“You’re wearing two different shoes,” he points out.
She blinks, looked down and is mildly surprised to find that this is so. “So I am.” She smiles at him. “So, are you ready to tell us yet?”
“Pretty please? Cherries? Whip? The whole shebang, Doctor?”
“Or is it ‘the Doctor’?” she goes on irreverently. “I can’t rightly decide. You’re really not the Doctor after all. I figured that out on my own thanks, but I’ll give you this: you do a fantastic imitation. Fooled me for nearly three years, so you did. A big fat sham. Mind you, I do not complain of the shagging, because that was fantastic, yeah.”
She says the word with the sort of rolling enthusiasm he used to say it, turning it inside out and upside down and throwing it back in his face in a way that, she admits, is a little unnecessary in terms of cruelty. (Then again, she’s discovered lately there don’t seem to be any boundaries she won’t cross with him these days. It’s easy when she reminds herself he’s not human. Easier when she remembers he’s not even a Time Lord.) He doesn’t say anything. Knowing she won’t get anything out of him if she doesn’t keep things interesting, she crosses the room and stand near him.
“You know I do miss you.”
He doesn’t recoil from her hand even now. In fact he lets her draw her intended path from the corner of his eye down the pale slightly freckled plane of his cheekbone; she recalls adoring those freckles. Was fond of the nearly invisible blemishes because only she got to kiss them and be near enough to count them. Now, she likes to think it’s just one more detail copied off the original and hates them with the same intensity. Nevertheless, it’s with fascination that her thumb traces the slight feathered lines at the corners of his eyes, whispered marks of Time in a face she’d formerly thought ageless. He lets her touch him until her fingers wander to his mouth, brush his unsmiling lips and — he takes her hand between his own and holds it, pressed between his palms that are just a shade too cool for human temperature. He holds her hands like a prayer.
“Then let me out.” His tone is reasonable, without vengeance.
She wonders at his capacity for forgiveness.
“We’ve had this conversation before, love.” She brings his left hand to her mouth, kisses his ring finger just above the knuckle, where the band he doesn’t have anymore wore a pale stripe into his skin. “How come you ask me every time?”
“I’m hoping,” he says softly and for an instant she thinks she’s going to stop there, let the bare verb hang alone in the sterilized air. “I’m hoping one day you’ll cease to be insane since the last time I saw you.”
She smiles. “But if you’re going to be stubborn, we’ll just have to convince her to open up for us some other way.”
“She never will. Not for you.”
“No. She’ll do it for you.”
She looks sharply up at him. “What?” she breathes. “What was that, Doctor?”
He stands rigid, unmoving, dark eyes holding the fragment of eternity that they’ve always held; his face inscrutable as the sun. He’s never begged before. He didn’t beg when Torchwood came for him. He didn’t beg when he realized she’d called them and that was the reason she was so calmly watching her soldiers force him to the ground and dead-lock cuff him. He didn’t beg when she ordered him locked away in white-walled rooms. He didn’t beg when — out of spite — she ordered him stripped of all his own belongings and cut the wedding band off his hand herself (for some reason he’d been ridiculously unwilling to part with it). He didn’t beg when she allowed Torchwood to open up the case study on him. He didn’t beg ever. No matter what, her Doctor-who-was-not — her beautiful, terrible, unspeakably proud half Time Lord-human hybrid — never begged.
“What did you say?”
“That’s not it.”
“Rose, don’t do this.”
“Orders, Doctor.” She clucks her tongue disapprovingly. “You’re not allowed to tell me what to do. S’against my rules. Sorry.”
“You don’t want to do this. Whatever you’re thinking, just tell me and I can help you. I love you, Rose. My Rose. Please let me —“
“You are tiny!” she shrieks. She shoves him with a force that should not have been in a little blonde London shop girl, throws him back against the clean white walls and screams. “You are nothing! You are a series of crisscrossed time lines leading to a single massive unintended cock-up that only looks and acts like something worth while. You’re nothing. You’re less than an echo. You’re a speck in the whole of existence. And I will take you apart to get back to my Doctor, do you understand?”
She stands there breathing hard, the roar of her heart in her head and thinks it sounds like drums. Then it fades and Rose looks up to find the Other Doctor leaning against the wall, watching her sidelong and wary; the way you watch a predator, wolves and ghosts in the darkness. The look on his face reminds her that this is not how she does things. Stepping gently, she crosses the floor and coaxes him from the wall with an offered had.
“I’m sorry,” she says gingerly, her voice full of love and terrifying sincerity. (Terrifying because she really thinks it’s sincere, and that’s alright.) “I didn’t mean it, sweetie.” She wiggles her fingers invitingly, as though tempting a frightened child. “C’mon.”
He goes to her reluctantly because the alternative is her raging madness. He allows her to wrap her arms around his neck, to fit them perfectly around but he doesn’t relax, doesn’t melt into her embrace as he used to and surrender to her touch. “Shhh, I’ve got you though,” she murmurs, stroking his hair and hugging him close. The smell of him is warm and personal and familiar. The sort of familiar had only by those who shared every moment together, once upon a time. On a whim she presses her face to that place behind his ear where his hair meets the nape of his neck and inhales his shiver as much as the comforting scent of someone who’d abandoned her. It is incredible how similar they really are. “You’re okay. You’re alright. I’ll always be here, yeah. Just tell me how to open the TARDIS.”
She slides her fingers up through his hair and holds him, hissing into his ear. “Tell me, or we can make you hurt so bad, that she’ll open her doors to save you.”
“She can’t do that,” he whispers.
