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 fa├žade 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.”