Title: Life After
Authors: Gillian Taylor
Characters: Rose Tyler, Ninth Doctor, Tenth Doctor
Summary: It's a sound she never thought she'd hear again, the sound of the universe. And a man she thought was dead is standing, alive, in front of her.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. I just like playing with them...a lot.
Archive: Sure, just let me know.
A/N: Thanks, as always, to my lovely betas NNWest & WMR. Also, I won't be posting as frequently as I used to do. Probably every other day, if not every three days.
by Gillian Taylor
Chapter 1: Life after Death
Rose Tyler knows that there's life after death. The Beast told her that she'd die in battle. In some ways she has. She's no longer the Doctor's companion, no longer travelling through the universe, seeing the past and future of this and a dozen other worlds. She works now. Day in, day out. Same old pre-Doctor life, but different.
Torchwood has been good to her, really. She's a team leader now, going out and about, searching for alien technology and saving the world. She can't help but feel, though, that something's missing. Part of her knows that it's the Doctor, so she does her best to fill in for him.
Nestene Consciousness attacking London? Simple. Anti-plastic's the way to go. Silurian invasion? Bit more difficult, that, but she manages. All it takes is an explosion or two and it's sorted. She's earning a reputation, really. The go-to person for all things alien, and that's okay with her. Means she'll be the first – or so she hopes – to learn if her half-crazed-half-hopeful-half-dream is correct.
That he's returned for her.
She knows, however, that she can't live her life waiting. That's not what he'd want for her, nor is it what she wants for herself. Yet she lets a piece of her – admittedly a large piece – hold onto that hope as she continues to live her life.
This is life after death, really. Life after the fantasy is over. Life after him.
It's the small things that get to her now. Small things that jump out at her about how different this new universe is from her old. True, there's Pete, but that's not all. This London doesn't have beans on toast. She's had to invent that for herself, really, and call it a strange habit to those who ask.
The streets are different, too. Once she tried to see what the Powell Estates look like in this universe and she finds that they don't exist. In its stead stands a park commemorating some great battle that never happened in her universe. She knows that she has to stop of thinking of this as a new world and consider it hers, but she finds it hard. So, so hard.
Everything's changed and she knows it's because of her. She's the different one. Not just this new universe, but her. And it's mostly because of him. Once upon a time, and it seems so long ago now, she told Mickey and her Mum that he taught her how to live a better life, how to stand up, how to make a difference.
She's doing that, she knows. Making a difference, fighting the good fight. It's a good life, and she realises that. She just misses him.
Always will, she suspects. There'll always be a Doctor-shaped hole in her heart, but that's okay. She's a survivor now. Survived the last dredges of the Time War. She's fought Daleks, Slitheen, werewolves, Krillitane and Cybermen. Life after the Doctor should be simple in comparison, right?
Well, she's always been rather good at lying to herself.
Shaking herself out of her reverie, she considers the device that's brought all these considerations to the fore. It's another piece of alien technology that she suspects – hopes – manipulates the forces of a temporal rift. Something like, say, that which exists in Cardiff.
The alternate Cardiff is much the same as the one her proper universe. Same sights, same sounds, same smells. Even the same Rift. She thought it was strange that it exists here, too. There was no Gwyneth, no Doctor and no her in this universe to seal it before, but somehow there's a sort of echo. It's not as strong, she thinks, but it's enough for Torchwood to set up a satellite office.
This device fell out of the Rift and caused enough of an uproar for someone to send for her. So here she is. Considering it, twisting it to and fro, and wondering if it might be something that she can use to go back to where she belongs.
That, she thinks, is a stupid thought. She doesn't know what it does; she just has her suspicions. Even if she's right, how can she be certain that she'll be going back to her universe? Or even if the Doctor would want her to come back. He said goodbye, something that she knows he's never really done before. He's probably put her behind him, knowing that he can't come back for her and that she can't go back to him.
No. She can't think like that. Even if he doesn't want her back, she'd be in her proper place, her proper universe. That's something, right?
The device really reminds her of something straight out of a 'B' rated science fiction film. Something that Mickey would've dragged her to back in the day. Complete with cheap plastic-looking ends, blinking lights, and a big candy-like red button.
Oh, a big red button that must never ever be pushed…
The memory of his voice strikes her hard at that moment and she almost drops the device. God, she can be rather stupid sometimes. Dumb ape, that's her. Shaking her head, she moves to put it aside. Maybe she can run some scans on it, see if she can come up with something more solid than 'I think it does this…'
She's clever enough to realise that she can't just randomly hit buttons on alien devices. It could do anything, be anything. Destroy the world, it could, and she won't be the cause of that. She needs information.