“Of course she can. You’re her Time Lord. She’d do anything for you, just like her mother would do anything for him.” Rose kisses the not-Doctor gratefully, glorying in the familiar shape and taste and contour of his mouth and wishes he was real. She longs for the innocence and ignorance of the past three years. Then she pulls away and cups his face, just glows for the happiness so intense that her eyes burn with saline tears. “And she’s so beautiful, isn’t she?” Rose whispers, her breath warm against his mouth. “She’s my shining hope, Doctor. That’s what you’ve given me: my hope.”
“She’s just a child.” His tone is that old unmovable fixed point of judgment. The ruling of a man who is the last word on every subject and distantly some secret part of her she hadn’t yet admitted to, revels in having him like this. Kept and contained. Locked and chained. An Oncoming Storm boxed away where only she can open it up and admire him. It doesn’t matter that he’s fake because while he’s not the Doctor, he’s everything dangerous about the man. The meta-crisis tells her in a voice of utter cold, “I won’t let you kill her so you can have your happily ever after.” He shakes his head and his eyes are fathomless and dark. “It’s wrong.”
She grins at him, a horrible caricature constructed of madness and love and ragged hatred. “I’ll kill who I have to find him again, love.”
“He would never have you if this is what you’ve become.”
“You can’t understand it. You’re just a copy. How could you feel what you can only remember?”
“I am him.”
She doesn’t remember moving. All she knows is a cyanide acid burn of rage that crawls across her brain like fire, blotting out her consciousness and when the fire fades, the Other Doctor is on the ground. (Had she hit him? She doesn’t remember, but her palm stings and she feels accomplished in a hideous magnificent way she can’t describe.) There’s a new bright fear in his eyes, the horror of some monster beneath what you thought was the familiar mattress of your bed. She loved him once on bended knee. It’s better, she realizes, when he’s on both.
“Don’t you ever say that again,” she orders him coolly. “You’re not the Doctor. Say it.”
“Say it and I won’t let Torchwood dissect the couple from Terraqua System Three.”
“I’m not the Doctor.”
“Thank you, love.” She bends down and kisses him on the temple. “Now, I’m going to leave you here in the dark and open the Rift gate manipulator. Oh, don’t look like that. It’s a low key dimensional gap, emits sub-harmonic energy.” A grin. “We use it to power that Venesian coffee machine. Remember that? We bartered it from that Trikillian diplomat last March? Remember? Something? No? Anyway, it’s quite safe so long as you’re not terribly telepathic, in which case the psionic frequencies might drive you starkers. But that’s little to do with the price of rice.” She turns on her heel, hands in pockets and strolls out feeling rather accomplished in her villainous banter. It came to her with surprising ease. “Tell ya’ what. When all that noise finally becomes too much, just scream my name an’ we’ll have another chat about opening the TARDIS, yeah.” Rose opens the door, winks at her once-husband/friend/partner/soul mate. “Just say my name.”
Then she turns off the lights and leaves him alone in the dark.
Three years ago…
“So where to, do ya reckon?” muses the Doctor.
“Where ever you like,” she laughs.
Her Doctor (who is not, but she’ll never say) grins and catches her up his arms, spinning her about in a whirling swinging blur of happy momentum and the music of her laugh throws out like stardust behind her as she twirls. Her arms around his neck fit perfectly and he smells like home and he feels like forever and when she tucks her hand into his it’s like slipping her fingers into an old glove that’s been waiting for her to pull it on again. They’re unstoppable, the two of them. He’s recklessly brilliant and something about being human makes him seem tangible in a way he never was before (in a way the real thing isn’t, but she’ll never say).
They run through the world and leave it changed behind them in little secret subtle ways and enormous, giant, time-line snarling ways and she loves him. He smiles into the brilliant dawn every morning and revels in it because he knows that this day could be the last day and it might not, but it’s a guarantee that it’s one less day in a foreseeable end of his life and he’ll drink it in because that’s a beautiful prospect he’s never known. Rose watches him be human and love it. Watches the scars of the Time War fade, allowed to heal in a mind no longer echoing brokenly and emptily with the absence of his eradicated people. Watches him be exactly like the brilliant Gallifreyan genius he used to be, but without the fathomless black behind his every movement.
“I thought I’d like to see Italy,” she mentions sticking her tongue out a bit, grinning for all she’s worth.
“Never seen Italy in 2008,” he confesses.
“Let’s go then.”
And they do. They start out running the streets of Venice like there’s no tomorrow — knowing that it was very possible there might not be — followed by gelati cups in Rome. They backpack and hitchhike across the country, taking pictures like regular old tourists and burning the midnight oil laughing under strange stars. Then they stumble over a peculiar alien conspiracy in a quaint little nowhere town just north east of Sicily and realize that human or not, the timelines wrap the Doctor like a maypole and they think it’s probably a good thing because that means the universe is already bending itself around him. They spend two months in Italy and foil three interrelated galactic threats against the earth, a mix-up with a lost Martian couple (they’d missed the moon by a several hundred thousand miles) and help an American hotdog vendor get his business off the ground.
“You know I think that fellow will do very well for himself,” says the Doctor as they leave, waving from the back of a pickup.
Rose tosses her massive backpack to the bottom on the flatbed between her feet and sit down beside him. “Ya’ think so?”
“I like hotdogs. Hotdogs are good. Aren’t they good?”
She grins. “Yeah. They’re good.”
