. Her hands trembled where they gripped the notebook.
Rose’s eyes flickered over the other members of the UA team. There was no point in questioning them, their reasoning was clear in the hero worship she saw written all over their faces. She turned instead to Dr. Royce. He was Jenkins’ right hand man, and well qualified for his position. He was standing with the other members of R&D, watching the whole charade as if it were an experiment to be analyzed. “Dr. Royce?” She raised an eyebrow, not needing any further vocalization.
“Dr. Smith’s been here long enough for me to recognize that anything he thinks is important enough to go running to you with is something I very much want to see.” Both Rose’s eyebrows shot skyward at his admission. She would expect a comment like that from someone in UA, but she hadn’t realized quite the extent of the reputation he had made for himself in such a short time. Jenkins appeared equally shocked by his inferior’s revelations.
Rose smirked, and addressed the room, “Anyone else got a better reason?” There was a general murmur of refutation.
“Fine then.” She returned her eyes to their original object of attention. His gaze hadn’t wavered during the whole interrogation, and he stared at her as if she was his judge, jury, executioner, and hope of salvation all in one fell swoop. The strange, and she assumed alien, device still rested in his cupped palms. “Let’s see what Dr. Smith has brought us.”
He set it on top of the ink blotter on her desk. Everyone craned forward to see it, and the room held its collective breath. It was a small metal contraption, similar in appearance to the miniature machines inside music boxes. She examined it for what she felt was the appropriate amount of time before looking up at him and asking, “Okay, what is it?”
“It was part of a trans-hypergenic-fluorian-extrapolator.” She blinked. “I think,” he finished lamely.
“And what is a…” She racked her brains to try and remember what he had just said. “A trans-thingy?” Jenkins moved closer to her desk. He reached his hand out as if to pick up the object for more in depth examination.
“It alters percussive- CAREFUL!” Jenkins suddenly found his forearm locked in an aggressive grip. He ripped it away, staring daggers at his assailant.
“Why?” Rose asked, unable to keep the nervousness out of her voice. “Is it going to explode?”
“No,” he said, and she recognized the excitement brimming in his dark eyes. Not fear, then. “Just…listen.”
If it’s actually a music box she’s going to kill him.
He reached out a delicate fingertip and just barely brushed the end of the tiny device. It began to vibrate, humming with a very distinct sound. An unmistakable sound. Rose felt her hands lift to cover her lips of their own accord, and she took a halting step back from her desk. Looking up, she met his broadest grin (her mum would have referred to it as his “shit eating” grin, but Rose was not quite that vulgar). Removing her hands from her mouth she breathed, “Is it sonic?”
“Exactamundo,” he cried. His hands were stuffed into his pockets and he rocked back and forth on his heels like an excited child waiting for his turn on the Tilt-a-Whirl. His face almost immediately darkened. “Oh that’s almost as bad as ‘correctamundo’. Have to make sure I never say that again, either.”
“Doctor that’s wonderful!” she cried. She hurried around the edge of her desk, hip checking a number of Torchwood employees out of her way in the process, to clasp him in a bear hug. He returned her embrace, and she felt her heels slip from the floor just slightly as he lifted her in his enthusiasm. She could feel the eyes of the Torchwood staff burning into her back at this display. Well, let them stare. It’s not like they were invited in here in the first place. Except for Jenkins, and she’s suddenly struck by the notion that Jenkins would have a field day with this. Fraternization in the workplace. Oh, heavens forbid.
When her feet returned to earth, she pushed back against his shoulders and looked up into his face. “You can make one, then? A new one, that is?”
“Yes,” she smacked a hand lightly against his chest. “What else would I mean?”
“Weeellll, lot’s of possibilities out there for sonic things.” His eyes lifted to the ceiling and he seemed about to list the various possibilities.
“No,” she cut him off, and his attention returned to her almost immediately. She stepped back behind her desk, putting on her Assistant Director hat. “I don’t want to hear about it. Doctor, from now on you are no longer head of Unidentified Artifacts division.” Was it her imagination, or was that a momentary look of disappointment on his face? It certainly was mirrored by the looks of his UA compatriots. “You may remain in contact for consultation purposes, but from this moment forward I am giving you your own R&D project. You’ll have your own funds and complete autonomy. No one will interfere with your work.”
Jenkins looked about ready to protest, but she cut him of with a quick motion of her hand. “I won’t hear any complaints. And Doctor? I want a fully functional sonic screwdriver on my desk ASAP, do you understand?”
“Yes, mum,” he replied, turning the tiny device off with a touch and pocketing it gently. There was a look of barely concealed amusement on his face, which she decided to ignore, and something else in his eyes. Something soft and subdued.
“Thank you gentlemen and ladies, that is all.” She spoke to the room at large, and the various individuals who had intruded upon her time and office space began to file somewhat glumly out of the room. He stayed, until it was only the two of them remaining. His hands were still buried in his pockets, but he was no longer bouncing with enthusiasm. His head was tipped to the side and he seemed to be considering her intently. She returned his gaze. “You really think you can make one?” She hadn’t wanted to sound at all unsure in front of Jenkins.
“Oh, yes. Of course. Might take a while. Some of the components aren’t really available on Earth. Might have to trade a bit with some visiting dignitaries. Figure out some comparable replacement parts. Might not have quite the same range of capabilities as the old one. And, of course, it wouldn’t look much like the old one. That was made with dilithium crystals, and you don’t seem to have those here. Except on Star Trek. Which is kind of funny, actually. However did the writers for that show come up with dilithium crystals? Did they just pull the word out of the air, or is it possible that they hopped over from another universe where the crystals are a lot more common-“
She cleared her throat loudly.
“Right rambling. Point is, yes. Definitely. Ninety-eight percent sure. Well, ninety-seven.” He smiled at her, but his brow was creased with something other than the excitement of his discovery. Within moments, his entire face went from animated to pensive. His brown eyes turned liquid, his mouth turning up only the slightest bit at the corners.
“You all right?” she asked, and could have hit herself. She knew how he’d answer that question. How he always answered that question.
“I’m always-’” He clamped his mouth shut, catching himself, perhaps seeing the look of dismay on her face. “I’m fine.”
“Spill it, then,” she said. “Why do you look all out of sorts? I would have thought you’d be over the moon to have your old sonic back.”
“I am, it’s just…” His eyes seemed to soften at the corners; the little lines almost permanently crinkled there by mirth, completely washing away. His cheeks flushed pink, and Rose realized that they now perfectly matched his lightly reddened ears. He looked at her, and she read something in his glance. Something that was more than mere appraisal, more than a ‘just mates’ connection. Something deep and powerful and very, very good.
“You called me Doctor.”
Back to index
Chapter 10: Chapter 10The trip on the Eurostar reminds him of Midnight.
He’s uncomfortable, holds his hands between knocking knees, and she notices. She asks him what’s wrong and he tells her, weaving a tale of manufactured darkness and a terrible, terrible light. She’s shaken by the end, as well she should be, but the telling has managed to relax him. He tries to ignore the fact that untold tons of dirt and water are poised precariously over their heads, and think with pleasure of their destination.
The trip had been her idea; a quick weekend jaunt. She had been tentative when proposing it to him, as if very conscious of how meager her offering was. Here, he had given her all of time and space to travel in. All she could provide was Paris.
It was perhaps a measure of how far he had fallen, that he could barely contain his elation at her suggestion.
“Doctor, where was Donna during all this? Or were you traveling alone then?”
“Hmmm,” he replied, staring out the window at rapidly passing nothingness. “Oh, Donna? She was getting a massage or an herbal wrap or some such nonsense. Funny, who puts an intergalactic spa on a planet where one step outside would kill you almost instantly. Doesn’t seem like the safest of places to choose for a relaxing vacation. But, to each their own.” He shrugged. He’d been a tad disappointed Donna hadn’t wanted to come along on his little educational exploration, but afterwards he’d been terribly glad she’d missed it. She was better off with a sun tan and health drinks and none of the kind of memories that made him squirm in an underground train. He wrinkled his brow. Thinking about Donna and memories. Probably not the best of ideas.
“That’s silly.” He turns to her in surprise. She sitting in a backwards facing chair with her knees pulled up to her chest and her tennis shoes resting on the edge of the seat. Her chin is resting on her knees and the whole position just makes her look like a child. She wrinkles her nose as if in distaste. “Not the spa, so much. We’ve seen weirder things. But really, who goes to a planet with…with sapphire waterfalls or whatever it was you were talkin’ about and wants to sit by a pool sippin’ Mai Tai’s.” She shook her head, rubbing her chin against the rough denim of her jeans. “Can do that sort of thing right here.”
She turns her head to watch the blackness slip by, and he resists the urge to jump to Donna’s defense. He’s surprised at Rose’s comments. It’s not like her to grouse. Or at least, it didn’t used to be. He’d thought she liked Donna, had seemed to get along with her just fine. Had shown none of the odd jealous reserve he’d seen when she’d first met Sarah Jane. But then, it’s not as if the two of them had interacted for any great length of time. The idea of Rose and Donna possibly not getting along disturbed him. There was an unfortunate amount of Donna in him now, and he hoped that none of Rose’s apparent ire would carry over.
Still, he shouldn’t brood about it. She had only recently started calling him by his name again. He still got a little hitch in his throat every time he heard it. No one else called him Doctor anymore, not without following it with his pseudonym. Not even Jackie. Well, Tony maybe, but there’s no accounting for the taste of a three year old. He thought Rose had finally come to a grudging acceptance of the fact that he was the man he said he was, and he didn’t want to do anything to disabuse her of that notion. One heart be damned, he was the Doctor. He hadn’t changed all that much.
Rose, however, was a different story.
“I mean,” she continues absently, still staring out the window and not looking at him. “I don’t want to knock Donna. She was brilliant an’ all.” Rose smiles, no doubt picturing Donna in all her red pony-tailed glory. “But she should have been with you. You could’ve been hurt.”
“Rose, she couldn’t have guessed anything like that would happen on a simple five hour tour to see some rocks.”
Rose turns to face him, then, and the slightly orange lights of the train interior give a strange cast to her features. “Come off it. Anyone who’s seen Gilligan’s Island knows how much trouble you can get into even on just a three hour tour. And that’s not even takin’ into account how jeopardy friendly you are.”
“Oi!” He crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat. “As I recall it was you who was jeopardy friendly.”
“Only ‘cause I hung around with you.” She smiled with her tongue trapped in her teeth. Sitting like that, smiling like that, she is suddenly nineteen again and has called him out for something he’s tried to lord over her and failed miserably at. “’S a full time job, you know, looking after a madcap Time Lord.”
“It is not.” She’s teasing him, like old times, and he’s happy she feels comfortable enough to do so, but not at the cost of his dignity. He looked after people, not the other way around. He was particularly self-conscious about this strange idea of hers that he was some sort of infant that needed to be coddled and wrapped in wool. He certainly didn’t remember her acting like this towards him before. It was something that had cropped up only after he’d come to this universe. He was human now, mostly, but that didn’t make him any more vulnerable (and considerably less so, really) than the average individual clinging to the thin crust of this alternate Earth. He did not, in fact, need Rose’s protection, did not need her assistance in advancing himself at work (something he wasn’t at all certain he wanted to do in any case), and did not need her to fill up his weekends with playdates because he couldn’t be bothered to find his own entertainment.
He blames himself, really, for asking her to ‘fix’ him. What had he been thinking? He’d been thinking about how to get her to stay here where it was safe, of course. Where no one could ever find out how important she really was and use that against him. This new, more adult Rose was good with projects; he had seen that even in the short time they’d been together on the Crucible. So he’d given her a project. Yes, well done, me. Great idea. He rolled his eyes at his own inner monologue. “Rose, Donna is not my keeper. Neither are you or any of the poor souls who were foolish enough to travel with me for a time.”
“Well pardon me, but that’s not the impression I had.”
He’s afraid he may be glaring at her. His eyes flick briefly over to the window where his orange reflection wavered against the pane, and yes, he does appear to be glaring. This is not how he wanted to start off this trip; first dreadfully uncomfortable, now angry. However, she’s glaring back, and he realizes she’s being serious too.
“If we’re not there to watch your back, then what’s the point?” She snorts in derision, and it almost breaks his ill humor completely, how adorable she looks when she does that. “I mean, look what happened when you took Donna out of the picture. I saw that universe. It was hell on Earth, pretty much literally, and all because she wasn’t there to save you from…from whatever.” Her eyes are dark beneath lowered brows. “Doctor, if it makes you feel better, you can pretend that all we are is stupid apes who want to take a little sightseeing excursion around the universe. You can try to convince yourself that all the running and the danger and the saving the world is just an unfortunate side effect of being intrepid time travelers at large. You can say it’s all just fun and games and, yeah, occasionally someone does get their eye put out, but I can tell you that’s not how I see it, how we see it.” She shakes her head almost violently and turns back to the window. “You have to know there wasn’t a single person on that Crucible who wouldn’t give their life for yours in an instant.”
No, he doesn’t know. And how could she? Why, why would any of them do that? Well, Jack maybe, but that doesn’t count. Yes, it was his fault that his human friends got dragged into messes all the time, but ultimately they found the inevitable danger worth the adventure. It wasn’t…it couldn’t be him. Especially once they knew about the whole regeneration trick. He certainly wouldn’t throw himself in front of a bullet for Jack’s sake, although there may have been a time when he would have.
No, she can’t presume to know. But then, neither can he. The difference is that she can know her own mind. And if that’s the way her mind sees their relationship…well. His throat feels suddenly tight, and he has trouble rasping out the next words. “Rose, I never asked for that. I don’t want that. Not from you, not from anyone.”
She shrugged, still staring at her reflection in the window. “’S all right.”
“No, no its not.” He slid the fingers of one hand through his hair in frustration. “Rose, I don’t want you thinking that way. Not about me…or even…well, other me. I’m not worth it. He’s not worth it.” He’s at a loss to make her comprehend this. He thinks he’s understanding her point of view now, at least. She sees it as a test of loyalty. As if her jumping across untold universes to rejoin him wasn’t proof enough. He’s looking at it from the point of view of someone who’s not made of glass and doesn’t want to be treated as such. They’re talking at cross purposes. What is that stupid human self-help book about Mars and Venus? Ugh, this is so bloody domestic.
“Rose,” the edge in his voice startles her. “I don’t need anyone to hold my hand when I’m crossing the street.” She looks confused at this response, and it’s this talking at 90 degree angles that’s doing it. He raises his head slightly, taking note of the minute change in the car’s atmosphere that indicates deceleration. He sighs heavily. He thought it would take longer to get there. He supposed it was hard to tell how fast one was actually going down in the dark like this, not that he had the best sense of time anymore, anyway. He wanted to just enjoy this brief side trip with Rose, maybe remember, just a little, what it was like to go places and see new things. Forget for just a short while that they were trapped here, the both of them, at least until he could find them a way off this ruddy planet. What he didn’t want was to arrive in the City of Lights still bickering.
“You…you think I’ve…you’re telling me I’ve been smothering you.” There are no tears in her eyes, not even a threatening, shining wetness, but he knows that’s just because she’s had so much practice at hiding them before. He’s hurt her. Again. Big surprise. It must be true, that old Earth saying, about hurting the one you love.
“No,” she interrupts, “You’re right. I didn’t realize, an’ I’m sorry.” The brakes come on hard and Rose lets go of her knees a moment to clasp at the plastic armrest. She steadies herself, then taps her dark painted fingernails against its hard pebbled surface. She’s watching her fingers twitch, and he’s watching them, and he’s remembering Martha doing something similar, but with a disturbing four- drumbeat cadence. He wants to tell her to stop (no ask, you have to ask now), but doesn’t. What is it about this bloody train that’s bringing up all his worst memories from the past few years? She stops anyways, and turns to him. “You ever think this will get any easier?” She begins to pick at her fingernails, an old compulsive nervous tic. “The talking,” she clarifies.
“Yes.” Though she has a point, it is worrisome that they haven’t figured it out yet. Two years of high emotion traveling through time and space. Two more years (well, three…well…) of separation. A little under four months of half-human, alterna-verse exile. He thinks he knows her better than any human he’s ever met. Thinks she very well may know him better than any human he’s ever met. Didn’t familiarity breed comfortability? No wait, that was contempt. He’d rather avoid breeding contempt. Did that mean he’d have to avoid familiarity? Probably too late now.
If she wanted to keep talking, he was perfectly happy to oblige her. In all truth, he has waited for this; longed for this. All the times that he and Martha, or he and Donna or whomever he was with at the time would dash breathless back to the safety of the TARDIS, cheeks flushed and hearts beating after another grand adventure. All the times he would pause in his relieved laughter thinking of how, someday, he’d tell Rose all about it. Then, of course, followed the sadness; the guilt. The knowledge that no, he’d never be able to tell Rose any of it. He’d never be able to tell her anything. But now he can. Against all odds, he can. And he should. It should be easy. He opens his mouth to tell her about meeting Martha, and Shakespeare, and an adorable old cat/woman couple living in the 50th century equivalent of a VW microbus. And closes his mouth almost immediately.
He did want to be able to talk to her. Really, he did. Talk without hurting her, that was. Talk like they used to, without the fear of their “relationship” getting in the way. But now, and he had to admit this was not entirely Rose’s fault, all talk seemed to be inextricably linked to their thus far nonexistent “relationship”. Everything he said to her could be taken more than one way, and he thought he received his fair share of innuendo back from her. It’s not flirting, that they were familiar with. No, it’s as if every conversation they have now has the potential to ‘mess things up’, or alternatively to ‘move things forward’. The Doctor had to admit being passionately interested in moving things forward (perhaps to the parts where talking was unnecessary), but he was also pathetically frightened of messing things up. For instance, he truly does want to tell her all about Martha Jones, about how terrific she was, but he has the sneaking suspicion that Rose might not like hearing about their little DNA transfer. And that could mess things up.
He deals with it like he always has before, by saying nothing.
The hotel they are staying at is modern and soulless, made for foreign tourists and staffed with workers fluent in English. Not that he has anything against clean linens and clean architectural lines, but his decorating tastes have recently run more towards the organic and he feels out of place. There are two full beds in the room, and he didn’t expect otherwise. He has kept religiously clear of Rose’s room ever since coming to this universe. She’s made no indications whatsoever that she wants him there. Their last kiss had been their first (well, technically). She isn’t ready, isn’t sure about him. Neither is he, for that matter. Unfortunately, day by day, he felt his chivalrous reserve being slowly eaten away by the near obsessive craving his betraying body seemed to cultivate for Rose. So yes, separate beds was good. Separate rooms might have been better, but he wasn’t about to complain.
They visit the Eiffel Tower first. They don’t even have to discuss it. The lift to the top is crowded and uncomfortable. She holds his hand and they sway together with the motion of the car, grip tighter at one another’s hands and grin nervously as it bounces sideways every few seconds. They exit near the top and the wind is frightening. The whole Tower sways slightly with its force. He peers down over the railing to the square far below and is overtaken by the sudden and irrational fear that he’s going to lose his glasses over the side. He instinctively clutches them to his face. The wind tears at his coat, whipping it into a tangle about his long legs. He wonders for a moment what it would be like to fall from that height, to plummet spiraling towards the pavement with the sure knowledge that he’d never recover to stand on top of this famous structure again. He has a vague memory from long ago of falling through space, of the abject terror that gripped his stomach, of the way every muscle had clenched tight. Of how everything had gone strangely slack and calm just before the blackness engulfed him.
He swallows heavily, and represses a shudder. Turning to Rose he sees she’s not looking down. She’s staring out across the rooftops to where the Seine peaks out from behind various famous buildings. She’s not smiling, and he’s all but overtaken with the need to see her do so. He leans in close, places one arm protectively about her shoulder, and uses the other to point out places they could visit next, places he’d like to take her. Cathedrals and palaces and examples of classic architecture. Laying his chin upon her shoulder, he raises his eyes to the spire towering above them. Tells her about Gustave Eiffel and his obsession with giant metal structures. Tells her about meeting him during the 1889 World’s Fair. She is quiet throughout, but a sideways glance shows him the slight upwards curve of her lips and his heart soars.
“You like it?” he asks. She nods, then shrugs, a conflicting answer he can feel pressed up against his chest. He doesn’t even remember placing himself in this fairly intimate position. Wonders if this closeness is what she thought he meant by his question and not the city itself. “Come on,” he goads, bumping her shoulder with his own and moving to stand next to her at the rail, “Paris c’est magnifique!”
“I dunno,” she leans against the railing and scuffs her trainers against the floor, “It’s jus’, Paris is supposed to be all romantic.”
“You don’t think it is?” he says, and he could almost kick himself for not being able to control the evident disappointment in his voice.
She shrugs again and scans the horizon. “’S more…grey. And dingy.” He follows her gaze out across the city and has to admit she has a point.
“Yes, well, not every place can have blushing pink skies filled with soaring pteradons.”
She sighs, “I suppose not.” He glances at her out of the corners of his eyes. She doesn’t look disappointed, so much as resigned. She’s not really complaining, just commenting. She doesn’t realize, of course, that most places in the universe are not particularly attractive. Most could never give Paris a run for its money, even on unappealing days like this when the skies are threatening to pour at any moment. That he had carefully hand picked their excursions to ensure maximum enjoyment of all the most beautiful vistas time and space had to offer them was clearly not something which had ever occurred to her. He mourned, for a moment, all the wonderful things she would never get to see…all the places he would never go again. He wasn’t sure which of the two losses was the more depressing.
Still, he thought, any view could be made better with Rose in the foreground. He turns fully towards her, but her attention is still on the cityscape. The wind whips her hair in her face, catches a single golden strand against her lips, and he’s reminded of New New York and Rose reclined on his coat, surrounded by the soft scent of apple grass. He thinks about mentioning it to her, then stops himself. There had been enough thinly veiled references to their past in the last few minutes, and she didn’t seemed cheered by them any. He has the sneaking suspicion that bringing up what, to him anyway, had been a highly romantic situation, would only emphasize the poor contrast she had so recently pointed out. Inferior universe. Inferior planet. Inferior city.
He didn’t think he could stand her inevitable comparison of the company.
He understands, suddenly, that this is easier for him. Easier because he has absolutely no question whatsoever about his feelings for her. They’re real, they’re there, they’ve been there for…well, longer than he’d care to admit. They’re disturbingly strong. They bubbled just beneath the surface of his skin for years, and now that his skin is not quite as thick as it used to be, the threat of him releasing them, uncontrollably and without conscious direction, threatened every day. Some day they will get out, he knows that now, and there will be no hiding them from anyone. But even so, he’s hiding nothing from himself. He knows, oh he knows, and whatever she might say is not going to ‘mess things up’ from his point of view. His feelings for her are not going to change. They’re a constant. But she, she isn’t sure what she feels. Or perhaps she does, but she doesn’t know exactly who she feels it for. She may use his name now, but that could be mere convention more than acceptance. Old habits die hard, and that may be all he is to her. An old habit she just can’t kick. They put hard core addicts on methadone because it’s almost, but not quite, the same as their old high. Does the same sort of things, just a lot less dangerous, and it lets them down easier than going cold turkey. Doesn’t mean, though, that they ever stop pining for the old fix. Doesn’t mean they ever come to crave their new demon.
Is he seriously having this conversation with himself? Right, time to get moving or else he’s going to drive himself insane with atrocious metaphors.
“Where to next?” he asks as brightly as he can manage. Ah, the old fall back. It always used to work on her, distracting her from whatever uncomfortable conversation she had started and which he just didn’t feel able to finish. What was that about old habits dying hard?
She considers for a moment, and he realizes it is good that she knows a little about Paris. Not, of course, because she had ever actually visited there herself, but one couldn’t really grow up on her planet without knowing something about one of its greatest cities. It’s not like traveling the universe where he would ask her what she’d like to see, and have her be basically clueless because her mind just couldn’t encompass every possible thing that was out there. Planets with golden hued skies or one-tenth Earth gravity or thousand foot high frozen tidal waves were just so beyond her ken that she wouldn’t even think to ask to see them. But she can know Notre Dame and Montmartre and the-
“The Louvre,” she says, taking the words right out of his mind. His smile is slow as he reaches for her hand. Then, with a tug and a laugh, they are racing back to the lift. Behind them, harsh wind rattles past centuries old metal struts.
Once inside the sprawling museum, he steers her away from the crowds of people filing in to see the Mona Lisa. She’s clearly disappointed and looks for a moment like she wants to follow them, but he places his hand more firmly between her shoulder blades and keeps her on course.
“It’s just a portrait, and not even a really great one at that. I’ve never understood why you humans made such a big deal out of it. Trust me, Leonardo was less than thrilled with it himself.”
“But,” she whines, “Everybody who goes to Paris sees the Mona Lisa.”
“And if everybody jumped off the Eiffel Tower, would you do that too?” he asks, in the same voice he would use with Tony. She glares at him.
“Fine, but when Jackie asks ‘Oh, did you go to see the Mona Lisa?’ you’re going to explain to her why we didn’t.”
“Because there are far more interesting, far more lovely things in the Louvre to spend one’s time on than La Gioconda.” He scans the brochure in his hands, his brow wrinkling. “Plus, it’s all crowded that way.” He looks up at her then, smiling, and grabbing her hand with excitement, fairly drags her into the next room. They race up a set of marble steps that rose under graceful, tall arches suffused with light from high set windows. A crowd of people is gathered near the top and the Doctor gets the impression that Rose is about to berate him for dragging her to an exhibit that is just as touristy as the famous painting, when she stops dead, her mouth open in an ‘O’ of awe. He smiles at her, not needing to see the statue himself, having seen it numerous times, including before the head and arms had been lost to time. No, like with all their adventures, what he really wanted to see was her. Her fascination, her breathless wonder, her beguiling smile.
“’S beautiful,” she says, awestruck.
Typically, he feels the need to explain things to her. “It’s a depiction of Winged Victory, whom the Greeks called Nike.”
“Like the shoe,” she responds dreamily, completely extinguishing the impressive nature of his description.
“Yes,” he says, somewhat subdued, “Like the shoe.”
“Where’s her head an’…an’ arms?”
“Gone.” He turns somewhat sadly towards the statue now and observes the sculptors genius in devising the delicate folds of the goddess’ gown. “Time can be a cruel mistress,” he adds somewhat darkly. Rose turns to him and takes his hand.
“What else is there here that’s not the Mona Lisa.” He is extremely glad she asked. Tugging on her hand, he drags her off down well lit, marble-floored corridors flanked on either side with statues. Each one is lovely, more beautiful for the fact that they almost universally show the ravages of time. He thinks sadly of all wonders of the ancient world that never made it to the present time, and leads her to another room filled with observers.
“The Venus de Milo,” he says with a smug smile, “Or rather, the Aphrodite of Melos, seeing as how it’s actually Greek in origin.”
“Not much on modesty, were they?” Rose comments, noticing the bared breasts of the artwork.
“Different times,” he responds. “She is, however, intended to be a bit seductive, what with being the goddess of love and all.”
Rose tips her head to one side. “Doesn’t look too seductive to me. More like…” Rose starts to twist her own body in an attempt to mimic the posture of the armless statute. “I dunno, like she’s trying to avoid stepping in something icky.” The Doctor laughs at that and is rewarded with one of Rose’s most honest smiles.
“I would have thought you’d had enough time pretending to be a statue,” he says teasingly, and Rose’s face colors at the memory.
Turning back to the work of art she considers it carefully, then comments, “Yours was prettier.”
He smiles. “I was working off a better model.” Her cheeks definitely color at that. She turns her face away, ostensibly to hide her embarrassment. She moves on to the next statue and he follows in her wake, offering commentary where he feels appropriate or when she asks about a specific piece. The sunlight angles across the smooth flooring so that they pass through alternating planes of dark and light. The Doctor watches the subtle play of sunbeams upon her delicate features; recognizes why so many pretty young men on a hundred different planets had gazed at her in rapture. In this realm of stone chiseled beauty, her porcelain skin could very well pass for priceless artwork.
“Who’s this, then?” she asks brightly, skipping over to stand before a large marble bust. Two bearded men’s faces stare out in opposite directions, connected at the back of the head like conjoined twins.
“Janus,” he expounds, striding over to her with his hands thrust deep in his pockets. “Roman god of portals and doorways, beginnings and endings, time and transitions - often depicted with two heads looking in opposite directions so as to see both the past and the future.” He could feel his face darkening as odd, disconnected thoughts fluttered through his mind. “He was also associated with war and peace, the doors of his temple in Rome being thrown open during the former and kept shut tight during peacetime.”
“Sounds like someone I know,” Rose muttered.
He ran a hand somewhat nervously through his hair, “Yeah, well, not entirely a coincidence.” She smiles at that, takes his hand again, and they wander off through the forest of statuary.
They get lost. It’ hardly a surprise. She blames him. He blames the fact that the Louvre is gigantic. She points out that he has the museum map. He again asserts the unbelievable monstrosity of the former palace. She makes a ‘Hmph’ noise and accosts a security guard. He hangs back, because he does not ask for directions and it’s 100% being part-Time Lord and not at all anything to do with being male. He does have to talk to the helpful guard eventually, though, as Rose’s limited French fails her. The guard is pleased at his fluency, is surprised that someone who can read all the directional signs perfectly well could get so turned around.
“Though,” the guard intones, casting an appreciative eye on his companion, “I can see how one might become distracted by the beauty all around.” The Doctor makes a monumental effort and manages not to show on his face either the burning jealousy, the desperate protective anger, or the fierce pride that comment fills him with. Instead he smiles past gritted teeth at the security officer, and repeats the directions aloud to be sure he’s got them right.
They stumble upon an exit quite by accident. Not the exit they’re looking for, but it will do. It’s drizzling outside and the Doctor hunches up the collar of his coat. She’s not wearing a jacket, and he considers offering his own. That would be the gentlemanly thing to do, he thinks. But she’s already walking off and he has to take several quick strides in succession to catch up.
“So where are we headed?” he questions. This time he asks because he really wants to know where exactly she’s going so purposefully. Her nose wrinkles and she raises her eyes to the sky.
“Out of the rain.”
“Right,” he says, scanning the low grey clouds. He wonders if she’ll return to the hotel now. Wonders if she’s seen enough for today, if she’s still tired from their journey here, if the rain will keep her inside and dry and bored. Wonders if she’s really changed that much, that a little wet would keep her from potential adventure. Wonders if sharing a rainy afternoon in a hotel room with Rose would really be all that boring. Thinks of the two full beds and knows it would.
“You know I love you, right?”
He stops dead in his tracks. She continues on for a second more before realizing she’s left him behind. She half turns towards him, glancing over her shoulder and gazing past a lock of hair which has fallen in front of her eye. Her look is inquisitive, and slightly amused at his reaction. Her mouth is quirked up at one corner, and the Doctor has the sudden and distinct impression that she knows very well how much she has caught him off guard.
“You…wha?” he says intelligently.
“Love you,” she says, and flips her hair back over her shoulder to punctuate the phrase. It falls in a damp curtain, leaving her piercing hazel eyes unobstructed.
“I…” She smiles indulgently at his confusion. And he is trembling; he is literally trembling with emotion. He’s still getting used to how sentiment seems to prompt a physical reaction in him now, and he’s not entirely sure how to deal with this one. He’s cold inside, but he can feel the hot flush of blood heating the surface of his skin. He can hear his heart pounding in his ears, slow and ponderous in his assessment, though he knows it’s working overtime. Things look momentarily clearer, over bright, and he recognizes that his pupils must have dilated with excitement. All this because of a simple little phrase; a question which he realizes requires an answer. And yes, of course he knows. He’s known since Bad Wolf Bay. Their first time at Bad Wolf Bay. And he knew before that from her looks and her words and the way she would lean her chin against his shoulder while he explained something complex and beam at him like he was the only thing worth listening to in all the universe. He knows, just as she knew. It didn’t need saying.
But for all of that, he hadn’t been sure.
He makes another stab at coherency. “I…yeah, I mean…I thought…I hoped…you said before…” He fails, and shakes his head at his own inability. She’s left him speechless, and yes, the apocalypse is nigh. It had taken him six words to tear down a Prime Minister; Rose had needed just two to tear down every wall he’d ever created around himself.
“I did,” she confirms, and smiles, catching her tongue between her teeth in that way that always turned his insides into pudding. “But sometimes, it’s good to be reminded.” He doesn’t know if it’s him or her that’s being reminded, and he doesn’t care. He finds himself nodding along with her statement, ready to agree to just about anything if it means he can keep feeling like this forever.
Suddenly, he’s laughing. He’s laughing and she hasn’t said anything funny. His body, though, doesn’t know what else to do with this sensation, doesn’t know how else to interpret it. It’s light and it’s heady and…and itchy. He wants to jump right out of his skin. He wants to dance, and to dance with Rose, right here in the middle of the Paris street. He wants to crush her to himself, to envelop her in a passionate embrace, to kiss her like she’s a desperate and terrified French courtesan, to do things to her. Burning, needful, human things. Things which he thinks even the French would find inappropriate to do in public.
He realizes, with something like shock, that she is soaking wet. Her blonde hair is plastered in yellow streaks against her head, hanging in clumped strands past her shoulders. The light button down shirt she threw on that morning clings damply to her figure. Raindrops run unhindered down her arms, and over her plump cheeks. It’s a good thing she’s not wearing any makeup today, or else she’d be well on her way to raccoon appearance. He looks down at his own attire to find himself similarly drenched. When had that happened?
The rain is warm, even where it plasters his shirt to his back through his thick jacket. It is coming down so forcefully now that drops bullet up at him from the sidewalk, splashing the cuffs of his trousers. It beats a sharp staccato against the hood of the Volkswagen Beetle parked next to them on the curb. It slides in a sheer waterfall down the picture widow of the bakery on their other side. It dots the pavement with puddles, those in the street reflecting a rainbow hued film.