"Tosh, can you run a scan?" she asks, directing her question to the Japanese woman beside her. "Is it giving off any sort of energy? Anything that might be useful in figuring out what it does?"
Tosh frowns, repositioning her glasses up her nose in an absent gesture. She's been a friend when she's needed one, and she's glad that Toshiko agreed to come with her to Cardiff. The branch here just didn't have anyone that she trusts as much with anything alien. "They did run a few scans before, Rose. They weren't able to find anything."
She smiles. "Ah, but they didn't have you running them."
Toshiko laughs and gestures for her to put the device back onto the table. "I'll bring the scanner over. Maybe we'll see something they didn't."
She nods, carefully setting the device on its side. It's at that moment that the Cardiff branch's pet pterodactyl decides to let out a screech, startling her enough that she nudges the device a little too hard, depressing the candy-like red button.
It begins to hum loudly, emitting a bright white light that all but blinds her.
Oh, god, what's she done? Her breathing quickens, her pulse races and she's ready to dive for cover.
And then she thinks she hears it, more like a dream than reality. It's a sound that she knows as well as she knows her own voice, his voice. It's the sound of the fabric of space-time being ripped apart. A sound that she never thought she'd hear again.
It's the sound of a TARDIS materialising.
"Oh no. No, no, no, no…" he mutters as he darts around the console, frantically flipping switches and turning knobs as he tries to alter their headlong course into what could only result in a particularly nasty crash. And he's never crashed the TARDIS, not even on purpose. Well, there was that attempt with the time-ram, but he prefers to ignore that bit. Always been a fantastic pilot, him.
Except, it seems, for this time. Something's got hold of his ship. Something's pulling them through what looks to be like some sort of spatio-temporal rift. And that something's got a lot of pull. He can't break it. Even reversing the polarity of the neutron flow – that tried and true favourite of his – doesn't work.
"Doctor?" Rose asks as she almost careers into him, knocked off balance by the rocking the TARDIS was currently receiving.
"Problem," he tells her succinctly, trying something else. Something has to work, right? He has to be able to keep them out of the… Oh, Rassilon, it's not... "Hold on!" he orders, gripping the sides of the console as the ship heaves beneath him.
The TARDIS is screaming in his mind, her exterior torn as she travels unprotected through what can only be the Void. Sparks fly from the console, stinging his hands as he holds on with all his might. He hears an explosion from somewhere, sees smoke rise from the grating and he can only continue holding on, hoping that it's not as bad as it seems. That it's not…
And then it stops. Just like that. A cocoon of silence encompasses them but for the silent pulsing of the time rotor. Makes him think that it might be over, really, as the rotor slows to a stop with the familiar grinding noise that signals a materialisation. He'll have to sort out the damage, of course, but they're in one piece. At least he is.
"Rose?" he asks, turning to find her gripping onto one of the support columns. "You all right?"
"Yeah, fine," she replies, searching his eyes for a moment. "You?"
"Bit jostled 's all," he says, turning his attention back to the viewscreen. If he can get the screen to work, he can figure out where they are. The TARDIS isn't too badly damaged, at least he doesn't think so. Should only take a day or two to get it sorted before they're back to doing what they do best.
He's about to reply when the viewscreen flickers to life. The exterior view's a bit dark. Dingy, really, if he were to name it. There's a silver column blocking part of the view, but behind it he can see what looks like an old Tube tunnel. Well, maybe. Something of that type at least.
In the shadows, hidden by the bulk of the column, he sees activity. A person, no two people, are approaching the ship. As they come closer, he sees at least one of them is holding a gun while the other...
The other, he realises in shock, is Rose.
He moves to block the image from his Rose, studying the figure on the screen carefully. That Rose is a bit older, he suspects, mostly because of the way she holds herself. The suit's new. He can't really imagine seeing her in a suit, yet there it is. The very model of a business woman. But there's something else. Something that strikes him as off about her. No, he realises. Not about her but about here.
"Doctor?" He vaguely hears Rose ask, but he ignores the question in favour of his contemplations.
Time isn't running properly. Seems to be a bit…off. Frowning, he hits a few buttons. Oh. That'd explain it. Different universe. But...the Rose onscreen – and he really needs to figure out a proper way of distinguishing them – seems to know the TARDIS. He can see her mouthing the name as she comes even closer, tears in her eyes.
That's impossible. Bloody impossible because there are no other TARDISes. Not anywhere. No other Time Lords, just him. Which means even though this is a different universe, it's the same Rose.
Things have just got a lot more complicated.
"Doctor!" Rose, his Rose, says again and he feels her touch his arm. "What's going on?"