They make their way across Europe and trouble follows them from city to city. Despite this, they find time in the interim hours between adventures to poke each other with pencils over crosswords (he only does them to make fun of her when she can’t think of anything), and share the secrets of all the time they lost when they were separated. A year for Rose, three-hundred sixty three for him. They hold onto each other so tightly it’s a wonder they don’t break or fuse into a single person; so happy to have each other and yet terrified of losing one another all over again. She watches him sleep because it’s a novelty to her — the Doctor asleep so often, every night beside her, not fidgeting, racing around, tinkering, moving, laughing. Just asleep, breathing, and still for once and it’s so wonderful it takes her breath away.
Rose doesn’t sleep as much as she should, because she can’t stop looking at him.
He catches her at it finally and grins that ‘Oh-yes-I-am-just-that-marvelous’ smile and she groans. “Now, don’t —”
“Rose Tyler, you were watching me sleep!” he announces gleefully.
“No,” she protests, trying for superior disgust and coming out rather like a kid caught in the cookie jar. “No. I was just awake and bored and ya’ know sittin’ up.”
“Watching me sleep,” he tacked on.
“The world,” he said, brandishing a finger at him, “does not revolve around you, mate. So shut your hole and go back to sleep.”
“Why? So you can sit up and ogle me some more?” Oh God, he was just eating this up, cocky, skinny, bastard.
“I wasn’t doin’ nothin’.”
“’Cept stare at me.”
“Ugh!” She swivels sharply on her bottom, braces against the headboard and uses her superior leverage to kick him off the bed. He yelps, flails, and drops out of sight. “Ha! Not so superior now, are we mister?”
She pointedly does not bring up that she knows for a fact he’s watched her sleep before. After all, Time Lords don’t sleep for weeks and she slept all the time…it only stands to reason he’d get bored or lonely or both and wander to her room, stand in the door and study his little human companion sleep the hours away. In a way, the fact he now sleeps more than she does seems just rewards. After some cajoling, she lets him back on the bed and tucks herself into the space under his arm along his side, snuggling there in a way that’s become ritual. It feels so good. After chasing after him for that year of encroaching darkness, hurling herself through dimensions just to find him. To have him here, always and hers seems too wonderful and impossible to be real.
“How long are you going to stay with me?” she asks suddenly, worriedly.
He laughs, “Forever, Rose Tyler.” And he kisses her.
And he kisses her.
In the end it drives him unconscious (He won’t say her name, obviously, because she told him to. Proud as ever.) Rose orders him to the medical wing and watches from the hallway as he’s brought round, thrashing and shouting hysterically in his own native tongue, too maddened by pain and confusion to remember English — he cries out in the dialect of the long dead while aliens (because isn’t that what they are to him?) hold him still, strap him down, and drive needles through his skin, force an oxygen mask over his face, try ineffectively to sedate someone who’s biology — despite his supposed humanity — is still so radically beyond them. He fights back (always a fighter, this piece of the Doctor) babbling in that beautiful song-like language of his while they ignore his pleas and leave him restrained in the med-bay, alone again but for the echoes of the Rift reverberating in his mind. She waits for him to calm down before she goes in.
“I won’t tell you how.”
“That’s okay. I was just curious. I mean, you only taught me really simple Gallifreyan, but you were calling for someone. Mind if I ask who?”
He stares very intently at the ceiling.
“You can talk to me or I can have you put back in that room.”
She narrows her eyes because there’s the doubt, the whisper of a suggestion once in passing that ‘The Doctor’s wife’ is not a title to whom she is exclusive. He’s trying to rile her possibly. Or he’s telling the God honest truth. She can’t tell.
“Just give me the TARDIS. No one else will touch her, no alien races will use her for evil. Not even Torchwood will have her. Just me. One trip. That’s all I want.”
“You. Will. Kill. Her.”
“You could help me. You brought back the TARDIS once from the brink of death.”
“That TARDIS is millions of years old. She’s ancient, she’s seen war, she’s seen the whole of Space and Time, she’s a scrapper and she’s clever. What’s more, Time loves her. This one’s barely learned to sing and you want to throw her into the Void between worlds? Hurdle her through the wall of the dimensions? The Howling screaming dark — just a child?” His voice holds the resonance of a father protecting a precious loved one. He’s shaking for the rage, the helpless terror of what she’s willing to do. “Rose. It’s murder.”
“You’re going back in the Rift Room the moment your vitals stabilize. Anything you wanna tell me first?”
“Rose, please…” He struggles with it. “Please. I can help you find another way to him. I can help you find him again, but not using her. She’s not ready.”
She comes over and braces her arms against the table on either side of his head. She leans down close, to murmur against his neck, breathing a path of paprika peppermint heat across his throat. “Fancy a shag, Doctor?”
“I’m serious. We are still technically married after all.”
“Listen to me! Just listen! Please! I grew that TARDIS in less than three years without any Gallifreyan inhibitions or conditioning protocols, she’s completely wild and untrained and she’s frightened. I need time to teach her. I need time with her to show her how to do things. You can’t pilot her. You have to let me be with her.”
“And let you anywhere near a pan-dimensional spaceship? You must be joking.”
“I don’t even have to touch her, Rose. Just let me be near her.”
She laughs at him. “No.”
“Rose, this isn’t you. Don’t become this. You’re turning into…” He closes his eyes, swallows some terrible name and restarts. “It doesn’t matter. You’re not supposed to be like this. The woman I love — that the Doctor loves — isn’t like this.” His face is haunted, like an echo of a regeneration long past as he asks her softly, “What happened to you? Where’s the girl who stopped me from killing a Dalek in a bunker all those years back? Where’s she gone?” And finally: “What are you turning into, Rose?”
