The Oft Dark Path of Dreams by SCAngel

Summary: He had cried for Gallifrey. Now he cried for Rose.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Multi-Era
Characters: Jack Harkness, Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler, Rose Tyler, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (9th)
Genres: Het
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2006.06.30
Updated: 2006.09.05


Chapter 1: Blaze of Glory, Ice of Despair
Chapter 2: Cracks in the World
Chapter 3: Shattering
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: Shards of What Was
Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Picking Up the Pieces
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Christmas Surprises
Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Torchwood
Chapter 8: Chapter 8: To Everything There Is A Season
Chapter 9: Chapter 9: A Time to be Silent, A Time to Speak
Chapter 10: Chapter 10: A Time To Tear and A Time To Mend
Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Dreams, Realized

Chapter 1: Blaze of Glory, Ice of Despair

Author's Notes: Inspired by Calapine's Old Things Made New.

Rose was dying.

He sat there amid the cables snaking out from the Game Station like some horrible surgery gone wrong and could do nothing but hold her to his chest and wrap his mind around the fact that he’d lost her. Stupid, stupid human. Why couldn’t she have done as he’d told her to and simply stayed put? Yeah, he would be dead and the Daleks would be overrunning the galaxy, but she would have been safe. Instead, he was alive, the Daleks were gone and Rose would be in minutes. The very idea was obscene.

He pulled her unconscious body against him, holding her face against his neck and simply rocked. “Why did you do it?” he whispered against her hair, the pain in his voice the sound of hearts breaking. “I could bear it all if I knew you were safe. There was nothing I couldn’t do if you were safe.”

Closing his eyes, he let his words drift into an odd little tune, hummed under his breath as he closed his eyes, trying to ignore the wisps of golden light that still wanted to swirl around her; the power of the Vortex escaping as her body’s battle to hold it wound down. In a very few moments, it would be over, the power too much for one human body and mind. Too much for any body or mind.

He had cried for Gallifrey. Now he cried for Rose.


Jack woke with a gasp, sitting up as if he’d been doused in cold water. The pain was instantaneous. With a groan, he grabbed his chest and for a moment wondered if he was about to have a heart seizure. Not that that happened to many people of his century, but after being shot by a Dalek, anything was--- Wait.

He blinked and glanced around. Shot by a Dalek? But… if that was true, how could be alive? Breathing? In pain? He closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath, trying to focus and remember what had happened. Daleks? Check. Using up all his ammunition? Check? Spreading his arms wide, determined to meet death head on? Check.

And then there was pain like he could never have imagined. Pain that lasted a split second and a hundred years all at the same time. Pain and then… darkness. It was like completely sensory deprivation with something unseen fluttering at the edge of what he’d loosely call consciousness. But then he hadn’t been conscious. Or even alive. He knew that.

He shook his head, trying to marshal his thoughts. The blackness, the presence and then… a whisper of a voice. A golden voice. I bring life. Without a shadow of a doubt, he knew those were the words that were spoken, driving away the fluttering presence and jerking him back into his body. Back into pain and light and confusion.

Groaning again, he used the wall to push himself up and glanced around warily, unsure if he was about to die a second time if a Dalek came around the corner. An odd pile of refuse on the floor caught his attention and in the eerie quiet, he staggered over and bent to examine it. Dust. Very, very fine dust. And there were other piles scattered around, as if someone or something had been vaporized into… dust.

Eyes snapping wide open, he realized that by some miracle, the Doctor must have refined the Delta Wave. That was the only possible explanation. It had to be. Anything else was unthinkable. Ignoring the protest of his muscles, he darted around the corner and down the corridor, desperate to find the Doctor, praying every prayer he could think of that his friend was alive. By the time he reached the doorway, the short trip had left him panting and clutching the frame.

What he saw left him cold, fear skittering through him like it hadn’t even when he was facing down his Dalek executioner. “I thought you sent her home,” he gasped, staggering through the door and dropping down in the mess of wires and cables in front of the Doctor, ignoring everything but the limp form in the Doctor’s arms.


The sound of someone or something in the corridor registered, but he didn’t care enough to look up until an achingly familiar voice pierced his thoughts. His head shot up. It wasn’t possible. Jack was dead. He’d heard Jack die. Unless…

His tortured gaze fell back to Rose, her features peaceful in the shadow of death. That’s what she’d meant. He’d wondered in the moment, but then everything else had been wiped from his mind as he’d taken as much of the Vortex from her as he could and replaced it into the TARDIS. He knew it now, though. She’d saved Jack. Brought him back because she loved him. Just like she’d come back to save him. Because she loved him. Without thinking, he started to rock and hum once more, feeling Rose’s life force dim to a wisp of existence.

It was Jack’s hand on his shoulder and repeated question that brought him back to the present once more. “I did send her home,” he said in a hollow voice. “She… she absorbed the Vortex, Jack. Absorbed it, held it, and used it. To save me. Saved you too,” he added with a flicker of a smile that died a quick death. As wonderful as it was to have Jack alive, it didn’t make up for Rose dying in his arms as they spoke.

“And now she’s gonna die because of it and there’s not a bloody thing I can do it about it. Me, greatest mind in the universe and I can’t save her. She saved me, but I can’t save her,” he grated out, his voice little more than a fierce whisper.

He missed Jack’s horrified look. “How did she… I mean… Fuck,” the other man whispered as well, running a hand over his face. “She can’t die. There’s got to be something we can do for her,” he said firmly, obviously unwilling to face the truth. “But let’s get her in the TARDIS and get the hell out of here just in case any Daleks you might have missed show up.”

The harsh laugh from his own throat startled him. “No worries there, Jack. No more Daleks. Not here, not anywhere, not ever,” he said, his grin dark and manic. “Rose took care of that, too. Knew the Time War not being over hurt me, so she ended it. Little gesture here, little gesture there and poof, no more Daleks. Took ‘em apart atom by atom, too, just to be sure. Smart girl, my Rose.”


Jack stared at the Doctor, almost unable to comprehend what the other man was saying. Belief was nearly impossible to come by except for one fact. One shining, incredible fact. He remembered dying. He knew he’d been dead. Not just on the verge, but cold, unrevivable, unerringly dead.

Until that golden voice had spoken to him. And he realized in an instant why it had been so easy to follow that voice out of the darkness. It had been Rose’s voice. Rose, who he trusted and loved and looked to to remind him that he wasn’t just a washed up con man but something a little more valiant and pure.

She’d saved him and the Doctor and wiped out the Daleks. The idea left him staggering as much as the backlash of his reanimation, but not nearly as much as the idea that she could die. He couldn’t accept that, no matter what the Doctor was saying.

“We’ve got to get her inside,” he insisted, worried about the odd look on the Doctor’s face. He seemed to be clinging to sanity by a thread. “Inside and into the med lab. We can help her. You can help her.”

He watched the Doctor shake his head with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Doesn’t work that way, Jack. I tried already. Tried to pull the Vortex out of her, but even I couldn’t get it all. Her body’s falling apart, trying to hold onto it, contain it somehow.”

“No. No fucking way are you going to sit here and let her die, Doctor. Not without trying something… anything!” He glared at his friend and mentor for a moment but got no response for his trouble. Feeling panicked, he glanced over at the TARDIS and quickly got to his feet.

“Don’t move. If you won’t bring her inside, I’ll bring the med lab to her.” And then he was off, darting through the doors and the console room without even a moment to enjoy the fact that he was home when he thought he never would be again. If Rose died, any idea of ‘home’ would be shattered.

He bolted down the hall and wasn’t the least bit surprised to find the med lab beyond the first doorway he came do. Gathering up a wide assortment of monitors and other medical supplies, he juggled it all as he ran full-tilt back outside, finding the Doctor and Rose in exactly the same positions he had left them in.

“Now give her to me,” he panted, setting the equipment aside and reaching for Rose, earning himself a feral growl from the Doctor. He jerked back as if he’d been bitten. “Okay, you hold her while I get a few readings,” he said, regrouping as he tried to quell the rising tide of grief inside him. She was so pale, her breathing was labored and slow, barely making her chest rise and fall. He was terrified the Doctor was right.

Until he found something more than a little odd.

He took the reading again, thumped the side of the machine and took it a third time. It didn’t make sense. Unless… “Doctor? Did… I mean, could the Vortex… well, rearrange Rose’s internal organs?” he asked slowly.

The Doctor’s head shot up. “What are you talking about?”

Jack swallowed and looked into the depths of stormy blue eyes. “I don’t understand how, but Rose’s heart is on the wrong side of her body.”


No. No, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be. Never in all of time… No. Feeling icy cold fear in the pit of his stomach, he jerked the monitor from Jack’s hand and took a reading himself. There it was plain as day. A faint heartbeat, thready but regular. All perfectly normal for a human who’d had some sort of trauma.

Except it was on the wrong side. And he’d scanned Rose often enough in the med lab to know that she didn’t have any physical defects to begin with. Her heart had always been exactly where it was supposed to be, according to human physiology. Until now.

Forgetting about Jack for a moment, he whipped his head around, glaring accusingly at the TARDIS. For the second time, he’d been betrayed by one who claimed to do it out of love. “What have you done?” he whispered to the ship as he had to Rose earlier, staring at the familiar planes of the call box she’d taken for so very long. “What have you done?”

He sat there and continued to stare at her, Rose cradled in his arms, unmoving and to all but the most trained eye, lost to the final throws of death. Once again, it was Jack’s voice that broke through the fog that seemed to surround him. “Doctor…?”

Suddenly galvanized into action, he stood, hefting Rose higher against his chest. “Come on. We need to get the hell out of here. Now,” he said shortly, stepping toward the TARDIS, Jack silent but on his heels. Once the doors were shut, he turned and carefully handed Rose into Jack’s arms.

“Take her back to the med lab,” he said grimly, stalking to the controls and immediately beginning to push buttons and pull levers. “I’ll be there as soon as I have us stabilized. And Jack, if she starts to glow get away from her. If she goes through a full regeneration and you’re close, the energy backlash will kill you.”

He felt Jack gaping at him for a split second before he closed his mouth and quickly carried Rose away. The only sound in the room was the rotor making its distinctive heavy wheeze. Selfishly, he was glad to be alone for the moment. His hands clenched the console until the knuckles whitened and the metal pieces bit into his skin. How could everything have gone so very wrong? Oh, he knew the answer, but still, the question bore asking. And so ironically, he wondered if what he originally intended–Rose stranded back on her time on Earth and he and Jack dead with the Daleks–wouldn’t have been the better scenario all the way around.


Hours passed as Jack kept vigil next to Rose. He’d stripped her, maneuvered her into a loose gown and carefully tucked her into a bed there in the med lab before hooking her up to every machine he could think of. For a very short time he’d considered administering some emergency stimulants to try and jump-start her odd heart rate, but without the Doctor’s input, he was terrified he’d do more harm than help. In the end, he was reduced to bathing her forehead with a cool, damp cloth as her temperature rose. Never once did she show a sign of waking.

Trying to pass the time, he’d taken care of his own hurts, bandaging a few cuts and scrapes and giving himself an analgesic to take the edge off the burned, bruised feeling that remained from where the Dalek had shot him. All the while he hovered near Rose, wondering what the hell the Doctor had meant about regeneration. He’d heard stories, but it was so fantastic that it was unbelievable. But then again, he’d thought Time Lords were a myth too.

His musings were interrupted when Rose audibly sighed, the first sign of life from her in hours. He rushed over just as a stream of golden light drifted from her lips, mesmerizing him as it lazily curled around her head. Without thinking, he reached out to touch it, only to find himself roughly jerked back.

“I thought I warned you,” the low voice of the Doctor practically growled at him. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Jack blinked, more than a little shocked. “No. I just…” he trailed off and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just want to do something to help her, Doctor.”

“Practically committing suicide certainly isn’t going to do it.” A dark blue gaze raked him from head to toe and for a moment he remembered the nearly fearful unease he’d felt around the Doctor after the realization that he’d caused the nanogene plague on Earth. Despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the outcome of the current situation, now it wasn’t the entire planet at risk, but Rose. That was a far more terrifying situation for the Doctor and Jack wondered how tight his grip on sanity was running. The look in his eyes alone would have sent the most stalwart backing away.

A moment later the rage and anger seemed to be replaced by weariness and more than a tinge of fear as the Doctor rubbed a hand over his face. “Alright then. I know you, Jack Harkness. You’ve run every test you could think of and probably a few you just made up as you went along. What’d you find?”

Jack fought against a sigh of relief as the man he knew stood in front of him once more and not the enraged alien furious at everyone and everything. “I… I’m not sure,” he said, damning himself for faltering. “I, uhm… well, it’s not just that her heart is on the wrong side. There are two now,” he said softly, looking over at Rose as a faint gold shimmer hovered around her for a moment before fading away once more.

“One’s not really beating though. Every once in a while I pick something up, but it’s sporadic at best.” He paused, unable to continue until the Doctor nodded at him. “Respiratory system seems to have… rearranged itself, although her breathing seems fine, but her blood gasses are… well, not general compatible with humans. And her brain…” he trailed off again. It was too much.

“Brain waves totally different, right? Alien, most likely,” the Doctor provided, looking resigned and somehow old, even in a young man’s body. With a soft sigh he let himself fall into a chair, head cradled in his hands.

Jack stared. It felt a bit like seeing your father–who you thought was all powerful–come up short when you needed him most. “Doctor? What does it mean. What the hell has happened to Rose?”

There was silence for a long time, the heavy lack of talking underscored by the soft beep and hum of medical equipment around them. When the Doctor finally answered, Jack flinched. “You remember what happened back on Earth with the child’s plague?”

He nodded, heart in his throat as his mind skipped ahead to the possibilities that shouldn’t even be possibilities. “Yeah, that’s something I’ve never managed to quite forget,” he answered, his bitterness over his stupidity still very apparent in his voice. “The nanogenes rebuilt the child as best they could with the knowledge they had at hand.” Frowning, he stopped and stared hard at the Doctor. “You’re not telling me you found a stash of nanogenes that went haywire, are you?”

“No,” the Doctor answered flatly, lifting his head and shaking it slowly. “But a nanogene is a stupid bug compared to the TARDIS.”

His mouth hung open a bit. “The TARDIS? What the hell does that mean? The TARDIS did this to Rose?”

“Yeah, I think so,” the Doctor nodded, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. “And she knows no physiology better than Gallifreyan, so that’s how she’s kept Rose from dying. Just rebuilding her as a human wouldn’t have worked. There’s still enough of the Vortex zipping about inside her that it would only break down the repairs sooner or later. Evidently drastic measures were called for.”

Jack found it surprisingly hard to breathe. “So Rose… god. Are you telling me Rose is a Time Lord?”

The Doctor laughed, sharp and loud, the sound grating in the atmosphere that begged for quiet. “No. Not every Gallifreyan is… was a Time Lord. Believe it or not, that actually takes a bit of training. But the potential, the innate abilities… if she survives this… this bastardized regeneration the TARDIS has forced on her, she’ll have those, I have no doubt. Can’t see the TARDIS giving Rose anything but the top of the line Gallifreyan mind,” he spat disgustedly.

It took a lot of effort to wrap his brain around the idea that Rose–their beautiful, human Rose–was now something totally different. Of course, he’d also been dead an hour before, so it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. But then something else occurred to him.

“Wait. Shouldn’t you be… well, happy about this? I mean, not happy that it had to come to this, but Rose,” he gestured to her without thinking, “is alive and now… Christ. You don’t have to worry about her dying anymore, do you? Or is that a specific Time Lord thing?”

He felt his stomach lurch as the Doctor’s suddenly angry eyes focused on him. “Happy? Happy? Jack, I don’t think you understand the ramifications of what’s happened. Rose is–was–human. She knew that if she was lucky and medicine continued to advance and I didn’t get her killed, she might just make it to see a lifetime of a hundred years. Much beyond that was science fiction. That’s gone now, though. Yeah, her lifespan just increased by thousands of years most likely, but how’s she supposed to deal with that? She wasn’t born into a life that understands what it means to live that long. She’s going to have to watch Jackie and Mickey and even you grow old and die and she’s not going to age a day, Jack. How the bloody hell do you think she’s going to cope with that? You tell me how!” he finished, practically howling, his voice bouncing off the walls and giving Jack the irrational urge to cringe in fear.

“I don’t know,” he finally replied quietly, unnerved by the silence that seemed to tangibly pulse as the Doctor attempted to pull himself together. “But what I do know is that she’s got you to guide her. Seems like a step in the right direction at least. And besides,” he hesitated, wondering if he was taking his life in his hands by giving voice to the next words, “you love her, Doctor. That’s got to count for a lot. You’ll get her through this.”

The Doctor snorted derisively. “I’ve loved all my companions, Jack, but you lot still seem to either wander off or get yourself killed.”

Jack shook his head. “Don’t try to con a con, Doctor. You and I both know your feelings for Rose go way deeper than affection for a companion. Anyone would have to be blind not to see it. And god knows living in close quarters, the air practically stinks of it. She feels the same about you, too. So maybe, just maybe this isn’t the horrible thing you seem to think it is.”

“Bloody humans, so ready to blind themselves to the truth and jump off the cliff hoping something will catch them before they smash on the rocks,” the Doctor drawled sarcastically, standing and pacing like a caged animal. “You really don’t get it. When it sinks in what’s happened, what the consequences are going to be, Rose isn’t going to want anything to do with me. In fact, she’s probably going to hate me more than she’s ever hated anything in her entire life. I just single-handedly took away anything she’s ever loved, told her she can play at loving and being loved, but it will fade away long before she’s ready to let it go, no matter how much it hurts.”

Jack stood his ground as the Doctor’s last circuit brought them face to face. “I’m the selfish bastard that plucked her up from her normal little life with promises of adventure and threw her into all of this. I practically seduced her in every way but the most obvious, just because I couldn’t stand my own company without going insane anymore. I put the burden of teaching me to live again on the shoulders of a child Jack. What kind of monster does that make me?”

He shook his head. “No, Rose is going to run as far and as fast as she can and I don’t blame her one bit.”

With the recklessness that had often been his trademark, Jack snorted. “Me either. Can’t stand a man on a self-pity cruise to nowhere and I’m guessing Rose will feel the same when she wakes up.” He went on despite the tightening of the Doctor’s jaw. Good. He was a little angry himself. They’d all been through a lot, but none of them got to check out for a pity party. Not now.

“You did hear that part about when she wakes up, right?” he continued sarcastically. “Because I’m guessing she’s going to be confused and scared and it seems to me that anyone who loves her is going to be there to help her through this. Or am I blindly throwing myself off a cliff by thinking that?”

Almost dispassionately he watched the Doctor struggle with the urge to hit him. “Go ahead if it’ll make you feel better. I promise not to hold it against you. Much,” he drawled, an icy edge to his voice. The longer they argued over what was done instead of trying to help Rose, the angrier he became.

“Jack…” The warning note in the Doctor’s voice was crystal clear, but he couldn’t back down. One of them had to quite wallowing and be there for her.

“Sorry Doctor. I don’t want us to be at odds, but if I have to choose between pissing you off and making sure Rose has what she needs, I’m going to choose Rose every time,” he said forcefully, saddened that he even had to say it. But it was pretty clear that the Doctor wasn’t being especially rational at the moment. He held his breath, waiting for a response. When it came, the relief was so acute it was nearly painful.

“You’re right,” the Doctor murmured, the anger almost visibly leeching from him, leaving behind exhaustion and confusion. “I just… Jack, nothing like this has ever happened before. None of it. Rose is–was–just human. Just a human girl. And now… now I don’t even know what she is anymore.”

He sat heavily and once again dropped his head into his hands, shoulders slumped wearily. Unable to help himself, Jack went over and dropped a hand on his back. “It’s going to be okay, Doctor. No matter what, Rose will be Rose,” he reassured his friend and mentor, not knowing if it really would be or if it was all going to unravel very soon.
In the end, he had to believe it. If someone didn’t, all hope was lost.

The Doctor didn’t answer and silence descended. The vigil continued.


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Chapter 2: Cracks in the World

She wasn’t sure what woke her, but the journey from darkness to consciousness wasn’t an easy one. It felt a lot like the time the Doctor had taken her to Abruxertiusonara where the gravity was so much heavier than she was used to. It had been an effort just to breathe with all the forces of the planet pulling her down.

When her eyelids finally agreed to open, she had to blink several times before anything came into focus. The med lab on the TARDIS. Well okay, at least she knew where she was. Licking her lips, she tried to figure out how she’d gotten there, but her mind felt… fuzzy. Not the most telling description, but it was the best she could come up with.

It took more effort than she expected to sit up and she groaned aloud without meaning to. Something large and angry had to have run over her. Several times. She hissed again and managed to prop herself up on her elbows, as far as she was going to get for the moment. The effort just to get there made her feel weak and dizzy. Panting with the exertion, she tried to moisten her lips once more and call out.

“Doctor? Jack?” Her voice was little more than a raspy whisper, but the results were immediate. The Doctor’s head popped up–she hadn’t even realized he’d been asleep with his head on the side of the bed–his eyes wide and… fearful? God, did she look that bad? Or had something happened that she missed? For just a moment she felt panic skitter down her spine and knew he’d seen it when his expression quickly changed to something completely unreadable.

“Don’t try to talk, Rose. Your body’s been through a lot and you need all your strength,” he told her quietly as he stood and adjusted the bed so she didn’t have to hold herself up anymore. She wanted to ask a hundred questions about what had happened to all of them, but she knew he was right.

“Thirsty,” she murmured, smiling gratefully when he immediately moved away and came back with a cup of cool water. To her chagrin, he had to hold it to her lips. That’s when she realized his hand was shaking. And seeing his hand tremble made her aware of sensing something more. Like… like the Doctor… the TARDIS… it was as if they were holding their breath, waiting for something to happen. Afraid.

Her eyes shot to his, but he didn’t meet them and a second later she started to feel a warm lassitude spread through her body. He’d given her something. She knew it without a doubt. That wasn’t like the Doctor though, to give her something without explaining. And he was being… aloof. No, that wasn’t the right word exactly, but her mind was shutting down as her eyes drifted closed in spite of what she wanted.

The last thing she remembered before the darkness dragged her down was bone-deep fear.


The second time she woke up it was just as much of a struggle as the first, but as soon as she convinced her eyes to open, she realized things were different. Her mind felt much sharper, even though the edges were still a bit blurry. She glanced around almost warily, looking for the Doctor. He was nowhere to be seen. In fact, she was the only one in the room.

As before, she pushed herself up, but this time she managed to actually sit up without nearly passing out for her efforts. Still sore, though. Something definitely put her through the wringer. Frowning, she tried to focus on the last thing she could remember. There was Mickey and her mum and a big yellow truck. And the TARDIS. But no Doctor. Why?

She pushed harder against her reluctant memories despite the dull throb of a building headache. Nothing. Unknowingly clenching her hands into fists, she pushed again and gasped at the sudden explosion of images in her mind, crying out with the force of it all. Her body shook violently as tears ran down her face, the memory of the power filling her sweeping her away once again.

Until strong arms wrapped around her and anchored her to reality. “Shhh. Hang on, sweetheart. I’m here. You’re okay. Can’t promise many things in this life, but those are two I know for sure right now.”

Jack. The relief was nearly overwhelming. She clung to him until the storm in her mind waned to troubling images and even then it never occurred to her to let go. “Jack, what happened? What’s going on? The Doctor wouldn’t tell me anything and then he gave me something–“

“He what?” Jack demanded, staring at her in shock. Okay, so for some reason it seemed like the Doctor hadn’t told Jack she’d been awake. That was… odd.

She pulled back just enough to wipe her face with the sheet. “Yeah. I woke up, sort of and he was acting weird. But maybe it was me. I was pretty out of it. I don’t know how long ago it was, though. Probably a couple of hours or so.”

Jack looked rather like a fish out of water, his mouth opening and closing. “I’m guessing it was more than a couple of hours ago. You’ve been unconscious for nearly three days.”

“Three days?” she echoed, staring at him in shock. “But… why? What happened to me, Jack?”

He suddenly looked uncomfortable and that wary feeling she’d had earlier was back. There was something big neither Jack nor the Doctor wanted to tell her. “You really don’t remember?” he asked cautiously, his eyes concerned.

“Yes and no,” she sighed, lifting her fingers to rub at her temples. “It’s all there. I can practically touch it, but every time I try to sort through things it feels like my head is going to explode.”

Closing her eyes, she groped for the memories, regardless. “I… I think… oh god, we did it, didn’t we?” Eyes popping open, she turned a stunned gaze on him. “Mickey and Mum and me. I… god, the TARDIS, the Vortex… she was all inside me. In my head. And I was her.” Gold light swirled through her mind and she was suddenly living the memories as they flashed through her brain.

“Daleks! No, Doctor! I won’t let you,” she gasped, seeing him as he’d been when she’d arrived, surrounded by those repugnant, evil machines that begged to be wiped from all existence. She felt it all over again as she lifted her hands and destroyed the Daleks with a thought. Destroyed them and evened the balance by giving Jack the gift of life. And then…

“Rose! Rose, stop! You have to stop now, sweetheart!” Jack’s voice broke through the haze of her memories, his arms tight around her. And around them both the TARDIS was trembling violently, sending nearly everything not bolted down crashing to the floor.

Then another voice joined the fray. “What the bloody hell are you trying to do?!” the Doctor shouted as he skidded around a doorway and into the room, the shaking growing even more violent.

The swirling gold in her mind wouldn’t let her answer. Wouldn’t let her do anything but drown in its beauty and really, why would she want to do anything else? There was power there, but because of the power, peace. And it was the peace that drew her, drowning out the voices of the two men trying to pull her away. Just a bit more and the gold wouldn’t just be a whisper in her mind anymore. It would fill her, consume her…

Then there was a shout and a stab of pain lanced up her arm. Confused, she glanced down just in time to see the Doctor pulling a long needle away. “What… why?” she asked, looking up at him with hurt eyes. He was so angry, so cold, that she shied away, seeking out the warmth and protection of Jack’s arms.

“You were about to pull the TARDIS apart trying to reach the Vortex,” he snapped, glaring at her as she felt a familiar warmth creeping through her body. He’d drugged her again. And this time with consciousness, the gold was slipping away. She wept with the loss.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she sobbed, incoherent and lost in confusion. She hadn’t meant to do anything. Hadn’t meant to make him angry, hurt the TARDIS. Hadn’t meant…

She slumped over in Jack’s arms, missing the furious glares both men were shooting each other over her head.


Both hearts pounding double-time, he leaned heavily on the side of the bed as Jack laid Rose back on the pillows once more. It had been such a close thing. A few more seconds and the TARDIS would have been ripped open and destroyed. All because a stupid human couldn’t stay put when he’d told her to.

Furious, he turned and slammed the empty syringe back on the counter. Stupid ape. If she’d stayed home with her mum and made herself fat on a life of telly and chips while the TARDIS rotted in some unnamed back alley, she wouldn’t have had a neural implosion that tripped her connection to the Vortex. And he wouldn’t be overwhelmed with guilt that was eating away at him like some cannibalistic disease, determined to consume him and prodding him to lash out at those who least deserved it.

Jack’s voice shattered his silent raging. “What the hell is wrong with you?” his companion demanded. “I know you had to stop it and fast, but you hurt her. And it was clear she didn’t understand. She didn’t know what she was doing. But you looked at her like… like… god. It made my skin crawl. I hope to hell she doesn’t remember it when she wakes up.”

He flinched at Jack’s words, knowing the truth of them, but even with his saner self screaming in his mind to stop what he was doing before he did it, he let the walls of ice creep higher around his soul. “I hope she does remember,” he said coldly, turning and pinning Jack with a look. “Maybe if she does remember, she won’t nearly kill us every time her mind wanders.”

“Doctor…” Jack’s voice cut through him like a knife, but he refused to show it. He couldn’t afford to be human about what had happened. Turning, he watched dispassionately as Jack wiped a trickle of blood from Rose’s arm. The skin had torn when he brutally jammed the needle into her tender flesh. One drop had fallen to the white sheet next to her, making a livid mark, bright and accusing.

He’d spilled her blood. He’d taken her life. And for what? He was like some pathetic addict, unable to see reason where Rose was concerned and this is what his weakness had wrought. She wasn’t his Rose anymore. Not really. He didn’t know who or what she’d be when she woke up. It was even possible the change could drive her mad. So many questions and for once, he didn’t have the answers. It unnerved him to no end.

Jack finished his task and glanced at him, accusation and hurt in his eyes. “So now what?” he asked softly, his hand rhythmically brushing over Rose’s hair. “How do we keep what just happened from happening again? Without drugging her,” he added, a dangerous glint in his eyes.

His first instinct was to reply that there was nothing to be done, but that wasn’t true. There was something he could do–wanted to do, now that he thought of it–but he knew Jack wouldn’t take it well. Which meant he couldn’t–wouldn’t–take the time to explain. He was tired of being second-guessed by everyone and everything around him.

“Move,” he said shortly. “Don’t touch either of us while I do this.” Ignoring the look on Jack’s face, the tightening of his jaw, he stepped forward and slid his hands into Rose’s hair on either side of her head, refusing to let himself soften at the feel of her. Touching Rose had always been his undoing. Closing his eyes, he slid into her mind, found what he was looking for and made adjustments with cold, surgical precision.

“What did you do?” Jack asked grimly as he stepped away from Rose and took a deep breath. Her mind had been terrifyingly familiar. Not as Rose’s mind–although she was definitely in there–but as a Gallifreyan’s. The change made him feel physically ill. His Rose was human. This Rose was anything but. He swallowed and forced his attention back to Jack.

“I cut off the pathways to her memories of what happened while she held the Vortex. She’ll probably still be able to sense it, but without the link of the memory, I don’t think she’ll be able to inadvertently try to–“ His world exploded in a flash of pain as Jack’s fist connected with his face and sent him sprawling to the floor.

“You bastard,” his companion hissed furiously, looming over him with eyes full of rage. “You took her memories. Raped her mind.”

He watched as Jack physically struggled for control before he spoke again. “Swear to me, Doctor, that there was no other way. Swear you couldn’t have… taught her to control it somehow. Or at least explained to her what you needed to do. Swear to me that none of that was possible.”

Jaw set, he pushed himself up, touching a finger to the corner of his lip where the skin had split, warm blood dribbling in a thin line down his face. “I can’t,” he said flatly. “It’s possible she could have figured out how to stop it with my help, but I couldn’t assume that. The best way to assure our safety was to deal with it and be done.”

He’d never seen Jack look angrier, but this time he only staggered back when the blow fell. “That’s two,” he growled, rage bubbling up and looking for an escape; an outlet to find release from everything he was feeling. “You don’t get a third. I promise you that.”

Jack stared at him, expressions of pain and anger flashing across his face. “I don’t know who you are,” he finally said softly. “The Doctor I knew would never have done that Rose. Never would have done that to me. They took my memories. How did you expect me to just accept this as what had to be done? To Rose, for god’s sake. I thought you loved her!”

He looked over at her, laid out on the bed, her hair dangling over the side and looking utterly at peace. He wanted to go to her, take her in his arms and never let her go, but he couldn’t. The turmoil inside him kept him away.

“She’s not my Rose anymore,” he said flatly, then turned and walked away.


The third time Rose woke up, she felt like she was waking from a particularly good night’s sleep, refreshed and overflowing with energy. She sat up and swung her legs over to dangle off the side of the bed just as Jack walked in and froze at the sight of her.

“You know, if you two don’t stop lookin’ at me like I’d break a mirror, I’m gonna get a complex.” Wrinkling her nose, she reached up and cautiously felt her face, wondering for a moment if she’d been horribly disfigured or something. But no, everything felt normal.

A grin slowly broke over Jack’s face and he was next to her in two strides, pulling her into his arms and hugging her until she squeaked. “Hey, no bruising the ribs,” she laughed, squirming against him. “I want to get out of here, not check in for a longer visit. In fact, who’s a girl got to kiss to get a shower and chance to brush her teeth?”

“Well, I’d say me, but I’m not so much for the fuzzy teeth,” Jack laughed, making her grin from ear to ear. Everything had to be okay if Jack was teasing her. But then again, Jack had still been joking about when he went off to face the Daleks…

She frowned and pulled back, a niggling worry in the back of her mind that something monumental had occurred and she was totally in the dark. “What happened?”

“Rose…” Jack started, then stopped and stepped away, running a hand through his hair. “I can’t… Hell. The Doctor needs to explain this, not me.” And then he was back as quickly as he’d stepped away, gripping her arms with a quiet urgency that frightened her. “Just promise that no matter what, you’ll remember that everything is okay. You’re here, you’re Rose and it’s just… okay.”

Eyes wide, she stared up at him. “Jack… I… what hap-“

“Please don’t, Rose. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. I do. And I’ll make sure it happens, but it really needs to be him that tells you.”

Jack looked so worried and concerned that she couldn’t do anything but nod slowly as she tried to quell the rising tide of panic. Something was very, very wrong. She could feel it deep down inside herself in a way that she’d never felt before.

“Do you think it would be okay if I at least got cleaned up and dressed? If the world is gonna end soon, I’d at least like to have on a clean pair of knickers,” she said with a weak attempt at humor. If it was possible, she loved Jack even more for winking at her in response and pressing a kiss to the top of her head.


“Rose is awake.”

He watched with a carefully neutral expression as the Doctor flinched, nodded and continued fiddling with the console. They hadn’t said a word to each other since the argument in the med lab the day before over the Doctor tampering with Rose’s memory. Fact was that he was still enraged that the man he considered his best friend would do such a thing, but under the circumstances, that issue would have to wait. What was done was done, at least for the moment. So he watched. Watched and then waited until he couldn’t stand it anymore. “And…?”