She’s still smiling. She offers him her hand. Again. Always. Run, he thinks or says or shouts or sings. And they do.
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Chapter 11: Chapter 11“Rose, now I could be wrong, but you appear to me to be a woman working under pressure.” She stared at him gobsmacked. Pressure? Well, let us count the ways, shall we? First the entire Garvii “delegation” went flippin’ mad. They’d been calling it a delegation, but in her experience, delegations usually came to talk about trade and mutual defense pacts and other helpful, friendly actions. They don’t come in demanding that their host planet give up significant reserves of certain nutrients essential to the visitors’…breeding capabilities. Yes, it was understandable that they’d want to try and obtain said nutrients, and yes, going that long without reproduction was likely to make any species a bit testy, but usually a delegation asked nicely first.
What a delegation did not do was start threatening to blow up Parliament.
That, at least, had got the Torchwood brass to stop kissing their lumpy green behinds and get with the incarcerating. Unfortunately, it had turned out to be too late. The Garvii had been targeting specific human individuals for months now and brainwashing them, through some curious combination of opiates mixed into their breakfast cereals and subliminal messages sent through their evening telly. The leader had cackled when he (she? it was rather hard to tell, actually) revealed his (her?) master plan: to take control of all the zeppelin pilots in Britain and use them to rain down explosive destruction on major population centers. As master plans went, she’d heard better.
“Working under pressure, one would assume, due to certain time constraints placed upon her by forces beyond her control. Well, by the Garvii. Well, by Garvii timed detonation devices, at the very least.” He held up the giant gun-like object with one hand. “Now this,” he said smiling proudly, “Is a very intricate piece of machinery. A very delicate gadget. It’s got loads and loads of teeny tiny little buttons.” He held the object out towards her so that she could see the myriad controls layered along the length of the barrel. “Very easy to mistake one button for another,” he impressed upon her.
Rose almost screamed in frustration. The Doctor continued to babble on in a lecturing tone.
“Now, I suppose I could teach you how to use it; how to activate it without dissolving half a block into radioactive plasma…should only take…oh, say, an hour.” Rose felt her fingernails bite into the palms of her hands as her fists clenched. “Or two.”
Rose did scream then. Really, it was just half a scream. More a wordless wail of anguish.
“But that doesn’t seem like something that would be beneficial to someone who’s pressed for time.” She looked at him through narrowed eyes and wondered when he’d get around to the point. She had one unmanned airship floating towards Westminster at this very moment, chock full of alien explosives; any number of additional zeppelins being currently cordoned off at their various heliports; and, literally, no one left on the Torchwood Disaster Response team to go after the one that got away. What she did not have was the leisure to listen to his endearingly familiar, but ultimately unnecessary, ramblings.
He lifted the gun lightly to his shoulder and leaned backwards on his heels, the very picture of nonchalance. He must have learned that pose from Captain Jack. “Orrrrr,” he said, dragging the word, “You could take me along with you.” Rose hung her head.
This was wrong. This was so very wrong. And Pete would kill her. Heck, her mum would kill her. Taking Torchwood property without going through the proper channels, and experimental equipment at that. Facing an alien threat without backup. Dragging the Doctor into a dangerous situation, which as a result was likely to get exponentially more dangerous. She was trapped and she knew it. Raising red rimmed and tired eyes to his clear brown orbs, she did what came natural to her when the Doctor was involved.
She gave in.
“All right,” she sighed. “Pete won’t get the chance to kill me if the Garvii destroy the city first.”
He smiled. A real smile. An eager smile. A ‘come on there’s lots to see here, tons to do and the daylight fades quickly on this planet’ smile. She couldn’t help it if she melted. “Well then!” He slipped the carrying strap on the device over his shoulder and balanced its not inconsiderable weight against his hip. “Let’s get going.”
The explosion was tremendous. She had tried, during their frantic drive through the emptied streets of London, to drag out of him exactly what it was the strange device did. He had been evasive, and that had made her suspicious. He had said it was exactly what she needed, a device that would neutralize the alien bomb components without actually causing them to ignite.
“It disintegrates them, you see, before they can reach a combustible state.”
“Yeah, but…” she protested, gripping the wheel with white knuckles “’Disintegrates? Doesn’t that mean they’ll explode anyway.”
“Yeeaahh,” he said, fiddling with the metallic object on his lap and avoiding her eyes, “But nowhere near as big.”
Rose was just glad she didn’t have to witness what the Doctor thought of as a ‘big’ explosion. She was blinded briefly, by the intensity of the flash, and deafened a moment later by the great crack of thunder which shook the pavement beneath her. White stars and purple lightning streaks clouded her vision and she had to blink rapidly several times to clear them from her sight. The zeppelin was in a thousand, thousand pieces. Pieces you wouldn’t be able to make out against the black of the night sky as they floated down towards the banks of the Thames, were they not all ablaze with orange fire. The fragments of burning fallout dove like so many combusting phoenix into the cold dark river waters, hissing in their death.
A moment after Rose regained her sight, she wished she were still blind. That way she wouldn’t be able to see the passenger cabin (empty, thank goodness) fall like a stone directly onto Tower Bridge. One of the two great towers collapsed under its weight, in a squeal of twisting metal and a crash of tumbling brick. Within moments, the whole bridge was awash in flickering firelight.
“Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” the Doctor commented mildly.
Turning, he flashed an infectious smile in her direction, and she found herself completely, unaccountably taken in by his shining eyes. Lifting the strap of the alien contraption which had caused this massive destruction over his head and setting the device onto the sidewalk, he held an upended palm in her direction and wiggled his fingers in invitation. Unhesitatingly, she took his hand. His smile broadened, if such an action were possible, and he turned back to view the carnage before them. Their linked hands swung gaily between them as the walls of the Tower glowed orange in the light from the fountain of flaming zeppelin chunks. If you didn’t look too closely, and ignored the monstrous sounds of collapse emanating from the bridge, it almost looked like Guy Fawkes day fireworks.
Without warning, the Doctor began to laugh. She looked at him, his eyes glowing in the reflected light of a thousand burning tendrils, and he dropped her hand. Stepping back into the middle of the street, he opened his arms wide to the world and shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Oh, the humanity!”
He spun about then, flanked by mud puddles which glistened against the dark pavement with reflected fire. It was absurd. Here they were, standing beneath Tower Bridge, watching the devastation as an exploded zeppelin all but destroyed its magnificent arching structure, surrounded on all sides by gleaming heaps of falling ash; and he was laughing like a lunatic and spinning in the middle of the street like it was the big finish of some sick Broadway musical.
That image was all it took to get her going as well.
The laughter bubbled from the depths of her stomach. Deep, chest wracking laughs that made her bend over at the waist. Had there not been a bin at hand for her to lean against, she might have had to slip down and sit on the refuse spattered curb. She hadn’t laughed this hard in years. She hadn’t felt like laughing this hard in years. The Doctor had stopped spinning now, and stood crouched over with his hands resting against his knees. He looked up at her, his hearty laughs now punctuated by deep gasps for breath. Their eyes met and suddenly, before she could catch her breath, before she could even think, he was upon her.
His hands were at her shoulders, the lithe length of his body pressed against hers, his soft lips searing against her own. Rose stumbled back a step in shock, the Doctor following after her, never breaking the contact between them.
Well, this was certainly…different. It’s not like they hadn’t kissed before. Granted, it had always been under extenuating circumstances. She wasn’t certain if airship massacre constituted extenuating circumstances. But even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be all that odd for them to engage in a little recreational activity. Would it? They were just a girl and a bloke. Two humans, normal as could be. Sort of. Yes, they were co-workers, which was a problem, but they were also roommates. Which, actually, now that she thought about it, could lead to entirely different problems. Best mates, yes, they were definitely best mates. And yes she loved him. Him and the other him. And she knew he loved her. Both of him. And how would that, any of that, stand up to kissing…kissing like this…in the street…possibly without extenuating circumstances.
Rose realized she was thinking about this far too much and tried to quiet her jumbled mind and just enjoy the moment.
The Doctor’s mouth was insistent upon her own. He had never been the one to take the initiative before, but he seemed to be making up for lost time now. She felt herself backing up unconsciously, trying to lessen the pressure he was exerting against her lips. She felt her shoulders come into contact with the brick wall behind her. The Doctor didn’t lighten up his attack. One hand raised itself next to her ear and splayed against the wall for support. The other trailed along her shoulder and up her neck, to cup her cheek. She felt his fingers tangle into her hair, and could not repress the urge to do the same to him. She had always loved his hair; had always taken every available opportunity to ruffle it. She liked the way it looked when it was wild and tousled. She liked that look even more with the knowledge that she had put it that way. Now she scraped her fingernails against his scalp and caressed his temples with the sensitive pads of her thumbs.
The Doctor made a strange little gasping noise at the back of his throat and took ahold of her bottom lip with his teeth, running his tongue delicately along its flesh. Then, as soon as the thought entered her mind, she felt that same tongue questing inside of her mouth. Slipping in between her top lip and her front teeth. Circling experimentally, the tip of her own tongue.
Half in shock and half because she really needed the air right then, she turned her head away from him. This failed to slow the Doctor, who immediately began to trail kisses across her cheekbones and down the graceful curve of her neck to where it met her shoulder in a throbbing pulse point.
Rose felt the burn of those kisses slide all the way down into the pit of her stomach, like a shot of single malt whiskey. The heat traveled even lower than that, though, warming parts of her she had tried very hard not to think about for the last few years. And it was this sensation that brought her to attention. Exactly where was this all going? And was she ready to go down that path yet? She thought she might be, but was the Doctor? He sure seemed to be, if the way he was running his talented tongue along her clavicle was any indication, but Rose was in no way convinced. The Doctor had never been the one to start things between them before, and she’d had no indication…no hint other than her sure knowledge of his affection for her…that he was ready to jump into this kind of a physical relationship. He’d patiently followed her lead in just about everything, ever since they’d been left on that bloody beach. Why would he start acting out her fantasies now?
In the distance, she heard the wail of emergency vehicles.
“Doctor,” she managed to gasp out, and if anything this only caused him to redouble his efforts at her neck. “There’s something strange happening here. You’re not yourself.” He lifted his head then and their eyes met. His seemed endless. In the light from the destroyed zeppelin and bridge, they were almost black. He set his forehead gently against her own, and she could feel a fine sheen of cold sweat lingering there. His breath crashed against her face in short, shallow pants.
“Rose Tyler.” His voice was deep with promises of things exciting and wonderful and very, very frightening. “As I’ve been trying to tell you for months now, I am most definitely myself.” He captured her lips again, drawing her next comment out of her with her gasp. It occurred to her that she had almost never seen him out of breath before; certainly never with so little physical exertion. The whole chase and gunning down of the zeppelin had been exciting, but it’s not as if there had been a tremendous amount of running involved. When they had traveled before they were always running. Running towards danger and away from danger. Dashing without pause from one electrifying, exhilarating adventure to the next and…oh.
Ripping her lips away from his, and smacking her head unceremoniously against the brick behind her in the process, she blurted out, “Of course! Why didn’t I see it before?!” He blinked, his onyx eyes peering muzzily at her as if from behind a cloud of dense smoke. He leaned in to capture her lips again, but this time she was too fast for him. Placing her palms flat against his chest, she pushed him back to arm’s distance. “You, Doctor,” she said, adopting her best lecturing tone, “Are an adrenaline junkie.”
His eyes cleared a bit, upon hearing her exclamation, and his brows knitted together. Tipping his head to the side, he seemed to turn his gaze inward, as if trying to read something written on the back of his skull.
“Adrenaline?” He said the word as if he were tasting it. Then, more strongly, sounding almost offended, “Is that what this is?” A look of confusion flashed across his features. He pushed off from the wall and took a step back from Rose. She watched intently as he shifted his shoulders, as if loosening a knot between them. His hands splayed at his sides, the fingers curving upwards as their tendons stretched, then curling back into claws underneath his palms. A slight tremor shook his entire frame, and when his eyes found hers again, they were focused and clear, if still disturbingly dark.
“Wow,” he said. And, “No wonder.”
“No wonder what?” she asked, still a tad breathless from it all.
He shook his head and gave a sad smile. “No wonder they all fall in love.” He shrugged. “Never realized…all those years…thought you were just mad, all you humans…some weird cross-species sexual obsession…and here all that time it was the running and the danger and the life threatening situations that were doing it.” His eyes went saucer wide of a sudden. “I’ve got to find a way to tell him!”
“What?” Rose asked incredulously, as police cars began to fill the street, tires squealing and sirens blazing. He had to raise his voice to a near shout to be heard above their racket.
“I’ve got to tell him. Me. Other me. Tell him he’s got to stop dragging everyone on adrenaline pumping, cross-temporal high-jinks, or else he’s always going to have some pitiful human mooning around the TARDIS control room making calf’s eyes.”
“But Doctor!” She was shouting herself now, as a fire truck careened around the near corner and peace officers began to pile out of their vehicles clad in black riot gear. “You can’t tell him that! That’s what makes traveling in the TARDIS so wonderful!”
“I KNOW!” he replied, grinning madly, rocking forwards and backwards on his heels with his hands stuffed deep in his trouser pockets. An unmarked black SUV pulled up to the curb next to them, and through the untinted windshield Rose could see Jake at the wheel. “HE’LL BE FURIOUS!”
The passenger door opened, and a harried looking Pete emerged, looking frantically over the hood of the vehicle towards them. “WELL, HOW’RE YOU GONNA DO IT ANYWAY?” she went on querying at the top of her voice. “HE’S A WHOLE BLOODY UNIVERSE AWAY!”
“Don’t know really,” he said evenly, stepping towards her, and scouring her face with eyes still lustrous with excitement. He was so close suddenly, that she could feel the breath of his words ghost across her lips. “But I’ve said it now. I’ve got to do it.” He raised a hand thoughtfully to his head and raked his fingers through his hair, undoing some of the damage she’d done with her own hands.
“It’s impossible,” she stated, noticing how Pete hung back from the two of them, despite the obvious concern written across his face. Her eyes were drawn back to the Doctor’s and she was suddenly reminded of how she used to see galaxies swirling in those depths. How it used to seem like they went on and on forever, holes to the center of the universe. They didn’t look so different now.
“Nothing, Rose Tyler, is impossible. Not when I’m around.”
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Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Author's Notes: If you have issues with two consenting, heterosexual adults engaging in a perfectly natural, physical expression of their mutual affection...how do you ever manage to read fanfiction? Consider yourself warned.
“Okay, you got me, what is it?”
She had to be kidding.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “You really can’t guess?”
Rose lifted a hand subconsciously to her ear and rubbed it while continuing to consider the amorphous mass wedged between his clothes hamper and his Wellingtons. “Did you get it from the Nord?”
“What? The Nord? Why would you think I got it from the Nord?”
“Well, it’s sort of orange…and they were sort of orange…weren’t they?”
He considered that a moment. It did make a queer sort of sense. “More cadmium yellow, I’d say. But no, I had absolutely zero contact with the Nord ambassador or any of his staff.” Not that he’d had any say in that, he thought, trying not to be too bitter about Pete’s whole attitude towards himself and off-world relations.
She crouched down and sat on her heels before the object. She peered at it sideways, as if that would aid her in her analysis. “I haven’t seen it in any of the acquisition reports, did you steal it from UA before they could even document its arrival?”
“I didn’t steal it,” he asserted, somewhat testily. “It’s not even on UA’s radar.”
Rose’s eyes narrowed at that. It didn’t make sense in her ordered Torchwood paperwork and red tape mind. “But it is dangerous, right? That’s why you brought it here.”
“No. Well, yes. Weeelll,” he temporized. “It could be dangerous. Anything can be dangerous if someone misuses it. Television is dangerous, but look how everyone plops their kids down in front of it for hours at a time without supervision. But this won’t be. Not if I keep my hands on it.” He almost growled the last bit. He would be keeping his hands on it, no mistake there. And he was determined to ensure that it turned out as it was intended and not as some blasted Torchwood toy. The object began to glow faintly, a yellow illumination seeping from the very center of its opaque core. Rose pulled her head back at this, and realization seemed to sweep across her face.
“It’s…is it alive?” She looked up at him, her eyes dark with a sudden, unfounded fear.
“Yes,” he said quietly. Crouching down next to her on the carpet, he asked, “Do you want to touch it?” Her eyes widened. “Go on,” he said gently, “it won’t bite.”
Turning towards the object with an intrepid air, she slowly reached out her hand. “Much!” he added, just before she made contact.
Rose jumped, and gave him a cross look. “Just kidding.” He smiled reassurance at her. “Sorry.” It had been amusing to watch her flinch, and he wasn’t at all sorry. It earned him a sharp smack on the shoulder. He didn’t mind.
Regaining her composure, Rose again reached forward and placed an index finger on the top of its irregular, glassy surface. The Doctor watched her face throughout, noticing the minute changes of expression that flitted across it: apprehension, then surprise, confusion, and finally, tentative recognition. She whipped her hand away and rocketed to her feet. He joined her in standing and waited for her reaction.
“I felt it.” She turned wide and innocent eyes he remembered so well, from when she had been nothing more than a nineteen year-old shop girl, upon him. “In my mind.”
“Did you now?” He’s teasing her, and she knows it. He shouldn’t. It’s a serious situation, but he just can’t help himself. He’s smiling so hard it almost hurts. He wonders if it’s possible for this inferior human face to crack at its dimples.
“It was….” Her brows crinkled in thought, and unconsciously she raised her thumb up to her mouth to bite at her cuticles. “Like humming, yeah? But not a sound, more just…you know it’s there.” She glances up to his eyes for confirmation. “Like the TARDIS?”
“Yes,” he reasons, “exactly like the TARDIS.”
Her breath is stolen and her eyes are approaching anime proportions. “How?” she manages to stumble out.
“It was a gift.” He smiles ruefully, painting the scene in his memory as he spoke. “From my other self to me, well, to both of us really. It’s a piece of the old girl. Could grow into a pretty accurate copy of her some day.” She’s not speaking, and he knows she’s in shock. Hopes that it’s the good kind of shock. “Because we’re all about copies in this universe.”
Rose turns her head back to gaze at the thing in his closet, and the Doctor realizes that he’s going to have to come up with a name for it in his mind. It feels wrong calling it the TARDIS. Mini-TARDIS? TARDIS Two? Really, what did the Time Lords do back when there were a whole slew of them? Oh right, they didn’t bother giving them names.
“I felt like,” she says, breaking in on his thoughts, “like it recognized me.”
“It does. She does,” he corrects himself. It came from the old girl, it would be a new girl. “She remembers.”
“He…you….” She’s confused, and not just by what pronouns to use. Shaking her head and flapping her hands uselessly at her sides, she asks “Wherever did you keep it?”
“In my pocket at first.” He holds up his hand, thumb and index finger curled into a circle. “Wasn’t too big to begin with.”
“An’ it grew to this?”
“Yep!” He pops the ‘p’.
“It’s still so small,” she says, awe coloring her voice.
“Yes, I’m afraid it’s not very big on the inside either, right now. Best to think of it sort of as an immobile, vaguely telepathic, slightly sentient pet for the time being.” It was about Labrador sized, he figures the comparison was fairly apt.
Her face turns to his again and he reads something there he didn’t quite expect. “Why didn’ you tell me?!” She’s angry. She’s clearly very angry and no, no, no, this is not the way he had planned this big reveal to go.
“Rose,” he says, raising both hands before him in a placating manner, “do you know how long it takes to grow a TARDIS? Decades, centuries for the later models. Unless, of course, it gets helped along.” He dips one hand into his pocket, still holding the other before him to ward off her ire. Removing the sonic screwdriver he’d been secreting there, he flicked it to life with his thumb and held it up. “With one of these, I can move the process along. It’s likely to wear out the screwdriver right quick, but at least we can be sure of having a fully operational TARDIS before we both shuffle off this very mortal coil.” She’s looking at the screwdriver now, instead of him, and he feels a bit safer.
He steps back and drops his arms. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up.” She returns her attention to his face and her expression is unreadable. “If it turned out we would never get the chance to use it…well, I thought you’d be better off thinking you never even had the chance.” She’s blinking at him and he still has no idea what her intentions are. He’s still half expecting a slap, and not a love tap like she’d given him moments before.
“Anyhow,” he goes on, “Now that I’ve the sonic screwdriver I can get her up and running.” He tries flashing his cockiest smile at her, hoping it’ll work its magic like it always has before. “So, what do you think, Rose Tyler? What do you say to all of space and time at our fingertips?” Again, he wants to add, but knows it’s not necessary.
She glances back over her shoulder at the young TARDIS and when she returns her gaze to him, he is nearly struck dumb. Her eyes. Certainly her eyes have never looked like that before. So wide and brown and luminous. And her hair as it swings tendrils of flax against her shoulders, can it ever really have caught the light like that? Caught it and reflected it, somehow magnifying the brilliance in the process. Her lips, tinted just a shade darker than her cheeks, are drawn up in a tight smile. A smile that just shows the white sparkle of her teeth as they teasingly grip the tip of tongue peaking out between them. This, he thinks, is Rose how he remembers her. How he remembers perceiving her with his once more attuned senses. This is hope and joy and exuberance incarnate.
“I think it’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.”
He can’t agree.
And with that her fingers are wound into his hair, her arms circling his neck, and his whole world suddenly encompassed in a halo of gold and the press of soft lips upon his own. The force of her lunge pushes him backwards until his shins strike up against the edge of his bed. He loses his balance and grabs reflexively for her, managing to get his arms about her waist, but not to stop his inexorable plunge towards the bedspread. The pair of them tumble together onto his mattress and the surface springs beneath their combined weights.
She doesn’t let his lips free through any of it.
He can’t say that her response was entirely unexpected. Mostly unexpected, yes, but not completely. The truth of the matter was he had rather hoped her reaction would be something akin to this, but he certainly wasn’t looking for it. Much.
Rose digs her elbows into the coverlet and uses their leverage to pull her knees up along either side of his hips. She begins to sit back upon her heels, and though he’s absolutely enthralled with the idea of her straddling him in that manner, he is, at present, very against her pulling her mouth away from his when it’s doing such wonderful things. Propping himself up with his forearms, he follows her, capturing her bottom lip and sucking upon it gently to prevent her escape. They maneuver to where he is sitting up on the edge of the bed and she is ensconced upon his lap. Her hands have moved from his hair to his shoulders to help keep her balance, and his have done just the reverse, sliding slowly up her ribcage and across her chest to tangle themselves in the hair at the nape of her neck.
She places her fingers against his chin and rubs them slowly upwards, going against the grain of the little stubble several hours of daylight have etched into his skin. Framing his face with her hands, she kisses him deeply, letting her tongue explore just behind the ivory curve of his teeth. It is her fingertips, though, that draw his attention. They hover just beneath his temples, pressed into the slight wrinkles that mark the edges of his eyes, and he can’t help but want to move them higher. He knows more than a little about human biology, and enough about human sexuality to know that this is not a location most people would consider erogenous. Certainly, it seems no more sensitive than the other areas of his face. But his mind is one of the few parts of him that transcends the human condition, and it is, quite plainly, telling him otherwise. He almost squirms under her attentions, knowing she’s so close, and yet…it’s maddening.
Gently, he drops his hands from her hair, grips her elbows and, with only the lightest encouragement, raises her arms until her fingers slip softly into position against the slight depressions on either side of his skull. She hesitates, and he feels her kiss lighten as she concentrates on what he’s doing. Then, cottoning on, she begins to softly massage his temples. A better man or a Time Lord might have been able to quell the satisfied moan that escapes him at her touch.
It’s not like with another Time Lord, there’s no sharing of minds, and not even the promise of the same, but still, his body reacts as if he expects there to be. He temporarily loses control of his hands, as they reach around behind her and clasp her to him. His lips find her neck of their own accord, his tongue flicking out between them to taste the salt of her skin. He inhales and, yes, that is Rose. That is his Rose; faint beneath the covering scent of her body wash and lotions, but there. The ghost that haunted the far corners of his TARDIS for years, refusing to let him move on.
She pulls away, and he is momentarily disappointed. Her eyes are dark with desire, her lips slightly swollen. “Doctor,” she says, and it’s not a question. She’s addressing him and him. And he realizes that this is the first time she fully gets it. The first time she knows for certain that they are one and the same, that loving him is the same as loving the lonely alien in the other universe, and vice versa. That kissing him is the same thing as kissing the Doctor who first breathed his own demise out from between her lips. And he understands that this…what she’s doing to him…what she will do to him…she does to them both…thanking them both…loving them both.
Something inside of him snaps at the thought.
He’s not entirely certain how Rose ends up underneath him, whether he flipped her or she him. Nor, for that matter, is he entirely certain how her shirt got pushed up passed the sateen cups of her bra, exposing the rosy peach curves of her cleavage. Deciding not to question his good fortune, he leans down to lave his tongue over the creamy curves of her breasts and down into the shadowed depression between them. The taste is much the same as her neck and shoulder area, but the scent is different. Slightly muskier. His own shirt has come tugged loose from his trousers and Rose’s fingers are busily engaged in dislodging each button from its hole, starting with the last. She is momentarily stymied by the presence of his tie and he feels an unpleasant constriction on his throat as she pulls it loose. Lifting the shirt fabric from his shoulders she pushes the white cotton down his arms until the sleeves bunch at his wrists, held there by the still buttoned cuffs.
“Blimey, you don’t make this easy,” she pants. He pulls himself to his knees, straddling her for a moment as he rips the shirt from his arms. He senses the twang of buttons flying loose as he does so, and couldn’t care less. Gripping the hem of her shirt, he pushes it up over her head and she wiggles to aid him in the removal.
Hands roaming directionless about her body, he again attacks her neck, trailing kisses downwards along her sternum, over her bra, until he reaches the vast white expanse of her abdomen. He rests his cheek over her navel, circling his thumbs into the hollows above her hip bones and taking a moment to appreciate his situation. Her scent envelops him like a cloud and the heat radiating off of the flat of her stomach warms his face. Her fingers have again buried themselves deliciously in his hair, kneading at pressure points in his scalp and dipping now and again to press tension from his neck and shoulders. Sliding his hands towards her center, he hooks his thumbs over the waist of her jeans and feels for the catch. Slipping the button loose and dropping the zipper, he starts to push the tight pants down over her hips. Rose, again being helpful, raises herself from the bed to aid him. When the jeans have slipped too low for him to push any farther and remain pillowed against her, he reaches up with his foot (still in trainers, he notes absently) to finish the job and kick them from her legs. Her basic disrobing complete, the Doctor raises himself over her to survey his work.
It is a sight worth seeing.
Rose hums her own appreciation, and reaches out with one well manicured finger to tap at his nose. She drags the appendage slowly downwards over his lips, avoiding his attempts to capture it, and traces a line over the sandpaper texture of his chin, along his Adam’s apple, and follows the light trail of brown and ginger hair between his pectorals down to his midriff. He inhales sharply and pulls away with a jerk as she dips her finger into his navel before continuing her path towards the buckle at his waist. “So many clothes,” she complains again, playing with the tail end of his belt and threading it backwards through the clasp. She does seem to be having trouble with his wardrobe and he would gladly help to hurry the process along, were he not enjoying her attentions so thoroughly.
Still, he can be of some help. He toes off his trainers and lets them fall to the floor with twin thuds. Her hands, as they unfasten his fly, press deliciously over that part of his anatomy of which he has become increasingly more aware during his time in this universe. He hangs his head limply as nearly overwhelming sensations flow from that one tiny area to puddle in his solar plexus like liquid gold. Rose runs her hands appreciatively over his bum as she removes his trousers entirely and then they are together at last, sans everything but undergarments.
She raises her hands to his face, and her fingers drift feather-light over his temples. His eyes flutter closed in unconscious delight at the impressions which rush through him at her touch. She’s a fast learner, his Rose. But her actions bring something to mind that he hasn’t put much thought to previously. Because he’s a gentleman, and because it’s necessary, he regretfully pulls back from her touch and opens his eyes.
“Rose,” he intones soberly, “There’s something I have to ask, before…something you need to know.”
She reaches for him again and he angles himself away from her grasp. He’s not going to be dissuaded from this. She looks at him with hooded eyes. “Make it quick.”
Breathing a little easier, he sits back on his heels. “You know how at Torchwood the perception filters don’t work on me.”
She nods. “Slightly psychic.”
“A bit more than slightly.”
She shook her head at that. “Can’t be. Not too much anyway, we’ve got empaths at the office specially for rooting those types out. They would have noticed and reported you if your psychic abilities reached above a certain base level.”
“I prefer that Torchwood not know absolutely everything about me, thank you very much.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “I block them out.”
Her surprise is genuine. “Okay,” she drew the word out, “What does that have to do with us?”
“Yes, well, in telepathic cultures the linking of minds if often an integral part of the…ummm…the sexual act.”
That got her attention. “I’m not telepathic.”
“I know,” he agrees. “But the point still stands. It’s a…a very intimate action and to…engage another being in it without their express permission…well…” He raises a hand and rubs nervously at the back of his neck. “It’s tantamount to rape.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “Doctor, is this your way of politely requesting to give me a…a mind fuck?” The Doctor’s eyes fly open, shocked at her use of that particular vulgarity.
“No,” he says, vaguely offended. “Not exactly. Look, I’m not looking to do anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with…it’s just…I used to be able to control this sort of thing…I used to be able to control a lot of things…and I’m just not sure if I have that level of control anymore...especially not when we’re…” He gestures vaguely between the two of them. “If I were to slip up, and let me tell you I’m going to be sorely tempted…well, I told you, permission…it’s imperative.”
She pushes herself up onto her elbows. “Would I…feel anything? You know, not being telepathic.”
“You’d know I was there,” he explains, “Like you sensed the TARDIS before. And you’d know what I was…well…you’d sort of have an idea where I am inside you mind. And that’s something else you’d need to know. If you sense me going anywhere you don’t want me to, you need to mentally put a door in front of whatever it is. I’ll respect that sort of barrier, no matter how distracted I am. But no, you wouldn’t feel…wouldn’t experience it like I would.”
She considers that, considers him, her bottom lip caught in her teeth. “Do you want to do it?”
“What?” How can she not know? “Yes, I…I want to.” He glances down at his shorts self-consciously. “I thought that was fairly obvious.”
“Well, that, yeah, but…’s not the same.” He gives her a steady look, not saying anything. “Oh.” She seems more than a little embarrassed at her lack of understanding. “You really need to tell me more about Time Lord physiology.”
“Now?” he asks.
“No not now,” she says, smiling sensually. “I’ve got plans for you right now.” Reaching over, she slides her hand up the inside of his thigh.
He gasps and pulls away from her touch, his eyes dark. “Rose,” he warns. When she looks up at him innocently and expectantly, he explains again. “This isn’t going any farther until I can be sure-“
“Oh, right,” she says, remembering the birth of their conversation. “Yes, then. Fine. Go right ahead.”
He squeezes his eyes shut as if in pain. “You really need to be taking this a bit more seriously.”
“I am!” she protests, sitting up. “Really! You…you have my permission and…and I’d very much like to make love to you…however that goes…all right?”
He looks at her. She is all eager flesh and honest eyes, and he knows she still doesn’t understand, not really. But to make her fully appreciate what he’s trying to tell her will take some time, and in the state he’s in he’s just not willing to be patient much longer. Leaning towards her, he tips her face up to his with a light touch under her chin, and ever so softly, presses his lips to hers.
She responds eagerly, nipping out at his bottom lip to tug it open and beg entrance for her tongue. She arches up into him, pressing the silk of her brassier against his chest and squirming slightly. He wonders what she is doing until he feels the thin strip of fabric separating them slip away and the sharp press of her nipples against his skin. Eyes wide with surprise, he pulls away to meet her satisfied smirk. Her hands emerge from their business behind her back and reach down to finger the elastic lining of his boxers.
With a move that seems almost practiced, he grips at her sides and rolls them over to switch their positions. His hands, no longer needing to be engaged in holding him horizontal above her, drift tantalizingly up her sides, over her ribcage, causing her to squeal with a combination of delight and dismay. She convulses in his arms, trying to escape the ticklish torture of his fingers. Placing his considerably less stimulating palms flat against her chest, he runs his hands beneath the tempting curve of her breasts, lifting each lightly and examining with scientific interest their shape and weight. He runs his thumbs over the pimpled areolas and brushes lightly against their tips. Rose moans in response and grinds her hips against his thigh. The Doctor immediately classifies this as one of the most fascinating sounds he’s ever had the pleasure to hear, and immediately attempts to get her to repeat it. Brushing her nipples again just causes her to smile, dip her eyes closed, and tilt her head. Using his mouth, he finds, does the trick. Her throaty moans degrade into a needy whimpers as he nibbles and licks, finishing with a sharp cry as he sucks hard against her skin. Detaching himself from her breast, he blows gently on the nipple he so recently savaged and watches with a critical eye as it puckers up and comes slowly to attention.
He flicks his eyes up to see Rose’s mouth hanging open, her lips red and swollen, her cheeks a lovely pink and her hair cascading about it all like a shaft of morning sunlight. Her eyes open to reveal pupils gone huge with arousal, and he finds he cannot look away.
Biting at her lower lip, Rose begins to crawl backwards along his body, rubbing her hot skin against his until she was half laying over his legs, her fingers still caught on the waist of his boxers. Keeping her eyes on his face, she slowly slides the fabric over his hips and down past his knees. She has to turn away a moment to slip them off of his feet. She tosses the shorts unceremoniously to the floor before turning back.