“I’m not changing!” she hisses viciously. She slams a hand on the table by his head with a bang loud enough to sting the eardrum, but he doesn’t flinch. She aches to make him. “I’ve always been this. I’ve always been his. For him. Don’t you understand I was made for him? You have his memories and you can’t see that?” Then a smile, sweet and beautiful and radiant as dawn spreads across her lips and she gazes tenderly at him, her look-a-like demi-god and kisses his forehead lovingly. “That just proves it. That proves you’re not him, because he would understand that I’ve done all this for him.”
“Then why’d he leave you here with me?” the meta-crisis shoots back. She slaps him, a stinging crack and his head snaps to one side but he still doesn’t flinch. He presses on through it with his eyes that span back into the dark unknowable distances of forever, full of Time and memory that looks just like the real thing. She wants to believe but she never will and he throws his words at the woman who used to be his Rose. “Tell me what you think will come of this if you cross the worlds and find him, the shell of a dead TARDIS in your wake, violence and destruction. Do you think he’ll ever look at you the same? If you told him what you’ve done to me — a man who is him in every way but genetic make-up — do you think he could love you?”
“I know he will,” she breathes. “Because you forgive me everyday for everything and you’re a monster never to him.”
“But I’m not him, remember?”
“He’ll forgive me. I know he’ll understand.”
“Yes for this. For it all.”
“I won’t let you kill a child of Gallifrey.”
She kisses him again because he reminds her of home — her real home singing and sailing through the stars of another universe — and he doesn’t resist her. He let’s her drink him in, leans into her and fits his mouth to hers like everything’s the same, like she still loves him and she knows he’s trying — so desperately, God, just incredibly desperately — to tell her through this fragment of stolen intimacy that he will forgive her. That’s not too late. That he loves her in spite of everything. For that little bit of reassurance, she loves him. She stays with him a while, curls up beside him on the cold stainless steel table and they sleep next to each other and for a beautiful scrap of Time they’re both okay and it’s all alright and happy ever after.
One year ago…
It takes them a year to reacquaint themselves with one another, to share their secrets under the stars that don’t look like the ones in the universe they were both born in, to convince each other and themselves that they can be together and that it’s okay. He proposes to her standing on the cliffs of Dover, the both of them bloody and decimated and shaking from the terror of having come so close, so dreadfully close, to death. They fall from the sky together. The hijacked alien ship careens toward the Strait of Dover from the stratosphere, the both of them gripping each other desperately as they pray the auto-pilot protocol to come online. He pulls her close, close enough to hear him even over the roaring scream of the burning hull of the ship, tugs her near enough to whisper what he can’t be sure aren’t last words.
“I love you, Rose Tyler.”
Then the protocol comes online and the ship realigns itself with the curve of the horizon. The Doctor lands the vessel on the cliffs, takes her hand and asks her to marry him because he realizes that he’s human (again) and there isn’t enough time to not do things like marry Rose Tyler. She cries like that was all she ever wanted in the whole of Space and Time and throws herself into his arms. A week later they’re married. Six months later a car accident kills Pete, Jackie and Tony Tyler and Rose breaks in a little, tiny way that will never heal. Pete leaves Torchwood to her (them), so they come back to Britain and they carry on because that’s what you do to honor the dead — you keep living. They are Rose Tyler and the Doctor: stuff of legend, defenders of the earth. They’re brilliant.
A year later the Doctor catches her watching him sleep.
He isn’t sure what wakes him, but something breaks through the curtain of his subconscious and brings him up around quietly, lying in bed with the smell of the city and early morning rolling in through the open window, the scent Rose Tyler’s shampoo carried with it. She’s watching him sleep, running the back of her index finger absently across his bare shoulder and he doesn’t quite smile to himself. He pretends to be asleep so he can peek at her between the gap between his elbow the pillow. She’s sitting up on the bed next to him, her back against the headboard like she’s trying to align her spine against it, her head held at a queer angle, the familiar warm dark of her eyes turned on him.
Except this night they aren’t warm or familiar. They are eyes he doesn’t know. And eyes that don’t know him.
The Doctor’s first instinct is to sit up and ask her what’s wrong but something in the intensity of her stare, something in the rigidity of her mouth and indefinable shadow in her gaze makes him go perfectly still and his single heart stutter-step in his chest. It’s a look of alien fascination. Her touch is gentle, fingers running across skin she already knows like it presents some great unanswerable question to her. Like she doesn’t know what it was she is touching. He sees her mouth move on some mantra, some half-thought prayer and the part-Time Lord feels a great hollow open in his gut.
“Doctor,” she whispers and somehow, he thinks she isn’t speaking to him.
He responds anyway. “Mmm…Rose?”
“I’m sorry. I woke you,” she murmurs.
“S’fine.” He yawns unnecessarily to maintain the illusion. “What’re you doin’ up?”
“Nothin’. Just thinkin’ about…stuff.”
He feigns sleepy half-interest. “What stuff?” She gazes at him strangely and he frowns. “What stuff, Rose?”
“It’s nothing. It’s silly,” she laughs, but there’s a whisper of hollowness in it, a suggestion of a lie. “Just a thought.”
The Doctor sits up to say something more direct but she stops him with a hand, her fingers against his mouth and the strangest expression on her face. She gazes at him with a mixture of wonder and…longing that he can’t place in the logic of their relationship. He mouths her name worriedly, lips moving across her fingertips and when she doesn’t respond, takes her hand and kisses those fingers, asks her to talk to him. Her smile is unfamiliar and distant.
