Notes: I don't care if it's been done, this fic has been stalking me relentlessly. 11/Rose fic is kind of inevitable, almost as inevitable as a Starbucks on every corner. You're not particularly looking for it, maybe you don't even want it, but its going to pop up anyway... and once you're used to it, well, it becomes strangely addicting and maybe even a bit delicious...
I don't even know if I'm done with this fic or not, but I'm going to post it anyways, because I am impatient and I want to be done. Sorry if I've committed any American flubs. Let me know what you think, yes?
He tells himself that he is just out for a walk, a bit of London air. That is what he tells himself. The TARDIS had randomly landed him here a few hours ago, just in time to clean up the beginnings of an Argolin drug trafficking operation. It had been an easy sort, a few well placed words about the Shadow Proclamation, a few flourishes of the sonic screwdriver, and the Argolins had packed up their powders and climbed back on board their purple spaceship, no questions asked. He wished though, that they had at least tried to outsmart him, not that they would have, but still, it was the principle of the matter... And now the whole mess had left him feeling restless and a bit bored, full of too many thoughts and pent up energy. So he had decided to take a walk, let the adrenaline slowly seep out of his system, see the sights, maybe get some chips or a hot chocolate.
He walks and walks and walks. Until he slows, restlessly kicks a pebble out of the way, pauses, looks up, contemplating the sky, which is the exact colour of sour milk, thick and heavy with unshed rain. The air has a glimmering quality, it winks and shimmers around him, charged with heat and colour, like a gasoline rainbow. It will storm soon. He sniffs, shifts uncomfortably from one foot to another, deciding whether to head back to the TARDIS or keep moving forward. He keeps walking.
He still isn't used to this new body, different gait, different colour eyes, new eyelashes, new teeth. The face that looks back out of the mirror is much different, bonier, longer, and quite a bit younger. That had surprised him. He can barely remember the last time he saw such a young reflection in the mirror, not since his fifth regeneration maybe. He is still tall, gangly, but the mole on his back is gone and so are the freckles that had previously been smattered across his nose and cheeks. He had quite liked the freckles, been overly attached to the mole. Small pleasures... Nevertheless, his hair is much the same, maybe a little bigger, a little more flamboyant, which suits his since of vanity just fine. He is overall paler and lankier, a bit sadder looking really, despite his apparent youth, as if a constant state of melancholy suits this body better than it did his last one, though admittedly he was quite a bit more melancholy during his ninth regeneration. He smirks, amused. Well - at least this time he doesn't resemble a U-boat captain.
He still misses the feel of his previous skin sometimes, longs for the trim neatness of his old body. This body is all elbows, knees, and hair. He constantly feels the inherent awkwardness of his new angles. But, he knows from experience that soon he will almost forget what it felt like to be his old self. The memories will fade, replaced with new habits and new preferences. For instance, he has already discovered that he no longer likes the taste of strawberry jam and that he takes his tea with only one sugar instead of the customary three. He no longer wears a suit; in fact, he's been having a bit of trouble dressing this new body. Nothing has seemed quite right. For the moment, he is wearing a pair of faded black jeans that he had found in the back of the TARDIS' wardrobe and a snug black jumper. He had played with the idea of wearing a blazer, maybe velvet, but left it off. He likes the black, likes how it somehow feels right again. Black is neither a beginning nor an ending, it is not a colour but a shade, a tone, an absence of something and a reminder that something else exists, namely light. We could not recognize the darkness with the light. He likes the contradiction, he likes black.
He looks up, shuffles to a stop, the sour sky arcs smoothly above him, a vast bowl cupping the horizon. He is in front of the Powell Estate. He isn't surprised really, that his feet have led him here. In whatever body he has always been a bit of a masochist and he is used to it by now. He has accepted it. And so, maybe he needs this, needs to see her, just one last time. His goodbye, the beginning after the end.
He wonders when he is, well he knows when he is, 2002, boring year really. The States go to war with Afghanistan and call it something else, Alicia Keys wins five Grammy's, North Korea confesses to making nuclear weapons, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets opens at the box office. He frowns, that hadn't been his favourite book, definitely not Jo's finest moment. But, he wonders more specifically, looking up at the dull concrete flats, when it is for her. At what point in her life is this? Has she dropped out of school, taken up with Jimmy Stone? Is she dating Mickey? Working at Henrik's? He has never allowed himself to come here before, not even after the first time he lost her. It would have been too dangerous, the desire to bundle her up and carry her kicking and screaming back to the TARDIS, keep her safe, wrap her in swaddling wool, would have been too strong. It would have overwhelmed him then, but maybe he can handle it now. Maybe.