“Oh,” she says, sounding surprised.
Oh?! His eyes grow wide with concern as he searches her face wildly. She is definitely surprised and that is so. not. good. Really, you’d think even human females would know there are some things you just do not say in a situation such as this.
“Oh, what?!” He can’t keep the strain out of his voice, and it comes out high and a little desperate.
“It’s…it’s nothing.” She turns away from him, from it, and he can see deep crimson roses blossoming on her cheeks. So, now she’s embarrassed. She’s embarrassed, which is nothing to how he feels right now. And oh, this is not happening. He bets somewhere a Time Lord is laughing at him. He can almost hear the laughter all the way from another dimension. “You…you’re not circumcised.”
He stares at her for a moment in disbelief, his mouth hanging open, before dropping his head heavily back against the pillow. “No,” he moans, “Rose, when on Earth would I ever have had a chance to get circumcised?”
“I know, an’ I’m sorry. I know it’s silly of me. It’s just...I’ve never…and, well, Mickey and Jimmy-“
“Can we please not bring those two into this,” he pulls his arm across his eyes. “The situation is uncomfortable enough as it is.”
“I like it.”
He raises his arm a bit, and peaks out at her from beneath it with one eye.
“I mean, it looks nice an’ all.”
He raises the arm from both his eyes and considers her.
Light and warm as a summer breeze, she runs her forefinger from the base to the tip, and he responds by drawing in a long hissing breath between his teeth. Delicately, she encircles the unfamiliar skin with her fingers, drawing it back slightly, to partially expose the head. Her eyes are huge with concentration, as she examines it. She brushes her thumb over the tip; its baby soft skin catching upon the lines and whorls of her fingerprint before springing back. The Doctor bucks uncontrollably into her hand as an inarticulate cry is ripped from his lips. His head, which had been raised slightly, watching her scrutinize him, smacks back down.
Rose smiles at his reaction, before leaning forwards to put her mouth to an even better use. She begins by circling the very tip with her tongue, then continues on down the shaft in the same manner, as if she is painting the swirling red stripe on a barber’s pole. Having reached the nexus with the near black curls at its base, she repeats the process in reverse, until the whole is slick and wet, and thoroughly stimulated.
Throughout the Doctor lies frozen, unable or unwilling to move. She grazes the sensitive underside of the head on the way back up and he is momentarily blinded by dark purple starbursts filling his vision. When it clears his hands are gripping painfully at the blankets wrinkled beneath them. He is finding the reactions of his body distinctly difficult to control, or even predict. This was not something he had ever done before…well, had done to him he supposed. It certainly wasn’t part of the culture he was raised in, nor was it a kink common to many other species throughout the universe. In general, most beings found the idea of placing the sexual organs in proximity to the locus of ingestion to be…well…disgusting. Except for those species which contrived only one bodily orifice for all functions, but that wasn’t really something he wanted to think about right now. Humans, though, it seemed, were willing to go to extreme lengths for recreational purposes. It was one of the reasons he liked them so much, a species almost universally devoted to the cause of having fun. So unlike his own people.
It’s at this point that Rose wraps her lips seductively around the now fully engorged head and exerts a gentle vacuum upon it, hollowing her cheeks. Her tongue continues to work, circling the tip inside her mouth, and the Doctor rapidly begins to lose focus. It is almost pain, this sensation, and he can’t figure out if he wants to thrust into her with abandon or back away rapidly, as far as the mattress would allow him. He tries to think what Rose would prefer. She takes the decision away from him; sliding her lips and tongue down his shaft purposefully and taking almost all of him into her mouth. She is burning and tight and as she begins a slow torture of up and down he can feel her teeth just barely scraping at the receptive skin. His eyes squeeze shut, his head arches back into the pillow, and he is terribly afraid that the sound which just tore itself from the back of his throat would be classified as a whimper. To top that off he’s babbling; he’s sure of it. It’s a natural defense mechanism for this incarnation and he can’t help himself. Something about completion and beauty and music and oh, that anything could really feel like this.
“Tha’s lovely,” she gasps, releasing him. “What’s it mean?”
He raises his head to meet her gaze, his eyes fluttering open. She is awestruck, staring at him like she did the very first time he showed her things could be bigger on the inside. He wonders what she’s talking about, what’s caught her imagination now, can she bottle that look just for him? Then he realizes that he must have been babbling in some other language. His own, most likely. He hadn’t even noticed. And what siren, what golden goddess was she to so sever him from himself that he didn’t even know what he was saying.
And you. You, you bloody moron, are missing this. This! This, which having now been subjected to an honest comparison, is considerably more enjoyable than adrenaline. You have no idea, absolutely no idea, and that is just sad. Terribly, pitifully sad. Sad, sad, sad. Sad and lonely, that’s what it is. Country song sad. One might be tempted to ask what in the bloody hell you were thinking, missing this, if they didn’t know that you could have no possible concept, no comparable comparison, no bleeding inkling, no-
Oh….oh, that is just distracting.
Rose has gone back to her teasing ministrations and he senses a corresponding tightening in his groin and legs and no, no no no, not yet. “Rose,” he interjects between deep breaths, his voice quavering, “Wait. Stop now. Please…wait.” She stops, and her mouth is removed from him with such care that she doesn’t even brush him with the sides of it on her way back up. He tries to erase from his mind the fact that she has clearly done this before. Done it enough to know what he’s asking for and why.
Taking a few moments to breathe and collect himself, he reaches down to touch her on the shoulder. She glances up, and when he tugs gently at her, crawls up beside him and arranges herself on one side so that she’s pressed up against his naked body. He turns to face her and their legs twine together, seemingly of their own accord. Her nose is mere inches from his own and she focuses intently on his eyes as their lips meet. Hers are wet and slippery from her recent activity and his seem dry and brittle in comparison. For some time they are content to lay like this, bodies in full contact and tongues jockeying for supremacy.
Rose is the first to pull away. “You all right?” she asks, sounding concerned. For an answer, he kisses her mercilessly, and with perhaps a little more desperation than he wants to show. His hands are insistent on her hip and shoulder, pressing her back into the bed and rolling himself on top of her. He can feel his erection pressed between them, sliding across her sweat slick stomach, and he releases her lips with a barely stifled groan. He buries his head in her neck plying teeth to her taut skin, his lips feel hot and swollen and almost numb.
Before she can wrap her arms once again around his neck and hold him fast, he pushes himself away from her. Still keeping her to the bed with a hand at her waist, he slides backwards down her lithe frame, to position himself just over her open and welcoming knees.
Pausing briefly, only to place a quick kiss to the inside of her thigh, he slips his fingers underneath her knickers and pulls the stretchy fabric down over the sharp curves of her hipbones to expose her dark curls. He has to pause while the panties are still looped around her knees, as the scent of her arousal hits him full force. His eyes flutter shut as he is overtaken by momentary giddiness. Scent is supposed to be the physical sense most strongly tied to memory, and this heady aroma he remembers very well. It had nearly driven him mad before. Bad enough when it was just the two of them on the TARDIS or running around the universe getting into trouble. Worse when she’d smelled of it after meeting Jack; after meeting Adam. Worst of all on New Earth when for a short while she had seemed to be made of nothing but the intoxicating fragrance, and it had left him even more off balance than even her passionate kiss. Collecting himself with an effort, he finishes removing her last shred of clothing and sets to exploring that most secret of feminine places.
He runs his fingers through her curls, finding it coarser than normal hair, but not so much as he had expected. Beneath, he finds the warm wetness of her folds. He runs one finger down each side, and then slips both back up the middle to the slight point at the top. Curious at what her reaction would be, he circled the tiny knob with one finger. Rose gave a soft moan and twisted her hips in such a manner as to bring the area into greater contact with his hand. Intrigued, the Doctor increased the pressure of his attentions, speeding up the rate of his minute circling. Rose responded with a tiny whimper and began to move her hips in counter-point to his stroking. Then, turn about being fair play, the Doctor placed his lips delicately around the apex of her folds, and continued the swirling pressure using his tongue. Rose tasted salty, but not as much as he had imagined. There was a lingering sweetness too, but that was harder to discern.
Rose began making desperate little cries, her hips no longer moving with particular direction, but rather wiggling in frustration. The Doctor couldn’t tell whether she was trying to increase the friction he was creating or pull away from it. He had the feeling it might be a little of both. Not at all sure that it was what she wanted, but knowing that he was the one currently in charge of taking the initiative, the Doctor used his now unoccupied index finger to gently probe at her opening. Rose gasped. The Doctor hoped that was a good sign. He slipped the finger fully inside, and was momentarily surprised at how slick the entrance was. Curling his finger upwards, he made a come hither motion, rubbing up against the tiny area which Jackie’s romance novels had so elaborately described. Rose’s response was a near shout, as she half raised herself into a sitting position and fisted her fingers into his hair.
Who would have ever thought he’d be indebted to Jackie Tyler for aiding his sex life.
“Doctor,” came Rose’s breathless voice from somewhere above him, “Doctor please!” He looks up at her, his eyes taking the slow path up from her fragrant curls, past her navel, over the heaving mounds of her breasts with their tempting pink peaks, across the throbbing pulse at the point of her neck and shoulder, to where her loose and sweat dampened hair hung in a ragged frame about her flushed face. “I need you,” she all but whispers.
He could never deny Rose anything. Raising himself up to capture her lips and curling one hand possessively around her head, he used his other hand to steady her back down onto the mattress. He positions himself over her, then pauses at her entrance, not entirely certain how this should be done. Oh, don’t get him wrong, he knows where everything supposed to go from a technical standpoint, but the question is how. Quick and hard? Slow and careful? He doesn’t expect too much resistance, but there’s sure to be some. How much is too much for her comfort? For his? He knows that most human males are rubbish at this, and he’s rather concerned he might turn out to be no better. She saves him from any further indecision by taking him in hand, guiding him against her opening, and sliding herself onto him.
For an indefinite moment, he loses track of everything which is not hard and pulsing and currently engulfed in the slick heat of the beautiful girl beneath him. It turns out he’s wrong about not being able to focus his thoughts on only one thing; it just depends how immediately enthralling that one thing happens to be. Miniature electric spasms shoot their way from the very engaged portion of his anatomy directly to the pleasure processing centers of his brain, sidestepping all side roads, passing Go without collecting $200, and arriving in a soundless explosion of dark light. The rest of his body, arms legs, lips, and perfectly normal sized ears seem disconnected, as if they’re no longer really part of him. Apparently, only one extremity deigns to make itself known, and it does so by shouting so loudly that nothing else can be heard over its silent din. He silently blesses this imperfect and strangely sensitive human body.
He begins to feel a painful pressure in his chest, and realizes it’s because he’s been holding his breath. Expelling it all in one great gasp, he opens his eyes, wondering when, exactly, he closed them. She looks up at him from his pillow, hair pooled around her in a golden wave, her eyes huge and black with desire. He is enthralled by her ethereal beauty in this moment, made dizzy by the scene. Or maybe that’s just all the blood usually reserved for his higher brain functions rushing determinedly southward. A strange expression crosses her face. He thinks it may be fright, and never before has that emotion seemed erotic. He wonders what she has to be afraid of, what could cause that momentary flicker of concern.
Oh, right. Him.
He can’t quite imagine what he looks like to her at this moment, but he has a pretty good idea. He’s occasionally watched cats play in feral fascination with dying bugs or rodents and felt a disturbing sense of recognition (in fact, it was one of several reasons he wasn’t fond of the species as a whole). He’s lucky he’s all but human now; he’s quite certain that doing this as a full Time Lord would scare her completely out of her wits. Reaching a hand out to her cheek, he tries to form his features into something reassuring and human. She nuzzles into his hand, and he slips his fingers up into her hairline. With a slow but persistent thrust, he pushes himself fully inside of her, and almost without intending to, finds himself inside her.
The first thing he notices is her confusion. It’s the emotion most ruling her at the moment and closest to the surface of her awareness. It’s understandable given their position; she’s never had anyone wandering around inside her head before. Well, aside from the TARDIS, and the TARDIS never wandered. She just translated and observed and…well…in all honesty he didn’t know what the TARDIS got up to with his companions, but the majority of them never even seemed to notice, so its couldn’t be that traumatic. He, though, was a little bit harder to ignore; waltzing into Rose’s consciousness like he was an actor stepping onstage. So, confusion and fear and, oh yes, a fair amount of nervous anticipation. He feels a tight burning of desire trickling between her legs and a corresponding throb through her thighs. She wants to close herself off and back away, to slip from his grip and collapse in on herself. He understands then that she is afraid to open up to him, both mentally and physically. She is afraid that he won’t like what he sees or what he sees, which of course is ridiculous, but the irrationality of the emotion didn’t make it any less real. It is clear, too, that she wants more. More of this, more of him, and yes…that would lead back to the confusion inherent in the situation.
He knows he’s not backing off, so he decides to go with giving her more and see what happens next. Acting on an instinct, which is now more of a mutual comprehension of what Rose would find pleasurable, he reaches his hand between their bodies and finds again that hard node which he had lavished such attention on before. Rose bucks against him with a piercing cry as he grazes it with his thumb and ooohhh yes. That is different, much different from even the way this partially human male body senses things. Shorter and sharper and shallower. A promise of more to come, though, which makes it all the more sweet. Like skipping a flat rock over the surface of a still pond. Slowly, he retracts himself from her, reveling in the pleasant reverse friction it causes, before sliding back into her with another press of his thumb. This time their moans are simultaneous. The lascivious ripple of contractions that flood up Rose’s abdomen feel like his own. His head falls upon her shoulder, his nose pushed almost painfully up against her collarbone, and he realizes that he will not be able to keep control of this much longer. Again, he thrusts out and in, setting up a rhythm that matches the stroking motion of his active digit. Without a conscious decision to do so, he dips farther into her mind, peeling back yet another layer like the thin translucent skin of an onion.
Memories. Memories of the estate, of scraped knees and shouted conversations heard through paper thin walls. Of cereal for dinner with watered down milk and a red bicycle she never in a million years thought that she could have. Swing sets and school uniforms and hanging around street corners trying hard to fit in. He is brought up short by the thick door that suddenly blocks his path. It feels like a smack in the face, so stark and white and solid is it. But there are other memories to indulge in, and soon he is engulfed with thoughts of the countless friends and family who made their home inside of Rose’s heart. And it’s not just thoughts, not just pictures and sound bytes. Humans, he’s found, are creatures of emotion. Every memory evokes feelings at the remembrance; joy and passion and fear and despair. Love and hate, like pleasure and pain, two sides of the same knife blade, and they wrack through him, shuddering his body more than anything she is doing to him physically.
Her hands have found his temples again. The soft glide of her fingertips across his slick brow is intoxicating. He feels her distinct pleasure at engulfing him as much as his own at delving into her. She twists maddeningly beneath him and he finds himself falling ever deeper inside.
He sees Jackie, and more than that, he feels her. Jackie baking biscuits until the bottoms are black and charcoal hard, then teaching Rose to dip them in tea and milk to keep them soft. Jackie bawling uncontrollably, knelt by a grave, snot dripping in ribbons from her nose and her daughter clinging desperately to her arm with her two tiny hands. Jackie telling off the schoolmaster after Rose has been suspended yet again. He loves her, just a little, in that moment. Loves her for raising Rose, for loving Rose. And yes, he hates her a little too. Hates her for holding Rose too tightly, for never wanting her to cross the street unassisted, for selfishly clinging to the perfect memory of her dead husband.
Rose’s legs have wrapped around his waist, her heels hooked together in the small of his back. He feels the scrape of her nipples against the planes of his chest and the tug of her sharp little teeth against his earlobe. His ear tickles magnificently as she runs her tongue up the folded edge, its skin soft and yielding under her lips and covered with the most delicate fuzz of miniscule hairs. Something is building, tightening, reaching; and he cannot tell if it is within him or her or both of them. Abandoning the attentions of his thumb in favor of pressing his entire hand up against the sensitive area of their joining, he can feel himself sliding into her and her stretching to meet him and his fingers curl to stimulate both simultaneously.
He sees Mickey as she sees him…saw him…whatever. Safe and funny, with the sheepish look of a man who’s just spent a long night at the pub with his buddies watching football and knows he’s in for it. Flowers and runny eggs served in bed on her birthday. His grandma’s couch that smelled of old people and him saying it’s okay if she wants to wait, that she’s worth waiting for. A screaming match outside the council flat and him telling Jimmy Stone not to come around again or he’d put a cricket bat through his skull. He loves Mickey Smith for that. Loves him for what he’s done for Rose, loves him as Rose does. He feels himself pushing back from the scenes, as if he’s stepped into something he shouldn’t have; as if he’s intruded on some special secret understanding of Mickey that only Rose was ever meant to have. As if perhaps now is not the time to be focusing so clearly and honestly on her ex-boyfriend. He turns away, and senses an electric charge in the non-existent air followed by the distinct sound of time pulsing its way through the universe and he is there.
Unaccountably familiar pressure upon her palm and a sharp jerk of her arm. Shouted commands and hurried, confusing explanations. A manic smile and a gentle touch and she loves him. She loves him even then. Even as he leaves her on the street to return as piercing blue eyes peered through a cat flap the following day. She loves him, yes, even before the space ship which also happens to travel in time. Even before he melts her plastic boyfriend (in more ways than one) and shows her the end of her world. Even before he knew he’d lost himself to her completely and how, how was he ever going to fix that? Some Doctor he was, his heart transplant surgery went awry. He was never supposed to just give those away willy-nilly.
For a single timeless moment, he sees himself as she does.
A neon blue laser beam in a black leather jacket. The distant flash of heat lightning before a summer storm. The droning hiss of raindrops on car hoods, of waves grinding endlessly against a sandy beach, of blood flooding through a binary vascular system. The tang of ozone on the tongue, the scent of fresh powder on a deserted mountainside, the rush of standing on a cliff’s edge as the wind wildly whips hair and clothes behind you. Power and sex and hunger and pain and she loves him. He wants to scream at her, to tell her no. He wants to yell at her to run away, to get clear of the blast zone, that nothing good can come of this. It’s not a surprise when he doesn’t. Coward every time.
“I love you,” he cries past senseless tears and she digs fingernails into his shoulders and screams his name.
It starts with a burning in the arches of her feet. An electric heat which flashes its way up to her center, pooling there like liquid fire. Sending tendrils of flame up her body to the points of her nipples, her armpits, the tips of her ears; until her entire body is a hot, quivering mass of delight. At the same time he can feel a corresponding pulse in the walls surrounding him, goading his own pleasure. The combined experience is…it’s too much…too much for him, for this weak human body and Rose oh Rose yes this please this forever. He finds it thoroughly possible to think of absolutely nothing as his body thrusts desperately into her and his world is narrowed to deeper and more and white flame shoots into her again and again and the world tilts falling through space like a time machine without anyone at the helm whirling towards a dying sun until it crashes on lush apple scented turf and she is in his arms and he in hers, hers, always hers.
When he comes to himself enough to know himself, Rose is caressing his back as a languorous contentment like nothing he has ever known suffuses his entire being. Sliding to the side only enough to extract himself and remove his weight from her still heaving chest, the Doctor collapses to the mattress as if he expected to continue falling on through it, as if it were made only of feathers and empty space that would give at the slightest pressure, leaving him to float suspended in blissful half-sleep forever. Rose kisses his neck with lips that are warm and inexplicably dry and he thinks that he remembers this feeling. Before the Daleks and the TARDIS; before the Academy and the Untempered Schism. In his mother’s arms.
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Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Author's Notes: At this, the unofficial halfway point in the story, I thought I'd take the time to thank those who have stuck with it thus far. If you're interested in soldiering on, I can promise biweekly updates with a little more smut, a bucketful of angst, one huge cliche, and a resolution to start off the new year. Hope you enjoy it.
“Hmmm?” His response was contented, a bit dazed sounding, and it buzzed through his chest where her cheek rested against it.
“D’you want kids?”
His eyes blinked open as he came fully awake. Afternoon sun wafted through the flower patterned shades at his window, and Rose thought again that she should replace them with something more appropriate for a man. Not that it really mattered anymore, as he’d been sharing her bed for some time. But once and a while, he found it convenient to retreat to this slightly smaller room for quiet reading or studying of some potentially dangerous Torchwood object. Or perhaps just to commune with “their little girl”. She had thought of turning it into a proper study. A man’s study. Complete with a high backed leather armchair and a smoking jacket. There had been a beautiful library decorated like that on the TARDIS, and she missed its comforts. She figured he did as well.
“I…I suppose so.” He twisted in her arms, almost fidgeting, until he’s faced her on the opposite pillow. “It’s not exactly something I was planning on doing right away.”
“But we could, right? I mean, if we wanted to…it’s physically possible?”
“That is a rather strange question coming directly after what we were just doing.”
She flicked his shoulder with her finger in irritation. “I don’t mean like that. I meant, you know…biology stuff.”
“You want to know, given my part Time Lord physiology, whether we are genetically compatible.” She nodded and he continued. “Rose, I’m mostly human now. But even if I weren’t, Time Lords and humans are not wholly incompatible.”
That came as a surprise to her. She would have thought inter-breeding like that wasn’t possible. “But I thought two different species couldn’t have children.”
“Weeelll,” he flipped onto his back, slipped an arm behind her neck and cuddled her to him. “Normally, that’s true. But sometimes two different species can interbreed to form sterile hybrids, like mules.” Rose didn’t much like the sound of that. “And some species just lend themselves well to cross-breeding in general. Humans are one of the more gregarious species. They have a remarkable will to survive, and it’s aided by the fact that they mix well with most bipedal, erect species. They’re all genetically pretty similar. Remember the nuns on New Earth?”
She did, but she had never put much thought into where they came from. “So, you’re saying that humans and Time Lords could have children.”
He gave her an appraising look. “I said it was possible, but it’s highly improbable. Genetic similarity is not a watchword by any means. Humans share 98% of their genome with chimpanzees, but that doesn’t mean they can make babies with them.”
Something condescending in his tone raised her hackles, and momentarily brought to mind the thoughtless arrogance of her first Doctor. “Is that how you thought of us then, we all nothin’ but stupid apes to you.”
The Doctor sighed heavily at her tirade. “No, Rose, that’s not how I saw you. The rest of the Time Lords I can’t speak for. I can tell you that it was assumed for a very long time that humans and Time Lords could not produce fertile offspring, and as such a taboo grew up around the very idea of trying. It wouldn’t cause quite the reaction of disgust one might feel at the thought of a human having…relations…with a chimp; humans were, of course, recognized as fully sentient beings, but it would have been considered extremely eccentric, to say the least.” She’s not sure how she felt about this new revelation. She wondered if that’s what he…what old him…old, old him had meant by saying she looked beautiful, considering. Certainly, that sort of taboo would leave a lot for one to consider.
“So the point of all this is, yes, you and I could most likely produce children…if that was what you wanted.”
“I do.” She tried to convey the seriousness of her statement through her eyes.
“Oh,” he said, sounding very uncomfortable. Glancing briefly towards the object peeking out from behind his half open closet door, he added, “Kids are not exactly conducive to hopping footloose and fancy free about the universe.”
“Hmmmm,” she purred, considering. “I’m sure we’ll work something out.” An image popped into her mind suddenly of the Doctor chasing a pint sized version of himself round and round the time rotor, the two of them laughing up a storm.
“Are you pregnant now?!” he blurted out.
“What?! No.” She slipped her hands from beneath her pillow and rolled to her back. “Wouldn’t really be botherin’ with the hypotheticals if I was.” He sighed in apparent relief.
Clearly, he was not comfortable with this topic of conversation. It surprised her, sometimes, how he could act just like any other bloke. Which was odd, come to think of it, because she remembered how, when he’d first come to live with her here, she’d seen indications from him every day, in absolutely everything he did, that had proved to her how much of a regular bloke he was. How much he was not the Doctor as she knew him. But as time had passed, not really all that much time when she thought about it, she had come to realize that he was the same man she had fallen in love with as a starry-eyed teenager. Still. Just, different. Not good or bad different. Like a preference for suits over leather.
Attempting to lighten the suddenly serious mood in the bedroom, she said, “Say something to me in Gallifreyan.”
He cocked his head. “Why?”
“’Cause it’s pretty,” she smiled. “And sexy. You never used to talk like that when we were travellin’. If you had I might never have been able to keep my hands off of you.”
His lips quirked into a smile. “I used to talk to you in Gallifreyan all the time.”
“What? No, you didn’t.” She shook her head. “Think I would have remembered that.”
“Rose, this may come as something of a shock to you, but like most people I prefer to speak my native tongue if given the option. As much as I’m fluent in a number of human and alien languages, it takes a conscious effort to speak them all the time.” The little lines at the corners of his eyes crinkled as his grin slowly widened. “Which is probably why I seem to degrade into my speech of origin whenever you’ve managed to rid me of conscious thought.”
She felt her cheeks color with embarrassment, and a little bit of pride. “But…but I never heard you talk like that before…you know.”
He cocked his thumb at his closet, where the shirts and trousers had been pushed aside to make room for a roughly portmanteau sized, palely glowing object. “TARDIS,” he explained in one word.
“Oh.” She hadn’t thought about that. “So all that time we were traveling about, you were speaking Gallifreyan?”
“Except when I wasn’t.” He smiled broadly, but didn’t offer further explanation.
A thought struck her, then. “Doctor, if the TARDIS was translating everything you said in Gallifreyan so that it looked and sounded like English to me…what did me talkin’ in English sound like to you?”
“Gallifreyan.” He explained, shrugging. “Though not the formal dialect favored by the higher classes, mind.”
Wow. There were no words she could think of to express what she was feeling. How do you feel pride for something you’ve never done? Or envy at not having experienced it? His language was so beautiful to her, so striking and…alien. She had known from the first moment she heard him that she could never reproduce those tones, that it was likely impossible with her physiology. And all that time he had heard those lovely syllables slipping like music made liquid from her lips. “Me,” she breathed. “Soundin’ like you do when…when you talk like that to me.” She shook her head, “It doesn’t seem possible.”
“The London accent did make it a bit odd, but it was understandable enough.”
“’S so lovely though. I wish I could have heard myself.” She turned her eyes to his. “Say something,” she pleaded.
He returned her gaze steadily. “What would you like me to say?”
“I don’t care, something beautiful.” She thought for a moment, then added, “Tell me you love me.”
His smile was fond as he reached out to brush an errant lock behind her ear. He said something then which she didn’t understand, but which made her heart clench all the same with the resonant beauty of the words. Her eyes squeezed shut as she tried valiantly to hold back her tears. He continued to speak then, his voice like a song and a babbling brook and the sigh of the wind and a whole list of other clichés. She felt his thumb caress her cheek just below her eye and wipe the warm wetness from her face. The tenderness of the action caused her eyes to burn all the more, and several additional tears leaked out.
“Now, Rose Tyler,” he admonished, “How can you say this is sexy, when it makes you respond like that?”
Forcing her eyes open, she was greeted by one of her favorite smiles. The easy, teasing one. She had no choice but to respond in kind. “You should try talking like that to mum, her jaw would hit the floor.”
He wrinkled his nose and put on a look of mock disgust. “I have absolutely no intention of ever saying any of that to Jackie Tyler.”
Rose laughed. She had forgotten what she had asked him to say. “’S not like she’d understand you anyways.”
“No, but I would understand me, and that’s enough to be disturbing.”
Curling her arm around him and lifting one smooth leg into place over his thigh, she wiggled down until she could rest her head directly above the muted throb of his one heart. “So what did you say, other than that you loved me?”
“Well, ‘love’ is something of a poor translation as it is. It’s a single word in English used to encompass a very large concept of varying emotional states. Gallifreyan is very precise. It comes from the need to have one’s descriptions of a situation be as unique in time and space as the given situation itself. No generalizations. What I said was more akin to saying that I, and there’s a significant amount of information you could glean about me from the designation I use for myself, recognize that you, and there is comparatively less, but still a significant amount of information included in your designation, have a timeline so inextricably interwoven with my own, and here the indication is that the entwinement is applicable to all time periods, forward, back and so forth, that separation would cause irreparable harm to my existence.”
“That sounds…” She sought for an adjective that wouldn’t be too insulting. “Dry.”
“Sorry.” He sounded truly apologetic. “I went on to say that I greatly desire to join with you, indicating action within present, future and recently passed timelines. The intent to engage in mental connection would, of course, be clear, however,” and here he flashed an enigmatic smile, “I’m afraid I dipped a bit into a lower frame of Gallifreyan linguistics myself there. A Time Lord would have found it a bit crude, and as a result, the implication is that a more physical interaction would not be amiss.”
Rose was surprised to hear his description, as it sounded like he had been doing the Gallifreyan equivalent of talking dirty to her. However, she now understood why he would balk at saying the same thing to her mother.
“Finally, I said that I, and I used the most formal designation this time…the one that’s generally only used in high ceremony of one sort or another…will be proud and happy to commingle our genetic material into offspring; in this case with the specific indication that this is to happen in only forward facing timelines.” She searched his face. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? “I spoke of it as FACT, though.” She heard the capital letters, actually heard them in her head, and she grasped some sort of understanding that the concept he was trying to get across by saying them was more than the mere English word could contain. “That’s about as close to a promise as you can get out of a Time Lord.”
He had promised. He had promised and it meant so much to her. Not just because it meant that she would get to have children with him, but because it meant that he would stay. That he would stay with her and their family forever, however long that turned out to be. It was FACT, and somehow she knew she could lean against that word as if it were a brick wall. Mountains would crumble to dust and the heavens fall, but her and the Doctor and their genetically commingled offspring would just be.
She traced patterns absently against his chest with her fingers while she considered what he’d just said. After several minutes of silence he broke into her reverie. “Rose?”
“Sorry,” she blinked. “It’s….it’s all just a bit much to take in, yeah? I mean, I know I’m not just a shop girl livin’ on an estate anymore, but it’s still hard for me to grasp that someone…anyone…could feel something like that for me…would want to be with me.”
“You really have no idea do you?”
“What?” she said, raising herself off his chest and looking him in the eye.
“I mean, I thought Donna was a basket case, but you, Rose Tyler, you take the cake.”
Rose stared silently at him with her mouth open. She couldn’t decide whether his comment had been meant as an insult or not. He didn’t look or sound like he was trying to hurt her feelings, in fact his face was a mask of total innocence. But he sounded far too serious for the simple, teasing banter they usually engaged in at times like these. Pushing herself up onto her knees, she leaned over him threateningly. “Are you trying to get a slap?”
He propped one arm behind his head, leveraging it against the headboard so as to have a better position to observe her with. With his other arm, he reached out and brushed the corner of her jaw with one knuckle. “You have absolutely no idea how much influence you wield, how much everyone just adores you. Time agents and emperors and gullible tech geeks, they all fall for you.”
“That emperor was not my fault. He just wanted someone with bright yellow hair to be his mistress-for-life.”
He just smiled and ignored her attempts to lighten the situation. “And how could they not? Even time loves you, Rose. She held you and protected you and let herself flow through you like water through a sluice, when she crashed through my being like a tidal wave destroying everything in its wake.”
“You, Rose Tyler,” he chuckled, running his thumb across the apple of her cheek, “You command love. And everything in the universe has no choice but to listen up and obey.”
Her cheeks colored at his words, but still she rolled her eyes. “You’re havin’ a joke at me.” Unconsciously, her voice slipped into the heavy common accent of her youth. “Tha’s rich.”
“No,” he said, his voice utterly serious. “I’m not. And I think this is something you need to understand.” He slipped his hand free from her face and tangled his fingers in her loose hair. His eyes stared into hers, and she found she couldn’t look away. Not if the fate of the universe had depended on it.
“I love you.” He said it as a simple fact. Not as a ruse to get her to stay. Not as a breathless admission torn from him in a moment of passion. Not even because she asked him to say it. It was the simplicity of it that got her; the naked honesty. She felt her eyes burn again with emotion, and did her best to hold her head steady and her tears in check this time as he continueds.
“I loved you long before we ever came here. I loved you before I changed and lost the Dumbo ears and the daft face. It’s possible that I loved you from the very first moment I saw you in that basement, backing away from the Autons, but not running or screaming or losing your head completely like any normal human would. I sometimes find myself wondering if I loved you even before then; if time had always meant for me to find you and love you and come here with you.” He closed his eyes, but she felt just as drawn in, just as powerless to turn away. She stared at his closed lids, and at the lashes which curled in a dark wave against his cheeks.
“I loved you as a full fledged Time Lord. Still do, in fact. It’s inconceivable to me that these…that his feelings would change. Not in the time we’ve been here. Not in a millennia.” His eyes slid open again, and she has the impression that he’s looking past her to some incorporeal vista. “Time Lords, as a whole, didn’t put a premium on emotions. They’re uncomfortable. They make people behave illogically. And the last thing you ever want - the very last - is for anyone with the ability to destroy worlds at a whim to start acting illogically.”
His eyes flicked back to her face, as if suddenly remembering she was before him. He pushed himself into a sitting position, and she leaned back on her heels so that their eyes were now level. “But now they’re gone. There’s only one unstoppable force left; only one hand that can shape time and guide the universe. And that hand has Rose Tyler wrapped firmly around it.”
Pulling his legs out from under her, he curled them beneath himself and kneeled next to her on the bed. Cupping her face in his hands, he avoided meeting her eyes. His focus trained somewhere around her lips as he continued. “Rose, I was willing to face reapers, to let the timeline burn to ashes, just so that you could see your father again. I bled a sun dry to tell you goodbye. Hell, I channeled regeneration energy into a freakish extra limb, creating a paradox-threatening, genocidal clone of myself and pretty much dooming poor Donna to a life of ignoble anonymity, all because I didn’t want you to have to get used to yet another new face.” Rose cocked her head slightly in confusion and filed that last odd piece of information away to badger him with later.