“You have Donna’s eyes.”
Rose rolls over and says no more and leaves him with a terrible feeling of apprehension.
It’s hard to hurt a Time Lord, she discovers. Almost as hard to hurt a half Time Lord. They’re resilient things, the whole and the half. They don’t break (or rather, they don’t break again quite as readily). He hardens like a diamond under her pressure now, crystallized defiance in the shape of a skinny, bright-eyed half-human who surrenders unto nothing and no one. Physical pain is nothing to a Time Lord. He laughs at their attempts says until they could find a chameleon arch to strap him to, then they can’t possibly put him in enough flesh and blood agony to make him do anything like sit up and pay attention.
And then Rose finds Jack Harkness.
In this parallel world, the Time Agency is a thriving piece of how the universe works; a vibrant force in the push and pull of the stars that has not collapsed into decay like the one in her home world. (The Other Doctor had once theorized that, in lieu of having the Time Lords, the universe can and will find other agents to fix itself and he didn’t have anything in particular against the Agency.) Torchwood contacts them and requests a meeting to discuss possibilities of bi-lateral cooperation and sharing of resources. The Agency sends dashing Jack Harkness to represent them.
In this universe, Jack hasn’t left the Time Agency. On the contrary, he’s one of their best (if not ‘the’ best) and brightest. He loves his work; maybe a bit too much because Rose can sense a secret maliciousness in this Jack. A streak of cruelty and cold that had been only a residual thing in their dashing Captain — a monster that only bared its teeth in the face of danger — but this Jack… Oh no, he wears penchant for violence on his sleeve like most people do their hearts. Maybe, for him, that’s as close to a heart as he comes.
She introduces herself. “My name is Rose Tyler. I represent Torchwood and I have a resource that the Agency doesn’t want to miss out on.”
Ten minutes later, they take the bait.
“My God,” Jack says, drinking in the not-Doctor’s medical file. “He’s fascinating. Where did you get him?”
Hook, line, and sinker.
The Captain is seated on the edge of her desk in a manner not unlike a gleeful kid, but with a cunning and calculated intelligence in the method of his eyes that warns her to know better. His boyish, hero good-looks were a front for a con-man that the Doctor made better in the other universe. In this alternate reality, it’s the personae put on by a murderer in public places, a disguise so perfect it takes a social genius to see the hairlines imperfections where his true nature shines through. (It’s a hideous, seething dark behind that glorious grin.)
“From another universe. A parallel world where a species exists that doesn’t here.”
She smiles in a way that tells him very plainly he doesn’t get to know. “Doesn’t really matter. He’s only half of one anyway, well…kind of half of one. Maybe eighty percent,” she allows, shrugging. “We call him the Doctor. I was wondering if you wouldn’t like to work with him personally?”
Jack looks positively aglow at this proposal and she knows he’s her man. He’s a being of anticipation and curiosity and a kind of hunger than Rose is certain played a part in why the Agency kept him on. That hunger had never been in her Jack. That sociopathic streak in him like a ribbon of arsenic in the charming sugar gold of his otherwise shining personality that makes Rose think that the Captain is exactly what she’s been looking for. She knows he’s what she’s been looking for, when — upon their first meeting — the Other Doctor recoils immediately. Not in any way that would be apparent to Jack just yet, but Rose sees it in the off-green hazel of his eyes; a fractional spark of something that isn’t fear yet, but could be if she prompts it just right.
“Rose. What are you doing?” he demands.
“Doctor,” she greets him, ignoring the question. “Meet Captain Jack Harkness. Time Agent, First Class. Jack, meet the Doctor.”
Jack’s grin is just like their Jack’s, but infinitely darker, more raw (there’s a black world of possibility in that smile, not all of them pretty). He inclines his head. “It is a pleasure, Doctor.”
“Don’t,” the half-thing snaps. “Really. Don’t even start. Rose this is going too far. You must see that this is going too far.”
“Jack here is a specialist,” Rose explains. “I told him we’ve been having some trouble with you. I figure with the Time Agency and Torchwood together, pooling resources, it won’t be long before you cooperate.” The Doctor doesn’t say anything, just backs away from them, shaking his head, expression like a storm cloud and betrayal on his face and she decides that’s a bit rude. “Oh, don’t be like that, sweetie. Won’t you c’mere and say hello properly? It’s Jack, Doctor! Don’t we like Jack?”
The Doctor’s back meets a wall and he leans against it like he’s exhausted himself. “You’re not Rose Tyler,” he whispers. He says it like he’s thought about saying it for years, but never had the nerve or the hopelessness to say until now. “Where is she?”
“He gets like this,” she said to Jack, waving away the half-human’s melancholy. “Just ignore it.”
The Doctor-who-is-not closes those beautiful wrong-color eyes. “Oh, Rose…” he breathes in despair.
Jack’s smile is quick and flash, but there’s a hint suspicion in it, a splinter of curiosity. “Yes, ma’am,” he replies, saluting.
Jack Harkness, in this world, is just a little bit psychic and most importantly has a hint of Time woven around him, like a virulent string of fire and forever. No one but she and her once-husband can see it of course, a knot of nuclear possibility and probabilities wrapped around the Time Agent invisible and unknown. She knows the Doctor doesn’t like it. It’s why he recoils, or rather, if she’s honest it’s only part of the reason he recoils. He’s human after all, and less thick about human intentions than the real thing might be. He knows what might happen. (What she might be willing to let happen.)