He turns to face her, still blocking the screen. "Bit difficult to explain, really," he begins and winces as her expression gains shades of Jackie Tyler. She looks like she's about to slap him. Right, enough of that. "Got caught up in a spatio-temporal vortex. Knocked us about a bit so we're stuck for the time being."
"Stuck as in…"
"Stuck. Not going anywhere. Can't dematerialise until she's fixed and all that," he replies, cutting her off.
"Then where are we?" she asks, seeming to catch some hidden concern in his voice. Bollocks. And here he's supposed to be able to hide things better from her. This isn't how a 900 (give or take several centuries) year old's supposed to behave.
"Ah. Yes. That's the problem. We're in a different universe," he says.
"A different universe?" she repeats.
"You going to keep repeating me?" His voice might be a little terse, but he supposes that he can be excused. Different universes should be impossible to get to without the Eye of Harmony, but somehow he's managed it. And, somehow, another Rose Tyler is standing outside those doors.
Another Rose Tyler who might just have a...
Oh. Oh, no.
He turns back to the screen and notices that the image of Rose is holding something that happens to look very much like a key. A TARDIS key. And he can hear something slip into the lock.
"Right. Rose, can you go to the library and get the TARDIS manual? Think it's somewhere near the back, by the fireplace," he says, hoping that he's managed to keep the desperation out of his voice. He can't let her see the other Rose. It'd be catastrophic. No, worse than that. Apocalyptic.
She blinks at him for a moment. "You-"
"Please?" he asks, willing her to listen just this once.
Though she frowns, she obediently turns and heads toward the door that leads to the TARDIS' interior. "I'll go, but I wanna know what's going on here when I get back, yeah?"
He nods. "I'll tell you," he promises, hoping that she'll hurry.
She does and it's just in time as the double doors open to reveal another woman identical in all ways but one to the one that's just left.
This Rose Tyler is crying.
"Oh, god, Doc-" She cuts herself off and stares at him, eyes wide. "You're… you can't… Oh, fuck."
He just blinks at her.
It's him. Oh, god, it's him. Not her last Doctor, but her first. Same big ears, same face, same leather jacket, same everything. She thought it was the one who lost her, not this one. Not when...
Oh. Oh, no. She must be here. A younger version of her from before everything went pear-shaped. And she can't see herself. It'd be like the aftermath of seeing her dad all over again and she has no desire to relive that.
"I…" she begins and stops again, steeling herself as best she can. "I don't remember this," she blurts out, feeling particularly stupid when he looks at her as if she's being daft.
"You wouldn't," he tells her. "Time's fluid. Things change. Time re-writes itself. You might remember it now or you might not. Depends, really, on jus' what happened. Was it you?"
There's a hardness in his voice that she doesn't remember hearing before, not directed at her. "Was it me, what? You didn't… Oh, hell. Of course you hadn't. 'Fraid it must be my – our – fault." She did this. She pulled him through the rift and changed history. Great. Fantastic.
The best, he'd called her once. Like hell she is.
"How?" he asks, the distance between them seeming infinite. She longs to rush to him, to hug him, to say goodbye as she never really had the chance to before. However, she holds herself still.
"There's this device that we found. It got jostled, a button got pressed, an' it started humming and emitting this bright light. By the time it faded, the TARDIS was materialising," she explains, deciding to tell him only what he needs to know. She won't risk changing the future. She knows too much now. Can't happen, mustn't happen. Even though she longs to tell him to stay away from Satellite Five, to never go to Earth, 2007, she can't.
That's her past. It's over and done with. Travelling with him has taught her that much at least. Her past is over and done with. Can't be changed however much she wishes it could.
"I need to see it," he replies, moving towards her and she just blinks at him dumbly. He's within touching distance and she could just hug him, but she doesn't. She can't.
"Okay." She leads him out of the TARDIS, listening as he locks the door behind him. Good. Her younger self shouldn't see this.
She's almost forgotten Tosh's presence as the woman comes to her side. "Thought he wore pin-stripes," Tosh whispers and she winces reflexively.
"Where is it?" the Doctor asks, thankfully curbing anything else that Tosh might say.
"Right over here," she says, directing him to the object that seems to have brought him into this universe. God, she's been such an idiot. "Doctor, I'm sorry."
He doesn't tell her that it's okay or give her empty platitudes. He knows that it's her fault but he just goes on with what he's doing. Looking at the device, turning it as she did, eying it carefully. "Telaxian power generator," he finally says after what seems to be an eternity.
"An' besides generatin' power an' draggin' people into other universes, what does that mean?" She worries now that she's caused some sort of fatal rip in time. Any second now, the Reapers are going to return and erase this timeline, this planet, this universe, because of her stupid mistake.