He sighed heavily, and she could hear a shudder in it. “I touched the vortex, Rose. You can’t imagine how that felt. Can’t remember it yourself, thank goodness. The power of it. The knowledge how to use it. Sometimes in my dreams I remember, and its one of the reasons I prefer not to sleep too long. I could have ripped apart the whole damn business, ended it all with a thought and remade it how I wanted. Maybe have things go my way for once instead of being constantly tossed around like reality’s chew toy. But I released it back into the TARDIS, put it right back where it came from. Because I knew that if I didn’t, if I chose to take the route that could give me my life and you and Gallifrey and everything I’ve ever, ever desired, that you would be so horribly disappointed in me.”
He laid his forehead against hers, and for the first time she recognized the action for what it was, as something more than mere affection. Saw how he closed his eyes, as if he didn’t dare to look at her from this close up. Heard his breath come in ragged bursts tinged with fear and awe and desire combined. Felt as every muscle in his body trembled in tension, as if ready to run or fly or make passionate love; whatever was required of him. His head bowed reverently against her own, he spoke barely above a whisper.
“I love you,” he breathed. “He loves you. We will always love you. And that, Rose Tyler, makes you the most powerful creature in all existence.”
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Chapter 14: Chapter 14More time. He thought he would have more time.
It started with forgetting little things. Not quite so little or normal things as forgetting your keys or forgetting that it was Wednesday. No, it was more along the lines of forgetting which tube line he and Rose took to get from the office to the flat. Or forgetting that, in this universe, newspapers did not print evening editions and angrily complaining about the lack thereof to newsstand attendants…on more than one occasion. He laughed it off, and Rose teased him that he was getting old, and he didn’t think any more of it.
That was until he broke the sonic screwdriver.
He didn’t tell Rose how it happened, just that it had and, yes, he would be able to fix it. The truth was, he had no idea how it happened. One moment he was working on dismantling a complex device they had recovered from the wreckage of some alien craft that crash landed in Newfoundland; the next the screwdriver was on the floor in pieces. He assumed he dropped it, but he honestly had no memory of the incident. That fact scared him much more than the idea that he might have to rebuild the screwdriver from scratch.
He started taking notice. Every time he missed a report deadline. Every time Rose scolded him for not remembering that there was yet another dull as nails Torchwood function they both had to attend that evening. Every time someone caught him staring off into space and called him on it. And he started to worry.
He worried, and things worsened.
His worry came to a peak the morning he found himself in the living room of a flat which he did not recognize in the slightest. It didn’t look like Jackie’s apartment on the council estate, but why else would he ever be in a place like this if Rose hadn’t dragged him there? He supposed Jackie could have moved up in the world, but you’d think he’d remember her bragging about that. He was swinging around, trying to get his bearings, when Rose walked in and he was brought up short by the sight of her. Well, not her per se, but her outfit. Or lack thereof. She was wearing a t-shirt that was just long enough that it flowed over her hips and cut off at mid-thigh. She wasn’t wearing anything else, and this fact was obvious.
“Mornin’,” she said, waving sleepily, then ambled into the kitchen. This, of course, caused her back to turn towards him, and allowed him to register that the shirt did not entirely cover her bum. Since when did Rose walk around strange apartments wearing nothing but a t-shirt? Since when did Rose walk around wearing only a t-shirt, period? He was fairly certain he would have noticed that kind of behavior going on in the TARDIS.
“Gyah,” he said, in inarticulate reply.
“Want some?” she said, half turning towards him, and holding a freshly brewed pot of coffee in her right hand. This accomplished two things. Firstly, it made the t-shirt ride even farther up on her thighs, and secondly it brought his attention to what that delicious smell he’d been admiring was. Coffee? Since when did Rose drink coffee? Since when did he drink coffee such that she’d offer it to him?
And that was when he remembered. Remembered the coffee and late nights at Torchwood and the bloody human physiology not quite being able to keep up without regular infusions of caffeine. Remembered that he didn’t (yet) have a TARDIS for Rose to walk around half naked in. Remembered, with some pleasure, that he did, in fact, have a flat for Rose to walk around half naked in. Was glad she had not gone suddenly insane, as he had half expected. Was less than thrilled about his own prospects for sanity. Realized that he would have to tell her, that this was beginning to get out of hand and she needed to know.
Just…not right then…with the shirt.
And after that, of course, he kept finding other reasons not to tell her. Other reasons to hold off. Perfectly good reasons. Not at all because he was scared. No, not in the slightest. Not scared of what she’d say. Not scared of admitting it to anyone other than himself, because that would somehow make it more real. Not scared one bit, him.
That was when things really started getting bad.
The Doctor stared at the bluish tinged computer screen and the seemingly endless lines of code flashing across it. Okay, this was odd. Not that he’d be staring at a computer screen, or that it would be running code (although the substance of the code, from what he could gather, was based on algorithms of inter-dimensional potentiality, and that was sort of weird). No, what was especially odd was that he had absolutely no idea where he was or what he was doing. Okay, focus. You’re inside a building, stark white walls, rows upon rows of computers. Ooh, very primitive computers. Designed for humanoid access. Probably Earth, he spent enough time there, and if the technology was any indication then circa mid-twenty-first century. Okay, that narrowed things down effectively. Wait, no it didn’t.
He turned his attention back to the scrolling computer program before him. No way this sort of advanced technical know-how should be bouncing around in any mid 20’s computer systems. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the first thing that did make sense. Of course it didn’t belong, why else would he be here?
Glad that he’d gotten at least some grasp on the situation, he glanced around the computer station for any additional clues that might lead him in the right direction. Look, there! Next to the keyboard, a little rectangular metal and plastic number. What kind of interface is that? USB? Brilliant! A storage device.
Plugging the device into the CPU he quickly went about downloading all of the scrolling information. It was a fascinating program, really, from what he’d seen. Artfully designed. He’d like the chance to look it over and admire it. Once he got back to the TARDIS, that is. But these humans, in this time period, were just going to have to do without. Far too advanced, bordering on dangerous, for their simple little civilization.
With a few precise keystrokes he deleted the program from the system. Smiling he stood, slipped the flash drive into his pocket, and turned on his heel.
Right, next step, back to the TARDIS, wherever that was. Funny, he should know. It’s not as if he never forgot where he parked; he did (quite frequently, actually). But it was quite another thing to not be able to feel where he parked. Point of fact, that was just downright eerie. He glanced about the sparsely decorated hallway. This place looked governmental. Very UNIT, but without the security presence he would have expected. No, more the feel of an office than of a military institution.
He peeked through a door that had been left slightly ajar by the last entrant. A laboratory. Research facility, then. Made sense. Likely to have significant high tech security features like psychic dampeners. Not that those were usually a problem to circumnavigate, but why bother? Easier just to leave the building. That is, if he could find the exit.
At the end of the hall was a bank of lifts. He strode towards them purposefully. Now, up or down? Good question. Both possible from this floor, but what floor was this? No windows in evidence, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t aboveground. Mounted above the call buttons was a floor plan, indicating that he was on the 11th floor and helpfully outlining the emergency exits. And bonus! It’s in English! Which gave him two clues right there. Number one being, of course, that he’s either definitely on Earth or one of the infinitesimally small number of English speaking planets that favored 21st Century retro-technology. He’d put money on the former. The second clue comes from the fact that the emergency stairwells are indicated by bright yellow “coloured” areas of the map. British English. Lovely. He hoped he was in London, he rather liked London.
Hitting the down button, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. See, this wasn’t so bad. It’s not like it was the first time in his existence he suddenly realized he had absolutely no idea where he was or what was going on. Really, he should be almost used to this sort of nonsense. And just look; him successfully navigating by the seat of his pants. Smiling at his own genius, he turned to the shiny metal doors and waited for them to slide open.
A stranger in a brown pinstriped suit and wearing a comically surprised look stared back at him.
The Doctor’s jaw dropped. So did the pinstriped man’s. The Doctor closed his eyes. Raising a hand up to his face, he gently felt at the unfamiliar features, then raised his hand further to stroke through the already untidily mussed hair. He dropped his hand. Oooohhhhkaaaayyy. Regeneration. Got to be. You’d think he’d remember a thing like that. But then, regeneration wasn’t really something he liked remembering, so perhaps it was better this way. Plus regeneration could have strange side effects, one of which did tend to be traumatic memory loss.
The fact that his murky situation was beginning to clear did not in any way lessen the feeling of extreme apprehension brought on by the sight of a stranger in the mirror.
The lift dinged, and the Doctor opened his eyes. His clearly disturbed brown reflection remained only a moment longer, before dissolving into two indistinct portions separated by the opening doors. He stepped onto the lift and pushed the button marked “L”. He was almost pathetically glad to find that the doors were brushed metal on the inside and so saved him from yet another disquieting vision of himself. He took a steadying breath and concentrated on what came next.
Step one, find the exits.
Step two, figure out where he left the TARDIS.
Step three, return to the TARDIS and raid her memory banks for any information that could spark a recollection about what’s happened to him.
Step four, figure out exactly what this inter-dimensional prediction program these silly humans have been working on is all about and determine whether further protective action is necessary to prevent a paradox.
Step five, tea. He could really go for step five right now.
The lift dinged again and the doors opened onto a large atrium. A giant skylight arched overhead and the Doctor imagined that, during the day, it would be quite sunny and bright. However, at the moment, everything was dark, and the sky overhead was an inky black dotted with stars. Right, nighttime. Explains why he didn’t see a single other person in the halls the entire way here. However, it appeared his luck in that matter was running out, because he could hear voices. Two of them came from his right. He turned in that direction.
A blonde woman in a smart looking business suit was leaning over a long desk and having an animated conversation with an older man dressed as a security guard. Behind the pair was a great glass wall with a row of doors leading outside. Jackpot. Now, if he could just make it past those two chattering humans and out the doors he’d be home free. Well, sort of. Basically. It would be a start, anyways.
Affecting an air of nonchalance (he hoped it came off as nonchalance, he wasn’t familiar enough with this body to be completely sure), the Doctor quickly strode past the two, his eyes never leaving the distant set of doors that were his goal.
“Hey,” called a voice behind him, “You forget something?” The Doctor froze. Slowly, he turned to face his accuser. The blonde woman was advancing on him, a smile stretched across her face. What? If she was accosting him why would she be smiling? “All done then, Doctor?” she continued, “Ready to go?”
Oh. Oh thank goodness. She knew him. He had no idea how, but this was clearly recognition. She knew who he was, knew he had been doing something inside the building, and was clearly approving of the idea. It occurred to him, then, that she must be a companion of his, of some sort. The thought comforted him, but at the same time rankled; the last thing he wanted to be admitting to any of his companions was that he absolutely no inkling as to what was going on. He decided to carry the dissimilation a little further, at least until they were out of earshot of the guard. “Yes,” he said, and almost swallowed the word (what kind of a voice was that?). “Ready to go. And you?”
She nodded and looked back over her shoulder. “Hey, George, we’ll be headin’ out now.”
The guard called back from his station behind the desk. “All righ’ then. You have a good night Miss Tyler, Dr. Smith.” He tipped one finger to his head as if in salute, then settled back into his chair. Smiling the young woman took the Doctor by the hand, and though he was somewhat surprised by the action, he followed her willingly as she lead him out the doors to the cool open courtyard beyond.
Miss Tyler? Dr. Smith? Well, the latter wasn’t that surprising. It was an alias he’d used many times before. A glance down at his attire showed him he was wearing an identification badge. Reading upside-down, he recognized the name Dr. John Smith. He also recognized the man in the photo from his brief glimpse of him in the surface of the lift doors. How long ago had he regenerated, anyway? Also, who wears sneakers with a pinstriped suit?
He shook his head as if to clear it. “Something wrong?” the girl (Was Tyler really her name? First or last?) asked.
“Just…a bit…out of sorts.” He gave her a sickly smile, which she returned. She was leading him down some steps (she still hadn’t let go of his hand, and for some strange reason he hadn’t dropped hers either) into what appeared to be an underground station and bloody hell, he’d forgot to check if they were in London. He glanced at the curved walls of the tunnel. Posters lined either side with advertisements for plays in the West End and local eateries…and…and zeppelin rentals. What? That last didn’t fit, but the rest seemed very London. Yes, London. And why were they taking the tube?
He wanted to ask the woman. Wanted to ask where they were going. If she knew where he’d left the TARDIS? How exactly they had managed to infiltrate the research organization to the point where they had a conversant familiarity with the rent-a-cops in such a short period of time? Had it, in fact, even been a short period? How much time had he lost? Wait, was she wearing a badge? No, because that would have been too easy. And why was she just standing there, looking at him all expectantly?
He looked to his left. Turnstiles. He looked back at the girl. She rolled her eyes, “Honestly.” She sounded annoyed. Annoyed? At him? He was the one in the dark here, what gave her the right to be put out. He tired to figure out whether he should be offended. The girl ignored his internal struggle and instead rummaged in her pocketbook. Taking out some tokens she dropped one into the turnstile and held the other one out towards him.
Oh, right. He dropped his coin into an adjoining machine and stepped through after her. He followed her down several twisting hallways and a confusing tangle of stairs. As they approached a platform she stepped up her pace, and he jogged to keep abreast of her. Without any hesitation she jumped through the open door of a waiting train and he, with no little trepidation, did the same, just before the doors closed behind them and the car lurched into motion.
The car was empty and the girl took an open seat. Lacking any better ideas about what to do, he took the seat next to her.
“So,” she said, turning towards him, “Get a lot of work done?”
He blinked. “I suppose.”
“Well, I’d hope so.” She crossed her legs, her foot bobbing either with impatience or the motion of the train. “You were there late enough. Been waitin’ over an hour.”
The Doctor was almost too shocked by her cheek to form an answer. “Well, I’m sorry I couldn’t better accommodate you, Miss Tyler.” She snorted in what sounded like amusement.
“Ooh, Miss Tyler is it? Well, if that’s the way you want to play it John, that’s fine. I’m sure I can come up with some creative ways of making you say my name properly.” Then she smiled, her tongue somehow contriving to cleave itself to the corner of her mouth while simultaneously getting stuck between her teeth. For a moment, the Doctor felt odd. Not that he’d felt much of anything but odd for some time, but odd with particularity. A sort of rolling, electric, delirious odd. It was frighteningly pleasant.
The girl, apparently oblivious, went on. “Anyway, it’s Tony’s birthday next week. Four, if you can believe it. I know you don’t want to hear this, but we will be expected to make an appearance. I already got him a present, by the way. Not that he needs more toys. I swear, he already owns everything in the Henrick’s children’s department.” She shook her head, her attention clearly elsewhere. “And there’s the charity auction week after that. I’ll have to get your tux pressed. But after that we’ve got a free weekend. Might be nice just to lounge around the flat and watch mindless television, for a change.” She sighed, and turned to him as if for confirmation.
What the blazes was going on? This was perhaps the most domestic conversation he had ever been unfortunately included in. Birthday presents? Television? Perhaps this was a bad dream. No, he felt too awake for that. Perhaps he was going insane. Yes, that seemed more likely. Insanity. If nothing else, it was preferable to the life this crazy blonde woman was describing. Enough of this, it was time to get to the bottom of the matter. He opened his mouth to ask her exactly what the hell was going on and who the hell she was, when the brakes began to whine and the train correspondingly slowed.
Her eyes flicked out the windows. “Our stop,” she said, standing. He followed suit, and when the doors opened he exited with her in silence. He said not a word as she paced confidently down the sidewalk, merely watched her out of the corner of his eye. Watched her to see if he could discern any hint of fakery, any glitch in her cover that would indicate she was anything other than who she appeared to be: Miss Tyler, regular human female and London resident.
She noticed him watching her. “You’re sure being quiet tonight,” she commented.
“Am I?” he asked. Was he? He honestly wanted to know.
“Hmm,” was all she answered, turning abruptly to mount a set of steps. At the top of the steps was a red door. The door to a townhouse. The Doctor looked at the houses to the left and right. They were, coincidentally, identical to the one in front of him. Same white brick facing. Same wrought iron fences out front. Same red doors. There was absolutely nothing that made these stairs, this entryway, this building, stand out in any way from those on either side. It was, perhaps, the least remarkable place he had ever seen. She opened the door, then turned to him. “Well? You coming?”
With heavy steps, he mounted the porch, followed her up three more flights of stairs, through another door, and then into a nondescript flat. She tossed her keys onto a small table next to the door, and slipped her suit jacket from her shoulders with a sigh. He glanced surreptitiously around the room. It was small, and cluttered with objects, but clean. There was a couch, a dining table, a television, several bookcases, and not much else. The walls were a uniform off-white, with little decoration. On one wall next to the telephone was a corkboard. Various notes with dates and telephone numbers were tacked to its surface. A basket of bananas sat in the middle of the table.
It was as if someone had purposely set him down inside his own private hell.
The girl yawned, and covered it with her hand. “”S too late to cook. You mind take-out?” She smiled at him over her shoulder. “Thai?” She raised an eyebrow. The Doctor got the sense that this question held meaning for her. It meant nothing to him, so he just nodded.
It was then that he felt it. The connection. Faint, but oh yes, there. It took every ounce of reserve he had not to bolt that very instant in the direction the sensation was emanating from. Instead, he waited until the girl turned around again, then walked slowly down the hallway to the doors at the far end. He turned right, and entered a small library like room. Certainly, there were enough books covering just about every surface to justify giving it that appellation. And there, in a corner that looked to have been cleared for the purpose, stood a TARDIS. Not his TARDIS, mind. At least, it didn’t look anything like his TARDIS. And even assuming that some of his missing time involved him managing to fix the chameleon circuit, he didn’t think any TARDIS would ever choose to appear so…amorphous. No, this was an unformed TARDIS. Young; still growing. It was magnificent, but that didn’t explain what it was doing in this tiny little room, in this miniscule little flat, in this insignificant city, on this absolutely irrelevant planet, in an inconsequential star system of a minor galaxy.
He found himself trembling. This was wrong. All of it. Nothing, absolutely nothing made any sense.
“Hey.” It was that girl again. She’d followed him into the room and now she was coming up beside him. The Doctor felt her arms slip about his waist and nearly leapt away at her touch. “Penny for your thoughts?” She leaned into his side and laid her head upon his shoulder. What was she doing? Who was she that she would do this? Who was she that she would think he’d just let her do this? He stared down at her in confusion, at the part in her yellow-gold hair.
The word swam to him over the connection, and his head immediately swiveled towards the young TARDIS.
Rose? Was that the girl’s name, then? Rose? Well, how was that supposed to help him-
And in that moment everything returned. Every memory, every thought, every emotion. Like an avalanche, it plowed through his mind leaving him freezing and terrified. The world spun. Beads of cold sweat broke out beneath his arms and between his shoulder blades. He felt bile rise up in his throat, tasted its bitterness on the back of his tongue. He wondered momentarily if he was going to be sick right there on the carpet of the study, with Rose there to see and worry about him. He swallowed hard, and the sick feeling lessened slightly. He looked back down at her, and now she was gazing up at him, her chestnut eyes brimming with concern.
“Rose Tyler,” he managed to croak out, wanting to say her name for himself as much as for her benefit. “I love you,” he continued, and the truth of that statement nearly made his knees buckle with relief.
She smiled at his admission. Raising herself on tiptoe, she gently placed her lips against his in a chaste kiss. Whispering, her breath ghosting deliciously over the spot where her lips had just been, she said, “And don’t you forget it.”
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Chapter 15: Chapter 15Rose was nothing if not a good noticer.
When she was little she had loved fantasy stories. She had become something of an expert on Narnia, was a devoted subject of the Once and Future King, and had sailed on all of the voyages of Doctor Doolittle. Reading stories kept her busy as the only child of a single mom who had to work to keep them fed and clothed and who was rarely in the flat when Rose walked home from school. Jackie had not much approved of Rose’s fantastical interests (she didn’t want her daughter getting funny ideas that could lead her God knows where), and to a certain extent she had turned out to be justified in her concerns. The books, however, were harmless and did nothing more dangerous than instill within Rose the firm belief that animals could talk, if you just knew their language. It was funny, actually, that the Doctor - who reminded her of some strange combination of Aslan, Merlin and Doctor Doolittle himself (with a little Willy Wonka thrown in just for insanity’s sake) - was the one to eventually break her of this notion once and for all. Or more specifically, the TARDIS did it, by translating every language ever spoken and leaving animals to low or neigh or baa as the case may be.
However, before a sentient blue box had gone and destroyed all her anthropomorphic daydreams, she believed quite firmly in the assertion of Polynesia the parrot that all you really needed to learn to talk to animals was to be a good noticer. So, she had cultivated this aspect of her own personality in the hope that one day it might bear fruit. While her girlfriends sashayed down the street ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all the lovely things in shop windows they couldn’t afford, she had always been the one to throw an arm up in front of the group and stop it from accidentally trampling the toad that had just wandered onto the sidewalk. She always seemed know when one of her friends was hiding a bad break-up, or a fight with their mum, or their lost virginity. She remembered things like strange words graffiti-ed onto the estate walls, or chalked on the playground pavement, or blared over a military speaker. She just noticed things, and this had, in fact, turned out to be a rather useful skill for a space/time traveler to have; one the Doctor had quite frequently appreciated.
So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to her when she started noticing something was ‘off’ with the Doctor.
It all started with Jake’s promotion. It had nothing to do, really, with the promotion itself, which had been a long time coming for poor Jake. It was the congratulatory party that followed the promotion. She had been drinking - hell, they had all been drinking — and she returned from the loo, after having pissed for what seemed like forever, to find the whole Torchwood crew standing up around the table she’d just left and hurriedly drinking down something unidentifiable. Jake was the first to finish and slam his glass back down onto the table in triumph. The shock of it knocked him off balance, and he tripped back into his chair. He got some cheers and thumbs-ups from the slower drinkers, but mainly everyone just laughed. Rose laughed too as she sidled up to the Doctor.
Peering suspiciously into his empty glass (was that a shot glass inside the tumbler?) she asked, “What is that?”
“Dunno,” he replied, squinting into the empty glass as if the answers might be still stuck to the sides. Then he shrugged at her and tossed his head in that way he had which meant ‘When in Rome…’
“You wanna be careful with that sort of thing,” she cautioned, and almost smacked herself. It’s not as if all that long ago she hadn’t had a conversation with the Doctor about her leading him by the hand like a little child.
The Doctor, though, appeared to be over that particular issue. He merely rolled his eyes at her, muttering, “Yes, mum.” Slipping back into his chair, he pushed another out from under the table with his toe. She took his invitation, sat, and grabbed for the empty glasses and the pitcher of water in the center of the table to pour for herself.
She downed the contents of her water glass and poured herself another before turning back to find the Doctor peering about the pub with a vague look of concern. His gaze swept slowly around the room, as if he were getting the measure of the place. It was a look she remembered well from the times when they had traveled throughout the universe. One of the first thing’s he’d taught her about safe interplanetary travel was to always know where your exits were. Now he looked to be scoping out the smoky, lager stained establishment and cataloging their location. His eyes skirted the curve of the bar, slid heedlessly over the people sitting at the other end of the long table, where Jake slumped increasingly towards unconsciousness, then slipped past Rose’s form without even a flicker, to fix themselves on the obnoxiously glowing jukebox in the corner.
“Hey,” she said, reaching a hand out to touch his elbow. His head whipped around, his full attention now on her. He glanced down at where she had rested her hand upon his suit jacket before lifting his eyes back to hers. “You looked kinda lost there for a mo’.”
He blinked. “I-” his eyes widened as he cut himself short. Clearing his throat loudly he continued. “Just, having a look around.” His brow wrinkled as he stared intently at her. Rose got the impression he was trying to look past her face and behind her eyes, as if she were wearing a mask and trying to hide her true identity.
“Right,” she drawled, “No more of that for you then.” She nodded at the empty glass before him and his gaze shifted.
The Doctor lifted the glass, peering at it and turning it to catch what little light had filtered through to the back area of the pub. The empty shot glass within clinked against its edge. “What is this supposed to be?” he asked, sounding puzzled.
Rose snorted. “I just asked you that.” She reached for another unused glass and filled it with water before sliding it towards him. “No more alcohol period this evening.”
The Doctor’s eyebrows shot skywards. “Alcohol?” he said, sounding surprised. He lifted the cup until the rim was even with his lips and sniffed heavily. Closing his eyes, he cocked his head thoughtfully to one side. “Whiskey. Irish Cream.” He smiled, suddenly and almost wistfully. “Guinness.” He opened his eyes and looked at the empty glass with greater appreciation.
“Car Bomb,” she identified.
“What?!” He turned to her with a shocked look on his face, almost dropping the tumbler.
“’S called a Car Bomb,” she said of the drink. “Not a very politically correct name, mind you, what with all the Irish themed ingredients an’ all.” He looked at her as if he suddenly suspected she would grow a second head. This actually made her feel a little more comfortable and a little less concerned at his strange actions. The Doctor, despite his repeated assertions that she was brilliant and wonderful and a veritable genius, could never quite hide his amazement whenever she proved to be well informed on a subject he knew nothing about. “Mickey liked em’,” she explained.
“Oh,” he replied blandly, setting the glass safely down on the scratched surface of the table. On the big screen behind the bar, England scored and the whole pub erupted in cheers. Jake celebrated by falling out of his chair and the rest of the Torchwood team rose as a body to help him to his feet.
After dropping Jake into a cab and extracting a promise from the operative escorting him home that he would be force fed several glasses of water and put promptly to bed, Rose turned to find the Doctor still hovering on the pub’s doorstep. If he had looked lost before, it was nothing to how he looked now. He stared upwards into the sky, his mouth hanging half open and his brow creased, as if he had never seen its like before.
“Doctor?” she asked, her voice filling with concern. He didn’t respond, but slowly his mouth levered shut. Wondering what could catch his attention like that, and half expecting the sky to start falling in on them, she stood shoulder to shoulder with him and followed his line of sight. Above the several stories of shops and eateries on either side of the street, the purple sky bent in a great arch over London. The stars were just barely visible through the haze of the city’s ambient light. Filmy grey clouds draped themselves over the horizon, muting the light from the moon. Several ovoid zeppelin shapes meandered across the sky, accompanied by the distant hum of their engines. Nothing untoward. Not that she could see, anyway. She turned to him, her concern deepening. “Somethin’ wrong?”
He looked at her then, his thoughts apparently returning to earth. “Bit weird, don’t you think?” he commented, flicking his eyes back up to the sky momentarily. “The zeppelins,” he clarified.
“Oh.” Was that all? Rose shivered, though it was not a particularly cold night. ‘Someone walking over my grave,’ she thought morbidly. “Figured you’d gotten used to all that by now,” she said, raising her hands to rub at her upper arms. She felt goose bumps and raised hairs beneath her fingers. He looked quizzically at her before noticing her apparent discomfort and shrugging his jacket from his shoulders. He turned it around and offered it to her in a gentlemanly manner. She smiled and thanked him, wrapping the surprisingly thin material around her. “Let’s get a taxi,” she said, suddenly wanting very much not to be out underneath the fake seeming sky.
Once ensconced in the back seat of the black cab, she snuggled down into the warmth of his jacket. She turned her nose into its collar and inhaled his scent with a contented sigh. The Doctor watched her with something akin to amusement lighting his eyes. Feeling particularly close to him at the moment, and just a little bit drunk, she reached out to lay her hand affectionately against his thigh, perilously close to the crease of his waist. He startled a little at the contact, before covering her hand gently with his own. Soon she felt the gentle sweep of his thumb across her knuckles. The initially tentative motion became a rhythmic caress and, smiling softly, she twisted her palm upwards and entwined her fingers with his own. It was his right hand, she realized, the one that had caused so much trouble. The one that had given her the chance to live this one wonderful life with the man she adored. The one she had first grasped in the basement of a high end department store and never really let go.
“Run,” she murmured fondly, and beamed up into his face.
The Doctor was staring out the window; tilting his head up to read the street signs as they passed, the intermittent street lights covering him in alternating waves of light and darkness. He turned at her comment, plastering a huge, blank smile across his face. “Wherever to?” he asked, jokingly.
Feeling again that strange chill tickle up her spine, Rose quickly pulled her hand from beneath his slack fingers and stared at his face. She realized with a suddenness that stole air from her lungs what had been bothering her all evening. It wasn’t anything he had done or said, but what he hadn’t done that was out of character. He had been surprised at her experience with Earth cocktails, but hadn’t flinched at her casual mention of Mickey. He had kindly offered her his coat for warmth, but had made not a single snarky comment about her trying to get him out of his clothes already. She had held his hand, but he hadn’t held it back.
She was being foolish, she knew. Like as not, it was all in her imagination. No doubt the alcohol had worked itself on both of them, making him a bit odd and her a tad paranoid. Her mother, she knew, would tell her not to invent trouble; she had enough of it as it was. And it was true. But then, she had thought the Doctor had been acting odd the week before, too. That night they had been working late. When he’d barely said two words to her the entire evening, before suddenly attacking her in the study and making passionate, almost violent, love to her the rest of the night. As if he hadn’t seen her in months. As if there were no tomorrow.
Rose Tyler had traveled the universe. Rose Tyler had seen many strange things in her time. Ghosts and possessions and werewolves, oh my! Rose Tyler had met the Devil, been told she would die, and promptly did so (though, metaphorically). Rose Tyler did not believe in coincidence. The Doctor didn’t join her in bed after their return to the flat that evening; choosing to stay awake reading on the couch into the wee hours of the morning. She was secretly glad she hadn’t needed to tell him no.
She started asking questions.
Not of him, that would have been extremely unsubtle. She asked around Torchwood. She wished he had some friends outside of work she could canvas for opinions, but then, why would he? He’d never met anyone in this universe she didn’t introduce to him, and she’d never bothered while she was trying to get back to her old universe to meet anyone who wasn’t a Torchwood operative. For the briefest of moments, she regretted her blatantly possessive treatment.
“Dr. Royce,” she said with stoic reserve, trying not to give away what she was looking for, “Have you noticed anything strange about Dr. Smith?”
Royce raised an eyebrow. “You mean apart from him being an alien?”
Rose sputtered, “What?!” No one at Torchwood other than herself and Pete was supposed to know about that!
Royce just shrugged. “He appears with you shortly after you return from an alternate dimension, he’s got unprecedented knowledge about alien races, he easily recognizes every piece of otherworld technology we put in front of him, and even though he’s potentially the most hyperactive, egotistical, and certifiably insane person I’ve ever met, he apparently passed the entrance psychological examinations with flying colors.” Rose’s look is incredulous. “Plus his lab notes are all written in some unidentifiable alien language.”
Lab notes in Gallifreyan. She’s going to kill him. “Right,” she said, recovering from her shock, “I meant…out of the ordinary for him…recently.”
Royce appeared to ponder this for a moment. She thought he was running through his memories to see if anything is out of place, but apparently that’s not what was on his mind at all. “Why?” he asked slowly, “Is Dr. Smith in trouble?”
“No,” she responded quickly. “No, it’s just…well, have you?” That last came out sounding desperate and not at all like the way an Assistant Director should sound. He stared at her a bit, as if trying to decide whether she was trustworthy. She was momentarily touched at the loyalty which the Doctor seemed to inspire in even casual acquaintances. Apparently coming to a decision, he nodded an affirmative.
Rose leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms defensively. “All right, then, like what?”
“He seems distracted, doesn’t focus on his work. Forgets to file reports on time. Slips forms for UA into the R&D mail slot.” He paused and Rose raised her eyebrows at him meaningfully. She didn’t see how any of that was all that odd. “And Tuesday morning he marched into my office with my proposal on creating a temporal loop generator for the purpose of improving agricultural production yields to tell me why it could never work.”
“And?” said Rose. That was his job, wasn’t it? To analyze R&D hypothecations and determine which were workable. To head up projects for many that were. Rose began wondering if there was perhaps some sort of professional rivalry interfering with Royce’s judgment.
“And he did the exact same thing on Monday morning.” Royce’s face darkened. “Same explanation, almost down to the word.”
‘Oh,’ Rose thought, and bit nervously at her bottom lip. “Well, yeah,” she said, making an attempt at rationalization, “But couldn’t that happen to anyone.”
Dr. Royce observed her passively with bright green eyes. “Miss Tyler, by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, I’m a genius. There’s no point in being modest about it, it’s a testable fact. It’s the reason Torchwood recruited me in the first place. I’m smarter than 99.9999% of the human population. I built a quantum destabilizer when I was nineteen; almost blew the whole physics building to kingdom come. I did the major work on that dimensional cannon you made such good use of. Vitex obtained twenty-three new patents in the last year because of me. And at least twice a day Dr. Smith makes me feel like I’m some toddler who’s just dribbled juice all down my shirt.”
Royce leaned forward and tapped one finger against the edge of Rose’s desk. “Do you think it’s normal for someone like that to forget an entire conversation not twenty-four hours after it happened?”
Rose squeezed her eyes shut so that he couldn’t see the pain sparking within their depths. “Thank you Dr. Royce, I believe that answers my question.”
It turns out Royce isn’t the only Torchwood employee to notice something amiss.
“Miss Tyler?” Rose looked up at the knock and the inquiry of the soft Welsh voice. The man filling her doorway was dressed in a smart suit and carrying a file folder. He looked uncomfortable.
“Yes Mr. Jones? Can I help you?”
Ianto lowered himself stiffly into her visitors’ chair and crossed one leg over the other. “Miss Tyler do you know a Jack Harkness?” Rose held onto her composure by a thread. Her eyes flicked up towards the door. Ianto had closed it behind him. Good man, indeed.