The woman who is something slightly more than Rose Tyler watches the Time Agency’s best interrogator — a handy euphemism, she knows, but it comes with the territory of bureaucracy and who is she to argue? — strip off that familiar long coat of his and toss it over the back of the only chair in the room. Rose takes a seat in the chair and waits to see what this Jack will do now that she’s set him loose. How much like her Jack is he really? He sniffs a bit, tucking has hands lazily into the pockets of his slacks. Then he moves to stand in front of the meta-crisis who admirably does not flinch. The Doctor matches him for stance; chin held high, eyes dark and unmovable.
“So,” says Jack, “they call you the Doctor.”
“Not really,” Rose remarks.
The Doctor stares at her.
“Oh no?” Jack’s tone is sweetly surprised. “I’m sorry then, what do they call you?”
“It’s the Doctor,” he repeats coldly. “I don’t have another name.”
“What he means is he doesn’t have a name at all,” Rose interjects again. “We call him Doctor because we haven’t got anything better in a pinch.”
“Oh, I see. Well, then Not-Doctor. Why don’t we come up with something better? I hear John Doe is a popular earth name for people who don’t have names.”
“He is fond of the name John,” Rose says helpfully.
“Excellent. John it is. Now, John…”
“I think it’s delightfully pathetic that you think you’re going to hurt me, literally, by calling me names,” says the Doctor’s meta-crisis bluntly.
Jack looks shocked and mildly wounded. “Now, that’s not giving me any credit at all —”
“Let me guess. You’re not going to hurt me with name-calling you’re actually going to hurt me,” interrupts the Doctor. Jack has the grace to look a bit embarrassed. The Doctor rolls his eyes. “Wizard. Let’s get started, Capatain.” He pronounces it cappa-tin and gives an ironic little salute that makes Rose giggle. Those bright eyes flash briefly toward her and there’s a split second where it’s just like old times, fast-talking the bad-guys, grinning at the darkness…then the realization of just how sick a thought that really is seems to come to him and he doesn’t look at her anymore. “Well, what are you waiting for? The snappy banter is wearing thin, Jumpin’ Jack Flash. You gettin’ started or what?”
“Alright,” says Jack cheerily. Then he punches the Doctor in the face.
It happens so fast and so viciously and the Doctor looks so stunned Rose is almost certain that he hadn’t actually expected the Captain to take to his suggestion so quickly…or with such enthusiasm. The Doctor falls into the wall he’d backed into, stumbling against it before catching himself on the clean matte gray surface. He holds his now bleeding mouth; eyes scrunched in pain…then grins.
“Blimey! You hit like a girl!” the meta-crisis laughs.
Jack smiles. “I like you, John. You should know that before I get started. I do like you. S’ a real shame we’ve gotta meet like this.” The Doctor calls him something in another language that makes the man throw back and let loose that beautiful golden laugh. “Good man.”
He catches the Doctor by the front of his faded red T-shirt (the one he’d worn the day he was born three years ago) and grabs him up around the back of the neck. He slams the Doctor’s head against the wall, once, twice, three times enough to make the half-thing growl against the pain, then kisses him so he can breathe in the sound. Rose notes that the Other Doctor doesn’t fight back immediately. (He’s trying to figure out how much of this Jack is like our Jack, she thinks. He’s looking for a sign there’s someone who can be saved.)
The Doctor wrenches his head back finally, thrusts his elbow between their chests and shoves Jack off him. Having gained some distance, he says something else in that same other language, something mean, no doubt. It makes the Time Agent grin; but this time with a sort of dark edge that makes Rose think the Doctor might have managed to touch on a nerve somewhere in this version of Jack.
He closes the distance between them in two long strides, then shoves the meta-crisis to the wall, pinning him against it with his greater weight. (If it were the real Doctor, this wouldn’t happen. Time Lords — like their TARDIS symbiotes are more than they appear, stronger than they look. But this Doctor is human. In this world, Jack is stronger than him.) The Captain loops fingers through his hair and catches it fast, drags his head forward to speak his threat against his mouth in some lewd parody of something sweet and secret.
“Tell me when it’s good for you, John.”
“What does she want me to tell you, Captain?” The Doctor is undeterred. “What’s she asked you to get out of me?”
Jack ignores the question, gathers the Doctor’s narrow wrists in one hand and secures them against the wall over his head. (It’s a practiced gesture. He’s done this before.)
“How can you question me? You don’t even know what I am. She hasn’t told you anything has she?”
His free hand slides across the Doctor’s chest, fingers searching the fabric like eyes, leading his palm down the half-human’s ribs, across the flat of his stomach…then stopping there. Jack smiles, his dark eyes on the Doctor’s. He maintains their eye contact in silent communication demanding he not miss a beat. Then he wraps an arm around the Doctor’s back in a way that reminds Rose of a lead securing their partner for a waltz. He tugs forward, pulling the Doctor off the wall with a jerk and finds the base of his spine with his fingertips. Then, before the realization hits, he presses, applying force to the final lumbar vertebra just above the waistband of his jeans and her Doctor arches like the captain’s struck a tuning fork in his nervous system. He’s screaming.
“She’s told me some things.”
He’s not entirely human. That much Rose found out in their three years together. There are little nuances, tiny idiosyncrasies in the way he is built, slightly crossed wires and funny little tics in his biology. They discovered this one by accident: A Gallifreyan nerve cluster — designed to relay synaptic messages to and from that fantastic brain to the rest of his body and in a pure blood Time Lord, it wouldn’t mean anything. But in her half-human meta-crisis, the right pressure makes it the most intense sensory perception point in his whole body. This used to be their secret .One of the intimate little things between partners that seemed so trivial until used like this.