The Doctor shot him an irritated look. “And what? I’m assuming you’d tell me if something was wrong, so she must be all right. Doesn’t need me for alright.”

He was fairly sure that a few more days of gritting his teeth and he’d either break one or his jaw. He wasn’t taking bets on which would give first. “How long are you going to do this, Doctor? Act like she’s some stranger that you couldn’t care less about? We’re talking about Rose.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of havin’ the same conversation over and over Jack? I know I do. Or maybe it’s just a human thing, repeatin’ yourself until your ears bleed.”

Jack closed his eyes. It was like beating his head against a brick wall. No matter what he said or did, the Doctor had shut himself up nice and tight and nothing seemed to penetrate. It was like he couldn’t allow himself to worry or care about Rose anymore. The reasons for it escaped him, but he knew a scared man when he saw one and the Doctor was positively terrified.

He ignored the sarcasm and pushed through. “Look, she’s awake, she’s coherent and she knows something is wrong. She asked me to tell her what happened, but hell, I’m still not totally clear on it myself. Besides, if she has… regenerated somehow, you’re the only one that can explain it to her.”

The Doctor’s shoulders hunched. “I’m busy. Give her a sedative.”

Jack’s jaw dropped. He wouldn’t have been more shocked if the Doctor opened the door and tossed him out into the Vortex. “You can’t be serious. You want me to drug Rose because you’re not ready or willing to answer her questions?” Reeling didn’t even begin to cover it. For a minute he wondered if Rose wasn’t the only one zapped by the Vortex. The man standing across the room from him bore very little resemblance to the one he’d practically hero-worshipped for months now.

He took a deep breath. “Doctor… she’s scared.”

The heavy silence was shattered as the Doctor slammed his foot into the open toolbox, tools sliding over and through the metal grating of the floor. “Yeah, well, she’s not the only one.” He held up a hand before Jack could say anything else.

“Just… give me a few minutes. Make some tea or somethin’ and I’ll… I’ll be there. Just need a few minutes,” he repeated softly.

Jack felt his heart break a little bit at the Doctor’s defeated stance and wondered if this was why emotional entanglements were something the other man tried to avoid. His coping abilities were… non-existent. It seemed that if he couldn’t just bury it and ignore it, he was completely unable to deal with the situation around him.

With a sigh, he turned back to the corridor fatalistically wondering how long it would take before everything completely imploded around them.


When they found Rose, it was thanks to the TARDIS, because she hadn’t been in her room or any of her usual haunts around the ship. Where they found her set his teeth on edge. His private study, something he hadn’t introduced to Rose or Jack. It was where he kept the books with material too sensitive for ‘public’ consumption, as well as most of the materials he’d used during the long years of his training back on Gallifrey. The only way Rose could have gotten inside was if the TARDIS let her in after leading her to it.

It was on his lips to snap at her, asking her what the hell she thought she was doing, but before he could say a word, she looked up, her eyes locking with his. He felt lost all over again. She was just so… Rose. Everything about her looked normal. Her hair was damp from a shower and he could smell the warm, floral scent coming off her. T-shirt, jeans, thick socks–she always complained about how cold the floors of the TARDIS were–everything seemed so right.

But it wasn’t. He didn’t think it ever would be again.

All of that went through his mind in a split-second before her eyes narrowed at him and his hearts jumped a beat. She knew something. Or thought she did. He knew that look.

“So, before you two start handin’ me some line about what’s been goin’ on, you might want answer a few questions for me. Like why I can hear the TARDIS. I know she’s been messin’ around in my head since I first stepped on board, but this is different. I can hear her. Not words, but… feelings. And if I touch her,” she reached over and stroked her fingertips over the wall, “it’s that much stronger.”

He stared, feeling dizzy. He’d suspected Rose’s bond with the TARDIS would be strong, given that they’d been a part of each other, but this… She didn’t give him time to respond before she launched another salvo.

“And then there’re the books.” She poked at a stack of four thick textbooks sitting at her elbow. “I was curious when I came in since I’d never seen this room before and I picked one up. And in,” she glanced at the ormolu clock on the desk, “half an hour, I read all four. How many pages do think that makes? No, never mind. I already did the math.”

She paused and crossed her arms over her chest before tossing the final bombshell. “And did I mention they’re not in English or any human language that I know of?”

He could feel Jack freeze next to him and knew he was on his own. It wasn’t Jack’s responsibility anyway. He’d inadvertently done this to Rose and now he had to make her understand. The weight of it was killing him, because that trust she’d always given him was about to die a horrible death.

“Do you remember me sendin’ you away from the Game Station…”


She sat there and stared at the Doctor, feeling like she was stuck in some strange dream that was slowly turning into a nightmare. Something was wrong. Badly, badly wrong. And being able to ‘hear’ the TARDIS and read like a computer weren’t even the worst parts. There was something wrong with the Doctor. The way he wouldn’t quite meet her eyes, but when he accidentally did, there was something hard and angry there that she hadn’t seen since she so naïvely mucked up the timeline back in 1987.

What could she have done that was so awful? And that she couldn’t even remember?

She nodded as he asked his question. “Yeah. You lied to me to get me in the TARDIS and then had that stupid emergency program tell me goodbye,” she said accusingly without meaning to. But god, that had hurt.

“Exactly,” he said sharply, drawing her back to the present, chilled by the sharp edge in his voice. With rare exceptions, she wasn’t used to that tone being directed at her. “And I told you to stay there, have a life and let the TARDIS rot. But you didn’t listen to me, did you?” He paused and the knife twisted in her gut at the look of anguish on his face. “Why didn’t you listen?”

She was barely aware of Jack in the room, the tension between she and the Doctor was so thick. “I… I couldn’t. I couldn’t let you die up there while I sat around ‘havin’ a life’. I couldn’t let you die without tryin’, Doctor. You know I couldn’t.”

In the back of her mind she felt a light pressure and instinctively knew it was the TARDIS, trying to offer some comfort or support, but very little was going to help in the face of the Doctor’s icy disapproval. He wore it like a cloak that nothing would penetrate and it terrified her.

“So what next, Rose? How’d you do it?” he prompted, aloof and as alien as she’d ever seen him.

“I…” She faltered. What had happened next? “I… Mum. And Mickey. They… oh!” Her head shot up as she remembered. “The TARDIS! They helped me open the console and then… then…”

No, there was nothing, even squeezing her eyes shut and reaching desperately for anything that might remind her. With a loud sigh she finally gave up, opening her eyes to see both Jack and the Doctor glancing about warily, as if they expected something awful to happen any moment.

“What?” Neither of them said anything, but glanced at one another with something akin to relief on the Doctor’s part and anger on Jack’s. “Stop it! And somebody tell me what the hell’s goin’ on! I’m serious!” she yelled at them, frustration swamping her.

After a second, Jack stepped forward, but the Doctor cut him off before he could say anything. “No, I said I’d do this and I will,” he said cryptically, crossing his arms over his chest and pinning her with a fierce look.

“You looked into the heart of the TARDIS, Rose. You looked into the time Vortex and with that power runnin’ through you, you came back to the Game Station.” The speed and intensity of his words grew as he spoke and she felt a cold wave of fear flood through, her heart racing. Actually, it felt really odd, like there was an echo of her heartbeat, but…

You were Bad Wolf. You threw the words out like breadcrumbs. But that was just the appetizer. For your main course, you destroyed the Daleks. Every. Last. One.”

She stopped breathing, her brain unwilling to function in the face of what he was telling her.

“Oh, but let’s not forget dessert! To top off the evening you resurrected Jack and then died in my arms. Believe me, it’s not an evening I’ll soon forget.”

There was a roaring in her ears that only seemed to get louder, but she still heard the warning note in Jack’s voice as he took a step toward the Doctor. “Stop it. It doesn’t have to be like this unless you force it. For god’s sake look at her,” he hissed furiously. She didn’t quite understand what he meant. There was so much to take in.

“I… I died?” she asked, voice trembling along with the rest of her body from head to toe. “Then how… how am I here now?” Terrified she knew the answer already, she silently pleaded with the Doctor to deny that he’d gone back and changed something he shouldn’t have to save her. She knew first hand what mucking about with time could do and if he’d done something he regretted…

His eyes slid away from hers to look down at the ground. “The TARDIS,” he said flatly, ignoring Jack, an unmovable island unto himself. “I couldn’t get all the Vortex out of you and what was left was killin’ you. Nobody’s meant to have that kind of power runnin’ through ‘em. Especially not a human. So she rebuilt you so you could handle it.”

Rose shook her head, feeling like she was on the verge of passing out. It was too much. “I don’t… I don’t understand. How could the TARDIS do that? Why…?”

In one long stride he was across the room, jerking her up out of the chair, his fingers like manacles around her upper arms. She heard Jack exclaim, but all she could see or hear or smell or sense was the Doctor. He overwhelmed her.

“Why? Why?!” He laughed and the sound was a little insane. “Because she couldn’t bear to see one more thing I loved taken away from me, stupid, sentimental thing that she is,” he spat furiously. “Because you, you stupid little ape, have more heart than good sense and were just as determined to save me. I wasn’t worth it!” he shouted, giving her a little shake to punctuate the intensity.

And then Jack was in between them, cursing and shoving the Doctor back before gathering her in his arms as she cried, hot tears slipping down her face. So much anger and pain and she still didn’t really understand why. If the Daleks were gone and all three of them were alive and well…

Jack gently pulled her down into the chair and knelt in front of her, wiping the tears off her cheeks. “Listen to me, sweetheart. I’m gonna explain this as best I can. You remember the nanogenes? Well, what the TARDIS did was something like that. But rebuilding your body like a normal human’s wasn’t an option, so as far as we can tell, she did the next best thing and rebuilt you like the Doctor’s people. That’s what she knows the best anyway.”

She watched as he glanced back over at the Doctor furiously before turning to her again, his hands lifting to gently cup her cheeks. “The thing to remember though is that you’re still Rose. No matter what your biology is, no matter how that changes things, you’re still our Rose. It’ll all take some getting used to, yeah, but we can do that.”

Sniffling, she tried to focus and think about what he’d just said. “Jack… I… Are you tellin’ me I’m not… not human anymore?” she asked slowly, trying to digest the idea, but the overload was so much that all she was starting to feel numb.

“No, you’re not,” he said softly, slipping his hands down to take hers and squeezing reassuringly. It occurred to her that it was odd that Jack was doing that and not the Doctor. He’d retreated to the doorway and was leaning against it, shoulders hunched, arms crossed and expression grim. He was furious with her. She would have had to be unconscious not to feel it.

“But what does it mean?” she asked a little desperately. For all the time she’d spent with the Doctor, she knew very little about him or his people. He was brilliant, rarely slept, had more energy than the average terrier, obsessed about his ship, his sonic screwdriver and was over nine hundred… Her thoughts ground down to a halt. There had also been a brief discussion after one particularly near miss about Time Lords and a little trick they had to ‘cheat’ death. In fact, now that she thought about it, she remembered the Doctor mumbling something about not always having ‘this daft old face’.

Her stomach turned over. If there had been anything in it, she would have been sick right then and there. Jack must have realized, because he pulled her into his arms and rocked her against his chest, right there on the floor. “What does it mean?” she repeated, dazed by it all and only wanting to close her eyes and make it all go away.

Jack hissed something at the Doctor, but she didn’t let it register. Couldn’t. She knew what complete overload felt like because she was drowning it.

The Doctor’s sigh pulled her back in.

“I don’t know what it means, Rose,” he muttered. “Nothin’ like this has ever happened before that I know of.” He sighed again. “You already know more than you think. Better stamina, less sleep, more or less immune to a lot of poisons and toxins and such, two hearts–“

“Two hearts?” She sat up straighter, hand pressed to her chest. “That’s why… god, I thought it was stress or somethin’.” Slumping back against Jack’s shoulder, she closed her eyes and listened to the alien rhythm of her own heart. Hearts. She shuddered. It was too much.

“And what else?” she asked faintly. “Am I gonna live to be nine hundred now, too?”

There was a heavy silence that lasted long enough that she opened her eyes. The Doctor was staring at her, the shield of anger lowered for just an instant. She saw him slam it back in place as soon as he realized she was looking, but she’d seen the pain and anguish, the fear and guilt and surprisingly, a tiny flicker of hope.

“Possibly,” he finally replied enigmatically. “If you don’t get yourself killed before then, even likely.”

Jack’s arms tightened around her comfortingly. She nodded. It was like she was listening to each fact, mentally taking it down, but not digesting it yet. Later. When she had time to think by herself. “What if I do? We all know I’m pretty jeopardy friendly. Isn’t that what you called me? What happens to you lot when you die?”

The sound of leather sliding down the door frame was loud in the otherwise quiet room as the Doctor sank to the floor. “We just die, Rose,” he said wearily. “But before that… most of the time we regenerate. It’s complicated, but there’s an… energy that’s released when our body breaks down to a point humans would consider dead. And that energy sort of… rearranges everything. New body, new personality, new likes and dislikes, but the mind is still mainly the same. We remember everything–more or less–and are still the same person as before, really. Sort of like changing an old, worn out jumper, I suppose.”

She wondered a bit hysterically if he was going to tell her next that she’d end up with two heads or a third eye or something equally alien and bizarre, but he’d stopped speaking. “Are you sayin’ that’s gonna happen to me someday? I’ll be me but… not?”

He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know. It’s possible, although I doubt your body could withstand twelve regenerations. The energy that’s released is… well, beyond massive.”

It was Jack’s turn to look startled. “Twelve? Seriously? And what number are you on?” he asked, looking reluctantly curious. She fought down a bubble of hysterical laughter. It was just so out of place given the discussion, but the need to break down somehow–whether by laughing until she had to be drugged to stop or throwing herself out the door into the Vortex–was growing stronger and stronger.

“Nine,” the Doctor snapped, pushing himself up off the floor and standing. Jack flinched and stiffened “And don’t bother askin’ how I got this far. I’m not in the mood to cater to your prurient interests.” Okay, scrap the laughter. Even though she hadn’t been the one to ask the question, she just wanted to curl up and cry at the unnecessary harshness of the answer.

The voice that she loved so much cracked over them like a whiplash once more. “Feed her and put her to bed Jack. She needs her rest. I have work to do.”

And he was gone.

She fatalistically wondered if he would have preferred that she had died.

Back to index

Chapter 3: Shattering

Author's Notes: Dark. Dark, dark, dark. Can't say it enough. Also note that the rating has been changed to NC-17 for this chapter. My everlasting thanks to Membio and Malaleen for so much hep with this story.

He hadn’t seen Rose in a week and it was driving him insane. Well, further toward the precipice, at least. He wasn’t sure he’d been sane since the moment he confronted the Dalek emperor. But now he couldn’t concentrate on much of anything and half the tinkering he did on the TARDIS was such an utter disaster that Jack had to stoically go back and fix it. Life had become quite a nightmare.

Footfalls broke his mental meanderings and he looked up from his tea to see Jack, grim and drawn, carrying an untouched plate of food back into the kitchen. “Don’t push it, Jack,” he sighed. “She’ll eat. It’s not like she’s trying to kill herself in there.”

Jack whirled on him. “You sure about that? Since you’ve spent so much time with her and all, guess you know exactly what you’re talking about.”

He instinctively pulled back, Jack’s attack taking him by surprise. “I know Rose. She wouldn’t–“ The plate shattering against the wall, stopping him in his tracks. Shards of pottery and globs of food dotted half the surfaces in the small kitchen.

“Don’t,” Jack snarled. “You can’t have it both ways. Don’t tell me you know Rose and then turn around and tell me she’s not Rose anymore. Pick one and stick with it. Either accept what she is now or drop her back at home. This nightmare is going to drive us all fucking insane if you keep it up.”

Then Jack left.

One of them always seemed to be stalking out of a room since Rose had been changed.

With a groan the Doctor let his head fall back and his eyes close. Jack was right. They couldn’t go on like this, which meant he was going to have to find a way to deal with Rose. On one level, he knew he was being wildly unreasonable, but he couldn’t seem to overcome it. He knew what regeneration meant; he’d been through it often enough. People changed more than just their faces. Personalities shifted and altered. The thought of Rose not being Rose terrified him beyond all reason. Right or wrong, she’d rebuilt him from the soul out in the time she’d been with him. The very idea that that Rose could be gone left him floundering in the dark. So he kept her at a distance, afraid to let her close for fear she would show herself changed and cripple him completely. Still the coward every time.

Still, sending her away wasn’t an option. As ridiculous as it sounded, given his attitude and his fears, he needed Rose close. Jack didn’t know it, but the Doctor had never been as far away from her as he’d seemed. He hadn’t been able to help himself. Their common connection with the TARDIS made it easy for him to keep tabs on her, especially with his ship so willing and him so desperate for a glimpse of her.

Beyond that, he’d kept vigil outside her door every night after Jack staggered away to sleep for a few hours. He’d spent hours on the floor leaning against the wall, listening to Rose cry, rage, curse and even fall into an exhausted sleep at times. When that happened he carefully crept in and sat next to her, stroking her hair and just watching her breathe.

Sanity was obviously not his bosom companion at the moment.

But the worst had been the night she called Jackie to let her know she was still alive. Rose had fallen apart when her mother apparently started pushing her to come home and she wouldn’t–couldn’t, really–explain why that wasn’t an option. He was sure that’s when certain truths became painfully clear. She was going to live while those around her grew old, infirm and died. Jackie, Mickey, Shireen… everyone. He’d listened to every cry of denial as she tore her room to shreds behind the door; each cry, each crash slicing his soul like a razor, but still he hadn’t been able to go to her. He was terrified of what she’d become. And what it meant for him.

So he kept his vigil each night until the TARDIS alerted him Jack was approaching, then he’d slip away into the shadows and silently die a little death for what he’d done to his bright, shining Rose. He’d become completely impotent in the worst sort of way.

The Doctor slammed his fists down on the table as something occurred to him. Pathetic! He was worse than the dumbest ape that wandered around that brilliant blue mudball that Rose called home. There had been a solution right under his nose, but it never occurred to him. As much as he railed against the change in her, he’d forgetting she was essentially Galllifreyan now. His jaw tightened as he thought of what she was and was not anymore, but he pushed the bitter thoughts back as he stood, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand.

The Zero Room. He’d finally rebuilt the full room in his eighth incarnation when the first whispers of war had come from home. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it before now, but then again, he hadn’t allowed himself the solace of that space after the war, forcing himself to physically acclimate to a difficult regeneration through time and pain. After all, he didn’t deserve to be comforted on any level. At least that’s what he’d felt at the time.

Rose was different, though. Cursing himself for his idiocy in half a dozen different languages, he stalked down the hall toward her room. His own particular brand of insanity led him to make some colossal mistakes, but this was one he could fix. He hoped.

The Zero Room was like nothing Rose had ever experienced in her travels with the Doctor. When he’d first come bursting into her room, she’d barely noticed. The confusion and fear and depression over the last few days had been more than she could cope with The only stay against a complete breakdown was retreating into her own head and trying to shut out the worst of her fears.

Still, they came. She wasn’t human anymore. The statement was simple, but comprehension was difficult. She’d known she might die traveling with the Doctor, but somehow being changed, not being human any longer? That had never figured into the equation and was infinitely more terrifying. How was she supposed to cope? What was she supposed to do? Stay with the Doctor forever? That might have been an option before, but she was afraid he didn’t want her anymore. And then what? Go back home and…? Eventually someone was going to notice that she wasn’t aging. Would she have to go into hiding to keep from being noticed by the wrong people and end up a specimen in a lab? Oh god and what about her Mum and Mickey and Shireen? She pictured herself standing at each of their gravesites, their bodies old and withered in their coffins while she still looked like a teenager and she wanted to be sick. That’s now how it was supposed to be.

More than once she thought of meeting Cassandra and her own pride in being fully human, unlike the much tucked trampoline. Granted, she looked human, but evidently like the Doctor, it was simply an illusion.

The Doctor. Even in the darkness of her own mind, she flinched away from thoughts of him. He’d looked at her with such bitterness, such utterly betrayal in those piercing blue eyes and she didn’t understand why. Not really. What hurt most of all was how he avoided her.

And then there was Jack. He was frantic to help her, to get her back to being Rose again, but as guilty as she felt, there was nothing she could do. It was all just too much. She was so very tired. Tired of the fear, tired of the guilt, tired of her body and mind not even feeling like her own. Just drifting away into nothingness seemed like the easiest most comforting option.

That’s where she was when the Doctor stormed into her room, startling Jack. Rose just closed her eyes. She couldn’t face whatever emotion was on the Doctor’s face. It just took too much energy. Sound was more difficult to shut out, though. As if from far away, she heard Jack and the Doctor talking, Jack’s tone harsh and accusing, the Doctor’s flat and matter-of-fact. Still, she didn’t even try to comprehend their words. It was all too much.

She was drifting off to a place that wasn’t quite sleeping, but not quite awake when strong arms scooped her up off the bed. The Doctor. There was no mistaking the cool leather of his jacket under her cheek and the double thrum of his hearts a bit below. For a moment she tensed, but what was the point of fighting him?

The moment they stepped into the room, she knew it; felt it in her bones. There was peace in the room. The kind that sunk into and through you and given enough time, would melt away all the monsters that lurked in the shadows. Forgetting about the Doctor and Jack, Rose latched onto that feeling and clung to it with all her might, her natural fighting spirit asserting itself with a glimmer of hope to fuel it.

Maybe, just maybe everything would be alright.

When Rose emerged from the Zero room nearly a week later–two full weeks after the incident on the Game station–she looked so incredibly normal that the Doctor was taken aback. He’d expected… well, he hadn’t known what to expect. Standing uncertainly in the doorway to the console room, dressed in her trademark jeans and t-shirt, she’d smiled at him. Without thinking, he turned away. Seeing Rose smile like everything was alright, knowing it wasn’t and that it was his fault that she’d changed… it was nearly too painful to bear.

He didn’t see her bite her lip and suddenly look up at the ceiling, fighting tears at his rejection. He didn’t see her unusual hesitance, then her shoulders slump as she looked at his back and shivered as if she were cold. No, all that he saw when he finally turned was Rose in Jack’s arms then Jack leading her over the console, trying his best to put a good face on everything.

What really galled him–ridiculous as it was–was that Jack never let go of Rose’s hand. He stood there listening to Jack natter on and could barely drag his eyes away from their entwined fingers. It wasn’t that Jack hadn’t held her hand before, but now it felt… It felt like a betrayal. Rose was supposed to be holding his hand and looking to him for comfort. Not Jack.

Feeling an irrational darkness rising, the Doctor roughly worked the console, sending them hurtling off to their first destination since... their last fateful adventure. His mind shied away from once again contemplating what had happened on the Game Station and he suddenly knew that he had to set down somewhere and breathe, away from his companions. He got a grim bit of satisfaction out of seeing them both scrabble for a hold while he stood firm, like a seasoned captain riding unpredictable waves with no effort.

Then they had arrived and with barely a word, he was out the door, trying to inhale past a suffocated feeling and refusing to feel guilty for the shocked expressions on Jack and Rose’s faces. He put miles between himself and the TARDIS, rather feeling like he was going mad, but in the end had little time to dissect his feelings before a dull rumble like approaching thunder drew his attention.

“Fantastic,” he muttered flatly, glancing up to see several hundred soldiers cresting the hill and flowing down toward him like overgrown ants. It seemed that in his haste to get out of the TARDIS, he’d inadvertently put them down in the middle of a battle And of course he’d wandered far enough that was there was no dashing inside for safety.

It seemed that even if one Time Lord and two fragile humans were still reeling from their recent experiences, Time was intent on moving them forward, regardless. Within hours Jack and Rose had come for him and once again the three were working together, saving the world, saving a civilization and falling into their old roles like nothing had changed.

The Doctor, though, noticed something had indeed changed. When they made their way back to the TARDIS two days later, Rose was holding Jack’s hand again, leaning against his shoulder. Trying to ignore the strange, tight feeling in his chest, the Doctor reminded himself that he had his hands full, fiddling with the sonic screwdriver that seemed to have developed a short after the last blast. If he was that much more curt and brusque with Jack and Rose, he refused notice it. He refused to look at them, so he didn’t notice the frustrated look on Jack’s face or the hurt on Rose’s.

A week later, they were in the thick of things once more, trudging through the jungles of Kjorax Six to find a ceremonial crystal needed to save the heir to the throne. It was Jack that kept Rose from tumbling into a pit of flesh-eating Zeelibegs, because he’d been holding her hand when she stumbled. The Doctor couldn’t help but think that if Rose had been holding his hand, she never would have stumbled in the first place. He ignored the odd, tight feeling in his chest once more.

And so it went, time after time. He watched Rose gravitate closer to Jack, never once admitting to himself that it was his own cold silences that pushed her away as surely as if he’d put his hands on her shoulders and shoved. He never saw the hundred looks of grief from Rose’s brown eyes as she struggled to understand why he’d so completely pulled away from her. He never saw Jack’s frustration and anger at being unable to bridge the gap. No, the Doctor refused to see anything through the haze of guilt and pain that he’d worn like armor since the events on the game station.

Rose eventually asked to be taken home to see her mother. The Doctor obliged without question, having known the request would come eventually. Truth be told, he was relieved. Not about Rose talking to Jackie. Honestly, he was perfect happy not contemplating that conversation or being on the same planet when it happened. What was a relief was the idea of Rose being out of the TARDIS for a bit. The tight feeling in his chest had become a constant companion and having room to breathe would be a welcome feeling.

At least that’s what he thought until he watched her go to the door and hesitate. He could see the look on her face and the trepidation she was feeling communicated itself easily. She wasn’t human anymore and Earth–familiar, comfortable Earth–was no longer her safe haven. And that hurt her so very much.

Come with me. The Doctor flinched as the words softly stole into his mind and wondered if Rose realized the TARDIS had linked them psychically. Probably not. In fact, the words were probably drawn from her subconscious altogether.

Come with me, he heard again, the words laced with worry and fear, pain and confusion. She was so lost in what she’d become, floundering to understand and accept that he felt the walls he’d built around himself begin to crack. Without evening thinking, the Doctor slowly lowered the mallet in his hand to the console and moved to step around it, to go to Rose.

Then Jack came in, all smiles and bounce and swinging Rose’s laundry bag over his shoulder. “I figured you might want this, Gorgeous,” he quipped. “You’ll hurt Jackie’s feelings if you don’t bring her laundry…”

The Doctor watched stoically as Jack trailed off then glanced back at the console and then Rose. “Am I interrupting something?”

Rose smiled bemusedly. So she hadn’t realized she was projecting. Just as well. He didn’t realize how tight his grip was on the console as she smiled at Jack.

“I’ll make it up t’her by bringin’ you along,” she said to him. Then she held out her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Come with me?” Without hesitation, Jack took her hand.

The Doctor felt the tightness in his chest break, allowing something much darker and more dangerous to bubble up. He didn’t see Jack and Rose look at him with concern before finally leaving. He didn’t know he nodded curtly. All he could see was Jack’s hand entwined with Rose’s, that simple gesture seeming to represent everything he’d lost. Again.

Every bit the Oncoming Storm, he turned and walked out of the room.

When Rose returned to the TARDIS a few hours later, she was half surprised to see it sitting in the same spot where she and Jack had left it. The look on the Doctor’s face… she couldn’t even put words to it, but it had left her heart pounding. She wouldn’t have been shocked if he’d left them. Ever since she’d changed, he had too. He’d distanced himself more and more, spoken less and when he did, the words were always sharp and curt, designed to draw blood.

But then sometimes she’d find him watching her, such naked longing on his face that it almost moved her to try and bridge the gap. Almost. Because on the rare occasion he’d realized she’d seen him, he became even colder and more distant. Time after time, she’d almost gone to him anyway, demanded he talk to her, tell her what was so horribly wrong. But then each time she hesitated and hated herself for it. She never would have hesitated before. It was just that everything still felt so new and raw and the barrier between them so high, that she played the coward. She missed her Doctor so badly it hurt; all the more because this ‘new’ Doctor left her feeling battered and bruised and weary.

Sometimes after Jack said goodnight, she’d roll over and sob into her pillow just for the release. Everything was so alien. She had become alien. Each morning Rose woke up to a strange heartbeat; a different sound as she took a deep breath, air filling her lungs; a mind that sensed so much she could barely comprehend it; a body that felt everything differently. Nothing even tasted quite the same. So every day she forced herself out of bed. Forced herself to shower, dress, put on a smile and cope. And every day that she met the Doctor’s wall of impersonal ice, it became a little harder to do.

If it weren’t for Jack, she would probably be curled into a little ball in the corner, rocking and humming nursery songs. He’d talked her through the darkest moments of the past weeks, held her when she cried and was simply a comforting presence when she had to hang on to something familiar. She’d known before everything fell apart that Jack was an amazing man, whether he wanted to admit it or not. What she hadn’t realized was the incredible depth for caring and compassion he had. No surprise since he took pains to hide it from the world, knowing it was his biggest vulnerability. But for her, he’d totally opened himself, let her see everything. Whatever she needed to move ahead, he was willing to give.

Rose smiled a bit tiredly as she fumbled with her TARDIS key in the dark. She hadn’t told her mother about what had happened to her, but that had been alright. There was time. Besides, it just felt good to see her mum and Mickey so ecstatic to see her again that she couldn’t bear to ruin the mood. It felt normal, and normal was a welcome feeling. Mickey’d even dragged them all down to the pub to celebrate, on him. And celebrate they had. After several hours and more than a few pints, the party had broken up, Mickey leading a very pissed Jackie back to her flat, snickering all the while, Shireen and the girls blowing clumsy kisses and Jack having a very cozy discussion with a dead gorgeous bloke at the bar. Even then he’d kept an eye on her and started to excuse himself when she stood. She told him to stay. After all, he needed a… vacation after everything they’d been through. They’d argued good-naturedly for a few minutes before he eventually gave in and she left with a promise to go straight home.

In all honesty, that’s what she had intended to do. Check on Jackie, make sure Mickey either went home or crashed on the sofa, then fall into bed herself. But the sight of the TARDIS standing so dark and silent on the tarmac led her feet in a different direction.

She stepped inside and frowned. The lights in the console room were very dim, shrouding everything in long shadows. That didn’t bother her nearly as much as the heavy feeling from the TARDIS, almost like the ship was holding her breath, uneasily anticipating something. That couldn’t be good.

“Doctor?” she called out hesitantly, suddenly wishing she hadn’t been so blithe about insisting Jack stay behind and enjoy his evening. Her heart–hearts–were suddenly thudding with the strange feeling in the TARDIS.

There was no answer from her call, so Rose moved through the room and down the hallway, wondering if the Doctor had possibly gone out on his own. It was rare that anything good came of him wandering off by himself. She realized she was holding her breath and exhaled slowly as she made her way down the hall, those lights dim as well. In fact, the TARDIS had an entirely creepy feel to her that made Rose want to run back out into the safety of the night.

The clink of glass against glass made her jump and whirl around to peer into a dark room. “Doctor?” she asked cautiously, peering into the gloom.

“Rose Tyler,” his voice rolled out of the darkness, an edge to it that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “Rose Tyler, why’d you come back here? Not done torturing me?”

She blinked and straightened, stepping over the threshold into the library. “Excuse me?”

Frustrated by the darkness, she silently wished for at least enough light to see the Doctor and was immediately rewarded by a dim glow. The TARDIS had to be listening in. Lovely. That was the least of her worries, though. The Doctor was slumped low in an armchair, a nearly empty bottle of what she assumed had been some kind of liquor on the table next to him.

“Oh my god, are you drunk?” she asked in shock, taking in his eyes and rumpled clothing–the leather jacket was gone entirely–and putting two and two together.

He shot her a dark smile, one that promised shared pain on the horizon. “Yup.” He lifted a glass to his lips and drained the contents. “Any other questions, my lovely Rose?”

Rose swallowed hard and felt the first stab of anger shoot through her. It was refreshing in a way after spending so many weeks feeling a downtrodden child. “I thought you couldn’t. Get drunk, y’know. Biochemistry and all that,” she said coolly.

Again, the Doctor smiled superciliously at her and she narrowed her eyes in return. “Ah, but being an advanced species, I can make adjustments here an’ there. Only get drunk if I want to.” His expression changed radically, the smile disappearing and only leaving an ominous, dangerous look. “An’ I wanted to.”

She stood her ground, watching him, pushing away the tiny frission of fear that skittered down her spine at his expression, about the radical change in his personality. For a moment, she was frozen with indecision, but then the Doctor won out over any other consideration, like he always had. Taking a deep breath and forcing a calm, serenity into her voice that she didn’t feel, Rose walked over and knelt next to his chair. “Please talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.”

He looked at her impassively for a very long time before lifting a hand and running it over her hair. When he spoke, his voice lanced through her painfully. “Do you love me, Rose?”

Anger–no rage–was back in a flash. How could he ask such a thing? He knew how she felt about him. And by some tacit agreement, they’d never spoken of it, both afraid it would somehow damage what they had between them. She knew that. He knew that. And now?

Rose stiffened. “I’m not doin’ this. Not now, Doctor. Not when you’re drunk and angry.” She felt cold even with her anger burning inside her. Anger that he wouldn’t even try to work out whatever the problem was.

He seemed to ignore her accusations, running the pads of his fingers over her cheekbone. The warning bells were screaming in her head, but all she could do in that second was shiver under his touch, her jaw clenched so hard her head hurt from it.