“Where did you hear that name, Mr. Jones?” She knew very damn well where he’d heard it. She could count on one hand the people in this universe who knew that name, and only one other than herself who would connect it with Ianto Jones, Administrative Manager of Unidentified Artifacts Division, Torchwood One.
“From Dr. Smith,” he explained, staring down at his attractively striped tie so as not to have to meet her eyes. “Which I’m sure you’ve guessed.”
Rose set her pen down on the ink blotter. “Well, go on then.”
Ianto settled himself, wrapping his fingers about his crossed knee. “The other day Dr. Smith came down to the UA office to look at some new objects we received from the Antarctic dig site. He stopped at my desk to chat for a moment and, somewhat out of the blue asked me how ‘Jack’ was doing. I, of course, asked him what Jack he was referring to, there being none at present on UA staff. I thought perhaps it was someone he had met at a Torchwood function and merely thought was a member of UA. But, he just looked at me as if I had two heads and said, ‘Jack Harkness, of course.’” Ianto squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, dropping his hands from their place at his knee and laying his forearms against the armrests. “I told him I wasn’t familiar with any Jack Harkness and he just sort of laughed at that.”
Ianto adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. “Hmmm…he said…he leaned over my desk sort of conspiratorially and said, ‘Well now, Jack won’t be too pleased to find he’s so easily forgettable.’ And then he…ah…winked at me.” Rose’s eyebrows lifted significantly. “I…I said I didn’t know anything about that. After which Dr. Smith got something of a weird look on his face, and stood up. He sort of…scratched at the back of his neck, like he was nervous. Then he just said it must be his mistake and walked on into UA very quickly.” Ianto had moved on to examining his pristine fingernails, but looked up at her upon finishing his short story. “Miss Tyler, who is Jack Harkness?”
Rose’s first instinct was to lie. Well, Mr. Jones, Jack Harkness is an operative with our Washington partners working out of their equivalent of our Unidentified Artifacts division. He came to visit our London offices three weeks ago as part of an international information exchange program. Dr. Smith must have assumed that you two had met at some point during his visit.
That might have worked, if the Doctor hadn’t decided to up the innuendo factor.
Rose’s second instinct was to tell the blatant truth. Ianto, Jack Harkness is a former time agent turned Torchwood operative who heads up the Cardiff branch in a different universe. He’s charming and intelligent and very competent at his job. Also, your alternate self is shagging him rotten.
Rose decided on a third tactic.
“Mr. Jones, that information is classified.”
“I see,” Ianto responded without emotion. “Well, thank you for speaking with me, Miss Tyler.” He uncrossed his legs and stood slowly. “I won’t take up any more of your time.”
“No trouble at all,” she strained from behind a fake smile. Ianto turned on his heel and marched towards the door. With one hand upon the knob, he paused.
“Miss Tyler?” he asked, turning around. She waited expectantly for him to finish his query, all the time hoping he couldn’t see how her hands were fisted so tight on top of the heavy oak desk that her fingernails left little half moon indentations in the skin of her palms. “Dr. Smith…is he…all right?”
Competent and caring, Rose thought. Good man. Too good. He deserves better than a desk job. A glorified coffee jockey. Maybe she could find a better position for him in the agency, or at Vitex. After she figured out what was wrong with the Doctor, of course. Everything would have to go on hold until then. “He’s always all right,” she replied.
She could tell from the look on Ianto’s face that he didn’t believe her words in the slightest. Of course, why would he? She never had.
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Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Author's Notes: Turning the angst-o-meter up to eleven.
In the end, she beats him to the punch.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I ask myself that same question every day,” he quips. But she doesn’t laugh, doesn’t even smile, and he has the sneaking suspicion that there’s a very specific answer she’s looking for.
“Dr. Royce is concerned about your lack of concentration lately. Dr. Chase tells me you’ve been borrowing some of the medical equipment and running undocumented scans on yourself. Now Ianto says you were down in UA just the other day talking to him about some bloke named Jack like he was supposed to know exactly who that was.” She steps forward and grabs his face in both hands, making it absolutely clear from her tone and actions that she was not to be trifled with. “What is wrong with you?”
He blinks, and flashes what he hopes is a disarming smile. “Nothing. You know me. I’m always all right.” She doesn’t move, is clearly not believing a word of it. He swallows hard. “Not buying that, huh?” She shakes her head.
He would have to tell her. He’d been planning on telling her. Planning for weeks now, but…
He takes a deep breath. “You remember that whole metacrisis thing, with Donna.”
She drops her hands, convinced now that he will give her the answer she’s looking for. “I’m not likely to forget it any time soon,” she replies.
“Well, it’s not really supposed to happen, you know. It had never been done before, so yeah, the results were going to be a little sketchy.” He avoids her eyes. “Big Time Lord thoughts, teeny little human brain. Doesn’t work, you see. Like dropping a bucket of water into a glass that’s already full to the brim.” He glances guiltily at her before continuing. “It was bound to have some bad side effects. On Donna especially, but well…this body’s only part Time Lord, so you can’t expect it to react all that much better. That’s all it is. Nothing unexpected. Well, nothing expected, mind, but as this is a seminal case you sort of have to expect the unexpected and well….” He smiles confidently and gets the immediate impression that she’s not at all comforted by it.
“Is that what you meant when you said before…about Donna…that you doomed her to a life of…of …”
“Whatever that means.”
“Humble and nameless. It was meant as a bit of a play on her name you-”
“I DON’T WANT A FUCKING ENGLISH LESSON!” she screams back at him. “I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NOW!”
Her shout startles him, and he takes an involuntary step back. He thinks of saying something witty and off topic in order to calm her down, but she’s looking right now as if that would only anger her further. He decides to stick with the tactic he’s been using so far: calm recitation of the facts. “Donna,” he says, “Wouldn’t be able to handle the thoughts for very long. Too much strain on the mind, pushing out thoughts that are already there; and that includes all the subconscious impulses that keep her breathing and pumping blood and the like. She’ll either have to lose the Time Lord memories or she’ll die. I…he won’t let that happen, of course. He’ll take them from her, the thoughts that is. Take all of her memories, every last thing that could remind her of himself or us, and send her back to Earth to live out her one last adventure as a regular human.”
“And that-” she’s gasping now, “That’s what’s going to happen to you. You’re just going to lose all you memories and become some…some regular old bloke?”
“No,” he says, and he reaches a hand out to caress her cheek. “I don’t think there are any telepaths on this planet strong enough to do that kind of a number on me.” He closes his eyes to block out the imagined pain something like that would cause. “And I wouldn’t let them anyways. I’d rather die,” he admits fervently. Knows it’s true. Wonders if it was true for Donna as well; figures that it probably was. Feels guilty by association.
“Then what?” she asks, dragging his attention back to this universe. He opens his eyes, and she is a teenager again, wanting to know why her father had to die. Why they had to just let it happen, when he’d been so very brave.
“Then…” He bites his lower lip in consternation. This was never going to be easy, but he’d known it was coming. He should have had some sort of speech prepared. But then, planning for the future had never been his forte. “Then I guess I will.”
“Will what?” she begs, ignoring the obvious answer.
“Die,” he says simply. Seeing her incomprehension he goes on, “I mean, it was going to happen some day anyway. It’s just…going to be a little sooner than I originally planned.” He tries again to smile at her, but his heart isn’t in it.
Her reaction is one of sheer horror. “How long?”
He shrugs, trying to make light of it; knows he’s failing. “Could be years, could be…months.” He suspects the latter, but there’s no reason to scare her any further than he already has. Besides, it’s not like he has any proof one way or the other.
“Oh god,” she breathes, and backs away from him. She backs away from him and his statement and his flippant treatment of his own imminent demise and eventually stops when she hits the frame of the doorway leading into the hall. “Oh god, no,” she says again, and this time he recognizes it as a true plea to some higher power. She’s terrified and lost and there’s nothing he can do to change it. He can’t fulfill her request and make it not so. It hurts him to see her like this, but it hurts him more to know he’s powerless to do anything about it.
Like a shift of fall wind through dying leaves, her mood changes in an instant from denial to despair.
“He left me and he knew. And now you’re gonna leave me and what will I have then? Nothing. Just like always. Just like bloody always.” Her head drops, as if she no longer has the strength to hold it up. Then, sounding like a child, she whispers, “You promised you wouldn’t leave me.”
Bonelessly, she slides to the floor. He kneels down beside her, knees pressing into the carpet. He has nothing to say to that, and he doubts she would listen to his explanations anyway. Not in the disturbed state she’s in. He tries to offer her some wordless comfort, but she flinches away from his hand on her shoulder.
“Go,” she says, miserably. “Just get out.”
“I said, get the hell out of my flat!” Her eyes are burning into his through a liquid veil of tears. He fancies he can see golden rays in their depths, and that very thought throws him off his guard.
“I…what?! It’s my flat, too.” He’s well aware that his response is ridiculous.
“No,” she sniffs, and wipes at her dripping nose with the back of her hand. “Mine first, now go.”
Her answer floors him. He can’t seem to get his thoughts into order and frame a coherent response. Stupid, worthless human brain. “Where exactly am I supposed to go?” he finally manages to gasp out, knowing just how desperate and childish it sounds.
“Don’t care,” Rose moans into her knees as she pulls herself into a ball and hides her face. The Doctor, free from her accusing gaze for a moment, takes a breath and tries to analyze the situation calmly.
“Rose,” he says evenly, “You’re being irrational. And don’t get me wrong, I understand why, but try to look at this sensibly.”
“I don’t want to look at it,” she says. She should sound angry, but instead all she sounds is tired, like she just doesn’t have the energy to argue with him anymore. Like she doesn’t have the energy to care about anything anymore. She wipes her cheeks against the material of her jeans and sets her head sideways on her knees. Her look is accusatory, disgusted. He’s seen her wear that look when talking to Jenkins at work. “And I don’t want to look at you, either, wearing that face. You make me sick.”
He leans away from her, examining. He barely even recognizes this Rose. Her blotchy cheeks and disarrayed hair he can deal with, but the burning look in her eyes is completely foreign. It’s like a cold candle flame, the blue part of the fire that burns without heat. It is cruel and chilling and there is nothing, absolutely nothing behind it. Not even the heat of fury. That passion has left her, and all that remains is a frigid, lifeless imitation.
Shaking his head in disbelief at what he’s seeing, he closes his eyes, ridding himself of that vision of Rose and replacing it with a mental one of his own. “I love you,” he stutters out, knowing it’s true of the Rose in his mind. “And you love me,” he says, and he can’t help the fact that the last was said somewhat hopefully. He opens his eyes, and the unknown Rose is still there crouched against the doorjamb. “And we’ll work this out, somehow.” Together, he implies.
“No,” she replies, not breaking his gaze.
“No?” he asks, bewildered, and wishes he could say something more intelligent. No what? What is going on here? When did this conversation go completely out of control? Out of his control, anyway.
“No.” Her voice is ice, and she turns away from him, shifting slightly to the side as if to escape even his immediate proximity. “I don’t love you. I thought I did. I thought you were him, the man who promised he wouldn’t leave me, that one I could have my forever with. But, you’re not and I was wrong and I’m sorry.” She roughly rubs an errant tear from her cheek with her fingers and coolly straightens her shoulders, pointedly staring off at nothing and avoiding his eyes. “Now please leave before I have to make this even harder on the both of us.”
In his long life (well, long memory of life anyways) the Doctor had been surprised many times. Shock, in fact, seemed to be his near constant companion. It was a rare instance when he hadn’t found himself at least partially blindsided by the unexpected nature of a given situation. Which all just goes to show that being able to see everything that might occur does not actually give anyone even the tiniest inkling about what actually will happen. And, as a result, he had built up quite a store of stock reactions which served well for covering his confusion. For instance, shouting ‘What?!’ with great incredulity often worked wonders. However, he can’t help but notice he’s already done that at least once in the past minute and a half. Besides, what he requires is a reaction equal to the situation, one that serves as a perfect counterpoint to his actual level of emotional turmoil. Improper responses to stressful situations always lead to poor results. Case in point: ‘I love you’; ‘Quite right’. Really, what had that been about? No, definitely a poor choice that time. And this response is looking as though it will be considerably more important. It has to be just right or else he is going to lose her forever. Again. He’ll just have to reach into his giant bag of witty rejoinders and drag out something appropriate.
Funny, he can’t find a single one.
She continues to glare at the bland paintwork of the wall behind him, not saying anything. He shakes his head again, harder this time. This can’t be happening. This isn’t supposed to happen. Oh, and like he knows anything about what’s supposed to happen. No, this is happening. This is FACT, he is not dreaming, and she has just ordered him out of their…her flat.
He stands so quickly he almost falls over backwards. He backs away from her, unable to look her in the face; unable to weather that cold stare yet again. Yet, still unable to turn around, he almost trips on the ottoman as he backs towards the door. Suddenly feeling its hard wood against his shoulder and the almost painful press of the brass knob against his lower back, he whips around. His shoulders trembling, he turns the knob, slowly opens the door, and steps out onto the landing. The door swings shut behind him, and he is alone.
He stays motionless like that for a moment, thinking perhaps he will hear her crying; that she will break down at his actually leaving and then he can rush back inside and comfort her and she will welcome him back into her arms and all will be forgiven and-
There is no crying. It’s possible he just can’t hear her through the door, but no, the walls here are not that thick. His ears are straining at the silence and he can hear someone down on the first floor running a vacuum. The sharp click behind him almost makes him jump, it is so loud. He spins around.
She’s locked the door. Oh, it doesn’t mean much in the long run. He has a key, of course. No, it was the principle of the thing, locking someone out. Purposefully locking them out when…when you pretty much have to know they are at that very moment poised hopeful and expectant on the doorstep. It is a clear signal, as clear as she had been with her words inside the flat. But that inarguable click of the lock seemed somehow so much more final in its declaration.
Suddenly, and for the first time in several centuries, he feels very bad about Susan.
His feet start to move him out of the building without his conscious control. He makes it down the stairs without running back up them to pound on the flat door begging for entrance. Then he makes it to the sidewalk. After that, he just lets his feet go where they will, because they seem to be handling the situation significantly better than his mind is. His mind is still back in the flat, still trying to come up with something to say to Rose to make this all better. But he keeps coming up blank, keeps hearing her tell him to leave.
As he walks, dusk settles onto the city, and he passes beneath the dim streetlamps like a wraith. He passes people going the opposite direction, and avoids running full into them without even seeing them. He crosses an intersection blindly, managing not to get run over. The dusk turns to twilight and in the squalid confines of his own thoughts he still hasn’t found the right words. Still hasn’t escaped that frozen stare. Still hears the resounding click of the latch closing firmly behind him. He crosses a bridge and it occurs to him that there aren’t bridges anywhere near the flat. Good workers, these feet of his. They must like the chucks. Unaccountably, they stop, and he has no idea where he is.
He sighs heavily. You’d think he’d be used to this sort of thing by now.
It’s cold, he realizes, perhaps for the first time, very cold. His internal monologue chides him silently because, of course, it’s late October. Attempting to shove his hands into the pockets of a coat he only now recognizes he’s not wearing, he looks to see if there might be a coffee shop nearby, or book store. Someplace where warm beverages are sold and consumed. Hell, even a tube station with a vending machine would be preferable to standing out in this bitter wind. Across the street a flickering neon VACANCY sign catches his attention.
“In the dog house?”
He glances up from where he is signing ‘Dr. John Smith’ into the hotel register to stare at the clerk. She’s an older lady, tiny gold rimmed half spectacles perched at the end of her nose. A gold chain sporting several brown beads hangs down from the frames, securing them about her neck. Her hair is grey, but the dark almost purplish grey of a woman who has enough pride still to dye her white locks, but not enough to pretend to be younger than she is. She proudly wares a sweatshirt with teddy bears dancing across the front, likely a gift from a grandchild. Her smile is rueful, her eyes mild and understanding behind the gold rims.
“I’m sorry, what?” he replies, somewhat belatedly.
“Come on dearie,” she shakes her head in amusement. “I seen enough of your type in my time. You don’t run a place like this thirty-odd years and not get a feel for the clientele.” His look is perplexed. She gently waves her hand towards him. “No luggage. Not even a decent coat or a change of clothes. Look on your face like you’re death warmed over.” She turns from him and starts searching a wall pin-cushioned with nails and hung about with keys. Finding what she’s searching for, she turns back to him holding out a key fob. “Take some advice from an old heart, dearie. All she wants is to hear that you’re sorry.”
The key drops into his open palm. He doesn’t take his eyes off the woman. Curling his fingers about the cold metal, he lowers his arm and slips it into his pocket. The old woman eyes him expectantly.
Not knowing why, he swallows and says, “Not from me she doesn’t.”
“Well, if not you, luv, than who?”
It is a good question. One he doesn’t have a good answer to. Silently he turns away from the desk, and heads towards the ancient lift. It trundles up to the third floor and the doors slide open with an un-oiled squeal of gears.
The hallway is dim, lit by only one ancient light that is barely enough to illuminate its carpeted length. Jangling the metal key in his pocket, the Doctor makes his way to his assigned room. As he unlocks it he notices that his hands are trembling, just slightly, though why they would do so is beyond him. He isn’t frightened. Not running from anything terrible. Is he?
He shakes his head and steadies his hand. The key sticks for a moment in the lock, then twists begrudgingly into place with a click. He pushes in the door, flicks on the light, and surveys the tiny apartment.
It is nothing to look at. The bed, though not overlarge in itself, takes up much of the room. An old style chest of drawers stands at its foot, leaving only a couple of feet of clearance between the two to allow the room’s occupants to walk from one side of the bed to the other. A television is perched on top of the drawers, but it looks so old and battered that he seriously doubts it would produce a steady picture. One narrow widow looks out over an alley; dingy ecru lace curtains hang in front of it. A door could be seen propped open on the other side of the dresser; the loo he imagined. He half expected a place this old to have shared accommodations, and he wouldn’t care in the slightest.
Throwing himself down on the bed, he turns his attention to the cracked and pitted ceiling. The pillows are thin. The mattress is lumpy. The sheets, suspect. And Rose doesn’t love him any more.
The involuntary clench of all his muscles at that thought causes him to pull the duvet from its position as his hands clasp ineffectually at its scratchy surface and his body twists into a fetal position. His stomach churns as if a giant bolt is being driven, spiraling through his navel. 'No,' he thinks as he tries to remember how to breathe, 'This is stupid.' This is impossible. Of course she still loves him. Feelings like that just don’t disappear. Not overnight. Not over one measly little row, which even he has to admit is significantly more than measly. No, she is hurt and angry and he has done this to her and she wants him to hurt in turn, but she still loves him. She has to. The alternative just isn’t thinkable. Not by him, anyway. Not when he is so bloody mindlessly, completely, impossibly, infuriatingly, heart-achingly in love with her.
He thinks, not for the first time, that his former incarnation had done him no favors by thinking that very same nonsense just before escaping into an explosion of cells.
He takes a deep breath, clearing his mind. This, he thinks with amusement, is just what he deserves. Both of him. Whose idea was it to get involved with a human? Can’t claim he wasn’t warned, repeatedly. The Council would be turning over in their graves…probably were, if they could be said to have metaphorical graves, that is. Whose idea was it to force a giant Time Lord brain (complete with bonus feature emotional instability) into a human’s body? Ah, well, now that wasn’t entirely him, not either of him, but certainly he has to claim responsibility for setting off the Rube Goldbergian chain reaction. Whose idea was it to send him to this alternate existence with nothing but her to serve as his anchor on reality? Now that, he has to admit, had been mostly his doppelganger’s brainchild! But it’s not as if he protested…much. The point being, it is their fault. They deserve this pain, but only he gets to experience it.
Oh, well done, you. Get out of all the messy stuff don’t you? Get out of the uncomfortable readjustment period and the unending guilt-trips and the nightmares you can’t get away from because you bloody well need to sleep in this stupid body. No, you get to love her from afar. Love her forever like some perfect statue that will never change and never grow old and never, ever tell you she doesn’t love you and can’t stand the sight of you and wants you the hell out of her flat. No you get to miss all that blather. Get to sit all stone faced in your wonderful, world-hopping TARDIS, pretending to brood about the past. Get to play the ‘I’m-a-900-year-old-alien-so-lonely-and-full-of-angst’ card. Get to just skip out on this tearing wound which you had a not insignificant hand in creating. Get to miss out on your own rightful punishment and I really, really wish you could feel it because IT BLOODY FUCKING HURTS AND YOU DESERVE IT YOU BASTARD!
The Doctor covers his face with his hands and feels wetness. He didn’t know he’d been crying. He hadn’t heard himself, hadn’t felt the telltale shakes of his chest that would indicate sobs. Hadn’t even felt the sharp burning behind his eyes that was the inevitable precursor to tears.
Pathetic. He used to be a Time Lord. Master of the universe and all that. Now here he is crying on the rumpled bed of a low priced hotel room in an alternate London that he will likely never leave again. Because he won’t be able to get the Little Girl ready in time; he knows that now. His deterioration is progressing much too fast. The most he can hope for is to finish the calculations he’s already started. To complete the programs he’s been working on surreptitiously for months now, just in case. The changes to hardware and software that would allow for interdimensional travel, and which would by themselves seek out the distinct moments in all space and time where such actions would not interrupt the delicate walls between the two realities.
You lucky son-of-a-bitch, he thinks, with only a moment’s regret at his cavalier treatment of his own mother. You did this to me, all of it. Took away everything that mattered, everything I cared about, everything except her. And here I am, doing everything in my power to send her right back to you.
And with that thought he laughs, the crash of it echoing off the thin walls of the room, sounding lower and more bitter than it ever has before.
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Chapter 17: Chapter 17She rings her mother first - and at her mum’s stuttered explanation that, no, they haven’t seen John, why? - she hangs up without explanation. She calls Jake next. He’s still in bed, but comes instantly awake at the sound of her voice wanting to know what's invading and where. She calms him as best she can, tells him there’s no emergency, but had he perhaps seen the Doctor? And no, of course he hasn’t, not since they’d all gone to the pub last Thursday. Why? Has he gone missing? She hangs up again and, dragging the book of Torchwood employee contacts out of the kitchen junk drawer, begins to go through the list of individuals from UA and R&D.
Ianto’s voice mail picks up, and of course, Rose thinks, he’s probably already at work. Dr. Carmichael sounds terrified as she explains she hasn’t seen Dr. Smith in over a week. She’s been on holiday in Cornwall, visiting family. Every operative he’d appeared to have a friendship with, every bloody human he’d taken an interest in, no one had seen or heard from him.
She calls Royce, they were working on a project together, and yes, he has seen Dr. Smith. Yesterday the two of them had run diagnostics on the triptych emulation program and…she stops listening. She doesn’t bother trying to get ahold of Jenkins, the Doctor hated him more than she did. Rose paces the cold linoleum floor of the kitchen, unable to sit still in her agitation.
Who, who else? Who would he trust? Who would he run to in this universe? No one, the answer comes back mockingly. All he had was her.
The thought of how disappointed He would be with her for losing him hits her like a wrecking ball.
She drops heavily into one of the hard backed dining chairs, bowing her head to the table and burying her face in her hands. Would it have been too much to ask for him to carry a cell phone? He had refused, no doubt remembering all the trouble this universe had with the cybermen. But it’s not like he needed to use it all the time, or have one all but surgically attached to his ear. He could have just carried it for emergencies. For times like this when she has been stupid and afraid and unreasonable and she just wants to hear his voice again and know he isn’t dead in a gutter, or worse, miraculously found a way back to their old universe without her.
The very impossibility of that idea, it turned out, is somewhat comforting. Their Little Girl is still firmly ensconced in one corner of his study. She had run there first thing upon waking this morning, hoping he might have come back silently in the night, despite her clear instructions to the contrary. The fact that the Doctor would never leave his TARDIS, not for anything in the universe, gave her hope. He would come back. He had to.
But then, where the hell was he now?
He could, she realizes, be just about anywhere. On Earth, that is, which thankfully narrows the possibilities a great deal. He has money and a driver’s license and, oh god, a passport. He could be halfway to America by now…or Norway. He could be indulging in his insatiable need to travel, which their various trips about the continent had failed to completely satisfy.
She leaps to her feet and begins pacing again.
This is foolish. She is panicking. She has to go about this in a sensible manner. Treat it like a regular old emergency, as opposed to a silly, human, ‘oh god I’ve gone and completely fucked up my relationship’, emergency. She’s good with invasions and threats to all humanity, she should be able to handle this. Right?
So, step one, analyze the situation. Rose realizes she’s been doing that, now, for the last half hour. Obsessively. Step two, list the possible consequences. She does and feels a bit better afterwards. Very few of the conceivable outcomes end up with her and Pete fishing a half Time Lord corpse out of the Thames. Step three, determine the course of action most likely to have resulted. This one was harder. She can think how a human bloke might react to this kind of situation, and if she can’t she could always call Jake again and ask him, but the Doctor was no regular human bloke. It’s hard to tell what he would think, what his instincts would lead him to do. Spending all that time mucking about the universe was bound to ingrain one with a habit of doing the most unlikely things in the most common of situations.
Point of fact, the person with the psyche closest to the Doctor’s in this universe is her. She had often been known to react in what her Torchwood friends thought was a completely erratic manner (see, for example, her recent phone tree experiences). So how would she, Rose Tyler, have reacted to the very same catch-22 situation she had thrust the Doctor into the night before? What would she do? Where would she go?
Ten minutes later, Rose is on the tube to work.
He isn’t in his office, and at the sight of the empty desk she almost collapses in despair. What would she do now? What if he had gone back to the flat and found her not there? She stops herself in the middle of dialing her landline to check.
Okay, time to reassess the situation. Clearly the Doctor is not like her, and why she should have assumed him to be a tireless workaholic is beyond her. Except that he had always seemed tireless to her, at least before, when he would go literally for days without sleeping, tinkering away in the TARDIS’ innards. There has to be another option. Maybe that park he likes, the one with the pond and the swans and the lounge chairs that you have to pay to sit in.
The Doctor saves her from further musings by stepping out of a lift at the end of the hall.
She wants to scream. She wants to cry. She wants to crash through the doorway, sprint down the hall and crush him in the biggest hug he’s ever had. She does none of these things. Instead, she stands frozen in front of his desk and watches him approach. He isn’t looking at her, rather, he seems to be in intense contemplation of the patterns in the floor tiles. His suit is rumpled, as is his hair. She’s willing to bet he slept in the former and had nothing to smooth out the latter. His eyes are dark, with bruised shadows glaring underneath them. She reconsiders her thought about sleeping in his clothes; lying in them perhaps, but sleep seems to have eluded him. His shoulders are slumped, and this is the most definitive indication of his emotional state. The Doctor strode about the Earth as if he owned it, whatever his current time and planet-bound situation may actually be. He bounced. He even sashayed. He never plodded along with a drooping attitude like he could barely put one trainer in front of the other.
He’s at the door before he notices her. He hasn’t lifted his head and seen her, nor has she made even the ghost of a sound at his approach. She would be hard pressed to determine which of his other senses he employed to bring him up short in the doorway. Raising his head only slightly, he looks at her through the thick rectangular rims of his glasses, his eyes almost comically magnified behind them.
He seems to be considering something. Her and…not her. “I’m sorry,” he says, and she is pathetically glad he spoke first. It doesn’t matter what he’s saying (although she’s somewhat shocked that he’s the one apologizing) because he’s here, speaking to her, and not at the bottom of the river. “I’m sorry, and I know that’s not enough. That I can’t speak for him…can’t apologize for him. And I know he wouldn’t apologize for this anyway. That’s not him. So there really wouldn’t be any point in me trying. But this is all I can give you. And I’m sorry for that, too. You deserve better than this.”
“No Doctor,” and she has no idea where she’s finding the voice for this, “It’s me who needs to apologize. I’m sorry for what I said. I was…shocked…and I didn’t think things through…and, oh bloody hell…there’s no good excuse. I acted like a total arse and I’m sorry.” She’s crying. The tears don’t make their way into her voice, but they cut burning lines down her cheeks as she goes on. “When you needed my support the most I just chucked you out like you were last Wednesday’s rubbish. It’s worse than when we were fighting the Sycorax and you were sick and I wasn’t even sure who you were. Because I know who you are, and I know you’d never do anything on purpose to hurt me. I know you’d save me from this if you could.”
She faces him through her tears, and she’s rather surprised he hasn’t said anything. It’s rare for him to be silent this long. “I’m being selfish. I’ve always been selfish. You gave me the whole of the universe and time and all existence, and I always wanted more. And I have to realize that, right now, you need me a heck of a lot more than I need any of that. I mean, you…you’ve got to be scared…and here I am worrying about my own fears and what’s going to happen to me.” She shook her head at her own foolishness. “I’m sorry. I’m so incredibly sorry. And I want to be there for you. For every step of our forever. That is,” she continues, somewhat hesitantly, “If you’ll still have me.”
She sees his eyes widen behind his glasses. Then his brow creases in that familiar way. “Of course I’ll have you…want you…Rose…with me.” He steps towards her, and she feels herself freezing up; as if she’s afraid his touch might somehow brand her. He slips his hand into hers. “And I promise, I’ll stay with you as long as I can.”
Forever was never an option with the two of them. She should have realized that. Should have come to that conclusion long ago when he had first explained to her about Sarah Jane and all the others. Nothing was ever easy with the Doctor. Nothing was ever easy on the Doctor. And she understands, finally, why his life always seemed so hectic. So rushed. So, come on, time to go, no use dilly-dallying, lollygagging, dawdling. Places to go, people to see, and oh so precious little time to do it all in. She remembers, suddenly, something back from her days of secondary school. A play she read in class, by an American author; she can’t remember his name, but that isn’t the point. There had been this girl and she had died and met all these other dead folks in the cemetery. And the dead folks, they had told her not to go back to the world of the living, because it was just too painful. But she hadn’t listened, and she’d gone and everything had been moving so fast. No one had taken the time to breathe or hold one another or to really love each other, because they hadn’t had the luxury of time. Only the dead had time, and only they could truly understand the curse of the living.
The Doctor, she knew, would know the name of the play. Could probably recite the passage she was thinking of by heart. But she doesn’t want to discuss literature with him now. She wants to live in the moment, in the few cherished moments they had left. To laugh and sing and hug and run, to run forever, or whatever would pass for forever, with him at her side.
She takes his hands in hers and raises them, setting his fingers to either side of her head. She’s watching his eyes and sees the realization as it dawns. His indrawn breath is not exactly a gasp, but he flinches backwards all the same and she tightens her grip accordingly, freezing his fingers in place.
“Rose,” he says, and shakes his head. She knows what he’s thinking, what he’s going to say. That this is not the time or place. That’s she’s being irrational and emotional and so human. But isn’t that the point?
“Please,” she says. She’s not sobbing, not anymore, but there’s a strain in her voice she can feel in the back of her throat. “I need to know you’re here…with me…now.” His eyes are hard, and for a moment, she thinks he’s going to refuse her. She presses her palms into the backs of his hands and watches his resolve falter. “Please,” she repeats in a whisper, and he accedes.
It’s not like when he’s done this before. Then they’d always been in a state of at least semi-arousal, and she finds this…touching…to be all the more exquisite for the fact that she’s not distracted. She can feel him quite distinctly, and she recognizes, perhaps for the first time, that he feels brown. She hadn’t realized until this very moment that colors had a feel to them, but there it is. And she wonders, vaguely, if his former incarnation would have felt blue or black or any of the colors she used to think embodied him.
She’s watching him, too. He’s holding her at a slight distance, their only point of contact being that of his whorled fingertips against her temple. His eyelids droop to half mast and his gaze becomes fixed. He’s looking right at her, but Rose knows he’s not seeing her. Not that way. He sways gently, as if moved by a slight breeze and she places a steadying hand against his hip. His mouth is closed in a prim line and his breath is coming in short and increasingly more rapid pants through his nostrils. They flare and relax, flare and relax, and she’s just close enough to take it all in. In all the glorious physical detail that would be borderline disgusting in another human. But god, he’s beautiful, and she realizes, without any need to touch him for confirmation, that he is becoming powerfully aroused. Behind lowered brows, his eyes steadily darken until only a tiny rim of brown surrounds the dark pools of his pupils.
He’s looking through her memories. Old, color faded images of life on the estate, of primary school, of Mickey and her mum. She knows he’s being careful, considerate. Were this a normal occasion he would be concentrating on the here and now; her emotions and sensations in the moment they were creating with their bodies. But now all she feels is afraid and desperate, and so he’s sticking to those portions of her psyche he feels are ‘safe’. She doesn’t want safe. Has never wanted it. And the last thing she wants from him now is hesitancy.
Steeling herself against her irrational fear of rejection, she opens herself to him completely. Throws opens all of her doors to him at once, with enough force to rip them off of their metaphorical hinges. He gasps, and she’s glad she took the time to steady herself as he collapses against her. He’s not completely fallen into her arms, but a significant amount of his weight has suddenly shifted onto her and she finds she has to lean a hand against his desk behind her to keep erect.
It’s quite amazing, really, that she’s still able to stand, given what he’s doing to her. Or perhaps undoing is a better way of describing it. He’s suddenly everywhere, in every thought and emotion. Wriggling his way into every corner of her mind until he is so entangled he might as well be a part of her. She finds she must expand to let him in, to loosen her grip on herself even farther than she already has. But she’s not afraid to anymore, because he’s there. He’s in her and around her and, yes, yes, this is what she had wanted, needed. The Doctor, her Doctor was here, with her, and the rest of the flaming universe could just go to pot.