The Other Doctor is trembling, his knees threatening to give out, side affect of the sensory overload that leaves him shuddering and flushed. He’s looking at her like he doesn’t know what she is. He knows she’s told Harkness everything. Those murmured things only life-partners share in secret and smiles. Rose Tyler smiles and watches his resolve melt.
“No…” His denial is a whisper in the silence… and it’s also a mistake. Terror leaps into his eyes as he realizes he’s said it aloud. Now the Time Agent knows is the best path to take to reach his objective.
Jack smiles, pulls the back of the half-breed’s shirt up. “I think so.”
“Rose.” It’s impossible to figure out why he says her name like that. He’s not even looking at her. The Time Agent runs a thumb up his spine, tracing a line of fire up the path of nerves that spread like exquisite poison through the webbings of his nervous system, setting his whole body on fire and again he says: “Rose…”
“No, John,” admonishes the Time Agent. He withdraws the curiously wandering hand and catches the Doctor’s chin, pulls his head down to look at him. “Pay attention, it’s Jack. Rose is over there. See? She’s watching.” Leans in and whispered roughly, “S’kinda kinky.”
“I won’t let you hurt her,” the Doctor tells them. (They both know he’s not talking about Rose.) “I won’t tell you how.”
“Please don’t,” Jack laughs. “If you did I might have to stop and this is the most fun I’ve been allowed to have in a long time.”
Rose isn’t sure when he does it; but somehow, the meta-crisis goes from shuddering, trembling victim to lethal solider in less than the span of a split second. There’s a blur of motion, the dull crack of flesh and hard muscle followed by a roar of pain. Jack Harkness is clutching his left side (had the Doctor managed to jar it with his knee?) doubled over in pain, which only serves to worsen his prospects when the Doctor’s twin grabs his head and throws his face into his knee. There’s the distinct crunch of bone and the Captain falls, swearing a bloody-red storm and the half Time Lord stumbles away from them. He won’t be able to walk properly for a few minutes. Rose knows from experience.
“Neat trick,” said Jack, spitting blood. Rose produces a cloth and he wipes his face off, sets his own nose straight with a deft twist and a crunch. “You’re more of a fighter than you let on.”
“Don’t touch me,” the Doctor hisses.
“Aww, stop it,” Jack whines. “Don’t go all victimized on me now. We were having such fun.”
“You’re nothing,” says the Doctor in a tone so absolute Jack stops. His eyes belong to Donna Noble, but they stretch on into some terrible event horizon. He laughs and the room shivers, because even though he’s human, the timeline running through the Doctor’s lookalike makes this parallel world tremble. “There are shadows with more substance, more fire than you’ve ever had, or ever will have. I can barely see you you’re so insignificant.”
Jack isn’t shaken exactly, but rather…ruffled.
Rose steps in.
“John,” says Rose Tyler, not really liking the feel of the name, but going with it because it obviously bothers the metacrisis. She goes on, “You’re a half-human, half-alien genetic accident that your own creator left behind like a poorly behaved puppy. Literally, he made you and gave you to me…like a birthday present. A shitty, birthday present, to be sure, but at the very least you make an excellent fuck-toy. N’fact, that’s pretty much th’ whole and sum of what you are. A complicated fuck-toy. So don’t pull that infinite moral high-ground now, wonder clone. You’re th’ one who’s less than nothin’.”
There’s a beat.
“…you’re wrong,” he says, but it’s too little too late.
Jack’s finishes cleaning himself up. “Okay, John. That was a very brave of you. You’re being very brave, but you and I both know that’s not doing you any good.”
The Doctor presses his back to the wall, flattens his spine against it, like he’s trying to become one with the polished sterile surface, find something — anything — to stand back to back with in lieu of someone. (He forgets so quickly how to fight alone.) Jack just traps him against the wall with his body, then reaches between them, down, up and under and the Doctor bites back whatever sound wants to get out of him. He swallows it like poison and doesn’t cry out.
His eyes hold all the fire that killed Davros, but it’s doused because he knows this is Rose. Rose is doing this. Rose is letting this happen, has made this happen and how can he fight someone he used to love so intensely he’d burn up a sun just to say goodbye? You need conviction to fight. But Rose isn’t an alien evil, she’s his faithful companion, his partner, his Rose. She would never hurt him. (She would destroy him utterly.) She knows she’s always been his weakness. She makes him surrender. For a while it’s just them whisper of cloth, panting, the Doctor twitching and shuddering in Jack’s grip. (“Good for you, yet, John? Go on. Be honest.” The Doctor dry-heaves frantically, presses his face against the Time Agent’s shoulder. “Just relax. Shhh, s’alright, John. It’s okay. Just let me…”)
“Open the TARDIS for me.”
Jack does something that makes the half-thing cry out and writhe, then immediately darken with disgust.
“No. You just won’t.”
“Rose…” He says her name desperately, those bright, unspeakable beautiful eyes pleading with her, begging. “Rose please. Please, listen to me. It’s not too late. I can help you. I know what you’re becoming, but it’s not too late. I’m still your —”
This time Other Doctor jerks when the Time Agent reaches for him; thrashing and fighting wildly to get loose, but Jack leans on him, presses him into the wall. One arm is wrapped around his narrow shoulders, the other lost somewhere between the clone’s shaking thighs, still barely covered by the rumpled denim of his jeans. He sobs through his teeth, choking in sync with Jack’s touch. A thrust followed by a broken shuddering gasp. Then another. Another and a scream. He doesn’t talk to her anymore. Jack kisses him and whispers, “Stop being brave. It won’t stop me.” His other hand loops around to his lower back. He hesitates a moment, watching the half human half Time Lord shudder his hands. He waits until he dares looks up. Then he presses down hard and the Doctor screams as he comes, his whole body curving in time to his climax and leaving him empty. He mouths her name as Jack slides his jeans the rest of the way down his legs. “Stop being brave.”