"It means that you apes are playin' with toys that you can't possibly understand. That you're messin' with technology that you shouldn't have. You should know that, Rose," he tells her, and she hears a measure of hurt and what can only be anger in his voice.
She realises suddenly that she's trembling. She should've expected this, really. It's been so long since she's last seen him, since she's last seen the TARDIS, that she should've realised that she'd be bloody emotional about it. But…but… Now anger courses through her. Righteous or not, she glares at him. "Silurians. Nestene Consciousness. Sontarans. Yeti. Cybermen. Mucking about with 'toys' is what got us through some of those encounters. You're not here, Doctor. We can't count on you to swan in an' save the day. We have to do it ourselves…" Her voice fades, too angry to speak now as she turns away from him.
She almost comes undone as she feels his hand rest upon her shoulder, feels his warmth just a few steps behind her. He's too damned close. That Doctor-shaped hole in her heart is threatening to break that much more as he deftly turns then pulls her into his embrace. "'S my turn to apologise."
His words are almost an unintelligible mumble to her as she inhales the so familiar scent of leather, despite the years between them. He's holding her. Her first Doctor is holding her, hugging her, and she can't even hear what he's saying because she feels herself crying.
She firmly pulls herself together, ignoring the burning desire that she has to snog him properly, to tell him how she truly feels to an incarnation that died before he could ever hear the words. When she withdraws from his hug, just enough to look up at him, she sees and feels him sigh.
A hand reaches up between them to touch her face for a moment, a world full of apologies in his eyes. "Don't tell me what happened, Rose. I can't know my future."
"I know," she says, lifting her hand to rub angrily at her eyes, brushing away the remnants of tears. "The last time..." She cuts herself off again before she tells him about their first time and only time together in this universe.
"Can you fix the TARDIS?" she asks, realising at that moment that the TARDIS is still alive. She was glowing when she first entered the ship, lights were still on. At least he isn't stuck, not really.
But how can he get back?
"Fixin' her 's the easy part," he tells her, releasing her from his embrace and putting a measure of distance between them again. "It's the leavin' that's the difficult part."
She blinks. What ifs swirl through her mind. What if the Doctor can't leave? What if he, and the younger her, are stuck? What if this completely re-writes the history of her proper universe, changing everything? What if the Doctor, this Doctor, doesn't die for her? What if he lives?
"That's the only device that we've found that seems to manipulate the rift. Can we, I dunno, reverse it somehow?" she asks, finally directing her attention beyond the 'he's here' to the most important aspect of setting time back onto its proper course. She knows that time's fragile and that paradoxes are even more so. There's a younger her still inside that TARDIS and, if they don't move swiftly, that Rose's bound to come outside and learn far more than she ever wanted to about fate.
Yes, there's life after the Doctor, she wishes she could tell her younger self. And it's life after death.
The Doctor smiles at her, suddenly and brilliantly. That manic grin that she dreamed about for what seemed to be every night while she was with this version of him. "Oh, I dunno. Might be a bit difficult, that. Telaxians aren't known for their user's manuals. Some might even consider it impossible. But they never met me."
"An' what about..." She lets her voice trail off as she nods toward the TARDIS, knowing that he'll understand. This could take hours, days, any amount of time. Her younger self's bound to want to come outside to be near him. She knows that she wants to savour whatever time she has left with him.
She knows that she can't go with them. Too many chances of a paradox, of summoning the Reapers, of destroying everything. She's still as stuck as she was before, only now she has another reminder of what she's missing. Of what she's lost.
And she thought that she was a survivor. That Doctor-shaped hole in her heart is breaking all over again.
"We'll have to go quickly," he replies soberly. "Can't risk any more paradoxes. 'S enough that I'm seeing you now."
"Tell me what we can do to help," she says, adding Toshiko and the rest of Torchwood Cardiff into her offer. It's all she can do, right? It's her fault that he's here in the first place.
He looks at her for a long moment and she suspects that he's about to refuse. He doesn't really want to tell them how to run a Telaxian power generator. "Okay," he finally says and she smiles.
At least some good can come out of this mistake, right?
"Only, after we're gone, you've got to destroy it, Rose. 'S not meant for you lot. 'S too powerful. Ripping holes in the universe isn't something humans should ever be able to do."
Oh, god, if only he knew. She hates Yvonne Hartmann, the one from her proper universe, so much for that particular facet of Torchwood's existence. They did. And now look where she is.
"I know," she says quietly, hoping that her regrets, her fears, and all her longings aren't evident in her voice.
He stares at her for another long moment before nodding. "Then let's begin."
To be continued...