His head has buried itself into her shoulder, and as she hears his moan she can feel it breathed against the skin of her chest. She grips him more securely about the waist and places a gentle kiss against his bared neck. He groans again at her touch, and she wonders if he’s responding to what his physical form is feeling, or if it’s the warm flash of love that courses through her at the thought of him which is prompting this reaction. She can certainly confirm his arousal now, with him pressed against her like he is. In the interest of science, and because she wants it for herself, she allows her mind to fill with her thoughts of him. Memories of running and dancing, and other more intimate forms of dancing. Desire and trepidation and love, love, burning painful needful love. This time he is silent, his breath stalled in his throat, but nothing hides the shivers that wrack his entire being as he adds to the weight pressing her down against the edge of the desk.
She wishes, not for the first time, that she can feel what he does. Not just for the obvious pleasure he seems to take from it, but so that she could experience his emotions. She’s not insecure enough to think he doesn’t love her, that his numerous protestations are just words meant to lull her into vicissitude. But it would be nice to feel the truth of it for herself, to breathe his tortured breaths like they were her own. She wants to join with him, be part of him, and without her conscious direction, against all sensible comprehension, she reaches for him.
And he’s there.
There. Here. With her. Around her. And oh, this is terrifying. How, how is this possible? Is this possible? And where the hell is she? It’s so empty and huge and…oh god…it was like looking out the TARDIS door at some vast, swirling nebula and feeling so incredibly tiny and alone and insignificant. Fear rolls through her like a thundercloud.
She hears and hears. It’s everywhere and booming and quiet and tentative at her shoulder. ‘Doctor?’ she tries to say and says and she’s not sure he hears either. Until suddenly she feels him, and not just him as some giant looming ideal, but him next to her and in her and surrounding her and…
Oh, my, yes, yes yes yes. This was…this was…yes. And those are not her thoughts, but they are. Those are not her emotions, her sensations, but they are. They are because this is closer than mere entwinement, this complete immersion. And this is good. This is very, very good. Good in every sense of the word, in every sense it has ever had in every language ever spoken. And more than a bit overwhelming. She is no longer alone in the great emptiness of space, watching galaxies spin and whirl an infinite distance away. Now she is one of those galaxies. The dying suns and the birthing star clouds, and the devastating, insatiable, terrible, unknowable black hole at the center. And something, something is expanding rapidly. For the first time she understands, just a little bit, what the Doctor was trying to get across to her when describing the Big Bang. How everything, absolutely everything, was compacted to near the size of nothingness, and then all at once wasn’t. The explosive force of a supernova times ten billion. More. And oh, she is going to burn, she knows it.
In awe and terror, she retreats. She feels herself pulling away, like she had from Jimmy Stone her first time. Pleasure, yes, but not enough to overcome the natural human instinct to shy from the unfamiliar. There’s a sense of loss, and at the same time relief, as she rips herself from his mind, though the connection to him remains in her own.
Her head clears, and her physical awareness returns. Her ears are ringing, and she realizes it’s because he’s shouted. The sound of her name is still reverberating around the small room. His hips are pressed almost painfully against her own, pinning her to the desk. And it’s a good thing she’s leaning into it, as he shudders violently and drops, boneless, into her arms.
It’s an effort, but she manages to slow their inevitable slump to the floor. He no longer can hold any pretense to standing on his own. He hangs limp until she can lean him against the side of the desk. His head clunks against the hard wood in a manner that would be funny were she not so mentally and emotionally exhausted, were he even vaguely conscious of the situation. For several moments there are only his breaths and her own, vying for rapidity and depth. She notices that his hands are clenched on the sleeves of her suit jacket, grasping at the fabric with a strength she didn’t think he had. Not at this moment.
She looks at him and sees his eyes are not entirely closed. A sliver of white and color peaks out from beneath deeply lowered lashes. She wonders if he can see anything like that. His lids close fully then, and his head rolls away. His hands drop from her sleeves and slide ineffectually to the floor.
“Doctor,” she says, her voice wavering, “You all righ’?”
It’s a stupid question, she knows. Of course he’s all right. Just moments before she was made very powerfully aware of exactly how all right he is. But his silence and its accompanying actions have scared her. She’s never seen him weak and uncoordinated like this. Not even...not even when he had changed. Then he had been exhausted and in pain, but when he was conscious he had been very much present and active. Nothing at all like this bewildered absence. And there’s the…the metacrisis thing to worry about now, too.
When he answers her his voice is like gravel shattering against a lorry’s undercarriage. “Your empaths are gonna have a bloody field day.”
“Doctor?” His head swivels back in her direction. His eyes are half-open, now, and they move slowly up her body from her bent knees to her face. He’s staring at her and these, she recognizes with a tinge of embarrassment, are his bedroom eyes. “Is it always like that?”
His eyes slip shut again and he tips his head further back against the desk, his Adam’s apple bared and straining. “Sometimes.” He heaves one shuddering breath before going on. “Didn’t…didn’t know you could do that.”
She doesn’t have to ask for clarification. “Me neither,” she says sheepishly, “I just sort of felt out towards you and…” She trails off shrugging and feeling foolish. Her eyes drop in her discomfiture, and come to rest as if by accident on a certain forgotten part of his anatomy. His neck is not the only thing that’s straining. “Oh!”
His eyes pop open at her exclamation and he follows her gaze. He sighs. “Yes, Rose Tyler, I would gladly bend you over this desk right now and take you from behind.” She whips her face to his. She can actually feel the color rising to her cheeks. Did he seriously just say that? He must be out of his wits, and by the look he’s giving her, she’s fairly certain he is. There’s a sort of dazed desire dripping out from behind his lightly lowered lashes, and also amusement. “That is, of course, if I had the capacity to stand.”
She can’t help it, she starts giggling. He looks as though he would join in, but instead, leans his head back against the desk again and merely watches her. “I love you,” she says suddenly through her laughter. He nods.
“Told you,” he says. She refrains from smacking him, because he was right. She doesn’t tell him she agrees, though. It never helped to stroke his already gigantic ego.
He was right about the empaths, too. Before the two of them have even fully caught their breaths, the tiny office is invaded by a cadre of Torchwood operatives. She give the Doctor her hand and tries not to be too obvious about helping him to his feet. Despite his earlier comment, he seems perfectly able to stand…if a bit unsteadily. He nods politely at the explanations of the doctors from Psychic Research, though she thinks it likely he doesn’t hear a word of them. However, he follows the doctors without comment as they exit the room. Security personnel flank him on either side as he leaves and one, a young lady named Murphy who had come to know the Doctor through his various antics involving Torchwood’s security forces, and perhaps noticing his somewhat vacuous look, sets a hand to his elbow and gently steers him. She looks back over her shoulder, and Rose gives her a thankful smile. She's the only one to actually approach him. Rose notices the members of the empathic squad, easily identifiable as psychics because of the purple sashes they always wore on their left arms, give him a wide berth.
Once the crowd has left, Pete rushes in. “Rose,” he grips her biceps in both hands, “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Pete,” she replies, looking over his shoulder so she can keep the Doctor in her sights as he retreats.
Pete is running his hands up and down her arms, searching her clothes and face for any signs of injury. “What happened here?” he demands, when he has satisfied himself that she is unharmed. “Those idiots in PR were saying something about a ‘psychic explosion’. Thought I was gonna find you and John in some sort of coma…or worse.”
He grimaces, and Rose knows he’s thinking what Jackie would have said. What Jackie would say anyway when she found out.
She meets his gaze evenly. “It was my fault, Pete. Sorry.” His look is equal parts disbelieving and furious.
His fury only increases as he finds out more.
“Thirty plus!” He thrusts a line chart full of logarithms and p-values and other things she doesn’t understand into her face. “We don’t even have ratings to go that high!” She hasn’t told him she knew, but he can guess. “Honestly, Rose,” he shouts, slapping the clipboard against his thigh, “If I had known he presented this sort of a danger I would never have let him into the firm.” ‘Or date my niece,’ is his unspoken comment.
“Yeah, Pete,” she says calmly, nodding towards the one-way mirror before them, “’Cause that’s a Class Ten threat right there.” The Doctor certainly doesn’t look very dangerous at the moment. Tired is more accurate, and exasperatingly pleased. He sits reposed in an exam chair in the center of the otherwise empty white walled room on the other side of the glass. His head is thrown back against the rest, his eyes closed. He appears completely relaxed, a little half smile lighting his face. Were it not for the metal restraints clamped around his wrists and ankles, one could think he had laid there on purpose for a mid-day nap.
“Rose,” Pete growls, and she returns her attention to him. “An empath up on seven fainted. Literally, fainted dead away.”
Rose’s cheeks color. That had been happening a lot lately. Her blushing, not the empaths fainting. She drops her eyes to his highly polished loafers. “I told you Pete, it was my fault.” She looks up at him. “It won’t happen again.” Not here at the office anyway, she adds mentally.
“I’m sorry, Rose,” he says straightening. She could all but see him slipping on his hard-assed Torchwood Director persona. “But he lied about this-“
“He never said he wasn’t psychic,” she interjects, jumping to the Doctor’s defense.
Pete’s eyes are hard. “He purposely concealed himself from our operatives, that’s close enough for me.” He shakes his head. “I told you before, Rose, he’s a loose cannon, and we just can’t have that kind of insubordinate element in our midst.”
Pete blinks. “Wha-?”
“He’s dying, and he hasn’t got much time left.” She turns back to the window, behind which the Doctor is now being let out of the chair by a wary looking tech. “So if you want to give up the last chance Torchwood will ever have to pick the Doctor’s brain and benefit from his genius, well, that’s your prerogative.” Pete is still speechless, and she’s not going to give him the chance to question her further. No doubt the information the PR folks would glean from their various mind scans would confirm her words. “Now if you don’t mind, the two of us have had a fairly hectic morning, and I think we should both take the rest of the day off to recuperate.” She turns a burning glare on her uncle. “We can discuss my insubordination tomorrow.” And with that, Rose stalks out of the little observation room.
The Doctor could have had the decency to not look so self-satisfied after she had gotten dressed down by their boss for supporting him. Not that he would know what went on behind the reflective glass, but she’s sure he can guess. He smiles when he sees her, and she hopes that the tech doesn’t see the sensual cast to it. She thanks the tech for his assistance and walks with the Doctor to the lifts.
“Pete mad?” he asks, once the metal doors slide closed behind them.
“That’s an understatement.” She shakes her head and rubs at her eyes with her hand.
“Sorry,” he intones, sounding not at all sorry.
She gives him a withering look. “I’ll have to deal with him tomorrow, but for now we’re getting you back to the flat for some rest.”
“”M not tired,” he lies. He’s leaned his entire upper half against the side of the lift, peeking at her with one eye, the other having slipped closed, apparently of its own exhausted volition.
“Bollocks,” she says. “Bed for you.” Then, sighing, “And me too I think.”
“Sounds good,” he says brightly as he pushes himself off the wall. Then, considering, “Do we get to have our first bout of make-up sex, then?”
Her eyes fly to his face. He is grinning widely. The cheek. “Sleep,” she insists in her best command voice. “We are not going out for afternoon delights.” She rolls her eyes, “God, you couldn’t show just the slightest bit of reserve after throwing the staff of Psychic Research into collective apoplexy, could you. Really, Pete may have the right idea.”
The doors split open and they step out into the bright, sunlit Torchwood atrium. “We could both get fired, you know,” she adds, “This is not our proudest moment.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He takes her hand, and their arms swing between them as they make their way towards the exit. “Don’t see what I’ve got to be unhappy about.” He holds the glass door open for her and their eyes meet. “I’m going home.”
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Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Author's Notes: Merry Christmas everyone! Or Happy Christmas, as the case may be. Please accept this unprecedented two chapter posting as my gift to you.
He threw himself into working on the new TARDIS.
When he wasn't at Torchwood (now with a conspicuous purple armband that makes everybody move nervously to the other side of the hallway whenever he passed), not eating, and not catching a few fretful hours of much needed sleep, he can be found buried in the bowels of their Little Girl. Not quite so little any more. She was big enough to walk around in, now. Not like her mother, of course, she wouldn’t attain those proportions until much, much later. And even her time rotor room (her only room at present) was considerably smaller than his last TARDIS’ had been. But the console was roughly the same size; some things never change. Still, he found it difficult to wedge himself beneath it, and seriously considered laying off the biscuits for a while. This half human body was bloody difficult to keep in shape.
Rose, as had been her habit long ago, took to sitting on the floor next to him and keeping him company. Occasionally she would bring him snacks or hand him tools, not that he often needed anything other than his trusty old (new?) sonic screwdriver. He appreciated her presence, though. It grounded him, kept him in the here and now. Reminded him why he was bothering to do what he did.
She had been so impressed, too, when he’d told her she could come inside.
“Is it bigger, then?” she’d asked, wide eyed with excitement. As an answer he had steered her through the brown wooden door (The Little Girl seemed to have some sort of connection to her progenitor, having chosen a similar vessel for her appearance …however, she currently looked more akin to a small tool shed, as opposed to a police box. Kids. Always have to be different.) to the vaguely familiar control room within. Her breath had caught in her throat and her hand squeezed his own just like when he used to push her out of the TARDIS’ doors to some beautiful and striking landscape you could never see on her home planet. He had smiled at her enthusiasm, remembering again why he had initially fallen for her.
She immediately requested a trip into space and, barring that, one in time, and had been horrendously put out when he told her that neither was in their near future.
“Rose,” he’d explained, “She may look like a TARDIS and feel like a TARDIS, but she’s still just a baby.” Rose had flashed her most kissable pout at him then (which he had taken full advantage of), but complained no further. Luckily, this had served as sufficient explanation for why he was spending so much time with the Little Girl, and almost none with Rose or their friends or her family. Of course he’d be working in the new TARDIS, he wanted to get off of this planet and out of this bloody time as much as she did. Perfectly acceptable.
That is, until today.
“So what are you working on?” came Rose’s soft query from somewhere around his hip.
The Doctor peaked out of the cubby hole towards his feet, but all he could see of Rose was a slight curve of her back and a flowing cascade of blonde curls. What he really wanted was to see her face. That would tell him just how serious she was about her question; whether she was really interested or just trying to pass the time. Instead, he was forced to ask her, “Why?”
A short pause, he suspected for a shrug. “Just curious.”
He turned his attention back to the tangle of wires before him, thinking of what he should tell her. The truth, he decided. “I’m trying to re-route the communication systems to handle inter-dimensional transmissions.” That resulted in a much longer pause.
“Whhhyyyy?” The question was drawn out, the end of the ostensibly single syllable word said in a significantly higher pitch than it began with. The Doctor sighed quietly enough that she couldn’t hear him from his position under the console. He should have just told her he was trying to get them free cable.
“Told you,” he replied brightly, his voice clipped. “Need to tell myself about that whole adrenaline thing.”
Yet another long pause. “That’s just….silly.”
Probably, he thought. “Me, do something silly? Never.” When she didn’t reply he stopped working. This, of course, was the result he had been looking for: Get Rose to change topics to something less dangerous. However, when he was formulating his clever avoidance plan he didn’t account for how poorly it would make him feel to manipulate her. Sighing louder this time, he pocketed the screwdriver and wiggled his way out into the room. He raised himself to a sitting position, and leaned his back against the console, mimicking Rose’s current manner. Wrapping his grease stained hands about his knees, he turned to her and said, “Come on, you can’t tell me you’ve never thought about doing it. Never had the urge to ‘phone home’ as it were.”
She glared sideways at him, though whether for his ability to pinpoint what was in her mind without any recourse to psychic tricks or for his lame E.T. reference remained to be seen. Looking at him, her brow darkened for a completely different reason. She leaned over and physically removed his dirty hands from the relatively clean linen of his trousers. She shifted a hard glance at him as she did so.
“You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means,” said the Doctor, affecting an odd accent.
Rose blinked. “You said it first.”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean it.” He rolled his eyes. “Really, the best way to keep people from sticking their noses into business which is likely to get them killed or unmake all reality or the like it to tell them it’s impossible. If you say it with enough gravitas, they start to believe you and they never even try. That’s what I do you know, bluster and bluff, bluster and bluff. Really, Rose, I thought you’d have figured out that much by now.”
“Okay fine,” she relented, “Possibly not impossible, but then tell me why no one has ever done it before?”
He knew then what she was asking. What she was saying without using the words. Why didn’t He try to contact them? The Doctor didn’t know when exactly she had started referring to himself in the other universe as a separate entity in that particular manner, but he suspected it was sometime around their recent argument about the metacrisis reaction. The Doctor didn’t like it, he knew who he was…both of him. No, it was only Rose who made the distinction; talking of Him and He so that the Doctor could practically hear the capitalized designation. Not that they talked of the other him much. In actuality, they avoided that subject like the plague. It was that, as much as her giving Him a pronoun of His own, that disturbed the Doctor. He had thought they were over and past this little identity crisis.
He tapped at his right temple. “Remember what Donna said, way back when? Time Lord intelligence combined with good old human ingenuity. It’s a nigh unstoppable combination.”
She’s shook her head. “Still, why bother? Why do something that has even the slightest chance of breaking down the boundaries between the universes. I mean, it seems like a pretty dangerous proposition just for a little chat.” She says to the man who once burned up a star for a little chat. “’Sides,” she continued a tad testily, “What if I don’t want to talk to…to anyone in that universe?”
“But of course you do,” he enthused, and began rummaging through the tool box at Rose’s knee, pretending to be looking for something specific. “Mickey. Jack. Ummm…” Don’t say me, don’t say me, don’t say- “Sarah Jane?” She shook her head again in denial and turned the conversation on its head.
“This isn’t about communication circuits is it?”
The Doctor stopped rummaging and tried not to show his surprise. How Rose Tyler could still surprise him after everything he knew about her would ever be a mystery. “What makes you say that?”
“You expect me to believe that you’re working day and night on the Little Girl just to get the radio working.” He turned to see her stormy face. “You’re planning something,” she asserted with confidence.
The Doctor opened his mouth, then snapped it shut with a click of teeth. Rose’s umber eyes blazed in fury, choking the half-thought explanation from his throat. “You’re planning on going back there!” she shouted, slamming her palm into the floor grating. “You are, aren’t you?!”
“I…what?!” How? How did she always manage to fluster him like this?! “No, Rose, that’s not what I’m doing.”
“Yes it is,” she insisted. “Is living in this universe so awful that you’d threaten to tear apart all existence just to get out of it? I thought you were happy here, that you were okay with exploring this world. I thought you were happy with…” She trailed off before finishing her final thought. She didn’t need to, he knew what she was thinking. She had thought he was happy with her. This, he realized, was heading in a poor direction very, very quickly, and it needed to be stopped before it got out of hand.
“Rose, listen to me.” He took her hand gently between two of his, and the familiar comforting gesture managed to draw her attention away from her own hysteria. “Have you ever put much thought into the possibility of paradox?”
“Ummmm, yeah,” she replied unsteadily, using her free hand to tuck a lock of hair firmly behind her pink ear. “I wrote the book, remember?”
He nodded. “Right. Very clever of you, but did it ever occur to you that you yourself are one huge, gigantic, universe threatening paradox.”
She squinted angrily at him. “Are you calling me fat?”
“What?!” He drew his head back away from her rapidly. “No, that’s not what I-“ A smile broke across her face. “Ah,” he amended, relaxing, “You’re having a go at me.” He rolled his eyes. “What I mean is…in this alternate universe there was an alternate Mickey - although he was named Ricky, which is a bit odd, I must admit. This Ricky or Mickey or whomever, had an alternate grandmother, just like Mickey did in our original universe.” The Doctor began ticking off the similarities between the two universes on his fingers. “There’s an alternate Pete, an alternate Jackie. Alternate Harriet Jones, alternate Ianto Jones, and if we spent the time to search the London hospital system I’d bet we’d find an alternate Martha Jones running around there somewhere. And those are not the only examples, you and I have run into a whole number of copies of folks we knew and loved in the other universe.” The ‘proper’ universe, he said in his own mind.
Rose looked at him with a crinkled brow. “Okay,” she said, “I’m with you. What’s your point?”
He fisted the fingers he had been counting on. “No alternate Rose, unless you count Yorkshire terriers.”
She nodded. “And no alternate Doctor, I get that.”
“And it doesn’t strike you as being at all odd?”
Rose opened her mouth to respond, and closed it almost immediately. Her head tipped to the side and her gaze turned decidedly inwards. He could almost see the gears turning behind her eyes. “You’re saying there’s a gap, and we filled it.”
“No.” He shook his head. “That would imply that this universe is inherently flawed. And as much as I personally abhor the idea of a universe without you, myself, or any Time Lords whatsoever, it’s clear that this place managed to survive perfectly well on its own for a significant amount of time without any of us.” His eyes were dark when he glanced back at her. “There’s nothing wrong with this universe. It’s you and I who don’t belong.”
“You’re saying us being here is a threat to…what, the space time continuum?”
He nodded at her, “Yes Rose. Think about it, in this Earth’s history there’s no instances of alien contact, no issues of anything trying to take over the world, no strange too-advanced-for-their-time innovations that present a danger to human existence-“
“Until the first time we came here,” she finished for him. “Until the rise of the cybermen and…Oh, god! It is all our fault. Every bad thing that’s ever happened on this Earth is our fault.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say everything,” the Doctor amended, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles in a soothing manner, and wondering vaguely who exactly was responsible for Pompeii’s destruction in this reality. “But the longer we stay here the more things are going to change. The greater the effect our presence will have.”
She considered this, then shook her head, almost violently. “No, whatever’s wrong now, going back to the other universe could rip open existence and that…that has to be worse…we can’t do that.”
“Rose, I told you, I’ve got it all figured out.” He dropped her hand in order to use his own in his explanation. “Right now the walls between the universes are strong, I…he made sure of that, but there were times when they weren’t. Two times, at least, that we know of: Canary Warf and when the stars started going out. Now, I couldn’t exactly go back to those times and places to take advantage of the situation because…well…I was already there, wasn’t I. And so were you, and so was the TARDIS. But!” He raised a finger for emphasis and to draw her attention to the genius part of this whole plan, “Now, there’s two TARDIS. One that can be in those times in those places as it needs to be, and one that can slip through the cracks between the worlds unnoticed and go about its merry way.”
A thought seemed to strike Rose and her brows lowered. “But Doctor, if we go back to the other universe then there will be…well, two of you…and that would be a paradox too, wouldn’t it.”
“Yes, well,” he stared at the rounded tops of her knees, unable to meet her eyes. “I don’t really expect to be around much longer anyway.”
“Don’t say that,” she breathed angrily, entwining her fingers with his own. “Don’t you dare even think…wait!” He looked up at her, unable to ignore the frightened tone in her voice; unable to disregard a plea coming from her, even if he were unconscious. “You…you were never planning to go. You were just gonna send me off by myself!”
He had no response to that, other than to say yes, and he had the feeling that’s not the best answer he could give right then.
“No,” she asserted, vehemently, “Not again.”
“Rose,” he tried to mollify her, “It wouldn’t be that difficult.” He reached into his pocket and brought out the little flash drive he’d been carrying around with him ever since that horrible night when he’d completely forgotten everything. “It’s all on this. I’ve got the program all but finished now. All you’d have to do is plug this into the main console and the Little Girl will do all the work herself. She’ll take you to the right time and place and get you through the boundaries on her own. Then, when she’s on the other side, she’ll pick a safe time and location and send out a time stamped beacon to the TARDIS.” He placed the little rectangle of plastic into her hands reverently. “All that will be left is for me to come and pick you both up.” She stared at him with eyes wide and her mouth partly open.
The drive bounced off his sternum and clattered to the floor.
“Oh, is that all?!” Rose climbed to her feat, refusing to be comforted and looming over him in a way that made her look twice as big as she actually was. “Just have to sit back and let the time machine do all the work. Just like with Emergency Program One, I get to wait here in the control room like an idiot, wanting nothing but to be able to go back to you, and being completely unable to stop from rocketing away in the complete wrong direction. Not this time mister, I’m not letting you make decisions like that for me again. Not ever.”
“Rose-“ he started.
“Don’t you ‘Rose’ me,” she said, fisting her hands against her hips and channeling her mother, “I’ve had more than I can take of men with allegedly superior intelligence trying to do what’s best for me, without even thinking to ask me first whether I even want what’s best. Like I don’t even get a vote about what happens to my life.” She shook her head and stared off into an empty corner of the room. “I’m not taking your silly little program, I’m certainly not going back to that universe, and I am never going to talk to that blithering idiot of a Time Lord ever again, so why even bother.”
Her voice was steady, but he could see tears making tracks across her face. He stood next to her and reached out a finger to wipe a dewy orb from her cheek, but she stepped away from his caress. “Besides,” she said, her voice cracking, “What makes you so sure he would even come from me. What if he doesn’t want me back, huh? Maybe he’s found some adventurous soul he likes better like…like Reinette or…” The look she gave him was piercing. “Or River.”
That last was said with great distaste. The Doctor sighed. He knew he probably shouldn’t have mentioned her to Rose, but after their argument he’d made a promise to her, and to himself, that he wouldn’t hold anything back anymore. No matter how much it could hurt her…or him.
“What makes you think he’d choose me?” she continued. “What makes you so sure he wouldn’t just drop me back on Earth and let Jack and Mickey take care of me?”
“We’ve been through this before, Rose.” He thrust his hands into his pockets somewhat forcefully. He was getting a bit tired of rehashing this old subject over and over again. They’d been beating a dead horse for some time now, and he thought the horse just might be named Arthur. “I…we promised, Rose...promised we wouldn’t just leave you-“
“Yeah, and HE LIED!” He felt her accusation like a blow, even if it wasn’t directed at himself. Not entirely.
“Rose,” her name came out as a croak. “Please, you have to understand. The choice he made…that we made together…it was the hardest thing either of us have ever had to do. Harder than deciding whether or not to let a volcano destroy a whole city full of innocent people, harder than deciding to let a murdering Dalek live, harder than watching while Gallifrey…” No, he couldn’t go that far. Could he? He needed to get off that train of thought right away. He shook his head clear. “You asked me once a long time ago if I got the short straw.” He grimaced at the memory. “Hardly,” he said, “We both would have given anything to stay with you. I was the lucky one. That’s the thing you never really understood, I won first prize. I was the right choice for you, and we both knew it. The one that could give you the forever you wanted, the one who could match you body for body and emotion for emotion, the one who wouldn’t bring with him the baggage of a universe full of desperate enemies looking for the one perfect way to get back at the Time Lord they all despise.”
He dropped his gaze to his trainers. “It wasn’t fair. Not to me, not to you, but most of all not to…to Him. And now that I’ve been here, now that I’ve had the chance to really be with you, I know exactly how unfair it is.” He raised his eyes to hers and willed her to see the blatant truth shimmering in his statement. “Rose, what we have…He shouldn’t miss this!”
Silence filled the control room, save for the ever present thrumming of the engines. Rose wiped at her eyes with her fingers and shook her head again. “No, no he had his chance.”
“NO!” The last was shouted, and he backed off. “He left us here, just left us. For all he knew we could have been killed in some tragic zeppelin accident on the way home. Or you…this metacrisis thing could have started being a problem for you as soon as the TARDIS disappeared. I don’t care that he gave us each other or…or the Little Girl. I don’t care if he thought he was doing what was best for both of us. And I bloody well don’t care that he’s hurting right now because he deserves it!”
His eyes went wide in shock at this final statement. Not so much because of the bitterness with which it was uttered, although that felt like a heavy spear sticking straight into his heart, but because he could recall thinking that very same thing about himself not so long before. He once again found himself in the position of having no defense against her claims. It was hard to argue with someone when, deep down inside, some little part of you felt that they were in the right.
Rose looked up at him through shadowed brows. “I love you. And when you’re gone, that’s gonna be it for me. Forever. I said it and I meant it.” And with that, she brushed imaginary dirt off the knees of her jeans and marched out of the control room.
It was funny, really. He’d never been afraid of dying, but for the first time in his long life, he was truly frightened not to live.
Back to index
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Author's Notes: Putting the capital ‘C’ in Cliché.
Rose refused to give up trying to find a means to cure the Doctor. She started haunting the Psychic Research division, the head of which told her repeatedly that there was absolutely nothing he could do to help. It was Ianto who eventually, and tactfully, pointed out to her what had been obvious to just about everyone else at Torchwood for some time: the folks in PR were bloody terrified of the Doctor. Undaunted she contacted those Torchwood affiliates she knew in America, only to be similarly rebuffed.
No one, it seemed, had ratings that went to 30+.
The doctors were of no help to her either. They had no idea what to make of anything. They excitedly showed her the PET scans and the MRI images, fascinated by the fluid nature of the Doctor’s ineffable mindscape. How it appeared to change dramatically from day to day, from moment to moment.
“’S like,” a tech whispered, audibly awed, “Like he’s two different people.”
She tried the Torchwood psychologists as well, although she recognized it was a long shot. In general, they were a harried bunch; being expected to be experts not only on their own species’ mental instabilities, but also well versed in alien abnormalities. They usually didn’t last long before self-diagnosing PTSD and leaving to go work as counselors in the comparatively relaxing public school sector. One though, had managed to stick around for quite a while. Apparently, she managed to cope by indulging in a number of unhealthy addictions, avoiding any office talk of her own disastrous romantic relationships, and affecting a tough-as-nails exterior that was all but impossible to crack. Rose cornered her during her smoke break and begged her to just talk to the Doctor for five minutes. The shrink merely flicked her butt upon the sidewalk and walked off in her too high heels.
“I don’t do psychics,” she spat over her shoulder.
The Doctor confronted Rose that evening as they worked together in the Little Girl and put his foot down. He was not going to sit for any more tests. He was not going to sip tea uncomfortably in any more offices. He was not going to watch her destroy herself for what he considered a lost cause.
Rose argued. Rose cried. Rose even, against her better judgment, brought Him up. “Could…could He help you?” she asked, tentatively. “Like He did with Donna? If we could find some way to get-“
“No.” The Doctor cut her off with a sharp slice of his hand through the thick air separating them. “I don’t want that. Never that. To forget everything I’ve done…everything I’ve been….” He shook his head, clearly unable to articulate all that encompassed. She had to admit, it was a compelling argument.
Eventually, she conceded.
“We could get married,” she said. He just looked at her. She hoped she didn’t look as unaccountably hopeful as she felt.
“I fail to see how that would help my situation,” he responded, somewhat dryly.
She sighed and added a lilt to her voice to try and make light of the situation. “No, it wouldn’t, but it would make Jackie happy.” ‘It would make me happy,’ she added silently, hoping he could read between the lines.
He shrugged. “If you want.”
She couldn’t help it, her face fell. “So, you don’t then.”
He sighed. “It’s not like that, Rose. It’s just that marriage isn’t that important to me.” She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off before she got the chance. “And don’t go saying something foolish and human like ‘Don’t you love me?’ or some such nonsense. You know I do.” Rose snapped her mouth shut with embarrassment. “I suppose what I should say is that the act of marriage means something different to you than it does to me.”
She pulled her knees up to her chest, as if that would help to hold in the churning mass of emotions she was experiencing right now. “All right, I’m listening. Explain.”
He settled himself against the console as if to prepare himself for a sizeable speech. “On my planet-“ but there he got stuck. It was never easy for him to think about Gallifrey, she knew. The gaping hole his planet had left in his soul seemed to hurt him less since he came to this universe, perhaps a side effect of the whole half human thing, but she could tell the very mention of it still gave him pause.
“Gallifrey,” she said prompting. He nodded his head a bit impatiently as if to say, ‘Yes, thank you Rose, I was getting to that.’
“On Gallifrey marriage was a very political institution. It was intended to solidify social and contractual bonds between different houses; to cement alliances. Most individuals were betrothed before they were ten, and some tots even went through a basic binding ceremony by that age. Mind you, you often never got to meet your mate until you were in your fifties or so. Sometimes someone would die, having never met their spouse. Can you imagine,” he asked, changing tacks, “Being a teenaged widow or widower?” Rose shook her head, and he continued. “Now the one instance when you might get to skip out on the whole child bride deal was if you could pass examination for the Academy. The Academy was where Time Lords went to train, and Time Lords could not be held down to family responsibilities at a young age. They needed to study, oh, for a good century or so before they got anywhere near to proficiency.”
Rose’s eyes went wide. He’d never spoken to her of Gallifrey like this. She’d never pressed. She wondered now why he hadn’t, why she hadn’t. He didn’t seem ready to break down or hyperventilate or any of the responses Rose tended to have in uncomfortable situations. In fact, if anything, he seemed surprised, as if talking about his planet this way didn’t hurt nearly as much as he expected it would.
“And, of course, there was a necessity for maintaining Time Lord specific genes. There weren’t all that many of us you know. Not really a dominant trait. And the Houses, of course, well, they were terribly jealous of their bloodlines. As you can imagine, they guarded their initiates closely, and picked their potential mates with great care. Every potential marriage was investigated and analyzed for years, sometimes decades, before the two partners were assigned. And even then, your house could demand a…well…a divorce isn’t exactly the best term. They could request a reassessment where both parties amicably separated and tried to find more suitable partners. It wasn’t uncommon, after a regeneration, for married Time Lords and Ladies to part this way. I mean, it’s understandable, your genes do completely get re-written by the process. No hard feelings on either side.”
Rose’s mouth hung open. This was how he’d always used to talk to her about alien cultures; well, other alien cultures. It was if he was looking at Gallifrey from the point of view of an outsider, someone who visited there a long time ago and, though it had been fun and all, he wouldn’t want to live there. “Rose?” he broke into her reverie.
She blinked. “Sorry? No, I’m listening, really. Please go on. It’s just…it’s fascinating, but a little hard to follow.”
“Sorry. That’s Time Lords.” He smiled.