“Best mates, I think you’ve said,” the Doctor murmured so softly as Rose knelt there, frozen. “Are you sure there isn’t more, Rose?” Her eyes widened as his fingers drifted over her lower lip. “Are you sure you aren’t in love with me?”

She felt a bit sick with how his touch made her burn for more, even with him drunk and her furious. “Stop it,” she bit out furiously, jerking away and standing. “Stop it now, Doctor. I don’t know what’s wrong and I don’t know why you’re doin’ this, but it stops now. I’ll… make some coffee or something,” she added stiffly. “Sober you up. Then maybe we can talk. I can’t do this anymore.”

His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist as she turned, strong fingers like cool manacles against her skin. “Wha–“ she started, only to find herself jerked backward into his lap. “Doctor!”

He arched a brow at her, apparently unmoved by her anger. “And here I was thinkin’ you’d get more articulate with all those new, higher brain functions,” he drawled in a tone that gave nothing away as to what he was thinking. And then he was touching her again, running a hand through her hair, the other cupping her cheek and drawing her close. She went rigid in his arms, fighting to hang on to her anger and deny desire to melt into his touch.

“Don’t do this,” Rose breathed, hating the breathlessness she heard in her voice as he leaned in, his lips poised just above hers. “Not like this.”

“Shhhh,” he replied, leaning his forehead against hers. “Just one word, Rose. One word to answer one question.” She shivered, feeling his warm breath drift over her face, the scent of the liquor he’d been drinking sweet and sharp at the same time. “Do you love me?”

She hated him a little for what he was doing to her, rage and arousal warring for dominance and pushing her closer and closer to the edge. “Yes,” she hissed furiously. “Yes, I do. Are you happy? Is this how you wanted to hear it? With everything so messed up neither of us has a clue which way is up? Is this how you pictured it?” she ranted, struggling against his hold. “Stupid little human ape fallin–”

The Doctor’s mouth crashed down on hers, stealing her breath and her will and possibly even a piece of her soul. Dominating, he pressed onwards, making her shake as he took possession of her mouth with a dark desperation that somehow froze her struggles. He was angry and was using this–himself–to hurt her. Somewhere deep inside she wanted to cry for the both of them, but she couldn’t. Her own anger and hurt were too close to the surface. She wasn’t about to back down and give him the satisfaction of scaring her away and proving some twisted point.

Caught up in the maelstrom of her thoughts and the kiss, she didn’t even realize he’d unfastened her top until the Doctor’s cool hands slid across her skin. Rose wrenched away from the kiss and watched from heavy-lidded eyes as his fingers caressed the skin just above the lace border at the top of her bra.

“Doctor…” She silently cursed herself for speaking at all. Some dark, self-destructive part of her wanted to just let it happen, knowing that someday he’d hate himself for what was happening. But she loved him too much. She’d admitted as much. So the words burst out of their own accord, harsh and demanding. “Why? Why now?”

He didn’t answer at first, watching her like some predator might as it tries to decide whether or not to toy with its prey before striking a killing blow. His fingers inched downward, teasing and tantalizing and making it nearly impossible to focus. Rose bit the inside of her cheek to hang on to some semblance of coherence.

“Why?” he finally murmured. “Why not? I don’t seem to have it in me to deny you anything Rose Tyler and I know you want this.” Her whole body flinched as his hand closed fully around her breast, the pad of his thumb tracing her nipple through the thin material of her bra.

He continued as if they were having a normal conversation, “I would have died for you, but you wouldn’t let me. You wanted me to live, so I did, dancin’ to your tune like I have since the beginning,” he murmured in a rough, dark, hypnotic tone that left her throat tight and her mouth dry. “How many times have I danced for you, Rose? Adam, your father, Jack… the list goes on an’ on an’ each time, I gave you a little bit more of my soul. But then you changed an’ now I don’t know what you are. An’ because of that, the last of the walls are torn down. You’re not human anymore, Rose Tyler, an’ that changes everything. Nothin’ will ever be the same.”

Rose stared at him, unseeing as she struggled to deal with the impact of his words as he teased her body. He made her sound so… manipulative and conniving, like she’d lured him in and taken over his life or something. There was so much bitterness in his voice, more than she could make herself understand. It broke something inside her and darkness bubbled up, making her want to lash out and hurt him as much as he was hurting her.

In the second or two she was caught in her own thoughts, the Doctor had managed the clasp to her bra and was already sliding the straps down her shoulders. Without thinking, she lifted her hands to his, stopping the downward movement. Still giving him an out because she couldn’t stop loving him, not matter what. If possible, it made her angrier still. “You’re sure this is what you want to do?” she asked in a cold voice, part of her refusing to wallow in the darkness, trying to see past the flat look in his eyes for some glimmer of the love and affection he used to look at her with.

He didn’t answer immediately, brushing her hands away and leaning in to explore her neck with lips and teeth and tongue in ways that would leave marks when all was said and done. “Tell me to stop,” he said huskily, working his way down her collarbone as he swept the fabric off her arms to be forgotten on the floor. “Tell me you don’t want this.”

Rose shivered and closed her eyes as the Doctor’s tongue rasped against sensitive flesh. “Can’t,” she whispered, brutally clamping down on the little voice in the back of her head that cried out for the mistake she was making and all the pain it would bring.

“Can’t or won’t?” he questioned, nipping at her skin as he stood, lifting her like she weighed nothing.

“Doesn’t matter,” Rose replied, shivering in the cool air of the TARDIS as he carried her down the hall, refusing to think about what she was doing. If this was the way he wanted it, so be it. And if there was a part of her so desperate for a connection with him that she’d let this happen, so hopelessly naïve to think maybe giving him the one last part of herself that he hadn’t had would bridge the gap, then she earned the pain that would come.

“It matters,” the Doctor said harshly, stopping next to his bed and pinning her with a fierce look. “Say the words, Rose.”

It was like some sort of sick dare that she couldn’t back down from. Her chin rose a notch and she looked him squarely in the eye. “Don’t stop.” It was like someone had slammed a door closed and rammed the bolt home. Maybe she was the only one who felt it, but there was an ending in those words.

Then he was kissing her again, rough and possessive, refusing to give her a moment to think or breathe. The Doctor’s kiss, his touch, they were so addictive that when he broke away and put her down on the bed she couldn’t seem to do anything but watch him for a second, everything she’d been feeling overcome with the insidious roar of arousal.

Faster than she realized was possible, he was there with her, tugging her jeans and knickers down and pushing her back on the bed while her hands scrabbled as quickly at his clothes. She wanted to touch him everywhere, his skin cool where hers was warm, but with a feral growl, his mouth came down on hers once more, fierce and demanding and muffling her sharp intake of breath as he nudged her knees apart and settled so intimately against her. It was clear he had no intention of slowing down and she was willingly drowning in him as he pushed her further and further toward the brink of oblivion.

Everything was happening so fast–too fast–but before Rose could put together any coherent thought, the Doctor was touching her, turning everything inside her to liquid fire and the vestige of though of how wrong things were between them were incinerated in the flames of overwhelming need. She’d never felt the like before and in some tiny corner where sanity still lurked, wondered if he was manipulating her mind as well as her body.

Fatalistically knowing that she’d already given him heart, body and soul, she opened up her mind as well and felt his presence surge forward. Pain and anger and frustration and guilt and his people gone and his home and loneliness and darkness… they swamped everything that was Rose, leaving her reeling and groping for something of herself even as he physically lifted her hips and thrust forcefully into her body.

A startled cry escaped her, born of both pleasure and pain until the pleasure overwhelmed everything else. He built it in her mind as well as her body, a combination that was impossible to resist. It was hard and fast and Rose felt so very alone–even with the Doctor in her mind and in her body–that she would have wept if she wasn’t tangled so tightly in the web of white hot pleasure he had woven around her. Helplessly she surrendered to it, coming apart under the onslaught of the most incredible orgasm she’d ever experienced and barely noticing when the Doctor hoarsely shouted out and found his own release.

The quiet after the storm was deafening.

The Doctor rolled away without looking at her, his consciousness pulling out of her mind as well and Rose shivered. She felt cold and naked far beyond anything to do with clothes or temperature, knowing that she’d just made the biggest mistake of her life. In anger, pain, hurt, confusion, all the dark emotions she’d struggled with since the Vortex, in those things she’d let herself get tangled up and done something so stupid.

Hating herself for it, she fought against tears. She’d been so utterly naïve to think that it was worth the price to hurt him like he’d hurt her. Even worse, that part of her really wanted to believe that sex with the Doctor could bridge the gap between them. Naïve and stupid and so clueless it wasn’t even funny. He was drunk–despite his careful steadiness–and hurt and he wanted to lash out. Instead of stepping away, she’d put herself right in front of the whip. Stupid ape, indeed. She wondered if he would be pleased to know he’d met his mark.

Swallowing past the lump her throat, refusing to cry over something she’d done to herself, Rose slowly sat up, facing the door. She had to get back to her room and cleaned up before Jack came back. No, she had to get back to her room so she could fall apart in private. She couldn’t afford to let the Doctor see her cry right now. His derision would break her past any hope of repair.

A step away from the door, his voice reached her, slurred and husky as he finally succumbed to the alcohol and the physical exertion he’d just put out. “Finally danced with you, Rose Tyler. Hope you’re happy.”

The air froze in her lungs. Without thinking, she glanced back over her shoulder at the Doctor. His eyes were closed. Feeling a bubble of hysterical laughter trying to rise up, she wondered if he’d even remember any of what happened. In the end, it didn’t really matter. She would.

And that changed everything.

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4: Shards of What Was

Jack walked through the darkened streets with his hands jammed in his pockets against the cold, completely caught up in his own thoughts. Thoughts of Rose and the Doctor and how they’d managed to change him so profoundly in such a relatively short period of time. He loved them both more than life itself and what they were doing to each other was tearing him apart. The thing that hurt the most is that they didn’t even see him. Not really.

That’s one reason he’d been determined to either pick someone up or let himself be picked up at the pub. As selfish and pathetic as it sounded, he needed to be someone’s focus, even for just a little while, even just for mindless sex. It was something. It turned out to be nothing. After Rose left, Jack realized he was just going through the motions, laughing and charming the man trying to pick him up when all he could do was worry about the two people who meant more to him than anything, hurting out there in the darkness.

He wandered the chilly streets for a while, desperately trying to think of a way to bridge the gap between the Doctor and Rose. Well talking was a start, but with the Doctor that was easier said than done. And Rose, she wasn’t much better at the moment, her change making her insecure around the Doctor. Sighing, he stopped and leaned against a lamppost, closing his eyes.

The soft squeak of metal on metal caught his attention. The playground. Peering through the gloom of night, his eyes picked out blond hair and knew without a doubt it was Rose sitting on the swing. His heart pounded a little harder, wondering what could have happened to bring her outside in the cold when she should have been sleeping in the safety of the TARDIS or even Jackie’s flat.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Jack said, settling into the swing next to her. There was no response. He frowned, wished he could past the curtain of her hair to read her expression, and waited until the silence was too much for him. “Rose? What’s wrong?”

She sighed, exhaling long and slow as if she’d been holding her breath. “Everything’s such a mess. I don’t know… I don’t want to leave him, but… He probably wants doesn’t want to see me again anyway.”

Jack flinched at the utter defeat in her voice and cursed under his breath. “You didn’t go back to Jackie’s, did you?” he asked, silently running through the possibilities of what could have happened to give Rose that hollow tone. None of them did anything but make him feel nauseous.

“No. Went back to the TARDIS. I jus’… dunno. Guess the TARDIS feels more like home than mum’s flat. At least it did.” As she said it, she pushed her hair back and looked over at him just as a streetlight nearby buzzed and flickered to life behind his shoulder. The tell-tale marks on the pale skin of her neck told him a story he didn’t really want to know and if he wasn’t mistaken, her lips were still a bit swollen.

“Oh god, Rose…”

She quickly tugged at her hoodie, her fingers fluttering to one of the bruised places. Jack reached out and took her hand. “It’s not…” Rose began haltingly, looking back at him warily while he held his breath. “You know he wouldn’t ever… I mean… it was my choice. Jus’… the wrong one.”

Jack closed his eyes. The irony of it all is that he knew the Doctor would be hard pressed not to kill any other man who’d been so rough with Rose, himself included. In one smooth movement, he slipped out of the swing, pulling Rose into his arms and sank down on the ground, rocking her against his chest. It wasn’t a completely selfless move. He was terrified that what had happened between the Doctor and Rose would mean the end of what they had together and physically hanging onto Rose kept him centered.

“Tell me what happened,” he said softly, arms tightening around Rose as she shivered.

There was silence for several long moments before he felt her give in. He knew because her tears were hot against his neck. “He was drunk, Jack. I’d never seen him like that before. Drunk and so angry. At me. And stupid ape that I am, I told him I loved him.”

Jack held her that much tighter, trying not to picture the scene as the story tumbled out of Rose. She didn’t spare herself at all in the telling, still trying to protect the Doctor and he loved her that much more because of it. She could have easily played the victim, but that wasn’t her. Never had been. And another irony: For all the Doctor worried that Rose wasn’t Rose anymore, in their darkest hour, she most certainly was.

He just held her in silence for a long time until he felt the tears finally stop. “Listen to me, sweetheart. I know you’re hurting, but this has got to stop. The two of you are killing each other, Rose and it’s killing me, too,” Jack went on, letting her hear the note of desperation in his voice. He couldn’t lose his family. Not when he’d so recently found them. “Let’s give him a chance to sober up and then you have to talk this out. You can’t let this fester and–”

“No!” Rose gasped, pushing away and stumbling to her feet. “I can’t talk to him about this, Jack. God, I don’t think I can ever even look him in the eye again,” she raged, pacing in front of the swings as he got to his feet.

“So what, then? You’re just going to walk away? From him? From me?” he growled, unable to keep a flare of anger out of his voice. “I thought you were braver than that.”

Rose stopped and stared at him, stricken. He felt like a complete bastard for putting the look on her face, even if what he said was true. “Jack… please. Please understand,” she whispered in a broken voice. “I’m not… I don’t want to leave. Do you really think I do? But I don’t have a choice, either.”

The tears streaming silently down her face broke his heart. He stood, stepped forward and pulled her into his arms again, her voice muffled against his chest as she went on. “I can’t stay, Jack. You know the Doctor. If for some reason he doesn’t kick me out, he’d refuse to talk about it and there’d always be this huge… thing between us. Just like the last couple of weeks. I think it’d ruin everything even more.”

“Rose…” he began, groping for something–anything–to say to change her mind, even when he knew what she was saying was true.

“No, let me finish,” she sniffled, pulling back just enough to wipe her face on her sleeve. “There’s something else. What happened… Jack, I wanted to hurt him because he’d hurt me. That’s sick. And it’s not me. ‘Least it never was before. I don’t know who I am anymore, especially if I could do something like that.”

She smiled a bit wanly. “An’ I don’t think I can figure out who I am if all I can see is me through the Doctor’s eyes, or yours. Maybe if things had gone differently…”

Jack wondered how many pieces one heart could shatter into as he listened to Rose and realized that she wasn’t coming back to the TARDIS with him. Part of him wanted to offer to stay with her, but he didn’t. Even without seeing or talking to the Doctor, he knew when all was said and done, the Doctor was going to need him more than Rose. Besides, if there was even a glimmer of hope that someday Rose and the Doctor could reconcile, someone had to have the Doctor on a short leash, watching over him and making sure he didn’t just put the memory of Rose back in some closet of his mind.

He sighed, feeling two or three times his age. “You know I want you to change your mind and stay, right?”

Rose smiled sadly at him and nodded, fresh tears slipping down her cheeks. “I’m gonna miss you so much, Jack. I can’t even tell you.” She choked up and couldn’t speak for a moment, which worked since he was having the same problem. “Just take care of him, okay? He can’t be alone. I think the pain would rip him up inside.”

Jack smiled through his own tears. “I don’t think he’s going to like holding my hand as much.”

Rose laughed a bit before dissolving into harsh sobs again. “Shhh, sweetheart,” Jack crooned, pulling her close again. “This isn’t goodbye, Rose. I promise you that.” He leaned back and tilted her chin up so she met his eyes. “Have I ever broken a promise I’ve made you?”

She shook her head and he leaned in to press a kiss against her forehead. “I’m not planning on starting now.” Taking a deep breath, Jack braced himself. “Now, you’ve got your phone?”

“My phone?” Rose asked, automatically digging in her pocket and coming up with it. “Yeah, but why?”

“Because I want you to make a promise to me, Rose,” Jack said solemnly, his eyes pinning hers with a serious expression. “Keep it. Don’t chuck it or erase the TARDIS number or anything stupid. Keep it charged and with you, even. Like I said, this isn’t goodbye. You might need us.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he lifted his fingers and pressed them against her lips to silence her. “And we might need you. Promise me, Rose.”

For a minute he thought she was going to really fight him on it then she nodded. “I promise. Dad,” she added with a hint of amusement.

“Don’t call me Dad,” he grinned. “Makes all my sexual fantasies about you a little too weird.” As soon as the words left his mouth he could have cheerfully shot himself for his own stupidity. “Rose, I’m sorry…”

Rose shook her head, a genuine smile on her face. “S’okay. Kind of nice to laugh, anyway. Good to know you remember how to be Jack, too. You’ve been too serious lately.” She sobered and bit her lip. “I’m so sorry, Jack. We’ve made you miserable, haven’t we?”

“None of that,” he said, shaking his head even as her acknowledgement warmed him the tiniest bit. “I’m okay, you know that.”

“Liar,” Rose said, going up on tiptoe and brushing a kiss over his cheek. “I hope you can forgive me for bein’ so selfish. I never wanted to hurt you.”

Unable to help himself, Jack pulled her up into a bone-crushing hug once more. “I know. And I do.” They stood there that way for a very long time before he released and dug into an inside pocket of his jacket.

“Here, take this. I made a few investments today that should play in out in the next week or so. I don’t want you to have to be dependent on your mother or Mickey for anything.” He put the small leather case in her hands. “All you need are the numbers. Swiss banks are lovely that way,” he grinned. “Some things never change, it seems.”

She gaped at him. “Jack, I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. If I don’t know that you have the means take care of yourself without working some awful job somewhere, I’m going to throw you over my shoulder and carry you back to the TARDIS,” he threatened, deadly serious.

Evidently she took him at his word, because with only a nod, Rose tucked the case away. “Thank you,” she said simply, then stood there awkwardly. She wanted to go. And as much as he wanted to toss all the arguments away and drag her back to the TARDIS, Jack knew it was time to let her.

Reaching out, he cupped her cheeks and pulled her in much the way he had when they said goodbye on the game station. “Take care of yourself, Rose,” he murmured, kissed her, then turned and walked away before the tears could overtake him.

The Doctor woke slowly, feeling like he was trying to push through a fog to consciousness. That definitely wasn’t right. When he did actually sleep, waking up was instantaneous; his mind was clear and sharp and ready for whatever the universe might throw at him. So fogginess was bad.

He rolled to the side of the bed and sat up, groaning faintly as his head throbbed painfully. That’s when the first flash of memory came to him: Jack and Rose leaving the TARDIS hand in hand and himself storming back to find something to drink. The Zaurlean absinthe. Oh god. No wonder his head hurt. That was potent stuff, even for a Time Lord just allowing himself to get utterly pissed.

A shiver startled him and he looked down, eyes going wide as he realized he was naked. Naked. Well. Not that he had anything against nakedness, but with Rose and Jack on the TARDIS and never knowing what emergency might present itself, he always slept in something, just in case. A sinking feeling started to wind itself low in his belly and he was fairly sure it had nothing to do with a hangover.

On shaky legs he stood, noting that he was going to need several cups of tea to help neutralize the alcohol his system that hadn’t metabolized on its own. He didn’t even want to think about how much he had to have imbibed to still feel it. Walking around the end of the bed, he found his jeans and was just about to reach for them when a scrap of something pink caught his eye.

“No,” he rasped as he realized what he was seeing, stricken by the sight of the tiny pink knickers so carelessly tangled in the sheets. “Oh Rassilon, no.” Shaking, he sank down onto the bed, the rumpled sheets shifting under him releasing the faint scent of Rose’s perfume. Nausea roared through him as memory kicked in with brutal vengeance.

He remembered every single moment. Rose trying to talk to him; hurt in her eyes; the stupid, self-destructive impulses that she’d undoubtedly picked up from him and run with. Oh god, and the look on her face when she admitted she loved him. He thought from the memory of the look in her eyes, she’d hated him a little, too. Without even realizing it, he slid off the edge of the bed to the cold, hard floor. He’d forced her to tell him she loved him, to bare herself to him, literally and figuratively. And then… he shuddered. Rose had given him everything, heart and soul and body and he’d lashed out at her because he was too much of a terrified, selfish coward to stop himself.

Rocking on the floor, the Doctor found sanity and clarity brutal companions as he saw beyond what had so recently happened to how he’d treated Rose since she’d changed. It was ironic in a very sad sort of way. One of the worst parts of his regenerations had been the reaction of his companions. There had been some who accepted it, but others who were angry and hurt and even felt betrayed. Being on the receiving end of those kinds of feelings had wounded him more than he ever wanted to admit, yet that’s exactly what he’d done to Rose. He’d treated her as if she had gone out of her way to hurt him by changing, when in truth, her only crime was in loving him enough to try and save him.

“Oh Rose,” he whispered, overwhelmed with the magnitude of what he’d done, his last cruel words to her echoing in his mind until he wondered if he’d go mad. The one person in the universe that he simply wanted to love and protect above all others and he’d hurt her more than all of her experiences with him combined.

Showered, fully dressed and utterly numb, the Doctor stepped out into the hallway of the TARDIS and paused. Silence. Heavy, oppressive silence. He knew instinctively that Rose wasn’t on the ship. Of course it helped his perception that the TARDIS was giving off vibrations of irritation–and that was a very, very light word to describe her feelings. The lights were even dimmer than normal. Not a good sign.

Jaw clenched, he moved down the corridor with swift strides, only stopping when a door whooshing open next to him startled him. The library. It figured. He started to move on when a voice called out, freezing him in place.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to linger in hallways, Doctor? I thought all polite society was aware of that,” Jack’s sardonic tone drifted out. The Doctor hesitated. Jack knew. He had to know, otherwise there was no reason for the bite in his voice. Without too much conscious thought he stepped forward. Whatever Jack had to dish out was probably the least of what he deserved.

“My ship. I’ll linger wherever I want to,” he said flatly, going rigid once more as he noticed what was on the floor. Jack looked at him, followed his gaze and knelt, scooping up the lacy bra and top.

“Now normally the sight of a lady’s under things scattered across the floor gives me all sorts of interesting thoughts. This time, it makes me a little sick,” Jack said in a tight voice, torturing him by letting Rose’s bra dangle from his finger.

The Doctor forced himself not to grab the pieces from Jack’s hand, instead crossing his arms firmly over his chest and ignoring the searing pain that stabbed through him as he looked at the physical evidence of what he’d done. “Where’s Rose?” he forced himself to ask, wondering if he really wanted to know the answer to that question. He’d have to face her soon enough, but…

Jack smiled, but the expression didn’t reach his eyes. They were flat and angry. “You sure you don’t want to keep this as a souvenir?” he asked dangerously.

The Doctor stood his ground, torn between wanting to beat his friend to a bloody pulp and wanting to hide from the shame of what he’d done. “You don’t want to do this, Jack,” he said in a deceptively soft voice, his eyes cold and features set as if they were carved into stone. His control was complete. It had to be, or he’d shatter into a thousand pieces.

“Don’t I?” Jack bit back, taking a step closer to the Doctor. “Give me one good reason why not. I saw Rose, you know. Saw a few of the marks you left on her. Tell me something, Doctor,” he went on, pushing harder and harder with his words. “Do you always like it that rough or was it just something about Rose in particular. Because you did a damn good jo–”

Without conscious thought the Doctor growled and grabbed Jack, slamming him up against the wall. Hearing that he had indeed marked Rose cracked his control with one hit. “Don’t,” he hissed.

Jack just arched a brow at him. “Evidently it’s rough up your companion night on the ol’ TARDIS, huh?” he drawled. “Suppose I should have realized I’d get a turn as well.”

The Doctor blinked and stared at Jack as if he were really seeing him; really seeing that he was holding the other man–his best friend–practically by the neck. He dropped his hands and stepped away fast enough to nearly trip over a stool. “Jack… I… oh god,” he groaned, dropping limply into a chair, his head falling into his hands.

He missed seeing Jack take a deep breath, his confrontational stance melting away as a look of helpless defeat flickered over his features. “Why couldn’t you have just kept your hands to yourself?” Jack asked softly.

The Doctor just sat there, icy cold despair leeching through him. Rose had been the best thing that had happened to him in more years than he could think of and he’d driven her away. “You’re not going to say anything I haven’t already said to myself,” he finally said wearily. Even he could only shoulder so much pain.

There was silence for a long time before the Doctor asked the one question he desperately didn’t want the answer to, but was afraid he already knew. “She’s gone, isn’t she?” He could feel Jack hesitate.

“Maybe if you went to her…”

The Doctor shook his head, his voice full of despair when he spoke. “I can’t, Jack. Not this. Even if Rose would forgive me, I can’t forgive myself. Can’t trust myself with her anymore. Not after what I did.”

A soft squeak of wood on metal filled the room as Jack moved the stool and sat down on it, radiating an exhausted resignation that was almost tangible. “You didn’t force her. She was very clear on that.”

“Didn’t I?” the Doctor asked sharply, looking up with a fierce expression on his face. “I knew exactly what buttons to push, Jack, and oh, did I push them. I manipulated Rose and I hurt her.” His normally strong voice faltered. “I hurt her.”

Black leather clad shoulders slumped. “It’s not just what happened tonight, Jack. It’s everything since Rose was changed. I couldn’t see past my own fears. I was angry at Rose. For what? For what?” he demanded, fury at himself overwhelming the pain of knowing Rose was gone, at least for a second.

“She kept me sane, taught me how to live again. Taught me how to smile again. Saved my life then and was willing to die to do it again. And I repaid her by resentin’ the fact that because of it, she changed. I was terrified that she wouldn’t be Rose anymore, so I cut her off, because I couldn’t face it.”

The Doctor paused and glanced at Jack. The other man’s expression was stricken, sadness and pity mirrored in his eyes. “And then–you’ll love this part,” the Doctor went on, “when Rose came out of the Zero room and she was still Rose, I got jealous.” He spat the word as if it were poison. “Jealous because Rose gravitated toward you. Held your hand. I refused to see that I was pushin’ her away every time she tried to get close to me.”

“Doctor, you know I wouldn’t–”

“I know, Jack,” he said tiredly, pushing out of the chair and pacing the confines of the room where the three of them had spent so many hours together. They said confession was good for the soul, but he wasn’t much for spilling his guts to anyone. Ironic that he couldn’t seem to help himself now, each word detailing his sins like a razor’s slash to his soul.

The oppressive silence filled the room once more, even the TARDIS eerily quiet in his mind. It was no less than what he deserved. And he figured he’d better get used to it. There was going to be a lot of silence to get used to again. Turning, he looked at Jack without quite meeting the other man’s eyes. “You should go. I think it’s best if I left sooner rather than later.”

Jack frowned at him. “Go? What the hell are you talking about?”

The Doctor hesitated. “To Rose. I just assumed you were going to stay here with her. Somebody has to–”

“No. Rose is… she’s hurting, yes. But she’s strong, Doctor. She just needs some time to figure things out.” He watched, incredulous, as Jack fixed him with a look that brooked no aruments. “And I promised her this wouldn’t be goodbye, either.”

“Jack, once we leave…” the Doctor started, completely staggered that Jack intended to stay. He didn’t deserve it and Jack shouldn’t want to do it, but knowing that he wouldn’t be completely alone lifted just a bit of the heaviness weighing on him.

Jack shook his head, his expression stubborn and set. “No way, Doc. You can’t take off with no intention of coming back. No matter what issues you and Rose have, she’s going to need you. Someday everybody she knows but you is going to be dead,” he said bluntly. “And what about before then? What about when she starts to get noticed for not aging? Or what if there’s an accident and somebody notices her biology isn’t quite human? Think she might need some help?” He paused for a breath before striking out with the killing blow. “Or do you hate her enough not to care any more?”

Staring, mouth slightly agape, the Doctor looked at Jack as if he’d lose his mind. Hate Rose? God, that was laughable, it was so ludicrous. Quite the opposite. He loved her. Too much. And it had hurt her. But Jack was right. No matter what else was going on, he couldn’t just leave Rose stranded on Earth and not look back. They’d have to figure something out. He didn’t have the first clue as to what, though.

His eyes sliding away from Jack’s all too knowing expression, the Doctor sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “She’s… safe? With Jackie?” He just couldn’t bring himself to admit that Rose could be ‘home’ anywhere other than the TARDIS. The realization burned. And if he wasn’t mistaken, the TARDIS agreed, putting off a strong sense of darkness and disapproval. She didn’t want to leave without Rose. Rose, who she’d saved for him. Rose, who he’d driven away because he couldn’t contain his own pain.

“Yeah, she’s okay,” Jack nodded, his voice wistful and sad at the same time. The Doctor envied him in an odd sort of way. Missing Rose was going to be a constant ache he’d just have to learn to live with, but he’d feel guilty for it even as it consumed him. Jack could indulge in missing her without guilt; he hadn’t driven her away.

Feeling like his feet were encased in lead, the Doctor nodded and left Jack in the library to make his way to the console. Every switch flipped and lever turned to set the TARDIS in motion was almost physically painful, because it put him a step closer to leaving Rose behind. He knew he had to do it, but it didn’t make it any easier, especially with the TARDIS sluggish and reluctant.

“We can’t keep her,” he murmured, palms flat on the console, head bowed with defeat. “I can’t keep her. Please,” he added, a desperate note to his voice as he begged his one constant companion to give in.

A moment later the tell-tale wheeze of dematerialization sounded and the Doctor’s shoulders slumped further.

“Goodbye, Rose.”


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Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Picking Up the Pieces

Rose sat in the empty lecture hall, caught up in her thoughts as she absently doodled on a loose piece of paper in front of her. So, three hours of her life gone with nothing to show for it. Three hours. Not even a drop in the bucket anymore. Nothing compared to innumerable years stretching out in front of her. Sighing, she braced her chin on her hand as the pen scratched softly against the paper, her thoughts a million miles away.

It wasn’t that the lecture hadn’t been interesting, but she just didn’t think writing–journalism in particular–was her “thing”. It had been worth a try, though, and there had been something about the guest speaker that had made her sit up and pay attention; something that Rose couldn’t quite put her finger on. Even so, she’d eventually drifted away as the woman spoke. Journalism, like everything else she’d dabbled in, just failed to ignite that “spark” that she’d been missing since leaving the TARDIS.

Four months. That’s how long it had been. Four very, very long months trying to learn how to live without the Doctor and without a life of charging from one time to another, adventure and danger and unimaginable sights always just outside the door. The first two weeks, she’d done little but sleep and wander around her mother’s flat. Part of it was depression, yes, but Rose also wondered if she wasn’t still recovering from her “change” as well.

Either way, her mother eventually threw up her hands and insisted that Rose see a doctor. That had galvanized her into action. There was absolutely no way she could see a doctor. It would take about two seconds for any medical professional to realize there was something very different about her and god only knew what that could lead to. Besides, she hadn’t told her mother or Mickey much of anything, really, even though she knew they were worried about her.

In the end, the only way to get them both from hounding her was to get up and get out of the flat. Which, she admitted, she needed to do anyway. It was too easy to spend all day staring out the window, alternately missing the Doctor and being angry at him and then wishing all manner of things had happened differently. She’d made her choice to leave the TARDIS. Now it was time to do something other than be pathetic.

Her first thought had been a job, but the idea of spending every day folding clothes and straightening up behind difficult customers at a shop made her head hurt. The idea of working in a chip shop or something along those lines made her outright nauseous. So… A-levels. It wasn’t like she needed the money from a job anyway. She’d checked into the account that Jack had given her the paperwork for and been staggered by the amount of money in it.

Of course, her mum had thrown a fit when Rose announced her intentions to go back to school. It had been the same old argument; Rose was putting in airs, thought she was too good to get a normal job like normal people, blah, blah, blah. And then of course there was the suspicion about where the money was coming from, but in no way, shape or form was she letting Jackie near Jack’s money. What an utter nightmare that would be.

The argument had raged on for ages, Jackie’s conspiracy theories getting wilder by the minute. That was when Rose decided she was going to have to get her own place. Nothing fancy–she still felt guilty about using Jack’s money at all–but something of her own. She’d be nutters inside a month living with her mother.

In short order she’d found a clean little studio flat and begun her A-level work. The flat was easy. Getting into the A-levels… well, that had taken a bit of ingenuity. And a page out of Jack and the Doctor’s book. Of course it had been the wrong time of the year to start classes, but it was funny how quickly the woman in the administration office had changed her tune when Rose offered to make a small “donation” to the school in return for making certain scheduling concessions.

The idea of having bribed a public official, all on her own, was amusing and more than a little exhilarating. For just a few moments, Rose felt that spark of excitement that had been missing since she left the TARDIS. The feeling came crashing down when she settled onto her sofa with the books she’d need for her A-levels and went through them all in a matter of hours. The subjects were as simple as… as if someone had taken her back to primary school and tried to teach her to read. Her “new” brain just soaked up information and processed it all by itself, it seemed.

She spent the rest of the afternoon sobbing into her pillow, forcefully reminded that she wasn’t normal anymore. Not even human anymore. And so bloody lonely that it hurt. It was like she was alone with a whole planet milling about around her. She wondered if that was what the Doctor had felt like.