He’s brave anyway. And Jack is right. It doesn’t stop him.
In the end, though, Rose has to leave because with every violation, the half-Doctor says her name, like a mantra, or a prayer. Rose. Rose Tyler. My Rose. (And unspoken, between every broken, gasping pant for breath: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.) She isn’t sure why, but his forgiveness makes her want to run, far, fast, away and away and away. She knows that shouldn’t matter, that it’s the TARDIS that she needs, not the forgiveness of a genetic shadow-creature or lack thereof. And yet, part of her aches to make the Doctor’s copy hate her, aches to hear a new rhythm drum against the inside of her soul: How could you, Rose Tyler? I hate you Rose Tyler? What are you, Rose Tyler?
She doesn’t watch Jack Harkness fuck her husband.
One day, she lets the Other Doctor try to see into her mind, to try and help her. (It’s too late by then. She thinks he knows it, but because he loves Rose Tyler, he tries anyway.)
Whatever he sees, it burns him up. He screams for three days and goes utterly mad for nearly a week before he recovers — resilient a thing as his blueprint ever was. He cannot recover fully though. He comes back broken. She revels in it, savors his madness, his wildness, his knowing. He sees her and, for once, she can see him. Really see him, see that he is not defined by his flesh or the sum of his DNA or the memories built into him like a genetic inheritance. She can fit him, her impossible beloved half-thing, into the whole of Time and See him for what he is. She thinks he’s beautiful; broken of course, shattered and obliterated under her touch, but unspeakably wonderfully singular. His song in her mind is one of betrayal and hurt and it’s breathtaking. She longs to know what the original would be in her eyes now that she’s no longer blind.
“I do love you,” he tells him. “Really. I love you.”
He answers her in Gallifreyan and she understands.
“I forgive you, my Doctor. You just don’t see enough to recognize me.”
She kills a Martian family in front of him. She gives no ultimatum, demands nothing. She slaughters them then stands back while he tries to save them. He’s most beautiful like this: hands that know the biology of countless species fumbling to hold torn flesh together, to keep pressure on arteries she knows nothing of, to speak words of comfort in a tongue she doesn’t care to know, breathe life into lungs that could breathe back arsenic for all she knows. The worse part, the moment where his despair burns the brightest in the cold darkness of what has become her mind, is when he must abandon the parents to save their daughter. Then, shortly thereafter, she dies in his arms.
Her half-Time Lord weeps for days, cries himself into oblivion.
Rose Tyler watches him sleep.
In the end, he escapes. No one is sure how, something to do with some kind of half-Time Lord trick that no one, not even she, had known about until it was too late to stop it. Before he goes he kills Jack Harkness, snaps his neck with a viciousness that reminds her that he is not the benevolent Doctor, but his double born in blood and battle, the man who obliterated the Daleks from the skies forever, who needed her to stop him when his rage and his fire and the darkness of his instincts rose up to claim his morality and make him a mechanism of malice and murder. He burns even if he’s not the Doctor, he’s everything about the Time Lord that makes the universe and all its shining constellations quake and shiver at the mention of his name.
He rampages through Torchwood. He destroys it. He erases it.
He kills the men and women he knows are evil and he doesn’t look back on their corpses.
He looks for her, but she’s knows better than to show herself now.
She watches him through the video feeds as he takes out five armed Torchwood agents with his bare hands. He moves through Time and Space and bends it to his will like a weapon. The men all fall and none die. In fact, by the end of the night she thinks that only Harkness and monsters like him will be left dead. That’s her fault, in a way. She left the sociopath with him, let him show the Doctor what kind of creature he was and that’s dangerous: giving the Doctor the means to pass judgment on you. Once that happens, there’s not a power in the starry skies that will stop him finding you and bringing you exactly what you deserve. (Or, maybe, her half-Time Lord meta-crisis is being human as they come and killing Jack is just cold-blooded, hatred fueled vengeance. Rose thinks she doesn’t blame him for either motivation.)
The TARDIS opens up at last. It’s been in the shape of that beautiful blue police box for the last two weeks now. Maybe that should have been a sign; that she was prepping, psyching herself up for the big escape. From the safety of the control room Rose Tyler watches her not-Doctor pull a black leather jacket on over his shoulders — she can’t say where he found such a thing, but it suits him again: the leather-clad solider, the broken lonely angel — and step aboard his waiting spaceship. He’s fire and he’s ice and he’s hers, but he never will be hers and never has been. (Except he always will be.) He turns those bright bottle green eyes on the camera she’s looking at, stares directly at her through the medium of electricity and pixilation and says:
Then he’s gone and she smiles.
(Because she’s not Rose Tyler anymore, not really. She’s something else, something new, like him a hybrid creature of rage and want and loneliness. She’s burning. She’s the baseline of eternity. The drums that drive men mad. She will find him no matter where he runs. She will find him and his marvelous machine, that beautiful singing creature and she will make him scream until his heart can have no love left in it for the girl once called Rose Tyler. Then she will have the second to last Child of Gallifrey and take her to the one being in the whole of Creation who might fix her.) It never occurs to her that the Doctor might have left her with him, because he thought that only someone with a duality of nature just like hers could possibly save her.