“So, basically, on Gallifrey, it was all sort of…arranged…is that what you’re getting at?” He nodded. “Doesn’t…didn’t anyone marry for love?”
“I believe I’ve previously recited to you the Gallifreyan concept of love and you pronounced it ‘dry’.”
Her eyebrows drew together, as she tried to work out the puzzle he had presented to her. “I did, but…still, that’s something ain’t it?”
“I’m not saying it never happened, but it was, to say the least, a rarity.” He shrugged again, noncommittally.
She thought about that a moment, then changed her focus. “Well, then, what did you do to show those you cared about that you loved them?” In answer he smiled somewhat sadly and reached out to scrape his knuckles against the skin above her left ear. He let his mind push at hers only a trifle, not enough to be imposing, but she shivered all the same at the sensation. Since their little experience in his Torchwood office they’d been…practicing. Rose had no natural gift at telepathy, but she was learning to work off of what he had. She couldn’t experience much without him joining her first, but she was beginning to associate his mental touch with intense pleasure, and her body reacted instinctively even now.
“Oh,” she said, comprehending at last. A shadow of thought passed over her brow. “This is like the kids thing, isn’t it?”
“The…wha’?” He drew back from her in obvious confusion.
“You not wanting kids. Is that some sort of Gallifreyan cultural limitation?”
“Oh, no.” He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. “No that’s more of a…there’s a number of reasons for that…not the least of which is that I’d be leaving you to raise our offspring alone.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ a single mum,” she replied testily. Her own mother had done just fine with the hand that life had dealt her, thank-you-very-much.
“No, but there is something rather sleazy about being an absent dad,” he grumbled. “Look Rose, given the uncertainty…or rather the certainty…of my current situation, I just cannot conscientiously give you children.”
“But I thought you said our children were FACT.” She tried to convey the capitals with her voice like he had before.
He ran a hand through his hair and then down to scratch at the nape of his neck. It was a nervous tic of his that endeared him to her even through her exasperation. “I…I did, Rose…it’s just…” His voice trailed away into silence and he made no move to retrieve it.
She knew she’d made him all sorts of uncomfortable with the direction of this discussion, but it was a conversation they needed to have. He observed her pensively for a moment, before continuing with a statement that left her completely flabbergasted.
“All right, then.”
She blinked her confusion. “All right, then, what?”
“Marriage,” he said simply. “Let’s do it.”
“Y-you,” she stuttered her disbelief, “You’d do that for me?”
He smiled crookedly. “Rose Tyler, since when have I ever been able to deny you anything?”
Jackie was predictably ecstatic.
“We’ll have to rent a hall of course. Ooh! Or a country house. That’s what all the fancy people do now, in’t it? Rent a country house for the reception. Oh!” Jackie gripped Rose’s shoulders. “A castle!” She enthused. “Wouldn’t you like your wedding at a castle?!” Jackie’s eyes fairly brimmed with tears of happiness. Rose felt horrible about crushing her expectations.
“Mum, we weren’t planning on doing anything fancy. Just you and Pete and Tony. Maybe a few Torchwood friends-“
“Oh, stuff and nonsense,” Jackie sniffed. “Like I’d let my only daughter go to the altar without a proper sendoff.” Then, with a put upon sigh, she added, “I’ll have to get a hat. I always look like an ol’ biddy when I wear hats.”
Rose exchanged a meaningful glance with the Doctor. She flashed him an uneasy smile that was all teeth and no feeling. He mouthed the word ‘altar’ at her with raised eyebrows.
“Mum, I…we just want to keep this simple. Just a short ceremony at the registrar’s office an’-“
“Not get married in a church?!” Jackie screeched, scandalized. “Not my daughter.”
“Mum,” Rose whined. She was getting desperate now. Jackie was on a roll, and no force on Earth or elsewhere could stop a Tyler once they got going.
“Tell me, Jackie, exactly what deity would we be making solemn promises in front of?” the Doctor’s voice broke in cold and demanding.
“Just a basic Anglican service,” Jackie huffed, fists familiarly resting at her hips, “’S not like I’m askin’ for some sort of miraculous conversion.”
The Doctor turned away in annoyance. “Jackie, I don’t put a lot of trust in gods as a whole. They’re a load of rubbish. Quite a number of cultures have deluded themselves into thinking that I was a god, and I think we both know there’s nothing farther from the truth. Hell, some planets worship your daughter as a goddess, did you ever consider that?” Crossing his arms, he shook his head with finality. “No, Jackie. I’ll make a promise to Rose if that’s what she wants, if that’s what she feels she needs, because there’s no power in the universe I respect more. Her I believe in, but I’m not going to set myself before some primitive idol and pretend that I care in the slightest.” He turned on his heel and stalked off to watch Tony play his game console.
Jackie stared speechlessly after him, then turned to Rose, who had been silent throughout the entire diatribe. “Just how many planets think you’re a goddess?” Rose just shook her head and trailed after the Doctor.
In the end they compromised.
Rose found a country villa that was recognized as an official civil ceremony site. The guest list was small, the wedding party even smaller, with Pete and Jackie serving as witnesses as well as giving the bride away. Rose had consented to making Tony a ring bearer, but only because he seemed so keen on the idea. The rings themselves had presented an interesting situation.
“An’ what you want on em’?” asked the wizened old jeweler.
“I’m sorry?” asked the Doctor, blinking.
“Engravin’,” he explained in his creaking voice, “On the inside.” This elucidation was still insufficient for the Doctor and Rose had to explain how some people liked to have little messages to their beloved engraved on the inside of the rings.
“But why?” the Doctor asked in exasperation. Between Rose telling him that he was expected to fork over two months salary on one tiny piece of jewelry and Jackie grumbling that it darn well better cost more than that, he’d had just about enough of this silly ring business. “No one will ever even see it?!”
“Your partner will,” Rose justified, “Every time they take it off. That’s the point. It’s usually a…personal message of some sort.” The Doctor rolled his eyes towards the man behind the counter as if he, being a fellow member of the male sex, might be able to better explain the feminine craziness that a wedding invoked.
“’S free,” the old man added solemnly, “Comes wi’ th’ package.” Even the Doctor couldn’t disagree with that.
Rose shooed him to the other side of the shop, and when he protested said simply, “No, I want mine to be a secret, you stand over there.” When he was firmly ensconced in the far corner, she leaned across the counter to whisper in the old man’s ear. The Doctor, taking his cue from his fiancé, did the same a few minutes later and they left the shop with Jackie beaming, Rose smiling secretively and the Doctor pondering aloud why human females got so worked up over something so mundane as diamonds.
They didn’t even change color with the wearer’s mood.
The ceremony was beautiful; everybody said so. Jackie bawled throughout and so, surprisingly, did Pete. The Doctor looked on with benevolent amusement, a single white rose tucked in the lapel of his morning coat. Rose had chosen a shoulder bearing halter style dress with a plunging back and a teardrop cut-out in the front which showed just enough décolletage to be enticing, without being risqué. She carried roses too, but hers were a light shade of pink. Her favorite color still, even after all these years.
The officiant ran them through the usual ceremonial rigmarole, but then surprised them both by asking if either had anything special to say to the other. The Doctor lifted one inquisitive eyebrow at Rose as she bit lightly at her lower lip. She hadn’t planned on them writing any of their own vows. She looked at the Doctor; at his open and honest face, his chestnut bangs curling mutinously over his brow line and his brown eyes brimming with emotion, the quirk of his smile dragging one cheek into an adorable dimple. Looked, and knew what she wanted to say.
“Doctor, whatever happens, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
He may have once drained a star to tell her goodbye, but his smile at her words could light a whole solar system.
The officiant turned to him, and nodded his head, indicating that it was now the Doctor’s turn to speak. Taking a deep breath he said, “What else is there to say that you don’t already know?” He smiled and dropped his eyes almost guiltily down to his well polished shoes. “Rose Tyler, I’d give up the stars for you.” He looked up at her through his perpetually untidy fringe, and she could see he was embarrassed at his own admission. She was unbelievably touched, and couldn’t quite help tears from pricking at the corners of her eyes.
The remainder of the program passed quite swiftly. Giving the Doctor his ring and having him place hers on her finger. The kiss, which she quite enjoyed, and then the officiant introduced them to the crowd of people filling the chairs set up for the guests seating. Everybody rose to their feet clapping as the Doctor offered Rose his arm and lead her between the rows of friends and family who had come to congratulate them, towards the double doors at the back of the hall. Leaning in conspiratorially, he asked in his driest voice, “So does this mean Jackie’s my mum now?”
Rose laughed all the rest of the way down the tiny makeshift aisle.
After the dinner and the dancing (‘Hah! Once again the world didn’t end!’), and the overlong, and in Jackie’s case thoroughly inebriated, goodbyes, the two of them retired to the largest guest room of the manor for the night. Rose removed her heels with a breath of relief and set about removing what felt like a whole planet’s worth of bobby pins from her hair. Tossing off his jacket and tie, the Doctor flopped down on the bed, rolling to his stomach and crossing his heels in the air behind him. He pulled his glasses down from their perch on top of his head to rest against the tip of his nose. He stared with great concentration at the gold band encircling his finger, as he turned his hand from side to side in examination. The room and the bed and the Doctor himself reflected curiously in its polished yellow surface. He looked like a school boy who had just caught something icky and fascinating in the grass outside and brought it up to his room to try and figure out what to do with it. Rose couldn’t help but smile at the picture he presented. She joined him on the bed, sitting with one foot curled beneath her and the other resting against the floorboards.
“Go on then,” she prodded his shoulder, “Read it.”
He rolled his eyes in mock annoyance and slipped the ring from his finger. She watched him squint at the tiny printing. “BAD WOLF?” He arched one bushy eyebrow, “Seriously?”
“Thought you’d like it.”
“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat, “I most definitely want to associate the day of our matrimony with words that signify the end of the world.”
“I was thinking of our first kiss,” Rose explained. “Thought you’d find it sweet.”
“Yeah, a bit,” he relented. “Those parts I don’t find vaguely terrifying.”
“Well, if it bothers you to see it,” she explained cheekily, “All the more reason to never, ever take it off.”
“Oh, ha. Very ha,” the Doctor replied, admitting defeat. “Let’s see yours.”
Rose slipped the tiny gold and diamond contraption from her finger and turned it over. Next to the carat mark were the finely engraved letters ‘RUN’. She looked at him and saw his eyes were twinkling with merriment.
“Thought if I was going to be taking your hand, I ought to do it the right way.”
Rose wondered if other married women felt this way. Like their husbands would always be able to surprise them and make them happy, no matter how old and familiar they became. Like there was no one else in the universe that could even come close in comparison to the one they had chosen. Like it was destiny, meant to be, and a whole host of other fairy tale clichés. She slipped the ring back over her knuckle, and threaded her fingers into his. She squeezed his hand and felt him return the pressure with equal vigor.
Their hands stayed clasped all that night.
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Chapter 20: Chapter 20The day he almost drops a vial containing an incredibly unstable element he had traded a less than forthright alien emissary an entire case of excellent 18-year scotch for is his last day at Torchwood.
He manages to catch the vial before it hits the tile, but just barely. Afterwards, his legs are wobbly and he slides to his knees before he keels over. His head is still pounding with the jackhammer pain that caused him to drop the object in the first place. White starbursts burn onto his retinas, disappear into a painful purple haze, and then reappear with an agony that makes him ponder just how bad shoving a sharpened pencil through his eye would feel by comparison. Headaches are something he’s had to get used to since becoming mostly human, but he’s never felt anything like this.
Seconds or minutes or hours later, the pain lessens and he manages to pull himself together. He is glad Royce has the day off. Glad none of the overenthusiastic techs are in the lab to see him. Glad, most of all, that the vial is still clasped tightly between his fingers. Standing shakily, gripping the table with one arm to support himself, he replaces the small glass tube into its holder, before again slipping to the floor in a whirl of vertigo.
When he finally feels well enough to stand and walk, the first place he goes is to the nearest computer station. Then the printer. Then the lifts. Past Rose’s office. Into Pete’s. Pete takes his letter of resignation with a frown and a nod, then offers to have one of the staff members drive him home. It’s a measure of how terrible he still feels that he accepts.
He feels better after some tea and a little sensory deprivation time in a warm bath with the lights out. He immediately distracts himself by working on the Little Girl. He leaves her door hanging open so that he can track the passage of time by observing the tilt of the sun patterns falling from the study window across the carpeted floor outside. He hears when Rose comes home early, likely having been told by someone of his apparent distress. Her keys jangle loudly in the lock, her purse drops with a dull thud to the welcome mat as she enters, her patent leather flats race down the hallway, her breaths heave as she chases up the gangway to where he is already emerging from beneath the console.
“Are you okay,” she gasps, sliding down to join him on the floor grating and likely scraping her knees up in the process.
“I am now,” he says, reaching for her hands. They are cold and trembling. The two of them kiss for a while, sitting knee to knee, as if making up for an argument they didn’t even have, before she breaks off.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there! I was in Surrey!! Interviewing prospective janitors, no less. You could’ve been hurt and I’m out trying to convince facility management that, yes, we do need high security clearance for the people who scrub the toilets.” He’s not sorry. Knowing that she had been in the building would only have made him even sicker at the thought of how close he’d come to vaporizing her.
He lifts a palm to her cheek. “I’m fine,” he lies. “Just a bit of a headache, that’s all.”
Her eyes go hard. “Pete says you resigned.”
His hand slips unconsciously to the back of his neck. He’s never managed to curb that annoying gesture of uncertainty. Not even with a new body. “Yeah,” he drawls, letting the word ramble around his tongue, “I thought it was safer that way.” He looks at her, one eyebrow raised meaningfully, and she gets it. He shouldn’t be surprised; she’s always known how dangerous his work can be. How dangerous he can be. She’s never been a fool. She nods.
“Then I’m quitting too,” she says decisively.
He drops his hand to the cold metal flooring. “No need for that,” he admonishes. He knows how she loves the job, how she needs the distraction it offers her as much as he needs the Little Girl. “Besides, Pete would go bonkers without you to keep things running for him.”
She smiles a little at that, but he can tell she’s not convinced. He needs to convince her. He has his reasons for keeping her out of the flat. At least…for a little while longer. “You’re the only person I’m worried about,” she says, shaking her head. “Torchwood can go to the dogs for all I care.”
“Bollocks,” he replies, and is momentarily pleased at the surprise flitting across her face at his use of profanity. “You love the job and you’re needed there and I bloody well can’t get up to too much trouble alone for a few hours a day locked inside a London flat.” He sees her look darken, as she senses his insincerity. “Plus, you’d just be getting in the way of my tinkering on the Little Girl,” he adds quickly.
Sadly, it’s this last argument which ultimately convinces her. He thinks with no little regret how often he must have pushed her away in the past, giving her just such an excuse, that she takes it as a matter of course that he’d rather be with a time machine than with her. He can’t really complain about the unfairness of his situation; he has so, so much to atone for. But he’s working on it, here in his own personal purgatory where a half-formed, four-dimension straddling tool shed is his only path to a half-promised salvation, and it occurs to him he might as well write his own Divine Comedy. And the following morning his personal Beatrice kisses him haltingly on the cheek, and with a face clouded with worry, heads off to work.
He arranges himself before the console, shoulders straight and hands clasped firmly behind his back. He soon realizes, though, that the position is highly uncomfortable for a prolonged discussion and drags a folding chair over instead. He sits on it backwards, arms curled over the top. After a moment’s thought he commands, “Begin recording.”
A slight whirr and the blinking of a small green light indicate to him that the camera is running.
“Hello,” he begins, out of habit, in English. Reassessing, he continues in his native language. “Current date is…well…not important. Let’s just say its been four hundred and thirty-two Earth days since you left Rose and Jackie and myself stranded on a deserted beach in Norway without so much as a cab fare.
“If you’re seeing this, it means I managed to get the trans-dimensional transporter program working efficiently. It also means that I managed to convince Rose that her place was back in her original universe with me…well, you. In other words,” he lowers his brows for emphasis and looks straight into the dark eye of the recoding device, “You owe me big time.” He smiles at his own use of the incongruous human phrase.
“Anyway, I’ve been here a while now, and in that time a number of things have come to my attention regarding the human condition that I think you should know. It’s funny, I’ve watched humans for centuries, lived among them for decades at a time, but in just over a year I’ve learned that I…meaning you of course…know next to nothing about them.” He leans back, gripping the top of the chair in both fists. “And if you’re going to be…well…if Rose does go back, you’re going to need to know some of these things.
“So let’s get on with it, then,” he raises one finger and stares intently at the camera. “Number one - Adrenaline, is very powerful stuff.”
It’s several hours later when Rose gets home from the Torchwood offices and startles him by stealthily sneaking up behind his seated form, gripping him by the shoulders, and planting a kiss against his neck which manages to be, at the same time, both forceful and yielding. Her actions take him completely by surprise and end up throwing him off track somewhere in between “The Doctor’s Piece of Friendly Advice on Humanity” number 136 (going commando is not quite as comfortable with fully descended testicles) and number 137 (blunt force trauma to said descended testicles is decidedly uncomfortable, but nowhere near as incapacitating as Jamie had lead them to believe).
“You keep talkin’ like that to the Little Girl and I just might get jealous,” Rose murmurs sensually, leaning farther over his shoulder to kiss him fully on the lips.
For a number of reasons, the Doctor is pleased the translation systems are not yet fully operational. “Mmmhhhmmm,” he mumbles into her lips. It could be taken as agreement or dissension or let’s do it right now right here against the console. Rose seems to be in full agreement with the latter interpretation. She tugs on his shirt front and he complies, raising himself from the chair he’s been occupying. Turning towards her, he slips one hand around her waist and drags her towards himself. The other tickles up her ribcage, dragging the stretchy material of her blouse along with it until a line of bare skin is exposed across her midriff. Rose’s hands fit themselves into the tight back pockets of the jeans she’s bought for him, insisting she can’t keep having his suits dry cleaned every time he wants to crawl in the Little Girl’s oily bowels. He feels her hip bones push sharply into him. She breathes out an expectant sigh, and he takes this as his cue to let lose her mouth from his own. He runs his nose along the delicate curve of her ear, planting a gentle kiss just behind the lobe. Rose hums appreciatively, encouraging him, and he plies his teeth to the same area in a gentle nip. Rose jumps at that, and thrusts her hips even more forcefully against his own.
He turns her then, and steps away from the chair. Glancing over her shoulder, he can still see the solemn eye of the video camera and the little green recording light. In a voice that manages to make even Gallifreyan words drip with unrestrained desire, he says, “End recording.”
Rose spends the next hour reminding him exactly how sexy she finds Gallifreyan speech.
The weekends, Rose decides, are for them to spend together; and the Doctor agrees, because while it keeps him from finishing his work on the Little Girl’s trans-temporal drive, it does give him a convenient excuse for bowing out of the seemingly endless social functions at the Tyler mansion. It’s like when he first came to this universe; each Saturday dawning with the promise of a prosaic, but at least novel, local adventure. He recognizes, now, that they’re not keeping busy for his sake, but hers. She’s driven, has always been one for letting her actions speak in place of her words, and he can see how her helplessness in the face of his progressing illness has forced her into a state of perpetual motion. So she fills her weeks with Torchwood and her weekends with him. For once in his life, he’s the one along for the ride. He finds he rather likes it. Letting Rose lead the way, letting her choose the path, as well as the destination, letting her stumble upon some hole-in-the wall restaurant that isn’t in any guidebook, but which serves the best cannoli he’s ever tasted.
It’s not quite random mode on the TARDIS, but it’ll do.
One such weekend, they visit a London park, distinctly lacking in swans, but with a fancy Victorian metal and glass behemoth that housed an arboretum. Stepping beneath the structure’s high transparent ceiling is like stepping out onto another world. Sunlight angles strangely through the glass panels, forcing them to squint in order to see. It’s disconcerting, given that they’re ostensibly indoors. The air is muggy and thick with the scent of loam and living things. It ripples sickeningly in hot waves above dark and waxy leaves, peppering their surroundings with little pockets of seeming unreality and adding to the initial disorientation. Rare orchids hang suspended over the path between the foliage, with little glass magnifiers affixed before them to better display their minuscule parts. They amble, hand in hand, beneath the brightly colored blooms and spidery appendages.
Rose pauses to examine something peaking out of the soil. “This one just looks….wrong.” Rose points to a bone white flower resting on top of a tall, skinny stalk that looks like nothing more than a human spinal column.
The Doctor slips his specs from his inner jacket pocket and slides them onto his nose with an authoritative manner. Leaning over, he peers critically at the item in question. “Epipogium aphyllum,” he provides, “The Ghost Orchid. Very rare. Supposed to smell like bananas.” He leans a little farther forward and inhales deeply. Then crinkling his nose, he pulls his head back with a jerk. “Or not.”
Rose shivers, despite the oppressive heat of the hothouse. “It’s creepy.”
“Nah,” the Doctor raises one amused eyebrow at her. “It’s just different. Has no chlorophyll of its own, so that’s why the color seems off. Has to get it’s nutrients from decomposing plant matter.”
“What, you mean it eats things? Sucks the life out of ‘em?” Rose’s whole face scrunches together with her distaste.
The Doctor stands straight and thrusts his hands into his pockets. “Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. I don’t see why that should bother you, though; you eat other living things to survive.”
Rose holds one hand out to the tiny flower with her palm up, as if to say that the inherent spookiness of the plant speaks for itself. “Yeah, but I’m not a flower.”
“Rose,” he says, peering at her over the rims of his glasses, “You’ve met trees. Had whole conversations with them, been vaguely insulted by them, and this bothers you?”
She looks flabbergasted at his response. It was a moment before she closes her mouth and stammers out a reply. “It…it doesn’t bother me…it’s just…it’s…”
“Different,” he finishes for her, removing his glasses and replacing them in their pocket. “Not good different or bad different.” Admitting defeat at his hands (as per usual) she throws her hands up helplessly and nods her assent, and the two of them continue their aimless wander amongst the vegetation.
Soon another flower catches the Doctor’s eye, and with a triumphant cry he pulls Rose along to where she can see it. “Here,” he says, “Look at this beauty.” He grins his enthusiasm at her.
“It looks like a bug,” she notes, not unkindly. It’s true. Everything from the bulbous, brown and golden marked labellum, to the nearly translucent wing-like petals spread to either side, to the soft down covering the whole flower like fuzz, resembles a bumblebee.
“And that’s where it gets its name.” His smile is huge now. “The Bee Orchid. Orphys ap...ap…ap…ap…ap…” What the hell? The Doctor blinks hard and shakes his head. “Ap…ap…ap,” he continues, spitting the syllable out like a broken record. He steps away and sucks in a quick breath.
“Doctor?” she asks, concern coloring her features. He shakes his head at her and holds his hand up to ask her to give him a second.
“Apifera,” he finishes finally. “Family Orchidacea, Order Asparagales, Class Liliopsida, Phylum Tracheophyta, Kingdom Plantae. Grows in a wide range of habitats, from chalk cliffs to Welsh sand dunes to industrial waste grounds. Almost always self pollinated, but in rare occurrences may attract the pollinating interest of bees of the genera Andrena and Eucera. It’s this aspect which lead them to evolve their bee-like appearance, as male bees accidentally pollinated the flower’s ancestors for generations by mistaken attempts at copulation.” He steps further away from her, waving his still outstretched hand, to keep her back. He doesn’t know what is going wrong. He has no idea what he’s going to say (or do) next. He wants to run away, to keep her from seeing him like this, but he feels frozen to the spot. “Orchids are the largest family of the flowering plants on Earth, you know; over 25,000 accepted species with up to 800 new ones identified every year. Ranging in size from tiny plants with flowers two millimeters across to the Giant Orchid, a two-ton specimen of which was displayed at the 1851 London exhi…ex…ex…ex….”
He remembers that look. Remembers the fear and confusion and distrust. Remembers her clinging to a support girder, half-hiding behind it as much as using it to lean against. Remembers how his mouth ran off unchecked then, too. At least then he hadn’t been stuttering like a machine gun.
It’s at that very moment when his head explodes.
His knees hit the hard paving stones and send twin bolts of pain rocketing up his legs. It’s almost enough to distract him from the blinding agony behind his retinas.
“Doctor!” The normally comforting voice hits him like a sledgehammer to the back of his skull. He presses the heels of his hands against his eyeballs, in a vain attempt to lessen the pounding pressure constricting his brain. He hears her voice again and feels the cold pressure of her fingertips at his temples. The contact is not unwelcome, though it does nothing to ease his predicament. He wants her away from him, from this. He wants to protect her. He’s always wanted to protect her. He’s never been able to. He wants to beg her to leave him, please, leave him alone until this spasm or whatever it is passes and he can speak without sounding like Porky Pig reading from an encyclopedia. He opens his mouth to tell her, knowing the effort will only cost him more pain.
“Please-“ he starts.
He can’t remember her name.
Latin names and common names and family names and why, why can he not remember her?! He pulls his hands from his face and looks at her; squints from beneath his throbbing brows and searches for some hint in her golden tresses and hazelnut eyes. Beautiful, he thinks, for the thousandth time, like a perfect bloom. At first just a tiny bud, her raiment all hidden behind a tough exterior, a bristly façade put up to ward off the myriad dangers of the world. But he had shown her even greater dangers, and here she is in full blossom. How had that happened? When had that happened? Had she opened because of or in spite of him? Not his flower any longer, she belongs to the world, to the universe; a rare and precious specimen to be loved and adored by all. Never meant to be kept to just one person; to be tethered to one place, one time, one partner. Never to be secreted in some personal collection, away from the wind and the rain and the true light of day. And he can’t take her with him. Not this time.
‘Arum, baby’s breath, cornflower, dandelion, edelweiss,’ he thinks desperately. ‘Forget-me-not, oh that’s just cruel, gentian, hyacinth-‘ He gasps for breath and realizes he must be chanting aloud. He wonders if he really has gone just as insane as the surrounding patrons’ concerned looks would suggest. She just stares at him, her face stricken and her eyes filling with unshed tears. “Lavender, marigold,” he lists, his cheeks crumpling into painful wrinkles with his concentration. Please, please, he silently begs the cosmos, let this torture end soon. “Peony, Queen Anne’s lace, rose-ROSE!” The final name is shouted as he reaches for her blouse and clasps her to himself. He buries his nose in her hair and lets her soft scent wash over his senses, drowning the cold, clenching sensation around his heart. ‘By any other name,’ his mind quotes stupidly at him, ‘would smell as sweet.’
Oh, Will, where were you fifteen seconds ago?
“Go Rose,” he begs, “Please just go.”
“Shhhh,” she whispers into his shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere.” He feels her hand begin to rhythmically caress the ticklish spot between his shoulder blades and realizes that she’s trying to comfort him. And no, he’ll never understand it. A thousand years could pass and he’ll never know why she cared for him like this. After all he’s done, after all she knows, after he’s kneeled here in this horticultural hell-hole and forgotten her name, she still won’t leave him. Would never leave him. Won’t ever run, unless it’s with his hand in hers.
He recognizes, with a start, that his head is no longer splitting in two. He pushes back and looks down at her. The tears that had threatened never fell. Her cheeks are dry; her eyes tight with concern. Her other hand comes to rest with a casual familiarity over his racing heart.
“You’re afraid,” she says, her eyes widen with wonder.
“Yes,” he replies, and is instantly embarrassed at the tremble in his voice.
“Me too,” she admits, then inexplicably smiles. “But that’s sort of par for the course.”
“Never,” he responds, shaking his head in denial. “You, Rose Tyler, have never been scared a day in your life. I can attest to that. Daleks, the Gelth, that…that thing on Krop Tor. Sure you ran, so did I. It’s the only logical response to that kind of threat. But afraid? You? Never.” He smiles weakly at her, regaining some of his lost composure.
“I was afraid the day you changed. And the day you left me here, the first time.” Her look is subdued, thoughtful. “I was afraid that day after we argued, when I couldn’t find you. When I thought I’d lost you forever.” Her eyes flick to his. “I get scared, Doctor. I’m scared all the time.”
Rose takes an indefinite leave of absence from Torchwood after that little incident, and the Doctor takes to filling his journal entries at night after she’s drifted to sleep. He still doesn’t need much rest himself, and with Rose now joining him in lounging around the flat, there’s been a succession of late sleeping mornings to invigorate him throughout the night.
“Number four hundred ninety-six,” he drones into the midnight silence that lies like a thick cloud over the carpets of the flat, “Don’t ever get Rose roses. She does, in fact, find them to be cliché.” He brings his fingers up to pinch at the bridge of his nose, in a vain attempt to lessen the steady throb of pain remaining from an earlier attack that had banished him to the couch with a cold compress for most of the day. “Number four hundred ninety-seven, orchids probably aren’t the best idea either.”
He burns himself cooking breakfast. Badly. She rushes him to the Torchwood medical facility while he holds a wet dishtowel to his injured hand and grimaces against the pain.
“What were you thinking?!” she shouts exasperatedly. He knows she’s not really angry at him, just worried nearly out of her wits. And the truth is, he hadn’t been thinking much of anything. Had been thinking very close to nothing. Had only realized he was being burned when the cuff of his jacket started to smolder. They go home with a bucket full of sterile gauze and antibiotic cream. Rose takes over cooking duties.
Not that he has much of an appetite anyway.
He presses his forehead to the rim of the toilet and silently thanks the powers that be for making porcelain cool to the touch. The former contents of his stomach swirl sickeningly in the bowl; the white light of the bathroom pierces through his closed lids and focuses into pinpricks that torture the surface of his brain. He feels a light touch at his shoulder and manages to look around. Rose holds out a tall glass of cool water, and he is so, so thankful.
“It’s a gift,” he says, later, between bites of salted crackers, “You can’t give it back.” He holds the flash drive out to her. “Please,” he begs, “His gift was the Little Girl, mine’s this.” ‘It’s all I have left to give,’ he silently wills her to understand.
He sees she’s struggling with how to respond. To a certain extent he feels bad for manipulating her like this…again. He’s made her feel this way, when she’s already vulnerable as a result of the state he’s in. She’s already feeling guilty; already staring at his paper white face as if she’s afraid she’ll break him with the wrong words. But it has to be done. It has to be. The alternative is unthinkable.
“I’ll think about it,” she says, eventually, and he’ll take that.
He seizes on the front steps, falls and cracks his head on their sharp concrete edges. He comes around to a vision of paramedics, looking like wraiths in their white coats, bathed in the blue flashing light of the ambulance. “Where’s Rose?” he manages to croak out past a throat as dry as the Sahara and a humongous, fur coated tongue. In answer, they ask him questions that make no sense…or perhaps they would make sense if the air would just stop buzzing. Are you allergic to anything? Have you had any episodes before? No, he says, not in this body, and they look at each other and conclude concussion.
Brilliant deduction. Even concussed he has enough sense to be annoyed at their stupidity.
She rides with him in the ambulance, the red inside light gleaming like a heat lamp against her pale features, the siren wailing from what seems like a very long distance away. She holds his hand. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she says dejectedly.
“You can’t stay at home anymore, it’s too dangerous.”
She looks at him then, and her pupils glow like red candles in the strange light. “Say something to me in Gallifreyan.”
He can’t help but smile, and really, the head wound doesn’t hurt at all. If it had, though, her request would’ve driven all thoughts of discomfort from his mind. “What do you want me to say?”
“Something comforting. About how everything will be all right.”
“But it won’t,” he explains, unnecessarily. “And saying that won’t make it so.” She doesn’t say anything to that, and he figures there’s a reason. It doesn’t really require a response anyway, it wasn’t a question. He speaks to her then in a way that would make the ambulance driver’s head turn in surprise, were the sound of it not drowned out by the siren overhead.
“Beautiful,” she says, and she’s not looking at him. “What’s it mean?”
“I said that everything comes to an end; everything dies.”
She turns again to him, and her eyes really are aflame. “And that’s supposed to be comforting?!”
He shrugs, or tries to, anyway, from where he is strapped to the stretcher. “It is when you’ve been around nine hundred years.” She closes her eyes and doesn’t let tears fall. He asks, “You’ll let me just clean up a few loose ends first, with the Little Girl? I can go back for that?” She nods, and even though he knows he’s doing it again, catching her off guard at her weakest moments, he can’t quite help continuing. “And you’ll think about it?”
She opens her eyes. They’re wet. “I promise,” she says, and in the scarlet glow of the ambulance interior, two tears draw twin tracks of blood down her cheeks.
“Where were we? Right, number six hundred forty-two: Humans like mementos. So, if you’re ever moron enough to abandon Rose in some relatively safe foreign universe again, I’d highly suggest letting her have a quick run at her old room first. You’ve got no idea how attached she is to all those silly photos and shells and whatnot she’s got littering the place. You see, they’re not just decoration, not just pretty little gewgaws she picked up at the latest space port. They really mean something to her. For example, when I first got here, she had this sextant on her mantle, and yeah, I know, odd right? But it makes sense, see, because the first time she got stuck here she literally had nothing. Just the clothes on her back and a phone that didn’t work and a key that opened a lock in a different universe. And she could put pictures of Mickey and her mum and everyone else she cared about up there on her mantle, but she didn’t have anything for me or Jack or the TARDIS. So she bought this sextant at an antique shop, paid way too much for it, and hung her TARDIS key off of it. Then she could feel like maybe she was honoring us too. Like anyone who came into her home would know there was someone else out there important to her.”
“So yeah,” he squirms a little in his seat, “Mementos.” He lifts his left hand then, into the view of the camera, and the little gold ring gracing it catches the light with a flicker. “They’re kind of comforting. And no, they don’t change anything or make you care about anyone more or miss them any less, but sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded.”