Thoughts of the Doctor galvanized Rose out of her funk. She wasn’t holding out hope of ever seeing him again–aside from dreams that she wouldn’t even admit to having, much less clinging to–but on the off chance he did appear in her life again, there was no way she wanted him to see her soggy and pathetic. So the next morning she was back in the administrator’s office with a disgustingly large amount of Jack’s money in her purse. One more “donation” and the woman was more than happy to assist her by setting up a special session so Rose could sit her exams.

A week later, Rose Tyler had top marks in five A-levels and was applying to university with a grim sort of determination. She was afraid university classes would be the same as the A-levels: she’d soak them up in the blink of an eye and be left with knowledge, but no sense of accomplishment or excitement. With a sort of desperate intensity, she hoped it was just a matter of finding something that sparked her interest. She couldn’t just exist without something to get her out of bed in the morning or she’d lose her mind.

Jack had shown up a few weeks later, nearly giving her a heart attack as he slid into a chair opposite her at the coffee shop on campus, all smiles but with his eyes full of concern. For just a minute her hearts had leaped, hoping beyond hope that the Doctor would be following him in a second later. The pain was acute when she realized that he wasn’t coming and that Jack had seen the hope flare in her eyes, his own look of sympathy just rubbing salt in the wound.

Ruthlessly she’d pushed away the hurt as Jack distracted her with questions about her life and she in turn regaled him with tales of Jackie and Mickey, her move to her own place and even managed to feel a spark of pride when she admitted to bribing a public official. He’d laughed and squeezed her hand before going mother hen on her and pestering about eating and taking care of herself and just about every subject but the Doctor. When she’d finally broken down and asked, she was met with uncomfortable silence, as if Jack wasn’t sure what to say.

That was all the answer she’d needed. With a forced smile, she launched into a discussion of her classes and anything else trivial she could think of. She knew that Jack knew it was all cover, but they both let it go, understanding that anything else was still too painful and bruised to deal with. All too soon he’d had to go, though. Letting him walk away, knowing he was going back to the TARDIS and the Doctor was hard. Almost as hard as when she walked away the first time. By the time Jack was out of sight, her fingers were numb from gripping the table in an attempt not to follow him, the heartache and homesick burn inside her urging her to at least catch one glimpse of the TARDIS, and maybe… No. When all was said and done, she'd forced herself to stay in her seat. If she saw the Doctor, she wasn't sure she would have the strength not throw herself in his arms and beg him to take her back, no matter what had happened.

After that, nothing much had changed in the weeks since that day with Jack. She still felt… adrift. And each day her frustration grew.

Dragging herself out of memories and back to the present, Rose glanced around and groaned, noticing she was all alone in the lecture hall. She figured she should probably get out before she ended up locked in the building or something, ruthlessly pushing away memories of Henrick’s and her initial fears then of being locked in the shop for the night. Haphazardly gathering her books and papers into her arms, she made it down the stairs and to the door where her world promptly exploded.

Sarah Jane smith sat in her car and frowned as she went through her briefcase looking for her lecture notebook. She’d had an idea she wanted to expand on the next time she spoke for such a class, otherwise she wouldn’t have looked for it until much later. Just as well. It must still be on the podium, although how she could have walked out without it mystified her.

She smiled as she climbed out of the car, thinking with wry amusement that it was really rather convenient that she didn’t worry about having to be home in time to feed anyone since she was going to be late enough to make a warm blooded friend quite unhappy. Keys swinging from her fingers, she set a brisk pace back into the building and found the door to the lecture hall once more, giving it a forceful push so as not to break her stride.

A few inches into its swing, the door met with resistance. There was a loud thunk, a gasp and the sound of books hitting the floor.

“Good heavens, are you alright?” she asked, looking horrified as she carefully stepped into the hall and knelt by the young woman she’d plowed into.

The blond blinked up at her from the floor looking a bit dazed, then shook it off. “Will be, yeah. Surprised me more than anything.”

“I am so sorry, dear. It never occurred to me that anyone might still be here,” Sarah Jane offered, watching the girl with concern. It struck her that the young woman had sad eyes. Sad, knowing eyes. How odd to notice such a thing, considering the situation. “Well, up we go, then.”

With an encouraging smile, she offered a hand and helped the girl to her feet before bending once more and beginning to gather the scattered books and papers. Until she reached for one loose piece of paper and froze. The drawing on it was very simple, a doodle, most likely, but the subject absolutely staggered her. The TARDIS. There was no doubt in her mind.

Swallowing, Sarah Jane stood and stared at the young woman, the piece of paper held almost accusingly between them. “Where… where did you get the idea for this drawing?” she asked faintly, her eyes searching the girl’s face.

The blonde seemed taken aback, her brown eyes flicking down to the paper and then going enigmatic, a shielded expression on her face. “I… it’s just a bit of a scribble,” she finally said, her entire stance defensive to Sarah Jane’s eyes. That clenched it. In an instant Sarah Jane decided to take the risk.

“I very much doubt the Doctor would approve of his TARDIS being the object of a scribble,” she drawled, allowing a hint of amusement to creep into her tone. “Fine art, perhaps. But a scribble? I think not.”

“How…” the girl asked, her eyes wide and shocked, color draining from her face.

Sarah Jane smiled. “Perhaps we should sit down, you look a bit–” The young woman shook her head mutely. “Alright then, how about names? I’m Sarah Jane Smith,” she offered, holding out her hand. “But then you already know that, don’t you? You were in the lecture.”

“Rose. Rose Tyler,” the blond answered faintly, taking her hand but still looking like she was in shock. “How did you know?”

With a grin, Sarah Jane knelt down to collect the rest of Rose’s books and papers. “I think that might be better explained over a nice cup of tea. Unless you have someplace you need to be?”

Rose shook her head. “I don’t think anything in the world would keep me away from that cup of tea,” she said, then smiled. Sarah Jane caught her breath. With that one glowing expression on the young woman’s face, she knew exactly what the Doctor had seen in her. There was something bright and alive and warm that just radiated from Rose Tyler. The realization made Sarah Jane feel a little old and worn out, but not so much that she wasn’t dying of curiosity to hear the girl’s story. Or–she thought grimly–to offer comfort if she’d been left behind.

“Well then, no time like the present,” Sarah Jane smiled in return, standing and handing Rose her books before she retrieved the notebook that had brought her back inside in the first place. “My car’s just outside.”

Once in the car, an uneasy silence fell as Rose tried to wrap her mind around the fact that the woman next to her once traveled with the Doctor as well. It was so very odd. She knew the Doctor had had other companions from things he’d said, but he’d never mentioned them by name or described them and there weren’t exactly family albums littering the TARDIS.

She glanced over at Sarah Jane as the older woman easily maneuvered through city traffic and thoughtfully noted that Sarah Jane Smith was an attractive woman. Obviously very kind, as well. A sharp stab of jealousy took Rose by surprise, a bitter little voice asking if the Doctor had a tendency toward picking pretty young women to keep him entertained.

Cheeks flaming with embarrassment for even thinking such a thing, she looked away, inadvertently drawing Sarah Jane’s attention as she did. “Are you sure you’re alright, Rose? You took quite a tumble back in the hall. And I suppose finding someone who knows about the Doctor was rather a shock as well.”

“Yeah,” Rose nodded. “I never expected… I mean… you know, you just don’t talk about it. And then findin’ somebody that maybe you can talk about it with…” She smiled wryly. “Sorry. I’m not makin’ much sense, I guess.”

Sarah Jane smiled and shook her head. “Don’t apologize. I really do understand.” She paused for a moment to make a turn then glanced back at Rose. “Tell you what. If you don’t feel like you’re being abducted, why don’t I take you back to my house? It’s a bit of a drive, but we won’t have to worry about anyone overhearing anything they shouldn’t. I’m fairly certain I have enough tea and biscuits to get us through the whole night if need be.”

Rose caught her lower lip in her teeth for a moment before smiling cautiously. “I think that sounds like a good idea. But…”


“It’s just… I guess this is going to sound stupid, but… well, he’s so private. D’you think he’d mind? Us talking about him, I mean,” Rose said with a bit of a frown.

Sarah Jane laughed aloud. “Oh yes, he would mind very much, I think. I can’t see the Doctor in any regeneration liking the idea of two of his companions talking about him, but we’re going to do it anyway. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to have traveled with him and then have to come back to a normal life once he moves on. You and I do. I suppose that makes us a sisterhood of sorts.”

Rose smiled a bit and nodded before taking a deep breath. There was one thing she had to know; had to brace herself for now, in case the answer wasn’t what she wanted to hear. There was silence in the car as she tried to choose the right words. “When you and the Doctor traveled together, were you just… friends? Or were you…” She couldn’t quite bring herself to say the words, knowing that if Sarah Jane admitted there was more than friendship, it would add a whole new level of hurt to what had had happened the night the Doctor was drunk.

She needn’t have worried. Sarah Jane looked utterly shocked. “Are you asking if the Doctor and I had a romantic relationship?” she asked faintly, blinking and putting her eyes back on the road as Rose nodded.

Quiet descended again for several moments until Sarah Jane spoke again. “Your Doctor must be very different from mine for you to have asked such a question,” she said evenly, despite the fact that she still looked unsettled. “But to answer your question, we were most certainly just friends.”

Another pause, filled with silent uncertainty, then she went on. “I’ve never said this aloud to anyone, Rose, but under the circumstances, I suppose this is the place. I… I loved him very much, my Doctor. He was easy to love. But it was also very clear that he was not a normal man to be loved–romantically, I mean–by a normal woman. I suppose I should be grateful that the line was never blurred between us. I can’t imagine how much more painful the separation would have been.”

Rose tried to ignore the incredible sense of relief that washed over her as Sarah Jane spoke. So maybe she wasn’t just one in a long line. Maybe there had been something different. Special. Maybe.

Sarah Jane’s next question brought her back to the present. “I’m guessing that the line wasn’t quite so clear with your Doctor?” she asked carefully, a look of concern on her face.

“You could say that,” Rose said flatly, turning to look out the window as the urge to cry nearly swamped her. Meeting Sarah Jane and talking about the Doctor was dredging up all the issues she’d tried to keep under lock and key for so many months. She sniffled and turned back to the other woman with a watery smile. “Tell me about your Doctor?”

With a nod and a sympathetic smile, Sarah Jane seemed to tacitly understand that Rose wasn’t ready to talk about what had happened with her Doctor yet and enthusiastically launched into tales of adventures with the Doctor in his third and fourth regenerations. By the time they arrived at the cottage outside of Horsham, Rose was amazed at all that Sarah Jane had seen and done. Of course, she’d had years with the Doctor.

“But you didn’t want to leave,” Rose said softly after Sarah Jane explained her parting with the Doctor.

Sarah Jane shook her head and turned the key, the sound of the engine dying into heavy silence. “No, I didn’t. I… there was simply no choice.” For a moment she looked faraway, as if she were reliving the moment before she shook it off and smiled at Rose once more. “Come on now, let’s go inside and we can continue this over tea.”

Rose nodded, grateful to have a few moments to digest everything before she tried to tell Sarah Jane about her own experiences with the Doctor. Besides, she wasn’t even sure how much she could or would tell, although she definitely had the sense that the older woman was perceptive enough to read quite a bit between into the silent spaces.

Half an hour later she found herself ensconced on the sofa in Sarah Jane’s living room, a cup of tea in hand and a plate of toasted cheese sandwiches on the table in front of them. The setting was comforting in a way Rose hadn’t experienced in a long time. The cottage wasn’t posh, but elegant in a cozy sort of way, much like its owner.

“Rose, if you don’t want to talk about it–about the Doctor–you don’t have to,” Sarah Jane began. “You don’t owe me any sort of explanations simply because I told you my story. I just know how difficult it is to be left behind by the Doctor and if it would help you to talk–”

“He didn’t leave me behind,” Rose murmured, looking down into her tea. “I left him. Didn’t even say goodbye. Not that I could, not really, but I still…” She faded off into nothing and toed her shoes off so she could bring her knees up to her chest. Thinking about that night still made her feel cold.

She took a sip of her tea and felt Sarah Jane watching her with concerned eyes. “Anyway, do you remember about a year ago when the Henrick’s store blew up? That was the Doctor. First night I met him. By the next night we’d blown up the Nestene Conciousness and I took off with him. Didn’t know a thing about him and off I went.” She smiled a little sheepishly. “Stupid, yeah?”

Sarah Jane shook her head. “Not at all. I understand the attraction, believe me.”

Rose smiled a bit. Now that she’d had time to adjust, it didn’t seem to be a big deal that Sarah Jane loved the Doctor too. It was rather comforting in a way. “He’s bigger than life, the Doctor. All energy and bouncin’ around and god, that smile.” Rose grinned for the first time since arriving at Sarah Jane’s, just thinking about him, but the expression dimmed a moment later. “But he was so alone and hurt and he just needed someone and it made me feel special that I could be that someone.”

“Hurt and alone? Rose, what happened to him? That doesn’t sound like the Doctor I remember,” Sarah Jane murmured, her forehead wrinkling as she waited for an answer.

Setting her cup aside, Rose wrapped her arms around her legs. “There was a war. The last Time War, he called it. Daleks and the Doctor’s people.” She sighed and closed her eyes for a minute.

She could see it. The war, that was. Had seen it when she held the entirety of time and space in the palm of her hand. Some of the images were imprinted on her mind like an overexposed photograph. “He had to kill ’em all to save the rest of the universe. Daleks and his people. And he had to do it.”

Sarah Jane’s gasp of shock and horror startled Rose into opening her eyes. “An’ the worst part of it is that some of the Daleks escaped. We didn’t know about that until just after Christmas, though. But I’m gettin’ it all out of order.”

Taking a deep breath, Sarah Jane just sitting quiet and still, Rose launched into the tale of her year with the Doctor. The end of the world, Cardiff, Dickens and the Gelth, the Slitheen and then her first meeting with a Dalek. That was when Sarah Jane suddenly stood up and walked to the window.

“I’m sorry, Rose. I shouldn’t interrupt, but I quite hate those things. There is very little in this life or my experiences that leave me hating anything. But Daleks…” She wrapped her arms around herself as if she were cold. “I still think he should have destroyed them when he had the chance.”

Rose gaped. “What d’you mean when he had the chance?”

Sarah Jane smiled sadly. “Oh Rose, the Doctor has battled the Daleks often in his life. And there was a time when he could have destroyed them in their infancy, but he couldn’t do it. Ironic, isn’t it? He couldn’t bring himself to commit genocide then, but was forced to later, at the cost of his own people.” She paused and shook her head. “I can’t even imagine what he went through. And then you came along. I think perhaps I’m beginning to understand.”

It was suddenly hard to see through her tears and Rose looked away, trying to fight them back until a box of tissues appeared in her line of vision. “Thanks,” she murmured, taking one and blowing her nose with a slightly embarrassed smile. Having someone to talk to that really did understand made her realize how much she’d bottled up over the past year. There was no way she was going to be able to hold anything back now. She needed to tell the story too badly.

So she did, only faltering a little over the telling about how the Dalek had “died”, her embarrassment over bringing Adam along and her utter shame over what she’d done with her father. Through it all, Sarah Jane laughed and sighed and made comforting noises where appropriate, but she didn’t break in again until Rose was recounting the discussion she and the Doctor had had about dancing.

“Resonating concrete?” she repeated, clapping a hand over her mouth, obviously trying to forestall a laugh and failing miserably. “Oh dear, that sounds suspiciously like the Time Lord equivalent of ‘I have a headache’.” Rose couldn’t suppress a grin as Sarah Jane actually snorted with laughter, but the levity didn’t last long.

“I was so clueless back then, like it was all some sort of game,” Rose sighed, her eyes unfocused for a moment as she relived the memory. “Wasn’t even that long ago, really, but it seems like a lifetime.”

She focused again to see Sarah Jane once more sitting on the sofa, watching her with a quiet intensity. “Something monumental happened, didn’t it?” the older woman asked softly. “Something that changed everything.”

Rose nodded slowly, took a deep breath and told the story of being pulled out of the TARDIS onto the game station, the Daleks, how the Doctor had tricked her into the TARDIS and how she’d managed to get back. She felt strangely detached as she explained the events, as if she were describing something that had happened to someone else. She certainly didn’t feel like that Rose any more.

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Sarah Jane finally interrupted, looking horrified and intrigued at all the same time. “When you opened up the TARDIS… you were changed?”

“Sort of. Well, maybe not changed but… more,” Rose tried to explain, knowing no words could ever fully make someone understand. “It was like I was me and the TARDIS and Time all at the same time.” She paused, remembering the Doctor’s face when she’d stepped forward, feeling the Vortex seethe through and around her with every movement.

“I couldn’t let him die. Especially not with the Daleks,” she went on, her voice practically a whisper. “I killed ’em. Every single one. All it took was me thinkin’ that I wanted it and that’s what happened. I could’ve made anything happen. Anything I wanted.”

She was so caught up in the memory that Rose didn’t even hear Sarah Jane’s gasp of shock or the other woman’s struggle to get her reaction under control. “I didn’t want to let go of it, but he was so scared… and it hurt, so I let him…”

It took Sarah Jane calling her name several times for Rose to break away from her mind’s eye and focus on the present. “I… I’m sorry,” she said, shivering and drawing her legs up tighter against her chest.

“Don’t apologize,” Sarah Jane said cautiously. “It’s just all so fantastic. If I hadn’t lived that life and seen what I had… well, I don’t know if I could believe you. But I do,” she rushed to add, then hesitated for a moment. “What I don’t understand is how you’re sitting here with me now. I saw so much myself, Rose, and holding power like you’ve described… I think it’s likely that very few people could have survived it.”

Rose smiled, never realizing how chilling the expression was. “I didn’t.”

Silence hung in the room, heavy and fraught with tension until Sarah Jane finally broke it. “Then how…?”

“The TARDIS. She saved me. Sort of rebuilt me, I guess,” Rose replied, her eyes haunted now. “But not human. Not human.”

Sarah Jane simply stared at her. “What do you mean, ‘not human’?”

“D’you remember the nanogenes I told you about, the ones that caused the plague back in 1941?” Rose asked, resting her chin on her knees. “It was like that, I guess. But the TARDIS knows the Doctor’s biology better than anyone’s…”

She watched as Sarah Jane’s eyes widened. “So you’re like the Doctor now?”

Rose nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

Again, there was silence for a very long time before Sarah Jane carefully spoke once more, obviously setting aside her many questions. “And that… this change… is that why you left him?”

“No,” Rose said hoarsely, looking away as she explained what had happened to make her walk away from the Doctor after all they’d been through together, sparing neither of them in the process. She didn’t even realize that hot tears were running down her cheeks until she felt Sarah Jane wrap her in a tight hug before pulling back to offer another tissue.

“Thought I’d cried all the tears I had over this,” she hiccupped, embarrassed to have fallen apart once more.

Sarah Jane smiled sympathetically. “I think there’s enough pain in the story you just told me to justify a few tears. Cry when you need to, Rose. Otherwise you’ll never let go of the grief.” She brushed Rose’s hair back away from her face and for a moment Rose felt guilty that Sarah Jane was getting her confidences while she left her own mother in the dark. But then again, Sarah Jane understood in a way Jackie never, ever could.

A few tissues and sniffles later, Sarah Jane pulled away, her eyes searching Rose’s. “So, you’ve struck out on your own to build yourself a new life–which I think is admirable, by the way–but you’re not happy, are you?” She smiled as Rose frowned. “No mind reading skills here,” the older woman laughed. “But believe it or not, I remember seeing you sit in my lecture this afternoon and thought you looked very, very sad. It’s not just missing the Doctor, is it? There’s something more.”

If nothing else had endeared Sarah Jane to Rose, it was her willingness not to question or judge what had happened that night. It had been painful enough just recounting the basics. Having to pour over it would have just been too much.

“It’s hard to explain,” Rose started, groping for the right words to explain her frustration. “I’m not me anymore. Nothin’ works the same, not even my mind. It’s like… I can pick up the most complicated book and read it like I was flippin’ through a magazine, have all that knowledge in my head, but then I don’t know what to do with it. It’s there, but…” She shook her head in frustration. “I don’t know. Nothin’… fits anymore. I know that sounds stupid, but–”

“No, I think I might understand, at least a bit,” Sarah Jane cut her off. “It’s bad enough traveling with the Doctor and being plunked back on Earth to figure out how to get along again. But you… with your… changes, I think it would have to be something extraordinary to keep you grounded.”

Rose felt practically limp with relief. Sarah Jane actually did understand. “But how do I find that thing? Something to do that doesn’t make me feel like I’m just killin’ time? I can’t spend my life just doin’ something to keep busy. I’ll go insane.”

Sarah Jane sat up a bit straighter and suddenly got a gleam in her eyes that piqued Rose’s interest. “What? D’you have an idea?”

With a wicked grin that Rose recognized as relentless determination the older woman nodded. “Tell me, have you ever heard of an organization called Torchwood…”


Back to index

Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Christmas Surprises

Author's Notes: Going to have to spoil myself a bit here, but for the sake of not confusing anyone, in my little AU world, while Rose is on present day Earth, Nine and Jack have the Tooth&Claw adventure. There will be more on this in a future chapter, but I figured it might be confusing not to know it in this one. And of course my everlasting thanks to for beta work and for brainstorming and helping me get a much, much better hold on this fic!!!!

“Come with me, Doc. It’s Christmas,” Jack cajoled, leaning a hip against the console and hiding the desire to smack his best friend in the back of the head. For the two of them it had been almost six months since Rose had gone and the Doctor was still being incredibly stubborn. Not a surprise, but frustrating nonetheless.

The Doctor arched a brow. “Didn’t think I’d need to have the domestics conversation with you, Jack. I don’t do it. Besides,” his eyes went flat and Jack mentally sighed at the tell-tale signs of an emotional shut down, “I’d think Christmas is about the last time she’d want to see me. It’s better this way.”

Jack did sigh aloud this time. “Do you miss the point on purpose or does it just amuse you?” The Doctor shot him a quelling look, but didn’t respond.

“I’m telling you, it might not be the most comfortable thing at first, but Rose wants to see you. It’s in her voice every time she’s asked how you’re doing.” Even knowing the Doctor didn’t necessarily welcome much in the way of casual physical touch, Jack reached out and rested a hand on his shoulder. “She doesn’t hate you.”

“Then she’s not as smart as I gave her credit for,” the Doctor said flatly, moving away.

Hand falling to his side, Jack shook his head. Still, in an odd sort of way, this was progress. The closer the Doctor got to giving in, the more difficult he became. It was halfway in the back of Jack’s mind to engineer some “emergency” about Rose just to throw the two of them back together, but he wanted to talk to Rose first and give her a chance to act a little more sensibly than the Doctor.

They’d been apart long enough and Jack’s patience was waning. It was Christmas and for Rose, nearly a year had gone by. What gave him hope was how she sounded the last time they’d spoken, a few months earlier. He’d felt guilty as hell for not being able to see her face to face, but the TARDIS phone had had to suffice while he and the Doctor were stuck in the Vortex making repairs after their latest great escape.

Jack contemplated the other man with a disgusted look. “You ever hear of a man named Scrooge?” he asked sarcastically, shrugging into his jacket and patting the pockets for Rose’s Christmas gifts.

The Doctor shot him another look that seemed to indicate his patience was rapidly dwindling. Jack just grinned in response as he walked to the door. “Oh, and by the way, you know that rose necklace you were looking at in the market on Siphrius Four?” He choked back a laugh at the Doctor’s startled look. “That’s the one. I picked it up and put your name on it for her.”

And then before the Doctor could react, Jack was out the door, grinning like a lunatic. He had a feeling it was going to be a good day.

The Doctor stared at the door, his mouth slightly agape. Jack couldn’t have… he wouldn’t… well, hell. He had. Sighing, he slumped back onto the jump seat and scrubbed a hand over his face.

He’d been totally unaware that Jack saw him fingering the deep pink stone carved into the complicated shape of a native flower that looked very similar to a rose. Of course, at the time, he hadn’t been paying attention to much around him, lost in thought and memories and the ache that seemed to permeate his entire body whenever he thought of Rose. He missed her so much that it still shocked him.

Companions had come and gone in his long life and many of them had been special. Sometimes–when he allowed himself to actually think of such things–he wondered if maybe his relationship with Rose had been different because he was different. Scarred. A pathetic excuse for a last Time Lord. He’d never been needy, not like he’d been when he found Rose.

It the end it really didn’t matter why. She’d gotten into his blood like a drug and without ever trying, changed his perceptions of so many things. Even after months with her gone, he craved her, dreamed about her, saw her ghost in everything he did. He still hated himself for what he’d done to her, but that self-loathing did nothing to counteract how badly he wanted her back.

Without conscious thought, the Doctor made his way to the door and stared at it for a moment before resting his forehead against the cool panel. It took everything in him not to slip out and follow Jack.

Rose stood at the window in Sarah Jane’s kitchen with a cup of tea and looked out on the cold, rainy Christmas Day with mixed emotions. A few more months and it would be a year since she’d left the Doctor and in that time, she’d found some peace within herself. It made her proud, how far she’d come and what she was accomplishing with Sarah Jane’s help. Still, despite it all, she felt like some part of her missing. The ache of loss had been there for so long now that she was used to it; had learned to work around it and be happy even while it throbbed in the background.

She took a sip of her tea and smiled at the dreary landscape. Snow would have been nice, but given that there was a better chance of an alien invasion on Christmas Day, she hadn’t gotten her hopes up. It was funny though how a dreary day was acceptable. The gray skies, cold and damp just seemed to emphasize the warmth indoors with the crackling fire and festive lights.

A twinge of guilt struck her. Jackie had been less than pleased that Rose intended to spend Christmas with Sarah Jane even in the face of promises for Boxing Day. Her mum had taken an instant dislike to Sarah Jane and Rose couldn’t completely blame her. Sarah Jane was wonderful, but Rose knew she’d drifted away from her mother since she’d been home, never having been able to bring herself to explain what had happened on the game station. It was the same with Mickey. Both of them still looked at her with hurt and more than a little resentment for being different and moving on with a life they couldn’t understand. It was painful for Rose too, but at the same time, she couldn’t fit herself back into the mold of the old Rose to make them happy. She would have gone insane.

Taking a sip of tea, Rose wondered what was keeping Sarah Jane. She’d gone off to show Harry to his car after Rose said her goodbyes inside to give the old friends a few moments of privacy. Harry Sullivan had been a bit of a shock, simply because it was starting to seem like every time she turned around, she was finding an old companion of the Doctor’s. Not a bad shock, though. She liked Harry and he seemed to enjoy playing a sort of older brother or fond, knowing uncle role.

How he’d come into her life was… well, quite a story on its own. Torchwood. That’s what it all came back to, really. And what a ride it had been. Sarah Jane–ever the investigative reporter–had been researching whispers and rumors for months already, trying to ferret out secrets buried within secrets to find out what was really going on behind the shiny façade of the little known organization without too much luck. Still, the whispers she’d heard were ominous, tales of a monster in the making and power enough to topple governments with the resources at their fingertips. It didn’t help that people who spoke a bit too freely seemed to suddenly disappear without a trace.

After telling Rose about what she’d learned to date, Sarah Jane tentatively brought up the idea of getting someone on the inside to see what was really going on. Rose jumped at the chance. It was finally something she knew she could do and probably enjoy. Fact was, she craved the adrenalin rush the Doctor had introduced her to so long ago. And on top of that, she just wanted to be useful. She’d felt lighter at the very thought.

Despite the fact that it was her idea, Sarah Jane was cautious at first. Careful plans had to be made and she also wanted to be sure Rose was up to such a thing, especially without the Doctor as backup. If they went into Torchwood under cover, they were on their own. Or so they thought. There was never any doubt in Rose’s mind that she was up to such a task, but the process had left her restless with so many little details to put into place. It wasn’t like her time with the Doctor, just flinging themselves into situations sight unseen. To begin with, Torchwood didn’t exactly accept random applications. They recruited. So her name had to be put in a place where it would be seen and noticed.

That’s where Harry Sullivan had come into the picture. Sarah Jane rang him up to call in a favor or two. Rose never was completely clear on what he did for the government although he clearly belonged to some group called UNIT–which she vaguely remembered mention of from the Slitheen incident–and frequently consulted someone called the Brigadier. After hearing an abbreviated story of Rose’s time with the Doctor, Harry had been fully on board to help. Evidently Torchwood was worrying quite a few people in the higher echelons of the government, UNIT in particular. Harry made it clear that while there were already people hidden within Torchwood, the ranks were small and private and they’d welcome someone with Rose’s unique experiences.

When all was said and done, the plan was simple. Rose’s name was to be whispered in the ears of the right people, described as a bored young genius–that made her laugh out loud, even more so when she saw the scores on the tests Harry insisted she take to validate their claims–with a penchant for finding herself in the midst of the strange and the odd thanks to being generally bored with life and all that was normal. Exactly the kind of brain and personality those in power at Torchwood seemed to like to pluck up and groom for their organization. Maybe there wasn’t a list of letters behind her name, but they would hopefully see her as a blank canvas, easily molded to their way of thinking.

After all the flurry and excitement of planning and setting up her “new” background, Rose had been surprised and a little frustrated by the lack of action once everything was in place. At that point, it became a waiting game. All she could do was continue her classes, make herself visible as the personality they hoped Torchwood wanted and cross her fingers.

It took two months for them to bite. The first thing Rose noticed was a very nice looking bloke–clean cut, upper crust type–watching her in class. At first she’d been flattered in a rather distant sort of way, but after a few days of feeling his eyes on her, she started to wonder. Either he was some sort of psycho stalker or she was under surveillance. Three more days–during which she was also rather sure someone was following her away from campus as well–and Mr. Handsome approached her, all smiles and charm, asking if she’d like to have a cup of coffee with him after class. He reminded her of Jack. Since he named a local shop around the corner, she blithely agreed.

The first time, nothing happened other than the generic “get to know you” kind of conversation. Benjamin–who she still thought of as Mr. Handsome in her head–chatted about himself, asked her about herself and then took himself off a bit later after asking her to dinner later that night. He’d suggested someplace private. She’d countered with someplace very open. After all, there was no need to be stupid. Especially if he was a psychotic stalker.

After dinner–all very posh and charming, of course–he’d asked to walk her home, saying he had something important he wanted to talk to her about. Rose only hesitated a second, knowing she was going to have to take a calculated risk. It also occurred to her that the Doctor would have been livid at what she was doing, especially without anyone to back her up. She shrugged off the thought and allowed Benjamin to lead her off.

It was during the walk that he’d made the pitch, just as she’d hoped. Had she ever heard of a group called Torchwood? They were a very special organization, only sought out the best and they’d been watching her; knew she wasn’t the generic co-ed she appeared to be. Trying not to grin, Rose pretended shock and dismay that anyone had been watching or checking into her background. Again, her companion took the bait and reassured her that the only purpose had been to make sure she was exactly who all her records said she was. After all, an organization like Torchwood could never be too careful, right?

By the time they reached her flat, he’d gone through his script and waited for her reaction. She’d played coy for a minute, but gave it up quickly when she heard a voice in her head sounding distinctly like the Doctor telling her to quit playing with the pretty boy and get on with business. As soon as she’d accepted, her date was all business as well, telling her to expect a car the next morning and not to be late. Then he was gone.

A bit taken aback by how quickly it happened, Rose let herself inside and took her time showering and getting ready for bed. Her first instinct had been to call Sarah Jane, but it occurred to her that Torchwood was likely watching her to make sure she didn’t say anything to anyone, so she settled for a quick text message on the phone the Doctor had rigged for her so long ago. After what he’d done to it, she was fairly certain that he was the only one who could trace it.

The next morning, she’d barely pulled herself together in sedate trousers and a blouse with her hair pinned back when there was a sharp knock at the door and a non-descript sedan in the street. Half an hour later she was inside Torchwood Tower and the inquisition began. By lunchtime she’d been “interviewed” by at least half a dozen people before she was shuffled off to Director Hartmann’s office for her “official” welcome to Torchwood.

Yvonne Hartmann was like a force of nature. She made Rose uncomfortable from the get-go, something sparkling fanatically in the woman’s eyes that made Rose rather certain that ruthlessness would not be a problem if the situation wanted it. In any case, by the end of the day, Rose was both exhausted and amused. She indeed had a job with Torchwood, mid-level security clearance and all, but despite her so-called brilliance, she was basically a glorified research assistant who would probably make more coffee than brilliant alien discoveries.

That had been more than five months ago and the trickle of information had been slow, but between herself and the embedded UNIT agents, every tidbit had been invaluable. Or so Harry told her. Torchwood was not the benevolent protectorate that it seemed. In fact–

“I’m so sorry,” Sarah Jane said a bit breathlessly, her cheeks pink from the cold. “Harry left ages ago, but my neighbor poked her head out to say hello.” She poured herself a cup of tea and joined Rose on the window seat, looking at her speculatively. “You going to have to call him, you know.”

Rose blinked. “What? Oh…” She flushed and glanced away. Sarah Jane was too perceptive by half. All her musing about Torchwood had indeed been a distraction to keep her thinking about the Doctor, today of all days. Jack, too. She hadn’t seen him in months and a hurried phone call here and there did little to dispel the gnawing ache of missing him.

“I know,” Rose nodded, feeling a stab of embarrassment for letting her personal feelings get in the way of something so much bigger. She’d heard the Doctor’s name whispered around Torchwood since the first days she’d been there, but it had just been two days past that one of the UNIT agents had discovered that the Doctor wasn’t just an alien of interest. He was the alien of interest. The Holy Grail for the Torchwood Institute, so to speak.

She and Harry and Sarah Jane had spent long hours on Christmas Eve debating what to do with the knowledge. For his own safety, the Doctor needed to be aware of what was going on–if he wasn’t already, of course–but at the same time, all three of them worried about what his reaction might be. Even though Harry and Sarah Jane hadn’t met him in his current regeneration, they knew the Doctor’s basic personality and shared the fear that he’d swoop into Torchwood and get himself into serious trouble underestimating Yvonne Hartmann and her zealous crusade.

So they’d hesitated, waiting for more information before dragging the Doctor into the situation. Still, Rose was uneasy. She had the strangest sense that time was running out somehow. For what or who, she had no idea, but all morning an underlying sense of nameless urgency had gripped her, growing ever stronger.

She and Sarah Jane both jumped as the front bell and the oven timer rang in tandem. Chuckling, Sarah Jane stood and put her cup of tea on the table. “I’ll check the turkey, you check the door.”

Nodding, Rose put her cup down as well and made her way to the door, expecting one of Sarah Jane’s neighbors to be on the other side. Instead, she only had a second to gape before she found herself pulled into a tight hug and swung around until she squealed.

“Jack! Oh my god, how did you find me?” she beamed once he finally put her down, grinning from ear to ear himself.

“Ran into Mickey on my way to your mother’s,” Jack replied, glancing around curiously as she tugged him inside out of the cold and shut the door. “Had to thank him for pointing me in your direction. Didn’t come out in this weather to listen to Jackie go off about your preference for company these days. Mickey didn’t seem all that happy either, though, now that I think about it.”

Rose sighed. “Ignore him. He and mum aren’t too happy with much of anything I’m doing’.” Unable to help herself, she threw her arms around him once more and hugged him close. “I missed you so much, Jack. You and….” She pulled back and looked up at him with searching eyes. “How is he?”

Jack smiled gently. “Getting by. Some days are better than others.” Before she could respond, he tugged a small box out of his pocket. “Speaking of, this is for you. He picked it out.”

Surprised, Rose just looked at the box until Jack lifted her hand and placed it on her palm. “The Doctor… he got me a gift?” she asked incredulously, lifting her eyes to Jack’s.

Jack in turn squirmed just a little and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes and no. I bought it, but only after I watched him hold it and stare at it for a good twenty minutes. Made the shopkeep damn nervous, I can tell you that much.”

Rose bit her lip and turned her focus back on the box. Jack’s admission took nothing away from the gift. In fact, it just seemed more valuable now, no matter what it was. Carefully lifting the top from the box, she gasped softly at the sight of the pendant. “Oh Jack… are you sure? Did he really…”

Smiling, Jack nodded. “I promise, Rose. Besides, it would just be cruel to tell you that story if it wasn’t true.” Plucking the necklace out of the box, he walked behind her and fastened it around her neck. “Now, go look,” he directed, gesturing to a small decorative mirror mounted near the front door.

“It’s beautiful,” Rose murmured, staring at the mirror and the reflection of the pendant against her skin. That sense of time running out was sudden back, stronger than ever. “Jack, I–” she started then stared. “Is it… supposed to glow?” she asked faintly, staring wide-eyed at the pendant, which had also started to produce a slight warmth against her skin.

Jack grinned. “Siphirian heartstone. There’s a whole mystique about people who love each other imprinting on the stone, the stone reacting, blah, blah, blah,” he smirked. “Never believed it myself, but…” He shrugged and gestured to the warm, glowing pendant. “Maybe it’s trying to tell you something.”

Before Rose could come up with a coherent reply, Sarah Jane walked in and hesitated in the doorway looking curious. “Rose? Going to introduce me to your friend?”

Jack stepped in before Rose could reply, his most charming smile plastered on his face. Rose tried not to roll her eyes. “Captain Jack Harkness, at your service,” he murmured, taking Sarah Jane’s hand, turning it and pressing a kiss against the inside of her wrist. Rose bit back a snicker as Sarah Jane blushed, but took pity on her friend and walked over to stand next to her.

“Jack, Sarah Jane Smith. One of the Doctor’s former companions,” Rose added pointedly, watching the flare of surprise then curiosity in Jack’s eyes. “And Sarah Jane… well, I guess you practically know Jack from all I’ve told you.”

“Only the good parts, I hope,” Jack quipped, looking charmingly naughty.

Sarah Jane blushed and glanced over at Rose. “I see what you mean now,” she chuckled. “He is very much the dashing rake, isn’t he?”

“Oh, I like her,” Jack laughed, reaching over to ruffle Rose’s hair. “Dashing rake. That sounds so exciting and elegant at the same time. Tell me, Sarah Jane, you’re not married, are you?” he teased, taking her hand once more.

“Right then,” Rose laughed, smacking Jack in the shoulder. “Obviously Jack hasn’t got out enough lately. Behave yourself.”

Sarah Jane winked. “I’ve dealt with a pretty rogue or two in my time, Rose. I think I can handle this one.”

“Pretty rogue?” Jack replied, looking more and more intrigued. “I like that even better than dashing rake, I think. You and I, Sarah Jane,” he took her hand and tucked into the crook of his arm, “are definitely going to have to get to know one another better.”

Rose’s phone chose that moment to ring, making her jump and taking her attention away from Jack’s flirting with Sarah Jane for a moment. Seeing the Torchwood number, she lifted it to her ear and first frowned, then paled as an excited voice chattered in her ear. Unable to put together a coherent thought, she mumbled something unintelligible before hanging up and staring at Jack and Sarah Jane, who were both watching her with concern.

“Rose? What’s wrong?” Jack asked cautiously, Sarah Jane just at his shoulder, waiting silently for the answer.

Swallowing, her mouth dry with the message she’d just gotten, Rose stared at them for a moment. “There… this morning, Torchwood destroyed some sort of alien ship out in space. Out by Mars or somethin’–”

“Torchwood?” Jack cut in, suddenly looking even more uneasy. “Uh… how do you know about Torchwood? Wait, why are you getting phone calls from Torchwood, Rose?” he asked, all traces of flirting gone from his voice.

It was Sarah Jane’s turn to jump in. “Wait a minute. Jack, how do you about Torchwood?” she asked with a suspicious look.

To say Jack looked uncomfortable was an understatement. “I… well, y’see, the Doctor and I had this run in with… well, Queen Victoria. Oddly enough, she didn’t take to me…”

“Oh god, that explains everything,” Rose whispered, quite horrified at how the pieces suddenly all fit together. “That’s why he’s in the charter.”

“Charter? What charter?” Jack asked, glancing over at Sarah Jane, bewildered.

Sarah Jane briefly closed her eyes and shook her head. “Torchwood was founded because of the Doctor, Jack. From what we’ve been able to gather, they salvage and scavenge alien technology where they can, supposedly to protect the ‘British Empire’ as they call it, but their main goal is to get their hands on the Doctor. They want him. Badly. In fact, from what we’ve learned, I’m not sure they would stop at anything to get him.”

“And now they have him,” Rose said, feeling numb with shock and fear.

Jack and Sarah Jane both turned to her, twin expressions of disbelief on their faces. “That’s what Dr. Reaney was so excited about; why and wants me to come in,” Rose went on. “He said that the blast into space must have drawn the Doctor’s attention, because he showed up in one of the basement levels of Torchwood Tower about half an hour later.”

“Fuck,” Jack growled, running a hand through his hair and earning himself a startled look from Sarah Jane. “Okay, Torchwood has the Doctor. We have to get him back. Simple. Right? So… wait.” He stopped and pinned Rose with a look. “Who’s this Dr. Reaney and why’s he calling you? You never answered my question before. How are you tangled up with Torchwood?”

Rose took a deep breath to explain, but Sarah Jane spoke up first. “Rose works for Torchwood. In a manner of speaking,” she explained, lifting a hand to silence the outburst that was visibly hovering on Jack’s lips.

“You see, when she and I met, I had begun working on a story about Torchwood, knowing very little about the organization. Rose agreed to go in as a research assistant and try to help find out what was really going on. What we didn’t realize until later is that we had… well, hooked ourselves a rather large fish.”

Jack gaped at the two women. “Are you both insane?”

Sarah Jane arched a brow. “Not even close, Captain,” she remarked rather coolly. “We knew exactly what we were doing and were not without support. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of another organization called UNIT, have you?”

Rose watched warily as Jack shook his head. “No, I haven’t. Should I?”

“Not necessarily,” Sarah Jane went on patiently. “But the Doctor is very familiar with them. He worked along side them for years, but that was quite a while ago. In any case, I have a friend who works with UNIT and they were also concerned about the power Torchwood and its director were harnessing. I suppose you could say they’ve taken us under their wing a bit.”

“The Doctor is going to have a fit,” Jack said, looking a bit shell-shocked.

Rose bristled at the implication. “The Doctor doesn’t have a say in what I do,” she started before a look from Sarah Jane left her shutting her mouth with an audible click.

“What has happened no longer matters at this point,” Sarah Jane pointed out evenly. “What’s imperative is getting to the Doctor as quickly as possible. From what Rose and others have learned, while Torchwood might not be prepared to cut him up for examination, they are quite willing to use any other tactic at their disposal to… ‘encourage’ the Doctor to share the secrets of the universe with them.”

Jack nodded shortly. “Rose, get your coat. First thing’s first and we need to get to the TARDIS–”

“Jack wait,” Rose said, putting a hand on his arm to get his attention. “Didn’t you hear me? The Doctor landed inside Torchwood. They have the TARDIS too.”

Jack stared at her blankly for a moment. “Okay, plan B… We have to find a way to get inside, then.”

A slow smile dawned across Rose’s face. The sense of time running out had suddenly come to an abrupt halt and been replaced by that spark of something incredible that she’d been missing for nearly a year. “Lucky for us all,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a flat piece of oddly shaped plastic, “I have a key.”


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Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Torchwood

The Doctor paced the lovely cell provided for him by Torchwood and one Director Yvonne Hartmann. As far as prison cells went, it really was top of the line; extremely spacious, padded walls, padded floors, nice ambient temperature and absolutely nothing else of interest. Well, unless you counted the two-way mirrors that were prominently placed around the entire perimeter and mirrored his furious blue eyes back at him.

Shooting a look of contempt at the “mirror” across from him, he forced himself to stop, lean back against the wall and close his eyes. He wasn’t going to give them the further satisfaction of watching him scramble around like a rat in a trap. His greatest weapon was his mind, anyway, so he could stand still and use it. Besides, the stupid apes had taken his sonic screwdriver, he thought bitterly.

Alright then. Assets. No sonic screwdriver, no access to the TARDIS, not a bloody thing in his cell of use and Jack didn’t even have a clue where he was. Jack. The Doctor swallowed a groan. It was inevitable that Jack was going to come looking for him when he found the TARDIS gone from where they landed. Jack knew he wouldn’t leave without him. That was bad news. What made it worse is that since Jack had been off visiting Rose, she became a part of the package.

Unable to help himself, he started to pace again, the thought of Rose getting embroiled in Torchwood making his jaw clench. They’d no doubt try to use her against him if they got their hands on her. Jack too, but he didn’t worry about Jack quite as much. Jack could take care of himself in a pinch. Rose…

“Feeling a bit confined, are we Doctor?” came a carefully cheerful voice over a speaker in the ceiling. “A shame, really. I would simply adore doing something to help you out, but unfortunately, I can’t do something for nothing. You see, we have a system here at Torchwood. Mutual admiration, if you will. You do something for me, I do something for you…”

He bit back the urge to tell Yvonne exactly where she could stick her mutual admiration, although he seriously doubted he’d be the first to say it. Possibly the first to say it to her face, which gave the idea merit.

“Really, Doctor, the stoic act is rather dull, don’t you think? If you would only see the merit in your being helpful, this could be so much easier on all of us.” There was a pause and when she spoke again, there was a hint of something dangerous in Yvonne’s voice. “Why don’t we start with the issue of your companion? We know you’re traveling with one. A surveillance camera caught him leaving the TARDIS earlier today. I must say, given your penchant for attractive young women, I find it very forward thinking of you to travel with another man. I’d like a name, please.”

The Doctor studied his nails for a moment, the only sign of his displeasure were the muscle flexing rhythmically in his jaw. When he had a sense for which mirror she was standing behind, he walked straight to it, eyes piercing into a form he couldn’t see, but knew was there regardless. “Let me make this clear, Director,” he snapped poisonously. “You can choose to do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to open the door, make your apologies and let me go. The hard way is me forcin’ the issue.”

There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment before Yvonne’s forced laughter tittered over the speaker, grating on his nerves like nails on a chalkboard. “Oh now that was truly amusing, Doctor,” she chuckled huskily. He could even imagine her eyes twinkling, covering a dangerous zealot’s fire in their depths. He’d run across her type before; the ones who truly believed they were working for good, no matter their tactics. In the end that type usually ended up more deadly than the most insane, corrupt dictator.

“You see,” Yvonne went on doggedly, “we’ve been studying you for ages and know quite a bit about you. We might know more if UNIT had been more cooperative, but we have enough to begin with. That beginning will be your companion, Doctor. Pictures have already been distributed among the police and it is only a matter of time before he is found. Unless you’ve grown more cooperative in the meantime, we will have to discuss… options pertaining to the care and keeping of your friend.

Again, there was silence as he refused to react and a moment later, the audibly irritated voice came over the speaker once more. “Until then, Doctor. Good night.” And the lights were cut until there was nothing but blackness surrounding him.

The urge to sigh and let his shoulders sag was strong, but even though he wasn’t able to see a glimmer of light, the Doctor was fairly certain those on the other side of the glass had a decent view of him. So he stayed exactly where he was, staring at the mirror, arms folded over his chest. If he managed to unnerve a few people, all the better.

Set on his course, he retreated into his mind where the worry was barely kept at bay. He hated feeling so helpless, only able to pray that Jack wouldn’t attempt a rescue, but just take Rose somewhere they would both be safe. Even as he thought it, the Doctor knew the very idea was ludicrous. Jack would storm Torchwood, guns blazing if he had to and probably get himself caught and tortured in the process.

And if Rose was with him…

No. He wanted to convince himself that Rose wouldn’t come even if he knew it was a lie. Anything else made his hearts falter. He might have lost her, but at least he knew she was safe. That was priceless. In many ways, it was like what had happened on the Game Station. If he knew she was safe… he could do anything.

Please Jack… keep her safe…

“Rose, this is a really bad idea,” Jack tried one last time, even though standing in a loading bay at the base of Torchwood Tower made it a bit of a moot point.

Rose glared at him over her shoulder as she prepared to push the plastic disk into the non-descript slot in the concrete. “So you keep sayin’. But then again, probably most of the stuff I’ve spent my life doin’ for the last two years is a bad idea. Nothin’ new there.”

She grinned at him with her tongue peeking out between her teeth and Jack bit back a groan. Assuming they could get out of the situation in one piece, the Doctor was going to kill him. It was like an unspoken prime directive–he’d watched way too much Star Trek with Rose–to keep Rose out of danger and in a safe place if at all possible. Not that the Doctor had accomplished that on a regular basis either, but he was still going to be livid.

The problem was, aside from the fact that getting into the Tower was going to be much safer and faster with Rose leading the way, the idea of going in to save the Doctor seemed to have flipped a switch inside her that had been turned off for a very long time. He hadn’t seen her this luminous since she’d left. Once she’d got over her shock and panic, Rose Tyler had lit up like a Christmas tree, glowing from the inside out.

Jack wondered how on Earth she’d held out so long missing that part of herself. He wondered how he’d gone on so long with it as well. And the Doctor… Well, Jack figured whatever happened in the next few hours was going to change everything radically.

A soft beep pulled his attention back to the key slot, which was sliding the chip back into Rose’s hand. “And we’re in,” she murmured, glancing back at him.

Resigned, he nodded and tugged down the brim of the cap Sarah Jane had plopped on his head before she sent them on their way, her own mission to contact someone called Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier. When all three of them were safe in the TARDIS once more, Jack had every intention of getting a full accounting out of Rose, even if he had to tie her down. The mental picture made him grin despite the seriousness of the situation.

Taking a deep breath, he slipped inside just on her heels, hard pressed not to take the lead and reminding himself that Rose knew what she was doing. He hoped. In silence they made their way up several floors until she gestured him into a room that reeked of old coffee and closed the door.

“Okay, here’s the deal: I’m gonna have to check in with Dr. Reaney, ’cause when I used my key to get in, it logged my entry and shows I’m in the building now, so if I’m here, but he hasn’t seen me, he might wonder. And believe me, these people are suspicious like nobody’s business,” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

The door suddenly opened and Jack flinched. He had little time to react since Rose was quicker, flinging her arms around him and plastering her lips against his.

“Jesus, Rose,” came a startled male voice. “Tonight was not the night to bring you boyfriend in. They’re going to drag you both out by your ears if you get caught! Didn’t you get the alert?”

Jack grinned as she pulled away just enough to glance over at the other man. “Hmm? Oh, sorry Paul,” she smirked, the picture of naughtiness. “But it’s Christmas! I couldn’t just leave him at home. Besides, it’s not like we’re gonna get to see anything, are we?” she pouted prettily. “Just spend all night makin’ coffee and tea and running around doin’ everything but wipin’ their noses.”

Paul sighed. “Don’t get me started. I could run rings around some of those stuffed shirts…” He trailed off as Jack purposefully slid his hand over Rose’s bum. “Well then… coffee’ll be a few, so I guess I’ll give you two some privacy.”

Jack felt the other man’s eyes on them as he walked out and choked back a laugh at the softly murmured, “How come all the hot ones are straight?”

Rose distracted him by smacking him in the shoulder. “Ow! What was that for?”

“For enjoying that just a little too much,” she grinned, not looking nearly as irritated as she was trying to sound. “How many hands you got in that jacket anyway?”

Jack grinned unrepentantly. “I never kiss and tell, beautiful. Especially not on a mission. Speaking of…”

Rose nodded and glanced at the door. It was only a matter of time before someone else walked in. “How do you feel about getting a guard out of his clothes?”

“Depends on if he’s my type or not,” he said with a wicked gleam in his eye.

“Jaaaaaaaack!” Rose shook her head. “Seriously. I think the Doctor has to be on one of the top floors. I haven’t been able to get up there and I don’t know of anywhere else in the building they’d be holding him. It wouldn’t make sense to move him, because everybody who wants to study him is here. So I was thinkin’ that if you could get a hold of a uniform and an ID badge with a blue square on it–that’s upper level security–”

“Then I can escort you upstairs and we can both get to the Doctor,” Jack finished, nodding and looked pleased with the plan. Rose had obviously done quite a bit of growing up in the year she’d been away. Seeing her confident and proactive was incredible when he compared her to the broken girl she’d been the night she left. “Couldn’t’ve said it better myself, Miss Tyler. Now, to find a blue square…”

Rose grinned. “Guard barracks and lounge are one floor up.”

“Beautiful,” Jack grinned and pulled Rose in for a playful, smacking kiss. “Now, go check in and I’ll come find you once I’ve gotten cozy with the guards.”

“But what if–” Rose began.

“No. No ‘what ifs’, Rose. We can’t afford them,” he said softly, losing all semblance of humor. “This, we simply do. Period.” He looked into her eyes, searching for fear or hesitance or anything else. All he saw was determination.

“Right,” she nodded, taking a deep breath. “I’ll be in Lab G7. Six floors up, first corridor on your right.” Then she launched herself at him and hugged him as tightly as she could. “Be careful, okay? I think I can only handle one rescue at a time.”

Jack grinned and swatted her bottom as she moved toward the door. “Same to you, gorgeous.” She shot him one last look over her shoulder, then disappeared, closing the door behind her.

He sagged a little before taking a slow, deep breath. Plain facts were that he didn’t have the luxury of worrying about Rose. From what he’d seen of guards and surveillance and alien tech being freely carried about, getting the Doctor out without starting a war was going to be some interesting trick. And Rose was an asset. An asset to be used, not stuffed in a closet to wait for the outcome.

So be it. Pushing away from the wall, Jack smiled grimly to himself and headed out into the hall. He had a date to keep.

Doctor Mikhail Reaney was a tiny little man with pouf of dark hair who tended to flutter about his lab and in general seemed to pay little attention to anything outside of his current research. He also seemed rather fond of Rose, perhaps because she wasn’t unnerved by his fluttering or babbling or half a dozen other strange idiosyncrasies he had and that helped him think.

When Rose walked into the lab, he immediately made his way over, eyes blinking, hands waving about, going on at full steam about having the Doctor in custody and what an amazing thing that was. She forced herself to keep the pleasant smile on her face and nodded as she made the rounds of the large room, gathering up the myriad cups and take away wrappers the little scientist always left in his wake.

It was a good cover as her mind whirled. What if something happened to Jack downstairs? How would she even know? Except… god. She hadn’t thought of it before, but if Jack were picked up, they’d go back through security tapes and to see how he got in. He’d gotten in with her. Which meant they’d be hauling her off and into a cage right next to his, then neither of them would be able to help the Doctor.

Closing her eyes, Rose sent up a little prayer to whoever might be listening that Jack was able to get a uniform and security badge without bringing all of the Tower down on them. She also tagged on a little request about Sarah Jane getting to Harry and maybe getting a bit of help out of UNIT, although she knew she couldn’t bank on that. Harry had been very vague about UNIT’s long-term plans. It could very well be that the UNIT members in Torchwood wouldn’t reveal themselves, no matter what.

So, maybe a plan “B” was in order, then. She was furiously trying to think of something when it finally impacted that Dr. Reaney was trying to get her attention. Sighing, she realized he’d spilled something on his desk and was jumping about as the liquid seeped onto the fax machine below, sending up sparks as it shorted out.

Lovely. Now she was going to get stuck finding new equipment and setting it up when she should be–

“Rose? Dear girl, you really are going to have to wake up and pay attention! Today is a momentous day! The first of a great period of discovery! Now, I know it’s late, but we all have to work together! Let’s see… first thing, I suppose, you’ll have to go upstairs and get me a copy of the initial observation reports. Those will be crucial, of course.”

She blinked at the little man. “Upstairs?” He couldn’t possibly mean… “Do you mean upstairs upstairs? Where the Doctor is being kept?” she asked incredulously, afraid to even hope that fate could be that kind.

Dr. Reaney smiled benevolently. “Why yes! Besides, you are the best research assistant I’ve ever had, Rose. Consider it my Christmas gift to you to catch a glimpse of the man Torchwood was founded because of,” he squeaked indulgently.

“But… I don’t have security clearance,” she said slowly, trying to force her hearts not to pound at the idea of getting upstairs so easily.

“Oh,” the small scientist said, pondering the problem for a moment. “Well, no matter. I’ll simply call for–”

A guard–Jack–stepped into the room in full uniform, weapon strapped to his back and beret pulled low. “Excuse me. I’m looking for–”

Rose stared at Jack as Dr. Reaney beamed and interrupted. “Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes, just perfect. Young man, I need you to escort Miss Tyler upstairs to retrieve some paperwork for me,” he rambled, obviously never thinking how very fortuitous the guard’s arrival was.

“Now, I’ll just ring them and let them know you’re coming, but do be a dear and hurry, Rose. I have so much to do that I don’t even know where to start! It’s like Father Christmas arrived for real!” the scientist enthused, continuing to talk to himself as he moved away to bank of computers on a far wall.

“You have no idea,” Rose said under her breath, choking back a horrified laugh at the mention of Father Christmas and thinking of the comment the Doctor’d made so long ago about the red bicycle she’d received as a child. She’d have to ask him about that once they were clear of this mess and back together–back together… it caught her short. That was what she wanted wasn’t it? But did he?

Jack cleared his throat and she nodded, returning sharply from her wayward thoughts. Focus, Rose. She followed him out into the hall. “Should’ve known you’d get the poor bloke out of his clothes in no time flat,” she murmured, shooting him a sideways glance.

“It’s a talent,” Jack smirked, his expression quickly falling into a neutral façade as another guard walked in the opposite direction, giving a curt nod. He followed alongside her as she made her way to the bank of elevators that would actually go all the way to the top of the Tower.

Once they’d stepped in, she quickly glanced up at the tiny camera in the corner and then back down, keeping her voice low. “What do we do once we get up there?”

Jack took off his ID badge and ran it through a slot on the side of the keypad on the wall before the elevator accepted their destination and began to move. Rose noticed that he’d somehow even managed to replace the picture on the front of it with his own. He never failed to amaze her.

“First we have to get the lay of the land. Figure out where he is and what it’s going to take to get him out,” Jack replied, drumming his fingers loudly on the wall to hopefully mask their conversation should anyone be listening. “From there… we’ll see. If an opportunity presents itself, we’re going to have to act fast. And if not… well, we’ll still see.”

Rose barely had time to nod before the doors swooshed open and they stepped out to face a guard desk. “Miss Tyler up for Dr. Reaney,” Jack said in staccato military tone as he handed over both their ID cards.

As they waited, Rose realized that getting in to see the Doctor was likely going to be the easy part. Getting out… she felt cold at the sight of all the firepower the guards at the desk were carrying and no doubt there were others clustered around. There was no way they were going to get out of the building. They’d have to find the TARDIS and pray they could get to her, otherwise all three of them were going end up as Torchwood guinea pigs.

God, they would love that. A Time Lord, an altered human and a human from thousands of years in the future. She fatalistically wondered which one of them they’d carve up first. Jack’s nudging her and handing back her ID badge brought her back from the dark thought. Just as well. She didn’t have time to dwell on things like that. The Doctor needed them.

Heart in her throat, she nodded to the guards as she and Jack were allowed through and made their way down the corridor to a set of large double doors. Jack reached out and pushed one open so she could step through, but once she had, all Rose could do was gape.

They’d entered into a gigantic hangar, but what was remarkable was the house-sized ‘box’ in the middle of the room. The Doctor was inside. Even if it wasn’t obvious from the flurry of activity around it, she could feel him. And she knew it the moment he felt her, with a jolt of shock and fear and worry and anger and hope all jumbled together. The Doctor’s feelings, not her own.

It only solidified her determination to get him out of there.

Jack nudged her again, his voice low enough that she had to strain to hear him. “Go get whatever it is you’re supposed to be up for, but make sure to take the long way around. Look for any way in or out of that room, any indication of where the TARDIS might be and any of his stuff. I’m sure they confiscated everything.”

Rose nodded silently and moved away, thankful that the lab bench she needed to go to gave her plenty of reason make her way through the room. Using the meekest demeanor she could come up with, she approached the scientist in question, showed her ID and requested copies of the lab reports. She might as well have been invisible for all the attention they paid her, impatiently clicking to print a few documents from a computer and shooing her over to the printer.

Truth was, she was glad to have something to physically do, because she was close enough to the Doctor’s cell to get an even stronger sense of him. He was waiting, silent and still, all leashed intensity just waiting to be freed. The oncoming storm.

Caught up in her thoughts, Rose gasped when someone in camouflage jostled her, knocking the papers she carried into the floor. “So sorry,” a male voice murmured, the man kneeling as she did to help pick up the papers. His next words nearly startled an exclamation out of her.

“The box you’re looking for is three floors down, Hangar T, ironically,” he said in a barely audible voice, tapping the blue security box on his ID tag before standing and offering up the papers with a congenial smile and conversational tone. Box? Hangar T? Blue box… Oh god, the TARDIS. “Sorry about that, Miss. The doctor you work for is a friend of mine. I’d hate to see him locked upin his research because I messed up his paperwork.”

Rose gaped at the man. He was at least in his sixties as far as she could tell and had enough insignia on his jacket that she assumed he had a high rank, but she had no clue who he was. “How… how do you know who my… I mean which doctor I work for?” she asked in a shaky voice.

He smiled kindly and gestured at her ID badge. “It says so right there.”

“Oh,” Rose said, flushing and trying to reign in her confusion when it occurred to her. UNIT. He had to be with UNIT. Because the comment about the box she was looking for couldn’t be anything other than him directing her to the TARDIS. Which meant that maybe, just maybe she and Jack weren’t alone in trying to free the Doctor from Torchwood. If Sarah Jane had gotten to Harry and Harry to his people. (There was hope.)

She beamed at him. “Thank you so much for your help.”

The man nodded and tugged at the brim of his beret. “Anytime, Miss. Now, I believe your escort is looking for you,” he said, gesturing toward Jack, who was approaching cautiously. “Can’t have you wandering around without him. Security’s too tight for that.”

Jack nodded curtly as the unnamed man walked away. He didn’t ask, but simply arched a brow at her in question. “A friend, turns out. Told me exactly where to find what the doctor is looking for,” Rose said, paused and made a point of tapping her badge. “Dr. Reaney, I mean.”

She watched as Jack processed the information and exhaled with relief. “Good. Because I didn’t get a word about the old girl. Found the little buddy, though,” he remarked, confusing her for a moment until she got that he was probably referring to the sonic screwdriver. God, the Doctor would kill him for calling it his “little buddy.”

“So…?” she prompted, hoping they weren’t drawing too much attention standing there having a quiet chat. It helped that Director Hartmann wasn’t in the room. That woman was always on point.

Jack nodded as if making a decision. “We’re going to have to go balls to the wall here, beautiful. There’s no way we’re going to sneak him out, so here’s what we’re going to do. You go over to the water cooler and spill a nice, big cup on your jacket. I mean really soak it. And while you do, I’m going to go over and cut a few gas lines.” His expression hardened and his voice went cold and sarcastic. “Nothing like pumping a room full of good, old-fashioned tear gas to make your alien pet jump around and show you what he can do.

Rose shivered, feeling sick. “They’re going to… gas him?”

“Yeah,” Jack replied flatly. “Although tear gas is pretty basic stuff. Don’t know that he’ll even react to it. And I’ve been trained to deal with it. But you haven’t, and that’s why I want you to wet your jacket. It won’t keep you from feeling the effects entirely, but it should hopefully get you through the worst until we can get out of here.”

“And then…?”

“The gas’ll clear some of the room, but it’s probably also going to trigger a lock down, so we have to move fast. I’ve got my sonic blaster and it’s charged–long story–so I don’t have to find a release for the door into that cell. Just get a quick cover of the gas and we’ll have him out. Then we’re going to have head for the T–” Jack cut off, making her jump.

“We’re starting to draw attention. Be ready to move. Got it?” Rose nodded and watched Jack stride off purposefully, struggling to take each breath over the pounding of her hearts as she made her way over to the water cooler. Covertly dousing herself with cold water as ordered didn’t exactly help, but she was a bit more focused as she shivered. That couldn’t be attributed completely to be cold and wet, though. She knew they were only going to have one chance and the odds of it working were at best slim.

Chaos exploded around the room within seconds. There was a muted boom followed by shrieks and curses as a huge cloud of yellow gas enveloped the cell block. Suddenly people were running and coughing, alarms filling the air and it was all Rose could do to focus on the direction Jack and the Doctor should be coming from, her eyes starting to sting viciously even though she was holding her breath.

The sound of gunfire startled her and Rose gasped, but before she could inhale too deeply, it was like someone flipped a switch inside her and she couldn’t breathe at all. For a split second she panicked until she realized that she didn’t feel like she was suffocating; just felt… normal. Without breathing. No heart pounding, no dizzy feeling…

Then before she could figure out what the hell her body was doing, a strong hand clasped hers and one word–the first she’d ever heard from him–rang in her ears. “Run!”

The Doctor. Oh god, it was the Doctor.

Despite the fact that they once again running for their lives, Rose wanted to laugh with the sheer joy of the moment. They weren’t out of the woods by a long shot, but the TARDIS was nearby, the Doctor was out and with the three of them together, she felt like there was nothing they couldn’t do.

Adrenalin and euphoria were in plentiful supply.

They burst through another set of hangar doors and she found herself pulled into an embrace nearly tight enough to crack her ribs. Then before she could even process it all, the Doctor firmly took her hand in his cool, strong grip and set off at a run again. Vision blurry from the gas, she could only follow, shouting out to Jack where to go.

Her vision started to clear as they found the stairwell and flew down, the Doctor the one thing keeping her upright instead of tumbling down head over heels. Panting, she skidded to a stop behind him as they made it to the right floor just as Yvonne Hartmann’s voice flooded the building, echoing from the speakers built into the ceiling.

“We have had a containment breach, level Alpha. The Doctor is to be taken alive. Anyone else may be removed from the situation with deadly force. Torchwood Tower is now on lockdown until situation is contained. I repeat…”

Rose flinched as the Doctor growled a curse under his breath and she wondered how much of Director Hartmann’s attention he’d been forced to endure.

“Doctor, Rose, this way!” Jack yelled, gesturing them down the corridor and around a corner. Once they’d rounded it, Hangar T was practically steps away, cleared of everything except the TARDIS. The TARDIS wrapped in some sort of webbing. The Doctor and Jack both cursed loudly.

Blinking and sniffling from the effects of the gas, Rose managed to catch sight of a keypad as they ran through door. She jerked her hand out of the Doctor’s and waved him on when he stopped as well. “Go! Help Jack. I’ll see if I can get these doors to lock,” she said desperately, knowing she had to buy them some time to get the TARDIS open.

They were so close. So very close.

The last thing the Doctor wanted to do was move more than a step away from Rose. He was furious at her for coming. He loved her for coming. He was going to wring Jack’s neck for allowing it when they were safely inside the TARDIS. And then possibly kiss them both, consequences and past history be damned.