He smiles softly at the memories attached to this silly hunk of metal that weighs so lightly on his fourth finger. “Which brings us to the end of this little video diary, because I doubt I’m going to have much more time to learn anything else of interest, and I wanted to make sure that I stressed the most important thing I’ve learned last, for effect. So pay attention you, because you’re bound to get this one wrong if you try working it out on your own.” He stands up and moves in front of the chair, doing his best part-human impression of his old Oncoming Storm look. Crossing his arms, he faces the camera head on, challenging the him that isn’t there, that he can’t see, that he knows won’t listen to him unless he manages to convey with his stance and manner that he is absolutely serious.
“You don’t need a piece of paper to show someone you’ll always be there for them. You don’t need a sparkly trinket to prove your affections. You don’t need three little words to convince them that you’re no longer the master of your own heart…hearts…whatever. But even still, every once and a while, it’s good to hear. It’s nice to be reminded.” He leans down, his face only inches from the camera’s eye, and speaks with all the conviction his pitiful human frame can muster.
“And it bloody damn well needs saying.”
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Chapter 21: Chapter 21Sitting by the Doctor’s bedside in the Torchwood medical wing is like a box of chocolates: she never knows who she’ll get when he wakes up.
He’s explained it as something like Alzheimer’s in humans, where he keeps forgetting things that have happened to him recently and sort of ends up living in the past. Unfortunately, someone with 900 years of memories bouncing around in their skull has a mightily different concept of what is past than the average human does. The fact that she understands his explanation doesn’t make it any less disturbing when he stops a conversation mid-sentence, stares off into space for a moment, and then suddenly, and with perfect, crystal clarity of mind, becomes someone totally different who remembers her not at all.
The first time she breaks down entirely.
“Why, hullo,” the Doctor enthuses as she walks in the room.
“Hi,” she says back, taking her accustomed seat and pulling it closer to the Doctor’s bedside. “Didn’t figure you’d be up yet or I would’ve been in earlier.” He smiles broadly in reply. “Jackie says hello. She’s making biscuits to bring next time she’s around, and no, you don’t have to eat them. I can probably get one of the doc’s to tell her they’re not conducive to your health.” He continues to smile. Rose is a little surprised that he would avoid such a perfect opportunity to get a dig in at her mum. “Ummm…Royce was wondering if you’d take a look at some of the schematics he’s been working on recently. I told him that you’re not supposed to be doing work for Torchwood anymore, but he doesn’t care. He wants a consult. Is that okay with you?” The Doctor’s smile fades.
“I…I suppose,” he says, his brow creasing in confusion.
“Doctor?” Her voice is questioning.
His smile returns almost immediately. “Yes?”
“Are you all right?”
“Well, I certainly feel well. However, I do seem to be in a medical facility, and that’s usually indicative of the contrary.”
Rose’s jaw hits her chest. “Doctor,” she questions further, afraid of what she might hear, “Do you know where you are?”
“A medical facility. I thought I just said that. Silly girl.” He smiles warmly.
Even more tentatively, she asks, “Do you know who I am?”
“Why of course,” he responds, with evident pleasure, “You’re Rose Tyler, Assistant Director of Torchwood One.”
Rose’s shoulders slump in relief. “So you do remember me.”
The Doctor looks evasive. He grips at the edge of the blankets gathered at his waist and begins to play with them, studiously avoiding Rose’s eyes. “Errr…yes...well, no…not in the strictest sense.”
“Doctor.” Her tone is threatening, and whether or not he has any idea who she is, he seems to recognize it.
“Not in the sense that I’ve ever seen you before you walked into this room not two minutes ago.”
Rose’s heart falls. “But…but you knew my name an’…an’ everything.”
His smile is compassionate as he reaches out one hand to lightly brush at the identification badge clipped to her shirtfront. She can’t help it, the tears just come. They roll unhindered down her cheeks and her next breath is the type of hitching gasp that just precedes a very heartfelt cry.
“Oh, dear,” the Doctor says, leaning back into his pillow, “Now I’ve gone and done it. I’m sorry my dear, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I wish I did remember you, really, you seem quite sweet.” He pats ineffectually at his hips. “I’d offer you a jelly baby, but I seem to have temporarily misplaced my pockets.”
Rose begins to sob in earnest.
The Doctor sighs heavily, a sound that is half exasperation and half actual sympathy. “There, there,” he says, “No need for that.” He covers her trembling hand with his own, stroking it with great tenderness.
Upon returning to himself the Doctor is forced to again offer Rose comfort. This time, she is able to accept it, nearly strangling him with a death grip around his waist. He apologizes over and over, and she replies over and over that it was her fault…that she shouldn’t be so sensitive. He had told her this would happen. Had told her he might not know her. Had told her there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it or force his present consciousness to the surface.
She’s more prepared the next time, and takes the shock of it better. Plus, there’s the added bonus that he remembers her.
He wakes suddenly, sitting up straight and gasping in fear at a dream she hadn’t even known he was having. In all fairness, she hadn’t been paying that close attention. He had been asleep when she came in and, not wanting to wake him just yet, she had pulled out the paperback novel she had slipped into her purse just for this purpose. Reclining in the visitors’ chair with both feet propped against his feeding table, she had immersed herself in her story. It was inane enough that she was drifting to sleep herself when the Doctor’s rude awakening startled her almost out of her chair.
She drops the book and quickly stumbles towards the bed. Gripping his shoulder she bends down. “Doctor,” she breathes heavily, “Are you all right?”
He stares at the hand on his shoulder, then follows the length of her arm up to her own shoulder, her neck, and finally her face. His expression is totally blank. “Doctor?” she asks again, afraid she’s once more speaking to some prior version who has no reason to trust the comfort of either her hand or her face.
He swallows visibly. “Rose?” he croaks out. She smiles, and sends a silent prayer to whatever powers may be out there and watching over them.
“Yeah, it’s me. You okay?”
He reaches out his own hand, and covers hers where it rests on his shoulder. He shifts his eyes rapidly between her face and their clasped hands, and she’s beginning to get worried again at his lack of comment.
“Rose?” he says again, and this time she recognizes the disbelief in his tone. He looks almost broken. He’s not just surprised to find her waiting for him at the break of his nightmare, he’s in serious denial about the fact that she’s standing right in front of him.
“Yeah,” she says nervously.
His face goes from incredulity, to tentative hope, to ebullient joy in a matter of moments. Reaching up, he grips both of her shoulders in his hands and crushes her to his chest in an almost violent embrace. Rose hugs him back, feels him shaking with soundless sobs. “Shhh, Doctor,” she says, rubbing the small of his back soothingly with one hand, “It’s okay. I’m here.” That only causes him to shake even harder and now she can feel hot tears soaking into her sweater. She is lost as to how to respond, so she continues to pat him gently and murmur platitudes. Eventually, his shudders lose their strength and she feels him push her gently away from his chest.
She looks into his eyes and sees they are still wet and red rimmed. He looks at her for another moment as if in awe, before knotting his hands in her hair and drawing her forward to press her lips to his own. His kiss is desperate, needful, and she responds with everything he needs. With only a little prodding, his mouth opens to admit the probing length of her tongue. She deepens the kiss and he accepts all that she gives him. They spend some time exploring one another, until she realizes his hands have slipped from her hair, and slowly pulls away. The Doctor’s eyes are closed, and as he blinks them open, she sees they are narrowed with suspicion.
“I lost you,” he says.
She shakes her head. “It was only a dream,” she asserts.
“No.” His look turns confused. “You fell. You went to Pete’s World. I said goodbye, burned up a star.” His eyebrows draw together as he tries to put the puzzle pieces into some sensible pattern. “And there was this batty ginger haired woman in a wedding gown….”
“Donna,” Rose prompts.
“Yes.” His eyes shoot to her. “How did you know that?”
“I…” And now she realizes that he’s not her Doctor after all, not exactly. He’s the him that just lost her, the first time. “I met her, yeah?” She smiles in a manner she hopes is encouraging. “She’s brilliant, Donna Noble. Saved the world, she did.”
He’s looking at her now like she’s the missing TARDIS part he’s been looking for. “Rose,” he intones slowly, “Something’s happened to me, hasn’t it?” He raises his eyebrows in question.
She almost laughs at his understatement. “What was your first clue?”
“I kissed you and you acted like it was perfectly normal.”
“Oh,” she replies, feeling her cheeks redden. “I would have thought it was the hospital room,” she says glancing around at the small space Torchwood set aside for dying, crazy, half-humans.
“I’m missing time,” he mutters turning his dark eyes to the rest of the room. Then, his gaze returning to her face as if coming home, he asks “How did I find you?”
Putting fists into her hips, she throws back at him, “What makes you think it wasn’t me who found you?” He seems about to answer her cheek with some of his own, then stops himself. He looks unsure, and that’s not a look she’s used to seeing on him. Deciding that she doesn’t care to have him look uncomfortable anymore, she leans forward and presses her lips to his again. This time his eyes are open and it’s him who pulls away.
“I’m dreaming,” he states, sounding fairly sure of his assessment.
“No, you’re not dreaming,” she says, resting her forehead against his. “You’re my dream. The one I used to have before…all this.” She kisses him again, and notes that he’s beginning to respond as she would expect him to, to move his mouth against her own in a tentative, exploratory manner. Keeping their faces close, she separates from him only enough to get a quick breath.
“So,” he draws the word out, “This is normal?”
Rose casts a quick glance at the door. It is shut and the blinds are drawn. The Doctor is meant to be sleeping, and the nurses won’t bother them while they’re together anyway. With a practiced hand, she lowers the bed rail, and quietly creeps into the bed. Arranging herself carefully, so as not to disturb any of the various tubes and wires connecting the Doctor to the monitoring machines, she slips one leg over his hips and straddles him about the waist. The Doctor’s eyes shift rapidly back and forth between where she’s sitting and her lips. His pupils are black oil drops on the rich mahogany surface of his irises, and Rose is fairly certain she can read his emotions in them.
Gently, she sets her fingertips against the thin material of his hospital gown where it meets her jeans and draws them slowly upwards along his narrow frame. She can see his muscles twitch beneath her ministrations. As she runs her fingernails across his chest, she both feels and hears his great gasp of breath. Her fingers continue to trace lines up over his shoulder, where she slips them to the nape of his neck as she leans forward to capture his lips again. She continues her slow torture, digging her fingers through his hair and scraping at his scalp with her nails, tickling along the sensitive spot behind his ears, and finishing with a gentle massage at his temples. She swallows his reflexive moan, and smiles knowingly as she sits back.
“What do you think?” she asks, in her most sensuous voice.
“I think I’m very disappointed that I can’t remember any of this.”
Smirking mischievously, Rose reaches down between her legs, and cups him through the sheets. She knows this is probably not the best idea she’s ever had in her life. He’s not at his strongest, and clearly not entirely in his full faculties, but it’s been weeks, and she misses him, and she’s hungry for him in ways she doesn’t know how to fulfill in any other manner. His gasped and scandalized, “Rose!”, only encourages her.
She strokes him gently, and then more firmly, all along ignoring his whispered pleas that she stop this, that no Rose, you can’t want this, not like this, not here, not oh…oh, dear…that is…Rose please. By the time she moves his blankets and gown aside, sheds her own pesky garments, and takes him in hand he’s given up on trying to convince her that this is not at all what she wants from him and is focused rather single-mindedly on not shouting loud enough to bring any orderlies running. It may not have been all that long since his human body had reveled in sexual release, but in his repressed Time Lord mind it had been considerably longer, and it took Rose a very short time indeed to bring him to the point where he was ready to enter her.
Hovering over him, and taking special care not to interfere with any of the medical equipment, she presses lips to a forehead already slick with sweat, and lowers herself onto him with agonizing slowness. The cry which escapes him is irrepressible and she stops it the only sensible way, with her mouth. But then he is pawing at her shoulders, pushing at her with hands she has almost forgotten he knows how to use.
“Rose, s-stop!” he almost shouts, thrusting his palms up against her chest and trying to push her off of him. She stares at him, confused, and sees a look of horror stretched across his features. She senses him then, a terrible whirlwind presence hovering just outside her consciousness and barely held in check. Realization hits her, and she leans forward to place a kiss to his cheek.
“’S okay,” she whispers, “You can come in.” She leans back to look him in the eye and make sure he understands that she’s giving him express permission. His eyes, if possible, grow even wider. She nods her head in affirmation and clenches her muscles around his manhood. His eyes roll back into his head and she feels him crash into her like a freight train. All her senses, all her thoughts, are immediately overwhelmed. She feels the whole of her consciousness being blown into a million molecules and scattered as if by a terrific wind. She loses sense of herself in the vast tsunami which is him and it’s several moments before she can recover her wits and steady her breathing. He’s never been like this with her before, and she belatedly recognizes that even in his times of greatest passion, he’s held back something out of fear of hurting her. But this Doctor isn’t holding back anything, and likely couldn’t if he tried. He’s collapsed back against the pillows, eyes squeezed shut and bed linens fisted in each hand. He’s thrust unconsciously upwards into her and as he slides back down to the mattress, she follows him, keeping in contact and adding friction to the mass of sensations already flowing through the two of them.
As she’s trained herself to do, she searches for the string of thought that will lead her to him. Finds a giant bridge in its place. Crosses tentatively and runs up against a wall. She’s not used to him not letting her in, he is usually an open book, and she’s momentarily confused as to what comes next. Filling the time, she moves upon him, setting up a comfortable rhythm and drawing his heat into her center. His head thrashes back and forth upon the pillow and stunted whimpers escape from his throat. She sees that he is lost, utterly and completely without control, and she thinks she may never have been more turned on by anything in her life.
She moans her pleasure, but keeps the sound in the back of her throat, not wanting to draw any more attention to the two of them then the Doctor already is. Still, he hears her and stills for a moment. His eyes open to see her leaning over him to whisper in his ear. “Don’t lock me out.” Again, he’s confused by her statement, and now his disorientation is compounded by the fact that he is more than a little distracted. She pushes lightly at his mind with her own, to bring his attention to bear. He seems to understand, for he shudders under her and it’s not because of anything she’s done so far. His lids slide closed again and she can feel the wall start to weaken, grow semi-permeable. She recognizes that he is not used to her mental presence like her human Doctor is; that his emotions are guarded. That this requires trust, and in some ways is a leap of faith for him. She’s momentarily touched that he’s willing to back down at all, and decides then and there to make it worth his while.
It only takes the briefest brush of her mind against his to thrust him over the edge, dragging her along with him.
Tumbling down from a plateau of ecstasy, her muscles still trembling in recovery, she manages to catch herself before falling against his chest and possibly crushing some of the delicate equipment there. Only as she is catching her breath, listening to his matching labored pants, does she guiltily think of the empaths up on seven and hope that no one fainted this time.
“Rose,” she hears his contented murmur beside her ear. “I have the strange impression that we just made love in my hospital bed.”
“Funny Doctor,” she responds between breaths, “I was working under the same impression.”
“Pity,” he groans, and she turns to him in confusion. “That I don’t remember a second of it.”
It turns out there is something Rose can do to bring her Doctor around. She doesn’t get another good chance to try it out, though, and that really is a pity, because it’s not always so pleasant meeting the “other” Doctors.
“What on Earth is wrong with you, you harpy?!”
“I…wait, did you just call me a harpy?”
“Ah, I see your hearing is functional. In that case, I will make myself clear once again. Remove your hand from my person and let me out of this bed.”
“I’m sorry Doctor, but I can’t do that.”
“I don’t suppose you’d want to enter my mind telepathically and allow me access to yours at the same time.”
A look of sheer disgust vies for supremacy with one of utter disbelief on the Doctor’s face.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Rose sighs, and pushes the button to call for security. The next several hours are spent exchanging silent glares with the Doctor as he sits chained to the bed. She finds it hard to believe he was ever so unpleasant.
She misses him in these times when he’s…not him. Is it really possible to miss someone who is lying right there next to you? Yes, apparently so. She wishes for her him. Half-human him. One hearted him. The one who knows he’s dying and knows how little time remaining they have to be together.
But then, sometimes when her Doctor is awake and with her, she almost wishes he weren’t. He’s in pain then, and not thinking anymore that he’s some superior being that can’t show it. He refuses all painkillers, says he wants to stay clear headed for those rare moments when he can remember who and where he is. When he can remember who she is. At those times she tells him what he’s said in his less lucid moments, and they laugh against the bubbling fear. She fills him in on what’s going on at home, at Torchwood. They talk and reminisce and she does everything in her power to distract him from the throbbing pain that makes him grimace uncontrollably into his pillow and squeeze her hand until it hurts.
She often thinks that it’s better on all of them when he can just sleep. But even then, the Doctor twitches and murmurs, suffering from persistent bad dreams. During one particularly poor episode which had him sweating and moaning and shivering, Rose, knowing that she’d rather deal with him awake, no matter who he is, than watch him in the midst of this nightmare, shakes him into consciousness.
“Hey, Doctor, wake up. It’s okay. It’s just a bad dream, that’s all.” He stops shaking, but instead freezes up, his eyes still closed. Then grimacing, she continues, “It’s me, Rose.” She hopes that admission will be of comfort to him.
“Rose?” he says, with something like recognition. She breathes a sigh of relief. Still, his voice sounds lost as his eyes sliver open. “Rose,” he says with greater assertion upon seeing her. His eyes slide around the room. “Where are we?”
Not entirely there, then. Okay, she can deal with this. At least he won’t be offering her jelly babies and patting her hand like a she’s a lap dog. “We’re in a medical ward at Torchwood, don’t you remember?” When he looks quizzically at her, she goes on, “You’re sick.” Her voice wavers and a wave of compassion crashes over his face. He reaches out to grip her hand where it lays on the bed, giving only a cursory confused glance to the IV imbedded in his own flesh.
“It’s all right, Rose,” he says, “It’ll be all right. I promise.”
The fact that he is trying, at this stage, to comfort her almost breaks her. But she manages to hold on to her dignity (this time) and keep from blubbering her despair all over his hospital gown. “No, Doctor. It won’t. You…you’re dying.”
A look of deep concern crosses his brow like a shadow, and his attention turns from her momentarily to study himself, the room, and the various monitors he’s hooked to. He sniffs derisively. “I wouldn’t worry about it Rose. For one, I feel fine, though goodness knows what these pathetic doctors have given me in their attempts to help. For another, I’m not quite that easy to kill.” He turns a broad smile on her then. “Time Lords have this little trick, you see, it's sort of a way of cheating death.” She gasps and he continues, ignoring her reaction. “Except it means I’d have to change.” That thought seems to sober him.
“Regeneration?” she asks.
His surprise is genuine. “How did you know about that? Did Jack tell you something?”
She shakes her head in amazement. “No, no he…” She can’t finish the thought. This is her Doctor. Her first Doctor. She can almost see the intense blue gaze peaking out from behind the chocolate brown eyes before her. She can’t believe it. Somehow, against all odds, he has come back to her. “Lucky guess,” she finishes lamely, and the look he gives her clearly shows he’s not convinced.
“Whatever.” He glances searchingly around the room again. “Now, first things first. Getting out of this mess. Can’t do that until we know the lay of the land, so!” He drops her hand momentarily and claps for emphasis. “What planet are we on and what time period?” He looks to her, smiling maniacally.
“We…we’re on Earth.” She says, smiling. “Twenty-first century.”
The Doctor rolls his eyes. “Don’t tell me we’re visiting your mum again? I swear if this is a result of that blasted woman’s cooking I’ll — Why are you laughing, this isn’t funny!”
It is funny. She hopes she gets to talk to the regular Doctor next; the “proper Doctor” she thinks, with a little remorse. He would find this whole situation absolutely hilarious.
“Stupid ape,” he grumbles, though not unkindly, and starts working on removing his IV.
“Hey,” she says, clamping down on his wrist. “None of that, now. You need that.”
“Rose, I’m sure I’ve explained this before, but my superior Time Lord physiology doesn’t require all the nutrients and liquids and sleep and oxygen and the like that your pitiful little human forms do. And I certainly don’t need some silly bag dripping sugar water into my — Why are you laughing again?!”
She can’t help it. He’s him. He’s completely him and, oh, this is just too much. She grips the bed rails with her free hand and leans against them, her entire body shuddering with laughter. When she finally calms down he is glaring at her, and does she ever remember that Oncoming Storm look of his. It doesn’t quite work with the longer features of the later Doctor’s face. Maybe it needs the ears for added intimidation. Still, she doesn’t want to disturb him further and just encourage him to rip out all his various tubes and wires, leap from the bed, and drag her to wherever he thinks safety might lie. “Sorry,” she gasps, getting herself under control. That seems to mollify him.
“Where is the Captain anyways?” he asks conversationally.
“Jack?” She’s shocked he’s asking about him. “He’s…he’s around,” she lies. This Doctor must be from after they had met with the former time agent in Blitz-time London, but before the Gamestation, and he’d expect his other companion to be hanging about as well.
“Yeah, well, I hope you’ve been keeping him away from the nurses.” Rose snorts and he flashes another angry look at her. Luckily, this time, she manages to keep herself from a total collapse into hilarity.
A thought hits her suddenly. This is her chance to fix something that has been bothering her for years. “Doctor,” she says. He turns to her with lowered brows, perhaps recognizing the seriousness of her tone. Her start is halting, but her voice becomes stronger and she becomes more sure of herself. “I…I just wanted to say that…I love you…I always have. I’ve loved you from the first moment you took my hand in Henrick’s and told me to run. And hell, I probably loved you even before that. And I’m glad, really glad, that I got this chance to tell you.” She looks deep into those eyes, the ones that look like they see past her and into the center of the universe. Or maybe, they do see her, and she is the center of his universe.
“I….uh,” he stutters and blinks. “Thanks?” A look of profound confusion, mixed with concern, sweeps over him. “I’m flattered, of course, but…Rose, you…you know I care about you…I mean, plus one and all, but…bloody hell, I’m a Time Lord, Rose…I don’t…I can’t…I….” He looks at a complete loss as to what he’s trying to get across to her.
Quietly, she raises herself to lean over his half prone form. She brushes her lips lightly across his own, and at his quickly indrawn breath, presses them more firmly against his warm flesh. He doesn’t return it, but neither does he back away. Soft as a butterfly’s wing, she lets her tongue trace the line of his upper lip, before pulling away. His look is a combination of shock and what, in more recent versions of himself, she has come to recognize as barely controlled desire.
“Quite right, too,” she says, and resumes her place in the chair.
It gets worse as the days grow longer, the interminable spring transitioning into summer. He retreats into former versions of himself less and less, but rather spends a lot of time deliriously muttering in various languages to no one in particular. When he’s fully awake he hurts, and Rose can’t stand that there’s nothing more she can do for him. Nothing more she’ll ever be able to do for him. He pleads, when he’s aware, that she go back to her universe, to find Him there. But she can’t even give him that. She can’t promise his program will work, or that the Little Girl will ever be ready. She can’t even say that it’s something she wants to do. She doesn’t want that Doctor, not anymore. Not after what He had done to him . . . and to her.
“He’s not you,” she asserts forcibly, and almost kicks herself for once saying almost the exact opposite thing to him on a frozen beach in Norway. He squeezes her hand, to let her know he understands, but there’s hurt in his eyes, which is not all from his sickness, and is not all for himself. So she tells him what she has before, that she’ll think about it, and it seems to satisfy him.
“Say something to me in Gallifreyan,” she says one day, apropos of nothing. It’s an old game of theirs by now, and she is expecting his normal response. This time, though, he merely answers her in the lilting language of his own people.
“Tha’s nice,” she says, running her thumb over the bony protuberance of his knuckles, taking care to avoid the needle taped to the back of his hand.
“You try,” he croaks. Apparently it’s harder for him to form words in English.
She shakes her head in response. “Nah, no way I could do that. Puny human voice box an’ all.”
“Rose, I’m human…in every way that matters…and I can do it.” He’s giving her puppy dog eyes. She can’t believe he’s gone for the puppy dog eyes. “Please Rose,” he murmurs, “I’d like to hear you speak Gallifreyan again.”
She stares hard at him, then relents. She can certainly play along, and if it will take their minds off…other things…for a little while, well, all the better. “Say it again,” she commands. He does. She just shakes her head. She’s not even sure she’s hearing all of it, there’s no way she can repeat it. Without prompting, he says it again, slower this time. She makes an attempt. It’s awful. She knows it’s awful, but it makes him smile. And so when he repeats again, slowly enunciating every aspect, she tries again. They work at it together, syllable by syllable...although she’s not really sure if there are supposed to be any syllables…because when he says it everything just runs together smoothly…like water over velvet. Finally, she starts to improve. At least she thinks she’s improving, and he’s smiling at her encouragingly. She’s got the basic sounds down, and it turns out she learned more in choir than how to incite revolution, because otherwise she’d never be able to string them all together.
She says it again, softly and under her breath, but he hears and his eyes light up. She knows then, that he’s understood her. That she’s done it right. She repeats it, louder. It’s still nowhere near as smooth or effortless as when he does it, but his hand squeezes her own limply and he smiles. He’s proud of her, and she’s proud of herself, and she realizes they’ve spent the last hour and a half not crying or stuttering in a desperate attempt to form words. And she’s happy, so happy, that she could give this to him. The words and the time without pain.
“What’s it mean?” she asks.
“My name,” he says, and she sees unshed tears in his eyes. He grimaces, pain at last breaking through the barrier their conversation had erected, and he rolls his head away on the pillow. “Wanted you to…have it.”
Her breath is caught in her throat. His name. His real name. And she was thinking she had given him a gift, when his is so much more. “Why?” Her voice is trembling with emotion. “Why now?”
He turns to face her again, his exhaustion evident. “Never know…it…might be...useful…someday.” He smiles then, and it’s him saying ‘people’ and meaning ‘aliens’; it’s him slipping old 3-D movie glasses onto her face and dancing away to a blank white wall; it’s him laughing like a maniac as flaming zeppelin parts rain down all around them. It’s him. Her world. Her universe. Her past, present and future.
Two days later, he is dead.
He goes in his sleep and she hopes that’s a good thing. Hopes he wasn’t dreaming, because she’s never known any of his dreams to be of the good type. He had wandered in and out of consciousness after telling her his name, but never enough to hold a coherent conversation. She thinks it’s probably better that way. Better that in her last memory of him he was her Doctor and not some prior version who didn’t even know her. She remembers how hurt her mum had been when Grandma Prentice went that way; not even recognizing that it was her own daughter visiting her in the hospital and clinging desperately to her bony hands as she slipped away. No, this is definitely preferable. Not that it helps her to recover any.
Rose knows there’s supposed to be five stages of grief. That she sees herself as if from a great distance moving steadfastly through the stages doesn’t make the transitions any easier. She clearly starts out with denial, refusing to leave his side despite the nurses’ pleas. “No,” she says, “He’ll regenerate, I know he will. It’s this trick you see, that Time Lords have, when they’re about to die.” She smiles triumphantly at them, and they, being Torchwood operatives themselves, don’t feel compelled to contradict her.
That stage lasts a whole five and a half hours.
Anger she handles by pounding her fists against Pete’s chest as he tries to hold her and screaming that there’s no way in hell she’s letting anyone from Torchwood touch the body. It would be burned, he had requested it, even if it hadn’t been a necessary precaution to prevent them from getting their hands on any potential Time Lord DNA. Bargaining she doesn’t really remember. Certainly, she bawls through one entire night in the room at her mum’s house where she had once before cried over losing the Doctor, sobbing “Please, please no” over and over again. Her mum rocks her like a child and tries to offer what comfort she can. Depression is…well…it is. And it continues through the time several months later when the little grave marker is delivered and placed over where his urn is supposedly buried. She doesn’t know why she even bothered getting one, seeing as how it wouldn’t actually be marking anything. She has already switched the containers and will be keeping the ashes to herself until their Little Girl is developed enough to allow a short jaunt into orbit where she can released them into the ether. Safer that way. Plus, she thinks he would have liked it.
The marker is nestled deeply within the turf, no other graves in close proximity. It reads simply “The Doctor” and under that “Dr. John Smith, 1973-2010”. She has resisted the silly urge to have them put “He saved the world, a lot” as an epitaph, and thereby refrains from making any trite alternative universe references. There’s no point to it really, she has no intention of visiting this place ever again, and only she would get the joke. But he deserves something to mark his passing. Something to indicate that, for a few short years, someone amazingly special had walked on this Earth; had breathed its atmosphere. Once touched by the Doctor, nothing is ever the same, and that includes this world. The things he had done at Torchwood during his time there would allow mankind to make miraculous advances, would change the course of human history. He had known they would, but being unable to see the possible consequences anymore kept him from worrying about it too much. The people of this world are blessed, and they don’t even know it. Same old, same old, for the Doctor. Never taking credit, never a single accolade. There’s nothing to mark his momentous achievements except this little brass plaque, and even that is a lie.
She feels a touch at her elbow. Her mum. Her Aunt Jackie. Whatever. The one constant in everything she’s ever done. The only person in all of space and time who has never left her side, not once. “Come on, luv,” Jackie says, softly...endearing. “Let’s go home.”
Rose whips around, ripping the edge of her sleeve from her mother’s grasp and staring at the blonde haired woman as if she’s never seen her before. Jackie stares back out of eyes rimmed with too much eyeliner. She looks hurt, confused; worried at her daughter’s unexpectedly violent reaction. Tentatively she reaches out a hand. “Rose?” she asks, her voice quavering.
Rose steps away from her mother and slips her hands into the pockets of her blue leather jacket. Her fingertips brush up against a tiny object. It feels warm to her touch, despite the slight chill in the air. She recognizes what it is from its feel; doesn’t remember putting it in that pocket. A gift, he had insisted. It doesn’t belong there. Not either of them. Gently, she curls her fingers around it and brushes her thumb lovingly along its smooth length.
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Chapter 22: Epilogue
Author's Notes: Happy New Year, everyone! I wanted to take this time to thank all of you who have stuck with me through the length and breadth of this story. Looking back over the past year, I think that the time I enjoyed myself the most, the time I felt most alive, was when I was writing this tale. I hope that I was able to pass on some small portion of that to you, dear readers. Best of luck in the year to come, and here’s wishing that your future brings all that you hope for.
The Doctor removed his suit jacket and swung it over his shoulder. Doing so made him feel naked. It shouldn’t have. He stared up at the time rotor, pulsing and green and familiar. Always familiar, no matter what the control room looked like. That accustomed presence in the back of his mind. Whispering. Singing. Offering comfort that he couldn’t quite move himself to accept.
Which was stupid, if you thought about it, since it was the only comfort he had left.
Meandering around the controls, he lifted one hand and gently caressed them. Donna was gone, left behind with her family for her own good. Martha was gone. Oh, she was still hanging about of course, but she was gone in the way that one could only really sense if one existed at the center of a low level telepathic field. Her thoughts and emotions no longer resonated with him or the TARDIS, no longer sang out for something that only he could provide. Jack, well, Jack would always be around. One way or another. But he, too, had other cares, and the Doctor still found any proximity to him slightly disturbing. Sarah Jane. Oh, lovely little Sarah Jane had a son. A son! He couldn’t help but smile with pride. He felt like a grandfather again, although nothing could have been farther from the truth.
He leaned over the console, reaching for a knob, but not much paying attention to what he was doing. He’d been at this so long, he didn’t really need to put his full attention into the motions. And if he did make some navigational mistake, well, the old girl would take care of him. She always had. And so, he let his mind wander back and forth along the timelines as he worked.
Susan, who traveled with him first, and Ian and Barbara who left together. Peri who stood her ground and Jo who learned to. Adric, who had been so brave. Romana, in all her lovely variations. Nyssa and Tegan and, dear goodness, Leela. Loyal Ace, who thankfully never did manage to get them blown up. Jamie, who never failed to make him laugh. River Song who would know his name, and just how that was to work out he had no idea. Alistair who was always, always there.
Did he make them into weapons? He certainly hoped not, but he had to admit the evidence was compelling. Some he had left behind, before they could get too hard. Some had left of their own accord, afraid of being remade into something like him. Some never got close enough to be in any danger of falling. Some he had sent to die. Davros could accuse him of ruining them. Harriet Jones could claim he chose them well. The fact of the matter was that his choice, his actions, ultimately had nothing to do with it. He only took the best, but only the best ever came along.
He closed his eyes, then, and concentrated on that part of him that sensed something beyond sight, beyond sound; beyond scent or touch or taste. He thought of them all, not their faces or voices, or the ghosts of them still wandering the TARDIS, but as pieces of time and space endlessly circling in an intricate dance with every other fragment of existence. He felt them, their timelines touching his, merging and diverging from it seemingly at random. Some were thicker than others, some longer, some brilliant, some dull; all the many twined strands of his friends lives spun together like a corded rope that was stronger, oh so much stronger, than any individual part. He sensed the strands he had yet to touch, those he might never come in contact with, that hovered moth-like around the brilliant whole. There had been so many. There were so many. There would be so many. And time itself stretched gleaming and golden in every infinite direction; the various strands caught in whirling eddies and unseen currents, like wine corks bobbing directionless in an endless ocean. And how, how was this choice? His or theirs?
Every moment presented a choice. Every choice had a reaction. Every reaction presented yet another choice and on and on ad infinitum. But the choices didn’t always result in the most obvious reactions, or the least. And in the end they were all lost. All alone. All stranded on some metaphorical deserted beach without any apparent means of getting home. They clung to one another, wrapped themselves in each others’ existence, held on for dear life because there was nothing else solid in this violent, intransient, emotionless void.
Tentatively, he reached out to one strand in particular. One that had been and was and could be. Touched its burning potentiality. Caressed the glowing possibility like a lover.
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