But first things first. Bastards had wrapped his TARDIS in some sort of heavy-duty plastic webbing. A plebian stop-gap just until they could get a stronger shield around it, he was sure. He’d like to something incredibly unpleasant to Yvonne Heartmann as payback. That would have to wait, though. He joined Jack, pulling out his sonic screwdriver, which he’d grabbed after darting out of the cell. Idiots shouldn’t have kept it so close. Once he’d concentrated for a while, he could sense the power source and knew exactly where it was.

So, sonic blaster and sonic screwdriver versus webbing. No contest. The issue was time. They had seconds. Actually, they shouldn’t even have seconds. Something else was going on to occupy the Torchwood troops, otherwise they would have been guarding the TARDIS to begin with. Still, he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Five seconds, ten, fifteen… twenty. The webbing was falling away, he and Jack both silent as they worked and frantically pulled it away from the TARDIS’ door. “Get it open and started. I’ll get Rose,” the Doctor breathed and whirled around.

It was an illusion of circumstances, but time seemed to slow as he did, everything around him coming into painfully sharp focus.

Rose was still frantically working the keypad, trying to lock down the doors just as a battalion of Torchwood’s best rounded the far end of the hallway, their boots making an ominous thundering sound. And in their midst was Yvonne, ordering Rose to desist immediately and step away from the door.

Rose ignored her and he felt a charge in the air.

“Remove Miss Tyler from the situation,” he heard the Torchwood director order one of the men, who in turn lifted his weapon.

“No! Rose!” Her head darted up like a deer suddenly realizing the hunter is too close, her eyes meeting his with a look of apology. Not again. There was no way. He wasn’t going to let her die to save him again.

Twelve meters separated them. He could do twelve meters. Reaching out with all his senses, he ruthlessly grasped the filaments of time that constantly swirled around him and slowed their movement to a trickle. It would only last seconds, but that was all he needed to grab Rose and put her between himself and the TARDIS. She would be safe. Torchwood wanted him too badly to risk hurting him.

Moving to grab her, the Doctor saw the shock on her face and received a jolt of his own. She’d sensed what he had done and remained unaffected by the momentary sluggish movement of time. Of course. In the heat of the moment he’d forgotten she would instinctive feel what he was doing, even if she didn’t understand how.

Time roared back into full motion as he literally swung her around and shoved her forward toward the TARDIS, feeling the last grains slip out of the hourglass. But he’d done it. She was safe. A few steps more and they’d all be safe.

One foot over the threshold and he heard the loud pop of a rifle filling the hangar and jerked as something slammed into him, propelling him the rest of the way into the TARDIS. Feeling strangely surreal, he managed to close the door as Rose whirled around to face him, smiling like she only did in his dreams. But then her expression changed to one of shock and fear and he couldn’t figure out why that was, only that he felt like he was falling…


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Chapter 8: Chapter 8: To Everything There Is A Season

Three feet inside the TARDIS Rose turned, ready to throw herself into the Doctor’s arms when she froze at the look on his face. His blue-grey eyes were wide with shock. Before she even had time to think, he stumbled and fell forward, taking her down to the floor with him. Her head slammed into the grating and for just a second she was stunned, lying there pinned down by his weight and unsure of what had just happened.

It was the feel of something warm and wet seeping through the fabric of her top that jerked her out of the fog.

The Doctor. No. No.

Panicking, she wriggled around furiously until he groaned and rolled to the side a bit, freeing her from his weight. “Please tell me that stupid bitch didn’t shoot you,” she gasped, shaking as she knelt next to him, realizing how pale he’d gone. A glance down at the thin jumper she wore confirmed her fears. It clung to her, soaked with blood.

“No! Jack!” Rose screamed, not even seeing him working feverishly at the console to set the TARDIS dematerializing into the Vortex. All she could think of was how bad it must be if the Doctor was losing blood that quickly. “Oh god. Oh god. Doctor? Doctor, please…”

The Doctor opened his eyes and offered up a weary smile. “You used to be much better in a crisis, Rose Tyler. Out of practice, you.”

“Yeah, well you’ll have to talk to my teacher about his lessons stickin’,” she retorted in a shaky voice, trying not to hear the strange wheeze in the Doctor’s breathing. “Besides, it’s bad form to keel over just when you’ve been rescued, y’know.”

Rose glanced up just in time to see Jack throw the last lever and pelt over, stopping short as he stared at the blood on her hands and front.

“Doctor, we need to get you back–” he started, only for the other man to shake his head and give him a quick, significant look. Jack paled and looked stricken.

“What?” Rose demanded, looking back and forth between the two. “Why are we just sittin’ here? We’ve got to do something to help him!” She knew. Oh god, she knew. But not now. It couldn’t be now. “Jack, do something!” she demanded, tears pooling and blurring her vision.

The Doctor silenced her by taking her hand. “Rose, stop. Not enough,” he winced and inhaled slowly, “time.”

Jack looked on the verge of tears as well. “Are you sure, Doctor?” There’s nothing–”

“As sure as a punctured lung and an aortal bleed or two can make anyone sure,” the Doctor quipped with an attempt at his trademark manic smile. “Little sod was either a bloody good shot or one lucky bugger. Should raise his wage.”

“Doctor,” Rose whispered, unable to take the banter.

The Doctor shivered and looked to Jack, giving the other man a long look that Rose couldn’t quite decipher before Jack nodded and moved a few steps away, his shoulders slumped. Rose felt the tears spill over as the Doctor turned his gaze back on her.

“Don’t cry for me, Rose Tyler. I’m the last one that deserves your tears,” he murmured, wincing, but reaching up to wipe one damp tear track from her cheek.

Rose sobbed all the harder. “Don’t,” she said fiercely, grabbing his hand. “That’s not true an’ you know it. I–” She stopped as his fingers pressed against her lips, then moved down to where the rose pendant hung from her neck.

“Should’ve given you this myself, but I was too much of a coward. Seems to be a problem I have,” he wheezed. “Couldn’t do without Jack, y’know. Shoulda listened to ‘im sooner and told you–”

It was too much. “I love you,” Rose wept, leaning over and gently pressing her lips against the Doctor’s, trying not to noticed how very cold he was growing.

“Can’t hold it off much longer,” he managed with effort as she pulled away, visibly shaking and growing paler. “But I need to say this. Not the type to say this very often but Rose… I… I’m sorry. For so much. Things I didn’ say… didn’ do…”

She could barely see him through the tears as she held the palm of his hand to her cheek, the skin noticeably colder. “No. I don’t accept! You have to stay here an’ say it for real, Doctor! Please don’t do this. Don’t go,” Rose gasped, knowing it was inevitable but still unable to let go.

“Ah, you’ll be glad to get rid of this daft old face. Probably get a better lookin’ model anyway,” the Doctor murmured, eyes drifting closed no matter how hard she clung to him. “Still be me. More or less. Maybe be able to fix the mess I–”

Arching up, he cried out as a golden glow started to race around his body. Rose watched, transfixed, until she realized Jack was pulling her away. “No! No! I can’t let him do this alone,” she raged, kicking and fighting him furiously even as his strong arms dragged her up against his chest and held her tightly.

“Please!” she begged, sobbing incoherently as a explosion of blinding golden light filled the room, shielding the Doctor from her sight. Shaking, she turned her face to Jack’s chest, realizing when she did that he was crying as well. He held her even tighter and she clung to him in return, praying it was all a horrible nightmare that she’d wake up from any second.

Time seemed to stretch out forever until Jack muttered a hoarse curse, his iron grip on her growing loose. Swallowing, Rose looked up at him. Awe and disbelief were written all over his handsome face. “Jack…?”

“Rose,” he breathed, never tearing his eyes from where the Doctor lay. “I heard about it, you know. Thought it was a myth. Well, until what happened to you and he explained it, but seeing it…”

Hearts thundering, unable to bear not seeing for another second, she turned and stared.

There was an unfamiliar man–the Doctor–blinking and rising unsteadily got to his feet. He was so very different; thick, dark hair, pale and almost… boyish. Standing, he weaved for a moment before grabbing the railing and smiling broadly at her and Jack. “Remind me next time to find someplace more comfortable to collapse,” he said, frowning as he took a moment to pick at the overly large clothes hanging on his much thinner frame before looking up and grinning.

The lack of a Northern accent felt like sandpaper on Rose’s skin, but the man went on as if he hadn’t a clue. “Not that you weren’t comfortable, Rose, but… oh. That might have sounded a bit inappropriate, hmm?” She gaped as the man’s eyes went unfocused for a moment before he shook it off and grinned again. “Hello Jack!”

And then the man–the Doctor, she grimly reminded herself–promptly collapsed.

Jack stood in the doorway and silently watched Rose sit on the side of the bed next to the Doctor. He wasn’t sure if his friend was sleeping or in a coma or what, but he knew without a doubt that the Doctor was still the Doctor.

As much as he hated the way things had ‘ended’, Jack was relieved beyond belief that it wasn’t worse. Fact of the matter was, he and the Doctor had–surprisingly–talked a lot about regeneration after what happened to Rose. Evidently the Doctor tended to skim over those details with most of his old companions, often to their detriment. He hadn’t wanted Jack left floundering if anything ever happened along those lines.

The irony wasn’t lost on Jack that the one person who really needed to have had that talk with the Doctor was the young woman sitting at his bedside, looking lost and afraid. Rose hadn’t moved since he’d carried the Doctor in, stripped him out of his blood soaked clothes and tucked him into bed after checking to make sure the fatal wounds were really gone. That had been hours ago.

“Rose,” Jack said softly, not surprised when he didn’t even get a reaction from her. He ran a hand through his hair and walked over, sitting on the edge of what served as nightstand so he could face her.

“Talk to me,” he said softly, wanting to reach out and take her hand, but she seemed so self-contained that he wasn’t sure she’d welcome the touch. There was silence other than the sound of breathing. When Rose finally spoke, even though she was practically whispering, the sound seemed harsh in the quiet room.

“S’not fair, Jack,” she said in a voice that was choked with tears. “When we got him out of there and saw the TARDIS, I thought maybe we could fix things, y’know? Like maybe there was… hope. But now…” she reached out and pushed a wisp of hair from the unconscious Doctor’s forehead and Jack wondered if she even realized how tender the gesture was. “Now I don’t know. How much of my Doctor is gonna be left? Maybe… maybe he’ll just want to move on and forget about… everything.

Jack sighed. He wasn’t stupid. When Rose said ‘everything’ what she meant was herself. Was the Doctor going to want to move on and forget about her. He understood why she worried about it, but he didn’t believe it for a minute. The Doctor might be different–he didn’t have the first clue as to how much–but never in a million years could he believe that the core of the man would change so radically as to not see Rose as a part of himself.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Jack said softly, reaching out and gently tapping the pendant still hanging around her neck. “He’s still going to be the man that was stopped dead in his tracks by a stone flower because it reminded him of you. The packaging is different, but the inside parts, the parts that really matter… Rose, I think they’re still going to be pretty much the same.”

“But you don’t know that for a fact,” Rose replied wearily. “There was so much I wanted to say to him, explain, you know? But now… guess it’s too late.”

Jack debated arguing with her and decided to bite his tongue. They were both a little shell-shocked over what had happened, but he could understand where Rose’s apprehensions went a lot deeper. There was so much unresolved between her and the Doctor and his regeneration didn’t exactly help.

Sighing, Jack reached out and gently tugged on a lock of her long hair. “Why don’t you go shower and change,” he said softly, briefly glancing down at where the Doctor’s blood had stiffened and dried on her pale pink jumper. “Maybe lie down for a bit, too. You’ve been sitting here for hours.”

Rose blinked at him and looked surprised. “I have? I… yeah, guess I have.” She stood and hesitated there at the side of the bed. “But shouldn’t he be awake now? What if… god, Jack, what if something’s wrong?”

Jack bit the inside of his cheek as he fought to keep the worry out of his eyes. He was concerned about the same things. This regeneration wasn’t going all that much like the Doctor had explained it to him and he wondered if the Doctor trying to hold it off had somehow messed up the process. Unfortunately, there was no way to know either way, so he chose not to upset Rose further.

With a small smile, he stood and gathered her in his arms, hugging her close. “Don’t borrow trouble, okay? Just go take care of yourself and I’ll stay with him. We’re going to get through this, Rose. All three of us.”

She responded with a nod and a return squeeze then silently stepped away and out into the corridor. Once she was gone, Jack settled on the edge of the bed and watched the Doctor for a long time before shaking his head.

“I’m afraid I’m about at the bottom of my bag of tricks, my friend. Don’t even know if the old tricks would work on the new you. So if you don’t wake up and go after the girl, I may have to kick your ass after all. And you’re skinny enough that I could do it. I looked,” he smirked faintly, then sighed.

“Just come back to us, Doctor. We need you.”

Regeneration was a very, very odd thing. It was rather like flipping through an old family album, except all the characters in the pictures were quite willing and able to step out and give one what for about actions and reactions and any number of things.

His previous selves were quite vocal and opinionated too, which didn’t exactly speed up the process. They were very much ready to harangue him at length about two specific topics: the war and Rose.

On the first, it was rather unfair, because he–the tenth incarnation of himself–hadn’t been the one to participate in the war, but he came to understand that when he regenerated from his eighth to his ninth self, the ‘others’ were so horrified by what had happened, they’d remained strangely quiet. In hindsight–which was really a rather oddly apropos word to discuss being dissected by one’s past selves–it made sense. He still remembered how intensely fragile he’d been.

Had been. The Doctor sighed to himself, floating in an odd sort of psychic limbo while his body struggled to deal with a dodgy regeneration. He had been that man–his ninth self–such a short time ago. And had planned on being that man for quite a while yet. Still, saving Rose had been worth a life. Even with her changes, he hadn’t been willing to risk her. If he’d miscalculated and she’d died, he wasn’t sure his previous self could have stayed sane in the aftermath.

At the thought of Rose, his other selves set up a clamor. Some were appalled, some were intrigued and some were almost smug that a slip of a human girl had brought him to his knees. There was even a romantic among the bunch, but he refused to put a name–or a number, such as it were–to which specific regeneration felt the need to quote poetry about Rose. It was just slightly embarrassing, even in the privacy of his own mind. Besides, in the end, his past feelings were less important than what he felt now.

Of course putting definition to those feelings wasn’t something easily done, mainly because he wasn’t sure what kind of man he was going to be in this regeneration. He had a sense that he was going to be rather energetic and possibly ginger, but beyond that, he really couldn’t say.

A few of his other selves prodded him. Ginger or not, Rose had managed to make herself at home in his soul; in that part of himself that was always stable, no matter how often he regenerated. Even his past selves that were disgruntled with the turn of events admitted that she would have to be a part of his life, given the changes and who and what she was now. He scoffed at the idea of keeping Rose with him out of obligation. No, he couldn’t imagine ever feeling she was his albatross. Not Rose. Never Rose.

Still, the idea of being bound to someone was more than a little terrifying. It had been such a very, very long time since he had thought of loving someone and actually being with them for the foreseeable future. He wasn’t sure if he was cut out for it. Could he belong to someone again? Did he even want to? He was fairly certain he–his tenth self; there was no question about his ninth–loved Rose, but would that feeling chafe after awhile, like a marriage gone stale when there was no fire any longer?

He mentally shuddered at the thought and wished he would have more time to figure out what he was going to be like before he had to face Rose. But circumstances being what they were, that wasn’t really going to be an option. Especially not the comments that were drifting through to his consciousness.

For once he and his past selves were in agreement. He was going to have to wake up and soon. There was business to attend to before things got further out of hand.

Rose stood in her bathroom on the TARDIS and stripped off her clothes, stopping to stare at the blood-stained jumper in her hands. She swallowed hard and forced herself to drop it to the floor, hoping the TARDIS would somehow remove it while she was in the shower. She wasn’t sure she could bear to face the evidence of what happened.

Stepping to the mirror, she realized the jumper wasn’t the only thing marked. A thin film of the Doctor’s blood had dried on her stomach just below her breasts, much lighter than the stain on her top, but livid against her pale skin. Fascinated in a horrified sort of way, Rose drew shaking fingers across the patch and relived the moment when the Doctor had toppled over onto her, the feel of something heavy and wet against her skin…

“No,” she said aloud to her reflection and resolutely turned to the shower. She wasn’t going to go through that moment again. Not yet. Maybe not ever. She wasn’t sure her sanity could take it. Feeling numb, she could only think that she had to wash the stain away as she dialed up the hottest water she could stand. Gritting her teeth, she slid under the spray with her eyes squeezed shut

Rose’s resolve didn’t last very long. No sooner had she scrubbed the remnants of the Doctor’s blood from her skin than something inside her seemed to crumble and she was suddenly sobbing, harsh and loud. The sound echoed around the bathroom as she leaned against the tile and let it out.

He was gone. Her Doctor was dead and the man left in his place was a complete mystery to her. He’d accomplished what he’d tried to do a year before: dying to save her life. She never wanted that; never wanted to be the cause of one moment of pain or unhappiness for the Doctor. And yet she had. Many times.

But even knowing that, she continued to be selfish, crying for all the things she’d never had a chance to say. Why? Because she was too stubborn and scared to swallow her pride and tell him to his face, whether he wanted to hear them or not. They needed to be said. She needed to yell at him and then feel horrible and ask for him to forgive her. She needed him to try to brush it all off and then be a little angry when she forced him to deal with it. And in the end, she needed to know that he still wanted her in some capacity, be it friends or lovers.

So very, very selfish. All she could think about was what she needed. What about him? Would everything that happened between them just be a distant memory that didn’t bother him any longer because he wasn’t that man anymore? Or would they still be close to the surface, needing resolution even though he wore a different face?

She simply didn’t know and in the end, that was the most difficult thing. In the past year, Rose had grown used to being in control of her life and suddenly, with a shocking ferocity that stole her breath, she was dancing to an unfamiliar tune once again.

Eventually the sobs subsided and she stood under the hot water feeling calmer. Sarah Jane was a big proponent of tears as a way to get the ‘poisons’ out and Rose couldn’t refute the idea. Feeling a bit more herself, she went through the motions of washing and tried to think about what would come next.

Of course, the parallels were inescapable. When she’d changed, the Doctor had thrown up a wall between them that she hadn’t been ready to able to climb. He’d kept his distance at best and treated her with disdain and suspicion in the worse moments. She and Sarah Jane had talked a lot about that over time. It was Sarah Jane’s belief that the Doctor needed her so badly that the idea of her not being herself any longer had rocked him to the core. It was one thing for him to change, but the idea of the people he loved changing? No. Not easily dealt with.

Rose stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a warm towel. Bemused since towels didn’t generally come of the rack warmed, she glanced around and found nothing out of place. Then it occurred to her. Laying one hand against the wall, she smiled. “Thank you. I missed you, too.”

The TARDIS. The source of so much of what had happened to her, but Rose couldn’t be angry at the sentient ship. Even though she’d never exactly communicated with the ship beyond that fateful day they’d joined, she seemed to just know that everything the TARDIS did was for love of the Doctor and couldn’t fault the ship for it. Rose understood the feeling all too well.

The question was, would the Doctor welcome that feeling or would it serve to drive a wedge even more firmly between them? Rose didn’t have the answers, as much as she desperately wished she did. Only time and a certain unconscious Time Lord could tell.

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Chapter 9: Chapter 9: A Time to be Silent, A Time to Speak

The first time the Doctor awoke, he decided it was rather like looking at the world through a curtain of steam. Everything was a bit hazy and indistinct. But something had woken him. Something… ah yes, there it was, the feel of skin against skin, the touch light and oddly comforting. Definitely not something he was used to feeling while he regenerated.

He blinked and tried to focus on his surroundings. The effort it took clearly told him he wasn’t quite finished with the regeneration process. He blinked again, and this time, noticed a curtain of pale blonde hair. Rose. And, if he wasn’t mistaken, she was holding his hand. Miraculous thing, hand-holding. So much could be translated through such a simple gesture, fingers and palms questing and sensitive.

“Rose,” he rasped hoarsely, starting a bit at the different timbre of his own voice. Well of course it would be different. Still, it was always a bit of a shock and a relief when he first heard himself after a regeneration. More than nine hundred years old and he was still terrified of coming out a falsetto.

His rambling thoughts were interrupted as her head shot up, brown eyes going wide as she stared at him. “You’re awake,” she breathed, looking relieved for just a moment until an unreadable mask dropped over her face. The Doctor quickly decided he preferred relieved and a little bit joyful to shuttered and enigmatic.

“Mmm, well, won’t last long, most likely,” he admitted and smiled at her, hoping to get one in return. He’d missed Rose’s smiles. They seemed to light up everything around him.

She scowled instead. “One of your hearts stopped beating last night. I thought…” she trailed off and looked at the ceiling. Feeling rather awed, he realized Rose was trying not to cry. He remembered telling her not to cry over him, but that she was still so inclined was rather flattering, he had to admit.

“How very rude of it.” He grinned, feeling jauntier than he probably should, but then again regeneration could be blamed for his odd euphoria. That or possibly the fact that Rose was sitting there holding his hand, even after everything. No, it had to be euphoria. It was too soon to contemplate the rest. Really.

Rose snorted and looked at him again, apparently having banished the need for tears. He watched as she struggled for words until her shoulders slumped and she finally gave in to what she wanted to say. “I don’t know who you are.”

Ah, now there was the rub. He wasn’t quite sure himself. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. He knew, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to be packaged this time. It seemed he was inclined to cover awkward moments with humor, though. That was definitely new. Probably a bit shocking for Rose as well. His previous self hadn’t been much for humor unless it was sarcastic and a bit biting.

The Doctor felt her hand start to slip from his and quickly tightened his grip. He wasn’t letting her go. Not until she understood. “Yes, you do,” he murmured, feeling the pull of unconsciousness once more and silently cursing it. “I’m still me, Rose. Still the one you saved from the Nestene Consciouness, saved from the Daleks and saved from that psychotic woman at Torchwood….”

His eyes drifted closed, but he was acutely aware of Rose’s silent tears dropping onto their joined hands. He wanted to wipe them away and reassure her, but he was slipping away so fast, losing his train of thought. With a huge effort, he managed one more thing before darkness closed over him once more.

“Don’t give up on me, Rose.”

The second time the Doctor awoke, it was because he smelled tea. Nearly fully awake, he sat straight up in bed, much to Jack’s obvious surprise. “I hope Rose made the tea. I know you mean well, Jack, but you couldn’t make a decent cuppa to save your life,” he said cheerfully and grinned when Jack blinked at him.

“Er… yeah. Rose did make it. You know me, unless it’s in one of those weird little bags with a string, I don’t have a clue. Thought about making you some coffee, though,” Jack said, pouring a cup of steaming tea and handing it over.

The Doctor took a cautious sip. New tongue, of course and no use scalding it first off when it had so much to experience. He sighed in pleasure. Rose had many talents, but making a good cup of tea ranked very high as far as he was concerned. “Good thing you didn’t. Completely different kind of stimulants in coffee. My head might have exploded.”

Jack blinked owlishly at him. “Seriously?”

“Well, maybe not. But it still wouldn’t have been a good thing. Now tea… tea is brilliant. I would have been awake hours ago if you’d poured a pot down my throat,” the Doctor prattled as he sipped from the cup, then noticed Jack’s disgruntled expression. “Hrm. Forgot to tell you that when we talked about the process, did I?”

“You could say that,” Jack drawled. A hint of sarcasm in his tone drew a bit of a chagrined look on the Doctor’s face. “In fact, what you described and what happened weren’t exactly the same.”

The Doctor nodded and put down the cup. “That’s regeneration for you, Jack. Dodgy business. But I’m here now and all’s well that ends well, right?”

Jack didn’t reply right away, his eyes piercing as he looked for something. The Doctor sat still and let him look his fill. He needed Jack to be okay with what had happened.

After a moment, Jack shook his head and asked the question. “It’s really still you in there? Because I gotta tell you, Doc, the change is… well. I’ve never seen anything like it. Do your people always look younger as they get older?”

The Doctor grinned. He looked younger? Well, that wasn’t a bad thing at all. “Not necessarily, no. Some could influence what features they took on, but I never had the patience for the kind of navel-gazing that took,” he said dismissively. “But tell me honestly Jack, what do you think? How do I look? Ginger?”

Fingers stroking his chin thoughtfully, Jack’s slow, wicked grin made an appearance. “No, not ginger, sorry,” he drawled. “Really though, I don’t know that ginger would work with this look.”

“Well, that’s disappointing,” the Doctor sighed. “I was really thinking ginger this time. Ah well. But what about the rest? You’ve got to give me something, Jack!”

“I’d take you for a spin,” Jack chuckled, his look making the Doctor quite aware that he was only ‘wearing’ the sheets and blanket.

He snorted and rolled his eyes. “No doubt you would, Jack, but given your proclivities, that doesn’t tell me much.”

Jack threw back his head and laughed. “You’re definitely the Doctor. No question about it now,” he said as he stood, something about his expression a little less weary, the Doctor noted. “Guess that means I can leave you on your own to get… well, reacquainted with yourself without Rose threatening to kill me for neglecting you.”

Rose had been that concerned about him? Well, not a surprise, really, but it still made him feel better than he wanted to admit. “Where is she?” he asked, trying to sound more casual than he felt.

“Sent her out to get some real air,” Jack replied evenly. “Pulling you out of Torchwood and then having to deal with your regeneration… it rattled her a little. I didn’t think it was good for her to keep sitting here, waiting for you to wake up again.”

The Doctor nodded, trying to digest that statement and pondering what exactly ‘rattled’ was supposed to mean. A few seconds later that thought was pushed aside as something else Jack said sank in. “Real air? What do you mean real air? Where are we, Jack? Are you sure it was safe to let her leave the TARDIS?” he demanded, nearly throwing the covers back and jumping out of bed before he noticed the pointed smirk on Jack’s face.

“If you’re going to prance around naked, I think it’s definitely going to be safer for her outside the TARDIS,” Jack said with more than a hint of amusement.

“I don’t prance,” the Doctor muttered, tucking himself back in again. “At least I don’t think I do. God, I hope I don’t.”

Jack roared with laughter and the Doctor couldn’t fault him. Laughter was beautiful after so much hurt. “Once you’re done laughing at my expense, maybe you could answer the rest of my questions?” he asked with a dollop of asperity, just for good measure as he tried to regain a modicum of dignity.

Getting himself under control, Jack nodded. “We’re back on Earth, actually. I sent us into the Vortex to get out of Torchwood, but after Rose talked to S– er, her friend, we knew it was safe to go back, so I just reversed the coordinates. Well, more or less. We’re parked behind the gardening shed of Rose’s… friend’s cottage. All perfectly safe.”

The Doctor frowned. Jack was quite clearly not telling him something. “Does Rose’s friend have a name?” he asked, giving Jack a pointed look. His brain was too eager to supply possibilities that made him none too happy. It wasn’t impossible that Rose could have met someone in the year she’d been away. He tried to tell himself that his concern was because any relationship with a normal human would be very difficult and painful in the long run for Rose, but he knew that wasn’t completely the case. He was more worried that Rose had given up on him and moved on.

“I… ah… yeah, but I think it’s better if you see for yourself in this case, Doc,” Jack said, looking a bit hunted, which only made the Doctor feel more grim about the possibilities. “In fact, I think I’ll step out and see how everyone is doing, let them know you’re up and about and give you a chance to… er… get dressed. Or something.”

And then Jack disappeared as if last call had been sounded and the prettiest bloke in the bar were about to be stolen away by someone else. The Doctor rolled his eyes and flopped the blankets back to sit on the edge of the bed. Without a doubt, thanks to Jack’s reaction, he knew he wasn’t going to like whatever he found outside the TARDIS doors.

Sighing, he ran his hands through his hair and froze, suddenly distracted. Oh, that was nice. Very nice. He’d just automatically expected short strands, but this new hair was thick and fun and… oh yes, he’d have to spend some time exploring it, most definitely. Pulling his hands out of his hair, the Doctor held them up in front of his face, examining them closely. Large hands with long, tapered fingers. Good for playing the piano. Or wrapping around a smaller hand.

Well, talk about full circle. It seemed even his subconscious was unwilling to dance around the subject of Rose. The TARDIS was in full agreement as well. “I’m being conspired against,” he muttered to the empty room and stood to stretch, mentally cataloging each sensation of his new body. Interesting. He had a feeling he might be a bit more tactile in this body than in previous regenerations.

With a groan, he shook his head and tried to focus. He wasn’t sure if it was the regeneration process itself or a quirk of his new personality, but he kept shying away from the difficult topics in his mind. Not that he’d ever enjoyed diving into them, much preferring to avoid difficult discussions when he could, but still, this was a bit much.

“Right then. Focus. Shower. Clothes. More tea. In that order,” the Doctor said aloud and grinned as the TARDIS made her approval known. “Guess that means I’ll get hot water?” he said hopefully, trying not to think about the frigid showers he’d taken for the better part of six months as part of his ship’s show of displeasure.

If it were possible for a sentient ship to have such an emotion, he would have said the old girl was a bit chagrined. “Ah, well, seems I probably deserved it,” he sighed, walking over and gently stroking the wall. “Suppose that means I should set about putting things to rights, hmm? Been long enough for all of us, I think.”

The TARDIS’ response was clearly an affirmative and the Doctor smiled. “Right then. Things to go, places to see, people to do… wait, that can’t be right… sounds a bit lewd that way…” he muttered to himself as he ambled down the hall toward the bathroom and a first step toward the future.

Stepping up to the TARDIS’ console hours later, the Doctor took a deep breath and smiled as he trailed his fingertips over his beloved ship’s controls. “Hasn’t been that long, but I missed you, old girl,” he murmured, stroking the cool metal affectionately. The light from the main column seemed to pulse in pleasure.

Slowly circling, the Doctor paused when he caught his reflection on one of the instrument panels and grinned at himself. To say he was quite happy with the physical attributes of this regeneration was an understatement. He was sure he’d never been as good looking before. Possibly in his fifth incarnation–if one liked blond cricketers. Which a few had, he remembered with a lopsided smirk. Even so, he didn’t think that was exactly Rose’s type. She leaned more toward the pretty ones…

He made a face into the mirror. He was doing it again. While he couldn’t control the outcome of his regeneration like some of his people had been able to, he knew having Rose in his head and his heart had affected how he turned out. Hell, he’d even thought of her when he picked the suit. Granted, he quite liked it, especially with the trench-coat, but if he’d thought for a minute she would have hated it, he probably would have moved on to something else. Just not black leather and jeans. It was important that Rose accept him as him, not as his former self.

All roads led back to Rose, it seemed. The problem was, that didn’t feel wrong and he thought it probably should. He’d never come out of a regeneration so focused on one person. Well, if he didn’t count trying to kill Peri. That memory still made him wince. Even so, he’d never gone into a regeneration with the sort of issues hanging over his head that he faced with Rose.

Although, could he really call her a companion any longer? Probably not, at least not in the typical sense. They’d been so much more. She’d kept him from shattering after the war, saved him almost as many times as he’d saved her, and ultimately given up her humanity for him. And then there was the unspoken. They’d been lovers, no matter the pain they’d inflicted on each other. Even with just the one time, that Pandora’s box was thrown wide open.

The Doctor closed his eyes, and unbidden, the memory washed over him. It was dark and brutal, but the potent recall of skin sliding against skin, Rose’s body soft and pliant under him while he lost himself in her set off a slow burn in his blood. With a sharp intake of breath, he forced his eyes open, trying to banish the image from his mind. Pandora’s box, indeed.

He rubbed a hand over his face. No, the fact that he still wanted Rose as badly as he had for the last six months wasn’t one he wanted to face. It wasn’t a surprise, though. Strong emotions usually carried over with a regeneration, and his feelings for Rose had never been lukewarm.

Still, it wasn’t going to get him very far to step out with a, “Say, Rose, I know the first time was emotionally scarring and all, but care to pick up where we left off?” He groaned aloud at the thought, the TARDIS chiming in with a heavy wheeze. That wasn’t even what he wanted from Rose. Not really, even though his new body seemed naturally much more interested in those sorts of things than the old one.

The question was, what did he want from Rose? They couldn’t go back to the old relationship where he was her friend, mentor, teacher and almost-but-not-quite-lover. No, they were both too different now. He was less interested in casting her in the role of wide-eyed ingénue and more interested in the possibilities of a partner of sorts. There was so much they could do and explore together now that the weight of time was no longer hanging so heavily on Rose, thanks to her new physiology. The idea was incredibly exciting in its potential; a companion who could actually stay with him for… well, a very, very long time.

Could. Not would. That was still the question, wasn’t it? And it wasn’t getting answered by dithering about the TARDIS, either. The light flowing from the time rotor pulsed as if in agreement.

“Very well then, off to get a few answers,” the Doctor said aloud, striding purposefully toward the door. He opened the door and carefully stuck his head out, unaffected by the December chill. From his vantage point, he could just get a view of the smallish garden and cozy cottage tucked up behind several old trees. His curiosity grew by leaps and bounds. Who was this friend of Rose’s who liked old cottages, roses–judging by the neatly kept beds and dormant bushes–and had contacts enough to let Jack and Rose know it was safe to come home?

Sliding his hands into his pockets, the Doctor closed the TARDIS door and made his way around the edge of the garden, deciding it might be in his best interest to peek in a window or two to gain a bit of information before he went traipsing inside. The first few rooms he peered into lightened his spirits considerably. The interior of the cottage had a distinctly feminine look to it, which meant that Rose’s friend was most likely female. Brilliant.

He grinned at the thought as he made his way around the side of the cottage, intending on peering in one more window before he made his presence known. Besides, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Rose, Jack, or the mysterious friend. Glancing around to make sure he hadn’t sent any of the neighbors screaming for a constable, the Doctor stepped into the front flower bed and carefully plastered himself against the wall. Holding his breath, he slowly peeking around the edge of the window.

The first person he saw was Jack, laughing and looking relaxed as he lounged on a sofa with a mug of some sort in his hand. Grinning, the Doctor shook his head. It figured that Jack found someone to entertain himself with. Resourceful, Captain Harkness.

The someone seemed to be a woman, although he could only tell by the elegant hands holding a delicate china cup. Her features were hidden by the Christmas tree that took up a decent bit of space in the room. And no sign of Rose. Well, it seemed he was just going to have to waltz in and introduce himself.

At least that was his plan of action until the terrier from the pits of hell materialized out of nowhere and clamped its teeth down on the leg of his trousers. As if that wasn’t enough, the evil mutt’s owner came shrieking across the lawn like a deranged banshee, brandishing a cane and looking as if she did indeed intend him mortal harm. It seemed a retreat was in order, but in the end, not meant to be.

The old harridan’s shouting had got the attention of the inhabitants of the cottage. First Jack’s shocked face appeared at the window followed close by… Sarah Jane. Mouth hanging open in shock, the Doctor could only stare. Rose’s friend was Sarah Jane? His Sarah Jane? But how? Why? When?

Stunned beyond words, he stepped back, only to trip over the terrier. He found himself sprawled in the midst of a large shrubbery that seemed intent on holding him in place while the kindly grandmother approached to bludgeon him to death.

Sarah Jane came to his rescue while Jack leaned against the window inside and laughed until tears ran down his face.

“Mrs. Diggory! It’s quite alright. I’m sure I know what you probably thought, but this gentleman is a friend of mine,” Sarah Jane said soothingly, patting her hand against her thigh to call the little beast and calming the hellhound with a soothing word. The Doctor just blinked and stared. Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane and Rose. Sarah Jane and Rose and Jack. He blanched at the very idea of those three companions sharing stories and began to struggle out of the bush.

A quick glance upward told him that he was only serving to amuse Jack further, but before the Doctor could contemplate revenge, a hand appeared in his face. A hand attached to an arm, which was attached to Sarah Jane, who he’d never really expected to see again.

“Hello.” He smiled in spite of himself, taking her hand and letting her tug him up out of her shrubbery.

“Hello,” she returned with a smile of her own followed by a quick shake of her head. “In all my fantasies of meeting you again, Doctor, this never factored in.”

“What, my winsome good looks?” he asked, quickly warming to the turn of events. No matter the shock, it was good to see Sarah Jane again. She’d aged, but was still so lovely it made his hearts ache just a bit.

She laughed and shook her head. “Not exactly. I wasn’t expecting you to be caught peeking in my windows and sent tumbling into the hedge, though.”

“Yes, well, I wasn’t exactly planning that myself,” the Doctor sighed, picking a twig out of his hair. “Bit of a miscalculation on my part. But Jack wouldn’t tell me who Rose’s friend–you–were, so I had to–”

“Find out for yourself before showing your hand. Yes, I quite understand, Doctor,” Sarah Jane cut him off with a knowing smile. “Although now that the cloak and dagger is done, would you like to come inside?” She gestured to the front door, still standing open from her hasty exit to fly to his rescue. “Rose should be back soon.”

He frowned as he made his way along the path. It was just odd for Sarah Jane to speak so familiarly about Rose. “Back? She hasn’t wandered off, has she? She has a bit of a habit–”

Sarah Jane cut him off again. “You’re not going to comment on someone else’s habit of wandering off, are you, Doctor?” she asked, giving him a very pointed look that somehow made him want to blush to the roots of his new and very nice hair.

“Er… no. Not at all,” he prevaricated with what he hoped appeared as a blithe lack of concern. It was more than a bit strange to get called on the carpet by a former companion. “Just wondering where she’d got off too. That’s all.” With nothing else to do, he shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.

Jack chose that moment to appear on the front steps. “So, you two gonna have a reunion out there for the neighborhood to see, or would you like to maybe bring it inside where it’s warm and I can watch in comfort?”

The Doctor scowled at him and mentally set a portion of his brain to working on pertinent methods of revenge while he gestured to the front door and followed Sarah Jane inside. “You must be doing quite well for yourself,” he remarked, inordinately pleased by the home she’d created for herself.

“Well enough to get along,” Sarah Jane said with a bit of a smile as she led them into the kitchen and paused. “Can I get you something to eat, Doctor? I remember you being ravenous after regenerating.”

The Doctor smiled vaguely as he pulled the refrigerator door open and began to rummage about as a cover for collecting his thoughts. Seeing Sarah Jane had knocked everything else aside for a moment, but now he was beginning to wonder what part she played in the recent drama. If she was the friend who had given Rose the ‘all clear’, then Sarah Jane was somehow tied into the mess that was Torchwood and he was sure he didn’t like that one bit.

Straightening, he came up with a jar of apricot preserves in one hand and tossed the lid on the counter. “So… is someone going explain how all this came about?” he asked oh-so-casually, dipping his fingers into the preserves and using them as a spoon as he flicked his gaze from Jack to Sarah Jane and back. They both suddenly looked as if they’d like to be anywhere but where they were.

He arched a brow at them as he licked his fingers and found that he wasn’t just all chatter and good hair after all. There was still something dark and possibly dangerous coiled inside him. Interesting. Worrying, but interesting.

Jack cracked first. “Maybe we should get you some toast for that jam? And wait for Rose?” he offered, looking a little too hopeful.

Sarah Jane, on the other hand, straightened her jumper and nodded as if making a decision. “No, I don’t think that’s wise, Jack,” she said pointedly, shooting him a look that made the Doctor narrow his eyes. What had he missed? “I think it’s better to go ahead now and explain a few things to the Doctor.”

“Yes, please do explain a few things to the Doctor,” the Doctor repeated, putting the jar of preserves on the counter and picking up a towel to wipe his hands. “The Doctor is dying of curiosity, you see.”

Sarah Jane frowned at him and the Doctor felt a bit of chagrin for his tone. Still, that feeling in the pit of his stomach that he was about to be very unhappy wouldn’t go away. “Why don’t you start with how you and Rose met and discovered the interesting things you have in common?” he asked in a carefully even voice.

“Now talk about a coincidence!” Jack broke in with a grin, obviously trying to leech away some of the tension in the room. “You see, Sarah Jane taught one of Rose’s classes at the university, bumped into Rose–literally–saw a drawing of the TARDIS Rose had done and voila! Instant former companion bonding.”

The Doctor blinked as Jack’s rapid-fire speech earned him an exasperated look from Sarah Jane. “Wait. You’re a teacher?” he asked Sarah Jane, before shaking his head. “And Rose was at university? But she hadn’t got her A-levels yet!” he exclaimed without thinking, earning himself a pointed look from Jack.

“Oh. Yes, well, she would be ready for higher learning, wouldn’t she?” he mumbled, running a hand through his hair agitatedly. Somehow, that hadn’t been what he’d imagined Rose doing. Despite all he wanted for her, without meaning to, in his mind he’d cast her back into her old life, untouched by all that he’d shown her and done to her.

Focusing on the pair in front of him once more, he asked the next question that popped into his head. “And this was how long ago?”

“Seven months or so,” Sarah Jane answered quickly, her chin going up a notch in that look of defiance that he’d always found rather charming as well as exasperating. “We’ve become very close, Rose and I. She needed someone once you left her and I understood how that felt.”

The Doctor stared hard at Sarah Jane. She’d felt abandoned? The emotion certainly colored her entire statement, but he’d explained why he had to go and why she couldn’t go with him. She knew. Feeling righteously indignant, he retorted before he fully thought about what he was saying. “I didn’t leave Rose. She left me.”

“Yes, I know,” Sarah Jane replied softly, her words leaving a dead silence in the room that was almost tangible. Even Jack looked away. The Doctor jammed his hands into his pockets a bit harder than necessary. That answered that. Sarah Jane knew exactly what had happened between him and Rose. Gentle rebuke was written all over her face.

Unable to meet her eyes, he looked away and sniffed. Being put on the spot was definitely a dislike of this regeneration. Not that he’d ever liked it, but it ruffled his feathers more than he was ready to admit. “So,” he said abruptly, “why don’t you tell me about Torchwood, then? I get the impression there’s quite a bit more to the story than I’m aware.”

“Listen, Doc, maybe we should table this discussion until you’re feeling–” Jack began, arms crossed over his chest and looking very uneasy with how things were playing out.

Once more Sarah Jane took over, silencing Jack with a hand on his arm and a quick shake of her head. “It’s all right, Jack. The Doctor may be younger and ruder than I’m used to, but he’s still the Doctor. I think I’m capable of having this conversation with him.”

The Doctor pursed his lips at a second rebuke and chose not to respond, aside from arching a brow at his former companion. Sarah Jane met his gaze unflinchingly, forcefully reminding him of one of the many reasons he’d adored her.

“When Rose and I met, I had already begun investigating Torchwood. That’s what I do, by the way. I’m still a reporter, Doctor,” she began evenly. “In any case, it was clear that Rose was having a difficult time adjusting to… many things. But that’s her story to tell.”

Resisting the urge to squirm under Sarah Jane’s penetrating gaze, the Doctor simply nodded. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the details of Rose’s story. He’d been rather occupied in wallowing in his own grief at the time and wasn’t ready to analyze the degree of selfishness he’d most likely practiced.

“In any case, when it became clear what Rose’s experiences and capabilities were, with Harry’s help, we managed to get her into Torchwood. UNIT already had a handful of moles in the tower, but Rose could give a different–”

The Doctor was so incredulous that it took him a moment to break in. “Excuse me? You sent Rose inside Torchwood? And Harry? Sullivan? UNIT? What the bloody hell is going on here?” he demanded, temper rising as he began to understand.

“I’ll thank you not to raise your voice, Doctor,” Sarah Jane bit back. “If Rose and UNIT hadn’t been in place inside Torchwood, you would probably still be there, strapped down under a microscope. It’s because of them you’re free and Torchwood is under Prime Minister Jones’ control with UNIT looking over her shoulder.”

“She’s right, Doctor,” Jack chimed in, his expression hard and grim. “I didn’t like it any more than you did when I found out Rose had been working at Torchwood for the past six months, but–”

Six months?!” the Doctor exclaimed, knowing he looked as horrified as he felt. “Do have any idea what could have happened? To any of you, but especially to Rose? What if her cover had been blown? What if someone discovered her altered physiology? She would have been the one in a cage having bits carved off her to study under a microscope!” he ranted, sickened by the images that paraded through his mind.

Despite the fact that they’d killed him, it had been clear that Torchwood wanted him for his knowledge more than anything. It would have been a very long time before he would have had to worry about being mutilated in the name of science. But Rose didn’t have that buffer. If they had realized what she was, she would have been an exotic, interesting specimen, but no more valuable alive than dead.

“Of all the stupid, short-sighted, reckless things you could have done!” he growled, watching as Sarah Jane’s eyes flared with hurt and then stoic resolve. Jack laid a hand on her shoulder and glared at him warningly. At the moment, the Doctor didn’t particularly care. He simply couldn’t believe what they’d done. He opened his mouth to start anew when another presence entered the room.

Rose. She stood there in the doorway like an avenging angel, hair tangled by the wind and cheeks pink from the cold, her brown eyes furious. “I’m thinkin’ stupid an’ short-sighted fits more than one person in the room right now….”


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Chapter 10: Chapter 10: A Time To Tear and A Time To Mend

Rose eased Sarah Jane’s car into the drive, turned it off and closed her eyes, enjoying the utter quiet for a moment. Jack and Sarah Jane had been right to urge her to get out of the TARDIS and put some distance between herself and the Doctor for just a while. To say the last few days had been intense and draining was a bit of an understatement. It was no surprise that she’d found running a few mundane errands relaxing.

As she sat there, cocooned in silence, Rose became aware of a strange presence in her mind that she knew was the Doctor. The feeling was odd, like a soft caress against her awareness. It was also much stronger when she was physically closer to him, she’d noticed. Or maybe she was just more in tune to it, as worried as she’d been, seeing him die and regenerate right before her eyes.

Of course, seeing him wake up for even a short time had helped, even if the rush of emotion she’d felt at the time had been dizzying. She’d gone from ecstatically thanking any god that might be listening to being angry with the Doctor in the blink of an eye. It was fear that drove the anger. Initially, it was fear that he wouldn’t survive the regeneration and she would lose him completely. Once it became clear he was coming out of it, the fear changed, prodding her with sharp talons and whispering in her mind that being brand new, he might just want to walk away from her and start fresh. New Doctor, new life.

But then he’d asked her not to give up on him, so maybe….

Maybe. What a useless word. In reality, it meant nothing. Rose opened her eyes and glanced at her reflection in the rear view mirror. She looked pale and stressed, something she hadn’t seen on her own face for months. She didn’t want to go back to being that girl, either. Which meant she was going to have to hash things out with the Doctor sooner rather than later. Maybe it wasn’t fair, him just coming out of a regeneration, but she had to know where she stood. Did he want her back or was his regeneration the final break between them? And, if he did want her back, could they put the past behind them?

Resolute, she forced herself to get out of the car, gasping as a blast of cold wind tousled her hair and stole her breath. Quickly grabbing the shopping Sarah Jane had asked for, she dashed to the house and closed the door, leaning against it for a moment as she caught her breath. Putting the bag down, she took a second to strip out of her jacket and it hang it up. That was when she heard voices coming from the kitchen. And not just Jack and Sarah Jane if she was correct.

With an ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach, Rose realized the conversation was starting to sound angry. She frowned and moved toward the kitchen doorway, staying just out of sight until she could get a feel for what was going on. Her eyes widened then narrowed as it sank in that the Doctor was practically yelling at Sarah Jane, blaming her for getting Rose involved in Torchwood.

She felt her temper flare. Even if he was ranting about her safety, it made her furious. Sarah Jane had been there for her when life was crumbling around her. Sarah Jane had listened and understood, been a friend and a mentor, and helped her find purpose when she thought she’d lose her mind if she didn’t matter somehow. Sarah Jane had been there been there for her when the Doctor hadn’t been. He’d chosen the wrong target to vent his frustrations on.

“I’m thinkin’ stupid an’ short-sighted fits more than one person in the room right now,” she said furiously as she stepped into the room, three very surprised people turning their focus on her.

Even infuriated, Rose had to stop and stare as well. The Doctor was standing there, large as life and the pull to go to him was stronger than she ever could have imagined. She wanted to explore that thick mop of hair, run her fingertips over his face, straighten his slightly rumpled jacket…

Blinking, she shook it off and wrapped herself in righteous anger over his unwarranted attack on Sarah Jane. “What the hell d’you think you’re doin’, Doctor? Because I’m thinkin’ we could just as easily be yellin’ at you over doing’ something so stupid as settin’ yourself down inside Torchwood.”

Sarah Jane and Jack both looked a bit stunned at the angry words flying out of her mouth. The Doctor did too, but recovered more quickly. “I knew what I was doing,” he said flatly, looking at her with a dark intensity that was heartbreakingly familiar.

“And the rest of us couldn’t possibly know what we were doing. Is that what you’re sayin’?” Rose shot back.

“Don’t put words in my mouth, Rose,” the Doctor returned, his tone and expression turning cold, like a mask had fallen in place.

“Rose, this isn’t necessary,” Sarah Jane murmured, her voice soft, but firm.

Rose shook her head. “Yeah, it is, ‘cause from what I heard, I’m guessin’ he didn’t take the time to get the whole story before he went off,” she said, shooting a glare at the Doctor as she turned her focus back on him again.

“You don’t have any clue what Sarah Jane has done for me. What she’s done for a lot of people, actually, you included. Jack an’ I never would’ve been able to get you out of Torchwood if it weren’t for Sarah Jane. An’ even more than that, she was here for me, helpin’ me deal with… everything while you were off god knows where feelin’ sorry for yourself!” she shouted and then wondered if she’d gone too far.

A pin could have dropped and been as loud as a train crash in the aftermath of her last comment.

The Doctor stood there, stunned, as he registered Rose’s last comment. Was that what she really thought of him? And, more to the point, was that what he’d actually been doing? Obviously Rose had needed him in the last year and he hadn’t been there for her. She’d just made that clear, as had Sarah Jane and Jack previously. But, if he admitted that, it meant he had to admit that he’d been much more absorbed in his own navel-gazing; something he was far from comfortable with. Still, that wasn’t the point at the moment.

“You obviously don’t get it, do you?” he asked through clenched teeth, furious nearly beyond words as he stared at Rose, all the fear for what could have happened swirling around in his mind, painting lurid pictures.

She glared back at him, cheeks flushed and eyes burning with anger. “No, you don’t get it, Doctor. I was someplace where I was needed, doin’ something important. Sarah Jane didn’t push me into anything. I chose to do it, eyes wide open. An’ I’m sorry you don’t approve–wait, no I’m not. I’m really not.”

He stared at Rose for a moment longer before she turned on her heel and stalked off, out of the house and into the back garden. For just a second, he was relieved, glad she’d gone before he said something he’d regret later. Or did something. Part of him wanted to jerk Rose up against him and kiss her senseless until she understood how the thought of losing her again terrified him beyond all reason. Maybe then she’d understand.

Seconds passed in heavy silence as he realized he couldn’t let her walk away. He’d let it happen once before and he was going to be damned if he’d allow it to happen that way again. Nodding curtly to Jack and Sarah Jane, he followed Rose out of the house.

Sarah Jane’s voice broke the heavy, shocked silence left in the wake of Rose and the Doctor’s departures. “I think I might just kill him if he hurts her again,” she said, her tone militant enough to surprise Jack.

“Get in line,” Jack replied, looking grim as turned toward the back window, watching Rose cross the garden, the Doctor quickly coming up behind her. He resolutely turned his back. He wasn’t going to interfere. It was time for the Doctor and Rose to fly or fall on their own. He’d done all he could to help them.

Sarah Jane interrupted his thoughts with a wry comment. “Sorry, I’ve known him longer. I get first crack. But you can have him after he regenerates. Fair’s fair, after all.”

A bark of laughter escaped him at her words, despite the heaviness of the situation. “Sounds like a plan to me. Too bad he doesn’t have a few more regenerations left. We could each take a couple of turns and really get it out of our systems,” Jack suggested.

Blinking, Sarah Jane gave him an odd look. “He was only on his fourth when I knew him. How many… no. I don’t think I really want to know.” He watched as her gaze went far away for a moment before refocusing. “I think they might be a while. How do you feel about going out to dinner with an old lady, Captain Harkness?”

Jack grinned broadly. He could see why the Doctor had picked Sarah Jane. There was definitely something compelling about her. “I’d rather go out with you,” he winked, offering her his arm, delighted at her blush and quick acceptance as she linked her arm with his.

The Doctor caught up with Rose a few feet from the gardening shed, his fingers curling around her upper arm and propelling her forward to the TARDIS.

“Let go of me,” Rose hissed furiously, nearly tripping as he guided her inside and slammed the door behind them. The moment he released her she put distance between them, moving up the ramp before turning and pinning him with an angry glare. “This is a change. Shouldn’t you be gettin’ me out of here so you can take off? That’s what you do when things get tough, isn’t it?”

Eyes narrowed, he turned quickly strode in her direction, backing her up against one of the support columns. “If I remember correctly,” he hissed, “I wasn’t the one who ran away last time. You were the one who sneaked away in the middle of the night.”

Rose gasped as if he’d slapped her. “What was I supposed to do? Hang around an’ wait for you to throw me out? No thanks. Already had enough of being humiliated.”

The Doctor paled. “I never would have thrown you out, Rose. I thought you knew me better than that.”

She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but he could see unshed tears swimming in hers. “I wasn’t sure of… of anything after that,” she murmured, focusing on a spot above his shoulder. “If I could go back and change anything, it would be that night.”

Given that he’d thought the same thing often enough, the Doctor felt an inexplicably painful twinge at Rose’s words. “I…”

“Don’t.” Rose sighed wearily, seeming to diminish before his eyes. “It’s just that I… I never said…” She took a shuddering breath and met his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

His mouth dropped open, the towering fury of just seconds ago forgotten. “Sorry? For what?”

“For what? For what I did,” she replied, looking at him incredulously. “I knew you weren’t… well, in your right mind. I could’ve walked away. S’not like you were goin’ to force me to do anything I didn’t want. But I… I was hurt and… angry and I let it happen. And I thought–”

She stopped suddenly and looked away again.

Unable to help himself, the Doctor reached out with long, nimble fingers–so different from the hands he’d had such a short time ago–and gently turned Rose’s face back to him. “And you thought…”

“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, glancing down so her lashes shielded her eyes from his.

He took a deep breath before he spoke, feeling like he was walking a tightrope with no safety net. “It matters to me, Rose.”

She looked up sharply. “Are you sure about that? Really sure? Are you the kind of man that wants to hear that I was naïve and stupid and so incredibly in love with you–who you were–that I thought maybe sex could make you understand, heal your pain a little? Happy now?”

The pang was back, but felt more like a stab wound. She’d loved his past self. What about his now? There was no longer any doubt in his mind that he still loved her. But could Rose love him? A flash of anger burned through the pain.

“I’m still me,” he practically growled at her, wanting to reach out and give her a shake to make her understand. Before he realized it, he’d done exactly that.

Rose laughed, the harsh sound making him pull away as if he’d been burned. “Ironic, huh? Talk about full circle.” She used his moment of shock to slip away, walking up to the console and leaning against it with her back to him.

The Doctor watched her, realizing he’d opened floodgates that he wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with. It was too late now, though. He frowned, replaying her last words in his head and stiffening as they sunk in. “Is this payback, then?” he asked flatly, jamming his hands in his pockets. “I hurt you, so you hurt me?”

“No!” Rose said sharply, turning to stare at him furiously. “Is that really what you think of me, Doctor? Cause let me tell you, if that’s what I was doin’, I wouldn’t’ve been the one watchin’ over you while you were goin’ through your regeneration. I would’ve dumped you on Jack and then–”

He jumped in, stung by her words, even he knew they were true. “I didn’t–”

“You did!” she shot back before he could finish. “An’ I trusted you. Trusted you to be there an’ explain things. I was so scared.” He flinched as her voice cracked and became thick with emotion. “I was terrified. My own body didn’t even feel the same anymore and you weren’t there. Not because there was somethin’ greater at stake, either. I could’ve understood that, Doctor. But that wasn’t it, was it?”

The Doctor’s jaw clenched. It was an accusation he couldn’t deny. Rose’s voice sliced through him with surgical precision of a scalpel.

“Was it?” she repeated.

“No,” he said forcefully. “I couldn’t… I was afraid! There, are you happy now?” he shouted, advancing on her once again despite knowing he should keep his distance. “I had no idea how what the TARDIS did to you would affect you. Not your biology, but the part of you that’s… intrinsically Rose. You could have ended up a completely different person. Rose Tyler could have disappeared forever. And evidently I’m just enough of a selfish bastard that I couldn’t face losing you like that. It would have been like my Rose had died and been replaced by a stranger. That would have driven me insane, more and more each day!”

There was too much emotion bubbling up, ready to surge and potentially destroy the both of them. He knew he needed to put some distance between them, but he still was rooted to the spot, watching the play of emotions flash over Rose’s expressive face.

“But you never gave me a chance,” Rose whispered. She looked up at him with eyes that so clearly showed him the painful burden he’d placed on her small shoulders. That one look was worth all the recriminations she and anyone else could have thrown at him.

She spoke again before he could form a coherent reply. “An’ now what, Doctor? Now you’ve changed. What does it mean? New Doctor, new life, new….”

He ran a hand through his hair as she trailed off, knowing exactly what she was asking. The unspoken question frustrated him. Rose should have known the answer, or so he thought. But then again, after a year with everything left unresolved between them, maybe that assumption wasn’t so reasonable.

“It means new Doctor, new Rose, new life,” the Doctor said more harshly than he intended, reaching out and clasping his hands around her upper arms once more, the urge to touch her overwhelming him. “At least that’s what I hoped. Unless you really have given up on me.”

Pausing, he stared down into her hurt brown eyes before quoting her own words back at her; words he’d heard even when unconscious. “It’s not too late, Rose. There’s still hope, if you want there to be, because I’m still me. I’m still…” He hesitated for just a moment, knowing the next words were tantamount to a declaration that scared him nearly into another regeneration, but he had to make her understand. They had to be said. “I’m still your Doctor.”

He watched as Rose’s eyes widened, searching his own. She was so close to accepting him again; he could feel it like a change in the air. So close, but not quite there. That was when it occurred to him that there was one more thing he could offer her. One piece of himself that hadn’t been an option before, her mind too simple in comparison to his own to accept it.

In the silence between them, he the Doctor slipped his hand down to Rose’s and lifted it gently, placing her fingers against his temple. She frowned a bit, obviously not sure of what he was doing. “If words aren’t enough, then maybe this will convince you.”

It wasn’t necessary for him to touch her to form a link, but he couldn’t help himself, sliding a hand into her hair and barely repressing a shiver as the simple, innocent caress seduced him so easily. The fact that Rose flinched at his touch nearly shattered his hearts, but he forced himself to continue. “Close your eyes,” he said, ignoring the rasp of pain in his voice. “Please.”

She hesitated a moment longer, then nodded and did as he asked, her lids fluttering as if she was prepared to open her eyes and flee any moment. Rassilon, that hurt. But he couldn’t blame her. Not at all. So he brutally shoved his own pain down into a dark corner of his mind, closed his eyes and opened himself to her.

One mental tug on his part and Rose was taking that first tentative step into his mind. Her ‘touch’ was gentle and uncertain, but it still nearly brought him to his knees. He’d been alone there for so long that her presence was like sudden warmth in a place that had been locked away, cold and desolate.

Rose gasped, her entire body jerking as she realized that she was in his mind. He welcomed the distraction. It would have been so easy to simply revel in the feel of the connection, but she needed to see what he couldn’t articulate. Needed to understand. With effort he lowered some walls, leaving others in place. Even the euphoria of first contact wasn’t enough to compel him to let her see everything. Not yet. Maybe not ever. For now, letting her see all he had felt for her since the very first moment they’d met was his goal.

There was his surprise and delight in her agile mind that was open enough to accept that he was alien and move past it; awe when she faced each new hurdle, each new threat to her life with a rare, natural courage. And then there were the first grains of his love for her when she realized that a time had come when he had to risk her–the life of one for the lives of many–and she understood and accepted unflinchingly. Even gave him absolution.

He showed her the first stirrings of his desire for her and the guilt he’d felt as a result; showed her how he’d wanted nothing more than to lose himself in her the night after they’d faced the Dalek in Utah and how it had overwhelmed him that she had seen him at his worst and not turned away. Then there was respect when she took responsibility for her actions after the debacle with her father, but also his regret at his own failing in allowing it to ever happen begin with. It had been like giving fire to a toddler and being angry when she burned herself: stupid and short-sighted.

And then there was the crushing grief when he thought she’d been killed on the game station. Grief that burned away every emotion he possessed, leaving him a cold shell; grief that turned into a fiery purpose when he found she was alive. He would have ripped apart a universe to get to her. Then the burning sadness of sending her away, but laced with pride that he’d been strong enough to do it, because without her, he felt somehow diminished and adrift.

Physical awareness infringed on the process for a moment as the Doctor realized Rose was shaking. Without hesitation, he pulled her into his arms, knowing the next part would be the hardest to see, but ultimately the most important to their future.

There was shock and horror, wonder and disbelief as she had appeared and destroyed the Daleks to save him, then anguish as he realized he couldn’t save her in return. On its heels came the torture of watching her die in his arms and the paralyzing impact of realizing the TARDIS had forced a sort of regeneration on her.

With the floodgates open, the Doctor found it frighteningly easy to let Rose see further into his mind; see how he crumbled in the face of her change, guilt and fear eating him up inside and blinding to him to everything else. He’d lost so much and the fear of losing her too had nearly broken him. He laid himself bare, showing her how those dark emotions had led to anger and jealousy. And finally, the need to lash out at her that fateful night; how he’d loved her and hated her for it at the same time.

Rose sobbed in his arms and he nearly broke the connection, but they were so close, so very, very close that it had to be finished. She had to understand. Holding her tighter, the Doctor took a deep breath and pushed through the most recent memories. He let her feel his absolute terror at realizing what he’d done to her, guilt not even coming close to describing what he felt in the aftermath. And then when Jack had confirmed she was gone, he’d felt as if part of his soul had been ripped away and left behind. But at the same time, he’d convinced himself that the most loving thing he could do was to stay away from her; he’d given her so little other than pain.

He showed her how Jack and time had chipped away at his resolve and how close he’d been to giving in on Christmas morning when Jack had taunted him; his fear and elation when she’d been there at Torchwood; his utter rage when they tried to take her from him yet again and then his sorrow at the additional pain he was causing her by dying right before her eyes. And finally, with Rose so tangled up in his mind that it was difficult to hold any barrier against her, the Doctor showed her one last emotion: How all it took was seeing her in Sarah Jane’s kitchen to banish any doubt about what his feelings were for her in this new regeneration.

When it was done, they hung there for a moment, entwined in his mind like lovers unwilling to let go, even though they’d spent themselves. Reluctantly, he oh-so-gently disentangled them and led Rose’s consciousness back to where it belonged. He forced himself to retreat, dreading the wrench of being separate and ‘alone’ again.

Opening his eyes, full awareness returned to the Doctor and he glanced down at Rose, who was leaning against him, breathing erratically. He should have taken more time and care in initiating that first step into the unknown of a psychic connection, but emotion had got the better of him, always a potential trap just after he’d gone through a regeneration.

Hands drifting soothingly up and down her back, he simply held her, his hearts thumping a little painfully in nervous anticipation of how she was going to react. The silence got to him, though, and despite his intention to wait Rose out he reached down and lifted her chin so she met his eyes.

“Letting you see all that, it wasn’t to excuse my actions,” he said softly. “I can’t excuse them. You were just as lost as I was, but I had the benefit of at least understanding the process of what you were going through. I should have handled things so differently,” he sighed wearily. “I just needed you to know. I’m not… I’m not good at putting those kinds of things into words. I never have been. Talking about feelings isn’t all that high on the Time Lord list of traits to be encouraged.”

He paused and Rose spoke for the first time, asking a simple question, but one that wasn’t going to allow him much wiggle room. “Why now? If you couldn’t say it, why didn’t you show me before everything changed?”

“Because I couldn’t. You were human. One day you were going to leave–” the Doctor began.

“But I wouldn’t have!” Rose broke in, shaking her head.

He closed his eyes, grasping for patience, trying to remind himself that even with everything she’d been through, Rose was still so young. His words came out clipped and angry, regardless. “All right. You wouldn’t have. But what was going to happen when you got too old to dash around with me? Would you be waiting here in the TARDIS with a blanket on your lap for me to come back, while I hadn’t aged a day? Would you be able to accept that? Not resent me for staying just as I am while you were withering away day by day until you died?”

Rose stared at him wordlessly. “And what about me?” he demanded. “How was I supposed to watch that happen? It would be different if we were aging together, but we wouldn’t have been. All we would be was hurt and frustrated by the gulf between us, thanks to age and decay. Then you would die and I’d still be alone!”

The Doctor turned and walked away, agitated. He ran his hands through his hair without conscious thought as he turned back. “Can’t you understand that I could only let myself get so close? To you or anyone else? It’s bad enough when you leave, or worse… but to have to watch you–”

Rose’s stricken look stopped him. Maybe, just maybe she was beginning to put all the pieces together. He watched as she took a deep breath and moistened her lips to speak. “And now?”

He smiled and spread his arms wide open. “Now the possibilities are endless.”

“Because I’m not human anymore,” she said softly.

“Right,” he replied just as quietly. “I… I never asked how you… well, is it… all right?”

Rose looked at him like he’d just asked something particularly stupid. Perhaps he had. “Yes an’ no,” she answered thoughtfully. “I mean, I’m still me, but every time I think I’m used to… everything, somethin’ happens to remind me not to be so sure of myself. Kind of like learnin’ to ride a bike. You think you’ve got it, but then you find yourself with cut knees on the pavement without really being sure how it all fell apart.”

The Doctor grinned, remembering a certain red bicycle and a little girl with grazed knees. “Well, all you need is someone to encourage you a bit and you’ll have it.”

“That gonna be you?” Rose asked, tilting her head as she watched his every move.

He nodded, grin fading to a more solemn expression. “If you’ll let me, I’d love to.”

Rose seemed to consider that for a moment before she launched her next salvo, one he’d been anticipating with some fair amount of dread since the beginning. “And what else are you gonna be, Doctor? My teacher, my friend… what else? I might not have your experience, but I’ve got enough to know that we crossed a line that’s just about impossible to forget.”

“You saw how I felt,” he replied almost defensively, not sure how to answer the question because he wasn’t sure what she wanted. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted Rose as a partner, a lover, someone who could stay with him and truly understand all the joy and pain of the strange life he led. Telling her that in plain terms was easier said than done, though.

“Yeah, I did.” Rose nodded. “But that’s how you felt. The old you. You didn’t show me what you want now, an’ I need to know, Doctor. I know there are things outside that door than can turn everything upside down for us. But I still need to know what ‘us’ is. I can’t go any further ‘til I know.”

He stood rigid for a moment, frozen as logic and desire for so many things warred inside him. “Rose… I can’t… I mean, I want… but after what I did…”

Then she was there, standing before him, her fingers pressed against his lips and a smile playing about her own. “Definitely still my Doctor. I told you before you didn’t force me to do anything. I knew what I was doin’. Even helped things along,” she added, a blush staining her cheeks.

The Doctor looked down at her with something akin to awe. If the tables were turned, he wasn’t sure he could have forgiven so easily. “But, Rose–”

She pressed her fingers against his lips again and grinned. “Shut up. If you’re all set to be self-sacrificin’ about it, I’ll tell you how you can fix it.”

He blinked and looked down at her curiously, wondering if he was going to like what she had to suggest. She had an odd look on her face and her color was intensifying. For just a minute he had a vision of Jack whispering in Rose’s ear and her demanding that he run around the TARDIS naked or something, but that vision was quickly dispelled when she leaned full against him and pulled his head down so her breath tickled his ear when she spoke.

“Make me a new memory.”


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Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Dreams, Realized

Shock roared through the Doctor, along with a heat he wasn’t ready to give in to just yet. His new body seemed to rise to the bait much easier than his old. He grimaced at the double-entendre of his own thoughts. Still, he had to be sure. “Rose, this regeneration is so new. I’m not really sure what kind of man I’ll turn out to be,” he said, voice nearly cracking as she moved against him. “What if you don’t like–”

“I’ve seen what’s in here,” she replied, smiling that wicked little smile that drove him insane as she reached up and skimmed her fingers over his temple and into his hair. He shivered in spite of himself at her touch. “I’m sure.”

For a moment they just stood there in silence, Rose’s fingertips threading through his hair and down over the shell of his ear, her touch so gentle it was barely there. Ironic that the impact it had was explosive. He felt like every nerve ending was straining for her touch while his hearts thumped double-time.

“Besides, I don’t want this between us,” she said, making the Doctor open his eyes when he didn’t even realize he’d closed them. He looked at her in bewilderment, trying to think through the haze of sensation his body wanted to wallow in.

Rose seemed to understand his confusion and slid her hand down to his cheek. “This… this–” her cheeks flamed again. “–attraction. I don’t want t’go ‘round wonderin’ if you feel that way about me now or how you’d feel if I was interested, like before. An’ you can’t go on beatin’ yourself up over… last time.”

He watched as she faltered and glanced away, catching her lower lip in her teeth for a moment. “’Course, I’m assumin’ that you still want–”

“Oh, I want,” the Doctor assured her quickly. “I definitely want.” He gave in knowing actions would speak much louder than words in this situation. Sliding his hands into her hair, he tilted Rose’s head and met her lips with his own. The initial touch was gentle and tentative, a first kiss, really. A first for him in this new body; a first kiss without fear or desperation or anger or any other painful emotion behind it.

He broke away before things got very far, serious as he looked down at Rose. “Are you absolutely certain?” he asked quietly, needing one more affirmation before he completely gave in.

Rose smiled at him, a look of fond exasperation written all over her face. “What else do I have t’say to convince you? Or do?” she asked with a wicked gleam in her eye as she reached up and began to unknot his tie.

“Rose, I’m serious,” the Doctor replied, reaching up and stilling her hands. “After last time….”

“Shhh. New Doctor and new Rose, remember?” Rose said with a soft smile, tugging his tie until they were nose to nose.
“Yes, but–” he tried once more.

“You always gonna talk this much?” she asked with amusement in her voice, her lips just a whisper away from his.

The Doctor swallowed convulsively and nodded just a bit. “Probably.”

Rose chuckled, the sound vibrating through his bones. “Guess I’ll have to find a way to shut you up, then.” Which she immediately did, pushing up on her tiptoes and kissing him again, this time with lips that opened under his, giving him access to the taste and texture of her. She was so different from his new body’s perspective.

He groaned softly as the kiss deepened, Rose’s body fitting against his like a puzzle piece and stimulating nerves just straining for sensation thanks to the newness of his regeneration. It didn’t help that her fingers were busy on the buttons of his shirt, the warmth of her hands against his bare chest making him shiver.

“Rose, wait,” he gasped, gathering what few wits he had left and pulling away from her, feeling a bit lightheaded.

Rose, in turn, looked a bit dazed for a moment before she frowned at him. “You’re not gonna ask me if I’m sure again, are you?” she asked suspiciously.

He grinned and shook his head. “Nah. Just figured we should maybe… well… I don’t think the console would be all that comfortable…”

Understanding dawned along with a pretty pink blush on Rose’s cheeks. For all she could play the aggressor, it delighted him that there was still a core of innocence about her. “Yeah, probably not,” she said, glancing over at the various knobs and levers and wrinkling her nose.

The Doctor reached out and took her hand, twining his long fingers through her smaller ones. With a gentle tug, he wordlessly led her toward the interior of the TARDIS and opened the first door he came to, silently thanking his ship when it proved to be a bedroom and not a storage cupboard.

“Never seen this room before,” Rose murmured, glancing around and blushing again when her gaze fell on the large bed dominating the space. That was when he realized he could feel her trembling through their clasped hands.

“Not changing your mind are you?” he asked lightly, fighting back a wince as he looked for reassurance again. He was unable to help himself and it was getting rather ridiculous.

Rose shook her head and turned to him, her fingers toying with his jacket. “No. S’just… before… it was different. Now this is… well, so… on purpose, you know? An’ I–” she looked down, her lashes hiding her eyes from him. “I don’t want to… disappoint you. Don’t exactly have a lot of experience. At least not compared to more than nine hundred years of… dancin’.”

He hugged her to him tightly. “Oh Rose, you could never disappoint me. I promise you that. Besides,” the Doctor pulled back just enough to lift her chin, “I’m not Jack. I haven’t exactly spent my life ‘dancing’ around the universe every free moment I found,” he teased. “In fact, you might even say I’m a virgin.”

Rose’s eyes went wide and he laughed aloud. “Well, it’s true. Even if the mind isn’t, the body is. Could be that I’m totally inept and I’ll botch it all and send you running screaming from the TARDIS–”

She silenced him with a kiss, one that nearly succeeded in driving all coherent thought from his mind as her tongue teased his with all sorts of suggestive little maneuvers. At the same time her ingenious fingers jerked his shirt out of his trousers, managed the remaining buttons and were skating up his back under his clothes. Nearly undone by the simple touch, the Doctor realized he was going to have to take control of the situation; otherwise it was going to be over before it started. Brand new body could only take so much stimulation, after all.

Without breaking the kiss, he managed to shrug out of his trench-coat, jacket and shirt while he walked Rose back toward the bed. She broke away in surprise as the back of her legs met the mattress and he used the moment to his advantage, hooking his fingers at the bottom of her jumper and sweeping it up over her head.

Once it was gone, the sight that met the Doctor’s eyes made his mouth go dry. Rose’s bra was the color of pink candy floss and made of lace sheer enough that he could just make out the deeper pink hues of the delicate skin below. He vaguely considered that right at that moment he might have developed a rather disturbing erotic fixation with candy floss.

Rose’s hands broke his mental meandering; her fingers in his hair again making him want to purr like a contented cat. She pulled him close and he inhaled sharply at the feel of skin against skin. There were no words to describe it. All he knew was that he had to have more. His mouth found hers again and lingered there for a moment before working down her jaw and to the curve of her neck as his fingers found the clasp to her bra, making quick work of it.

“So beautiful,” he sighed, stepping back to look at her once he’d tossed away the scrap of pink lace.

Rose blushed and looked away. “Sure you’ve seen lots better…”

You are beautiful,” the Doctor replied forcefully, pulling her up hard against his chest.

She smiled and slid her hands around his waist. “Not so bad yourself, you know.”

He grinned. “You don’t say? Better than before?’

Rose’s brow furrowed a bit. “No, just different. But good different.” She kissed his chest, then nipped the spot with her teeth and smirked when he groaned. “I like it.”

“Good, because turnabout is fair play,” the Doctor retorted, grinning wickedly as he scooped her up and tossed her on the bed, quickly following. Rose squeaked as she landed, but the sound quickly turned to a sigh as he set about mapping every inch of her soft skin with his hands and mouth. He started with her shoulder, tracing a path with his fingertips down to where her pulse fluttered in her throat, lips taking over to feel the double-beat vibrate delicately under the skin.

From there he moved on to firmer flesh, teasing and tasting and watching with delight as Rose responded so openly, each gasp and sigh so incredibly arousing that he wasn’t sure how he was keeping himself from simply pouncing on her. Forcing the thought away, he inched downward, nipping at her belly button and running his tongue over the patch of skin just above the button of her jeans.

“Seems I’ve met with a roadblock,” he said, glancing up at her with a cheeky grin.

Pushing up on her elbows, Rose shot him a look, her hair disheveled and cheeks flushed. “Don’t make me call Jack in here to give you a lesson or two.”

The Doctor made a face at her. “Told you before I’ve got the moves. Besides–” he flicked open the fly of her jeans, groaning a little at the sight of tiny pink knickers that wouldn’t have amounted to a pair of shoe strings and a handkerchief altogether.

“You were sayin’, Doctor?” Rose drawled, her amused voice breaking him out of his reverie.

“Why do you even bother?” he asked distractedly, shifting and tugging the jeans down her legs and carelessly tossing them on the floor before going back to studying Rose’s knickers. He traced the edge of the string over one hip, following the path with his tongue and loving the feel of her shivering at the light touch.

Rose looked a bit dazed as she tried to focus on him. “Uhm… bother with what?” she asked in a rather strangled voice.

“Knickers this tiny! They’re like… earrings. Purely decorative,” he said firmly, addicted to the feel of the muscles quivering under her skin as he traced random patterns over the inside of her thigh with his tongue. “They can’t really provide the purpose they’re meant for when they’re that small. And that string up the back! I wouldn’t think that was very comfortable.”

He glanced up to see Rose staring at him incredulously. “What?”

“I can’t believe we’re discussin’ the state of my knickers now. You don’t like ‘em, you can buy me different ones later,” she muttered.

“Never said I didn’t like them!” the Doctor replied with surprise.

Rose huffed and rolled her eyes. “Well you’re sure doin’ enough complainin’ about ‘em.” She paused and grinned. “Maybe you should just take ‘em off, that way you don’t have to worry about ‘em anymore.”

He smirked at her and crawled up until he was looming over her, arms braced above her shoulders. “Nah. Think I’ll leave them on for now. Kind of like having you without a stitch on except those useless knickers.”

“Tease,” she muttered, lifting her arms to twine around his neck, using the leverage to pull him down for a kiss that was so hot and blatantly carnal that it made his head spin. When she shifted under him and wrapped her legs around his waist, rubbing against him with her hips, he decided that spinning was a completely ineffectual word. Growling softly into the kiss, he thrust back against her, already addicted to the feel of her softness cradling him, ready to accept him once the last barriers of clothing were gone.

They rocked there together for what could have been minutes or hours. The Doctor had completely lost track of time and didn’t care all that much. He’d find it later. It couldn’t have gone far. Still, his new body with heightened senses was on fire, urging him to demolish any remaining barriers and get on with it before both his hearts gave out from excruciating arousal.

He pulled away, breathing heavily and went up on his knees, fingers fumbling with his trousers, his eyes still glued to Rose. Her mouth was red and swollen from kissing him and he was sure she’d never looked better. Then she smiled at him, slow and sexy and he was fairly certain he was going to implode right then and there.

“Looks like you need some help,” she drawled huskily, coming up on her knees as well and brushing his hands away from his trousers. “Lucky you’ve got me here, yeah?”

The Doctor’s eyes closed as Rose leaned forward to kiss his shoulder while she unfastened his trousers and slipped one hand inside. “Got a lot of nerve complainin’ about my knickers when you aren’t even wearin’ any,” she pointed out wryly, her fingers doing things to him that made his lungs freeze up.

“Wouldn’t wear knickers anyway,” he babbled somewhat incoherently. “Never been much for cross-dressing.”

Rose giggled against his chest as she worked his trousers down over his hips. He opened his eyes and frowned at her. “You’re laughing?”

“Well yeah,” Rose grinned. “The thought of you dressed like a woman… oh.” She blinked at him and snickered again. “I wasn’t laughing at… well... I promise I’m impressed. That better?”

“Not particularly,” the Doctor muttered. “Maybe I need to call Jack in to give you a lesson or two.”

She laughed when he threw her own words back at her and deliberately leaned full against him. A violent shiver ran through his body as her soft skin rubbed tantalizingly against his. “Rose…” he groaned against her hair, sliding his hands around her waist and further down to pull her tightly against him.

They both gasped, and the Doctor decided he was done with lighthearted banter. The focus and intensity that he’d kept so carefully leashed snapped into control and he urged Rose back on the bed, one hand sliding down to test the slick warmth hidden behind those tiny pink knickers. She made a little noise in the back of her throat that spurred him to more action.

Ignoring the soft sound of protest from Rose, he removed his hand and quickly tugged the knickers off her hips to join the rest of the clothes scattered on the floor then. Kneeling between her knees, he leaned in to tease her belly button with his tongue once more and moved lower, very intent on his goal.

She squeaked as he pushed her legs open and he glanced up, surprised by the uncertain look on her face. “Hasn’t anyone ever…?” he asked.

A quick shake of her head was a clear enough answer.

“Good thing you finally met the right sort of man, then,” the Doctor said with a predatory grin, more than a bit satisfied that he would be the one to initiate Rose into this particular brand of lovemaking. “Close your eyes,” he added softly, waiting until she had before starting a slow, lazy exploration with tongue and lips and fingers. For just a moment his efforts were met with silence as Rose adjusted to the intimacy, but almost as quickly, she relaxed and sighed–a long, throaty sound that made him extremely smug.

Sighs quickly turned to moans, and beyond that, it seemed Rose wasn’t beyond outright begging under certain circumstances. Feeling rather desperate himself, the Doctor moved up until he could claim her mouth once more and nearly lost control as Rose easily accepted the taste of herself on his tongue. Unable to wait any longer, he shifted his hips against her and ever so slowly joined them together.

“Doctor,” Rose gasped, breaking away from the kiss as she lifted her knees, drawing him deeper. He shivered in response, eyes squeezed closed as his body soaked in the sensation of her tight heat all around him. It was everything he remembered from their one painful night so long ago, but so much more. So much better.

Part of him wanted to simply let go and lose himself in Rose–give in to the urge to thrust forward hard and fast so he could drown in the blinding release he knew was so close–but he couldn’t let go of the need for this time to be so very different from the last. The Doctor was determined to go slow, even if it killed him. He was considering the fact that it very well might when he realized there was an unexpected… fluttering… at the edge of his consciousness.

Still rocking slowly, Rose twined about him like a clinging vine, his eyes flew open and he stared down at her. She was the soft, fluttering feeling, her mind reaching out to his, seeking the connection he’d forged between them earlier. Before he could stop it, Rose arched and cried out beneath him, the link snapping into place and flooding his mind with everything that she was and ever had been. She was bright and shining and pulsing with so much life and love and joy that he could barely take it all in.

“Rose,” the Doctor gasped hoarsely, grasping for his defenses, but feeling them slide through his mental grip, weakened by the intense moment they were sharing physically. And then everything fractured as his body found release and his last mental wall fell. The pleasure was white hot and all-consuming, for a moment wiping out even the pain of knowing Rose would see all of him, the black and the white and all the shades of grey in between.

Sanity returned slowly, spurred on by Rose shifting underneath him. She was bearing all his weight, he realized, and began to move off her, refusing to think for a moment for fear of how she was going to react to what had just happened.

“Don’t,” she whispered, tightening her arms around him.

“I’m too heavy,” the Doctor protested weakly, inhaling sharply when Rose tightened her legs around him, sending sharp aftershocks of pleasure stabbing through him. He buried his face against the side of her neck and focused on breathing for a moment, but his consciousness wouldn’t be denied. He could still feel her there at the edges, physically sated, but somewhat wary and concerned as well.

With a sigh he levered himself up on one elbow. “Rose, I–”

“I’m sorry,” she blurted at the same time.

He smiled bemusedly and shook his head. “Sorry for what?”

Rose bit her lip nervously before she answered. “For… I don’t know what I did… I didn’t mean to, but all of a sudden I was in your head again… an’ I saw things…”

“Shhh. It’s okay,” the Doctor murmured softly, leaning in and dropping a gentle kiss against her lips. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. I should have been prepared for the possibility with everything so intense, but…” He shrugged and searched her eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Me?” Rose asked, confused. “I don’t think I’ve been more all right in my life,” she said with a lopsided little grin, as she wiggled her hips against his.

He grinned in spite of himself. “Not that,” he said with an amused look before he quickly sobered. “You saw… well, you know what you saw.”

She nodded and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yeah. S’a lot to think about, all those versions of you and everything you’ve done. But maybe… I dunno, maybe it’ll help me understand better. Why you do what you do and all. An’ why you feel the way you do, too.” With a grimace, she added, “S’all jumbled up right now, though, like it needs to sink in before I can think about it.”

The Doctor just stared. It was incredibly difficult for him to comprehend that she simply accepted him. His own people never really did, so how could one human girl? No, that wasn’t right. Rose had given up her humanity for him, however unwittingly. And now, when she should despise him for everything she’d become and everything he’d been, she was looking at him with love in her eyes. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to weep or hide.

Rose wasn’t going to let him do either. “If it’ll help, we could fight about you muckin’ around in my head an’ takin’ my memories. An’ being mean to Jack,” she said with a pointed look.

He looked at her warily. That exact moment was one he had been very leery of her seeing. “There’s nothing to fight about, Rose. I did–”

“…what you had to do,” she finished for him. “I know. You couldn’t let me tear the TARDIS apart an’ kill you and Jack.” He felt her shiver and rolled to the side, gathering her close and pulling the heavy duvet over them.

“If I was really gonna be mad at you for anything, it would be for how you treated Jack,” Rose added, giving him a reproachful look.

“Really going to be? Does that mean you’re not?” the Doctor asked carefully, staggered that with everything Rose had seen in his mind, she was still snuggled up against him as if they were the only two people left in the universe.

“Nah. Just got you back. The way I see it we’ll have plenty of time to fight down the road. Right now, I just want to enjoy this; bein’ here with you,” she replied, a note of satisfied happiness in her voice that seeped into him and warmed him from the inside out.

Maybe, just maybe, the universe had finally claimed her penance from him and his long, lonely wandering was done at last.

Jack was watching Sarah Jane play the quintessential British hostess to their prestigious guests when his ears picked up the sound of raised voices coming from the direction of the back garden. Excusing himself, he strode down the hall toward the kitchen, arriving just in time to see a harassed-looking Doctor arguing with one of the Prime Minister’s dark-coated security guards over the sonic screwdriver. Rose was at his side, her hand twined with the Doctor’s, a concerned expression on her face.

Glad to see that they hadn’t killed each other, given they’d spent nearly an entire twenty-four hours holed up inside the TARDIS, Jack started over to see if he could help with the Doctor caught sight of him.

“Jack! Will please tell this… gentleman that I’m not going to use my sonic screwdriver to blow anything up?” The Doctor looked back at the stoic guard. “Really. Harriet Jones and I are old friends! I blew her up once. Well, not literally. Close, but we all walked away, you see, and–”

“Not helping,” Rose said under her breath, shooting Jack a long-suffering look as she nudged the Doctor with her elbow.

“I have to agree with Rose, Doc,” Jack laughed, shaking his head. “Talking about blowing up the Prime Minister generally gets you hanged, not past her security. Or is that rifles at dawn? I can never remember.”

The Doctor shot him a sour look. “Thank you so much, Jack. That was very helpful.”

Jack heard the footstep behind him a second before a rusty voice joined the fray. “It’s all right, Captain. I can vouch for the Doctor and Miss Tyler. You can go back to your post outside.”

Before Jack could question the new arrival, Rose gasped and took several steps forward, her eyes glued on the much older man. “You! It was you, there at Torchwood, wasn’t it?”

The man grinned and nodded. “That it was, miss. I–”

“John Benton?” The Doctor broke in, staring incredulously. “It is, isn’t it! And a colonel now?” he asked, gesturing to the insignia on the older man’s jacket. “Well, looks like you’ve up and lived a life while I’ve been mucking about!”

Benton laughed. “I suppose you could say that, Doctor. And I could say the same for you.” He glanced at Rose and winked. “You always did have a fine eye for beautiful assistants.”

Jack watched in amusement as Rose blushed and the Doctor grinned smugly, taking her hand once more. That the two had so obviously found one another again made him incredibly happy, but it was a bittersweet moment as well. He hadn’t felt like an outsider looking in at the Doctor and Rose for a long time, but the feeling swamped him at that moment.

The Doctor jumped in again before Jack could get too deep into his private musings. “So, you were at Torchwood? Official capacity?” he asked Benton curiously.

“More or less,” the colonel answered with a grin. “Official for UNIT. Went into Torchwood as a mole eighteen months ago to keep an eye on things when people started to get a little nervous about how much power Torchwood had.”

“Ah, I see,” the Doctor murmured, looking thoughtful.

“Yeah, an’ if it weren’t for Colonel Benton, I wouldn’t have known where the TARDIS was after Jack got you out, Doctor,” Rose added.

“Good man, John Benton,” the Doctor smiled. “Glad to see some things never change.”

Jack cleared his throat. “Sorry to interrupt the reunion, but there are a few others anxious to see you too, Doctor. The Prime Minister and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are in the living room with Sarah Jane waiting to talk to you.”

“Harriet Jones and Alistair? Well, aren’t I the man of the hour?” the Doctor beamed, rocking back on his heels, obviously quite pleased with himself. Jack decided that as much as he missed the old Doctor, the new version was going to grow on him very quickly.

Rose hung back for a moment as the Doctor followed Colonel Benton out of the kitchen and into the living room. She felt light enough to walk on air after working everything out with the Doctor, but the one thing she hadn’t dealt with was standing just a few feet away. There was no way ‘thank you’ could express how she felt. Jack had stayed with her every step of the way through her own transformation, even when she left. He’d loved her without question and been everything she needed, never asking anything in return. At the very least, she had to acknowledge all he’d done.

“Jack, wait,” she said, stopping him as he made to follow. He turned back to her with a questioning look. For a moment she wasn’t sure how to put any of it into words, so instead of speaking, she threw herself into arms.

“Whoa, what’s this all about?” he asked with a bemused little laugh, hugging her tight before setting her back on her feet. “I thought you and the Doctor worked everything out. Well, at least it sure looked like you did.”

She nodded and grinned. “Oh, we did. In fact–” She stopped and smacked Jack’s shoulder as he gave her a pointedly knowing look.

“Maybe we should come up with some warning. A little sign you could stick on the TARDIS door that says, ‘If the TARDIS is rockin’, don’t come knockin’,” he smirked.

“Jack!” Rose exclaimed, cheeks flaming as she glanced around to see if anyone could hear.

“Okay, that might be a bit much. Maybe a sock on the latch or something….”

Rose put her hand over his mouth, trying not to dissolve into laughter. “Stop. I just want t’say thank you, Jack. If it weren’t for you, I don’t know where we’d be right now.”

For just a moment Jack looked uncomfortable, something in his eyes she couldn’t quite put her finger on. He quickly covered with his trademark smile and shrugged. “You two would have figured it out on you own. Eventually. You didn’t need me.”

She arched a brow at him. “You’re kiddin’ me, right? I’m honestly not sure we ever would’ve figured things out if you hadn’t been there to keep us connected.” She smiled a little sadly. “You remember how he was.”

“Yeah,” Jack replied with a sigh. “I do.”

“He’s still there, Jack. It’s just… the package is a little smoother,” she said with a lopsided smile. “Maybe it’s that everything isn’t so close to the surface as it was for him before. He can put a better face on it, but it’s still him underneath.”

Jack reached out to ruffle her hair. “How’d you get so wise?”

Rose thought back to that incredible moment when she’d been in the Doctor’s mind with no barriers between them. There was no way to describe how it felt, having a glimpse into the deepest parts of him. She blinked and shook it off, grinning at Jack. “Maybe it’s my excellent taste in friends. What do you think?”

Before he could answer, the Doctor stuck his head around the corner. “Rose, come on! I want to introduce you to the Brigadier. And you too, Jack. Can’t start the party without you!”

“It’s lovely to meet you, my dear,” the Brigadier said to Rose as the Doctor stood back and watched fondly. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you, you know. Harry, Sarah Jane, even the Prime Minister all have had wonderful things to say on your behalf.”

Rose glanced back at the Doctor and he winked at her. She seemed a bit less awestruck when she turned back to the Brigadier. “Uhm… thank you. Don’t know that I did anything that special, though. Lots of people were doin’ more than I did at Torchwood.”

“There’s credit a-plenty to go around, Rose,” Harriet said firmly, perched on the edge of her seat with a cup of tea on her knees. “Although I admit, I’m still appalled to think of the lengths Torchwood had gone to hide their true purpose. Believe me, it won’t happen again. Not on my watch.”

The Doctor glanced around proudly. His friends and ultimately, his family. The people sitting around the room were all living examples of why he was so enamored of the human race. They were amazing. Intelligent, resilient and never willing to give up, no matter their fragility. The lessons to be learned from them were countless. He just wished his people had been more open. He pushed the melancholy thought aside and smiled at the assembled group as he perched on the arm of the sofa next to Rose. “So, I’ve heard the story of what happened up until Rose, Jack and I left in the TARDIS, but what–”

“You filled him in?” Jack interrupted, glancing over at Rose.

She nodded. “Didn’t have any choice. This one never stops asking questions,” she smirked, glancing up at the Doctor with the tip of her tongue caught in her teeth.

“Oi! I’m not that bad,” the Doctor protested.

“You told him everything?” Jack asked with a wicked grin.

“Everything?” the Doctor asked, noting that Harriet and Alistair looked as confused as he was. And Rose was blushing? “I think maybe–”

It was Sarah Jane’s turn to interrupt. “Brigadier, I believe you were going to explain what happened at Torchwood after the Doctor escaped in the TARDIS?”

“Indeed, I believe I was,” the Brigadier said with a smile as the Doctor and his companions exchanged looks.

“Wait,” the Doctor said suddenly. “I thought you were retired.”

The Brigadier glanced over at Harriet with a wry smile. “I am. Officially. Unofficially, it was requested that I be a sort of… liaison between the Prime Minister and UNIT officials once it became known that Torchwood was an issue.”

“I requested him specifically,” Harried chimed in. “And as it turns out, it was lucky I did. Very few others would have realized the import of Torchwood’s charter.”

“I see,” the Doctor nodded, marveling that the universe could actually be a kind mistress at times. “So, you were saying about Christmas Day….”

Nodding, the Brigadier set aside his cup of tea and leaned forward. “As soon as we received confirmation of the true intent in Torchwood’s charter, UNIT began mobilizing with the Prime Minister’s full support. Finding out that you had stumbled into their web simply… hastened our plans.”

“Mmm, yes,” the Doctor mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. Perhaps he had been a bit hasty. A glance at Rose, Jack and Sarah Jane made it quite clear they all agreed with the unspoken assessment.

Mouth twitching as he attempted not to smile, the Brigadier continued. “Regardless, it was very fortuitous that your companions came for you, Doctor. Given what we’ve found of Director Hartmann’s plans in the aftermath, she was prepared for an organized attack and would likely have had you whisked away to fortified, secret location. What her arrogance had not allowed for, it seems, was a very small, very personal… guerilla attack, if you will.”

Harriet sniffed. “It still galls me that that woman had so much power at her fingertips and under my nose. Not that I covet it,” she added wryly. “I simply don’t believe any one person should ever have such absolute control. Too easily corrupted.”

The Doctor made a face. “True, but I don’t Yvonne was corrupted, as such. She was more like a religious zealot, Torchwood and ‘the Empire’ her religion.”

Everyone in the room was quiet for a moment, obviously unnerved by the thought.

The Brigadier cleared his throat to break the heavy silence. “Yes, well, with Benton as our eyes and ears, we knew once you two,” he nodded at Jack and Rose, “had created a rather large diversion, retrieved the Doctor and were headed for the TARDIS. That was our cue.” He sighed and looked at the Doctor solemnly. “It is to my great regret that we could not stop the circumstances that led to your current regeneration.”

Smiling, the Doctor shrugged and squeezed Rose’s hand. “Oh, no harm done. Better ears this time around anyway. Hair, too. And a mole,” he added happily, glancing over at Jack with a wink. There was still a shadow of grief in their eyes–much more so in Jack’s–but that would change with time.

“So, now what?” he asked, looking curiously at the company scattered about the room. “No offense, but I can’t imagine the Prime Minister coming all the way out here for tea if there weren’t more than a retelling of events involved.”

Harriet nodded crisply. “You have the right of it, Doctor. I shall be succinct. Once your situation was stable, Captain Harkness was kind enough to brief us on all that happened from his perspective. The Brigadier and I spoke of it at length and while I realize the approach would be… unconventional, especially with Captain Harkness not being of this time, we would like to humbly request he stay here and assist us by overseeing the Torchwood situation. His experiences and capabilities seem uniquely suited to the position.”

The Doctor found himself gaping at Harriet. Rose’s approach was a bit more direct. “No, you can’t have him,” she exclaimed, turning and giving Jack and accusing look. “You’re not actin’ surprised. You knew this was comin’, didn’t you?”

Jack looked torn for a moment before his features set. “Yes.”

“But you’re not gonna do it, are you?” Rose asked, eyes wide. “That’d mean you leavin’ the TARDIS!”

“I realize that,” Jack replied stoically. “But…” he glanced around as if to gauge to the assembled company, then shrugged. “Look, I think maybe you and the Doctor need some time to adjust to all the changes without a third wheel tagging along.”

“Jack,” the Doctor finally said quietly, having heard more than enough. “You know better than that.” He paused and made eye contact with Jack for a long, silent moment. “I don’t want you to go, either. I won’t stop you if it’s really what you want, but don’t go for the wrong reasons.”

Jack actually looked surprised. The Doctor mentally sighed. He thought Jack of all people understood. But then again, Jack was still human. Sometimes that was easy to forget, as close as the two of them had become in the last six months. And it likely hadn’t helped Jack’s uncertainty that Rose had been his focus since waking from the regeneration sickness.

Sarah Jane–sensible as always–broke in with a suggestion. “Do you suppose things might go quicker if the Doctor were willing to help as well?” she asked, looking to the Brigadier and Prime Minister questioningly.

“The Doctor? Well, of course,” Harriet said quickly. “It simply never occurred to me that he might be willing–”

“Never said I was,” the Doctor muttered, giving Sarah Jane a disgruntled look.

She grinned brightly. “The way I remember it, Doctor, you were always very quick to meddle where you weren’t necessarily wanted. Look at it as a change to meddle without irritating anyone.”

The Doctor hmphed. “I’ll have you know there are worlds where I am welcomed like royalty!”

Rose glanced over at Sarah Jane with a conspiratorial smirk. “He ever actually take you to one of those? He’s always tellin’ me that, but I only ever see places where they want to execute him at dawn.”

“Sounds familiar,” Sarah Jane agreed wryly.

“Oi! I’m still in the room!” the Doctor exclaimed, looking on the verge of a sulk as the women snickered. Jack wasn’t making much of an effort to suppress his own amusement, either.

The Brigadier, smiling a bit himself, steered the conversation back to the original topic. “Doctor? What say you? Could you fall back into your old role and advise us for a time? A month, perhaps?”

Considering it, the Doctor made a face before he gave in to the inevitable and sighed. He wasn’t leaving Jack behind, that much he knew. Seemed like he was rather stuck. “Two weeks. Take it or leave it. Besides,” he shrugged, “with my brilliance and the TARDIS’ help that should be plenty of time.”

“Done,” Harriet said briskly. “Now that that’s settled, Ms. Smith, I apologize for taking over your home as we have, but I believe my people have brought in a bite to eat. Perhaps we should hash out the specifics over lunch?”

Sarah Jane smiled and stood. “It’s my pleasure, Prime Minister. If you and the Brigadier would like to follow me….”

The Doctor kept Rose and Jack seated with a look as Sarah Jane led her other guests away. Once they were out of earshot, Jack spoke up. “Doctor, you don’t have to do this. I’m kind of interested in what I might find–”

“Jack, haven’t you learned by now that I don’t do anything I don’t want to do?” the Doctor asked with a long-suffering look. “Besides, I need to know exactly what’s been going on inside Torchwood. Rassilon only knows what they’ve been mucking about with.”

There was silence for a moment as Jack looked to Rose. “What do you think? You’ve been awful quiet on the subject.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “An’ here I used to be so impressed by how smart you were. Flirtin’ with Sarah Jane must’ve killed a few brain cells or somethin’.”

The Doctor blinked then went wide-eyed. “Jack, you didn’t….”

Jack put on his best innocent look. “Didn’t what?”

Rose’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my god, Jack!”

“You two have dirty minds,” Jack sighed, attempting to look offended, but failing miserably.

“Wonder whose fault that is,” Rose muttered. “I can’t believe you–”

“Who said I did? Even I don’t kiss and tell all the time,” Jack said loftily. Rose punched him the shoulder.

“Brute,” he complained, rubbing his shoulder.

“Yeah, just wait ‘til I get you back in the TARDIS. Then I’ll show you,” Rose said with a snort.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Am I going to have to separate the two of you?”

“Only if you promise to be in the middle,” Jack drawled, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“Tell me again why I don’t make a run for the TARDIS now?” the Doctor asked with a melodramatic sigh.

“’Cause you’d be bored out of your mind savin’ the universe without us?” Rose quipped with an irrepressible smile.

The Doctor grinned in response. “Well, there is that.” He paused then and looked at Rose and Jack in turn, his expression turning serious. “Are we all right, then? No hesitations? Ready to move forward?”

Rose, ever the bridge, took his hand and Jack’s tugging them both close to her. “Ready, willing and able!”

Jack took a moment longer to answer, but when he did, there was a smile in his eyes as well as on his face. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

The Doctor grinned. “Brilliant!


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