He has tried very hard not to think about her these past months, years, tried very hard not to imagine them together. It is easier than it had been previously, not to think of her, not to hear the ghost of her laugh echoing in the TARDIS. The memories aren't as sharp, as clear, as they had been in his previous body.
He has discovered that memories (death, loss) make people into abstractions. Blocks of faded colour and raspy sound take the place of warm reality, hot intakes of breath, tiny wrinkles framing mouths and noses, shells of ears, freckled arms, torn fingernails, soft exhalations, split ends. Yes, memories fade, become replaced with dim slow moving shapes that stir sluggishly from time to time in the corners of his brain, but there are some things that he remembers perfectly. Fragments, pieces of melodies, half forgotten harmonies... Susan's music, Jamie's lilting brogue, the subtle sheen of silk stalkings on Liz's long legs, crimson grass dotted with patches of diamond white snow, Sarah Jane's inquisitive half smile, the sleek sweet texture of Romana's strawberry blonde hair against his fingertips, the exact colour of Peri's eyes, trees whose leaves shimmer from silver to gold in a warm breeze, the sharp bitter smell of Ace's cigarettes in the morning, the feel of Rose's hand sliding into his, Donna's loud and throaty laugh... He likes to turn each of these precious things over in his mind, slowly, in awe in fascination, in pride, like tiny pebbles of uncommon beauty. He does the same with his guilt (a vivid orange sky bursting into flames, a smooth white wall), his grief hangs heavy in his pocket, a stone rubbed smooth by time and self-recrimination.
Her memory though, well, she is more persistent than most, her image trudges up and down the long corridors of his mind, popping up in random places. Every so often he will see a flash of gold from the corner of his eye, he will turn, and she will be there standing in front of him, blonde hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, mouth spread in a wide and welcoming grin, hand stretched out to him. But then the loss, bleak and unendurable quickly returns, and his mind falls away from her memory, clinging for safety to little plans, designs, wires, and machines. He is a man of many light mechanical instruments. They keep him sane.
And here he is still, in front of the Powell Estate, someplace he certainly should not be. Why does he keep coming back here, crossing his own personal time line over and over, risking paradoxes at every turn? Why come here to Earth, here to 20th century Earth in particular? What is it that persistently draws him to this place, this time? Is it because this is when everything changes, when technology blossoms over humanity, a promising(threatening) plumb coloured cloud hanging over civilization. Maybe it is because this is when man truly starts to discover itself, sees its true face in the mirror of its creations. He has a passion for witnessing discovery and he has a love for the glittering mechanism of the human soul. It is lovely and unique, always attacked and never destroyed. It could choose to be great, or it could choose (and often does) to be otherwise.
He is about to turn around, force his rebel feet to carry him back to the TARDIS away from the Powell Estate, the broken lift, the perpetually crooked swing set, when he sees her. She is sitting against a wall, knees pulled up nearly to her chest. Her hair is longer, blonder than when they had first met brassy white gold instead of the soft honey colour that he became so used to. She is wearing an oversized leather jacket and some sort of pink top with a sequined design sewn onto the front. She is holding a cigarette in one hand and a biro in the other. The cigarette smoulders, almost burnt down to her fingers, but she isn't paying attention to the ember of ash, instead she is busy doodling on her jeans.
He smiles. She always was an avid doodler. She would have scribbled and scrawled all over the TARDIS if he would have let her get away with it. One corner of the kitchen table is still covered in her sketches, five pointed stars, and a pattern of lopsided flowers along side a crooked portrait of the TARDIS. He still has a pair of Converse that she inked on when they had spent a day languishing in a Yak'tar prison. She had marked the top of his right shoe with a large heart and then (quite brazenly) written her name inside. He had faked a fuss, claiming that the drawing made him look ridiculous, that it was hardly dignified for a Time Lord to walk around with a giant heart emblazoned on his shoe. She had only grinned at him, that wonderful brilliant smirking smile of hers. He had worn those shoes until he lost her, and then he had but them away.
He is standing in front of her now, waiting for her to notice him. She does notice finally; distracted from her drawing by the long shadow he is casting over her. She looks up annoyed. Her face is rounder, softer than he remembers the strong line of her jaw and the hollows of her cheeks have been smoothed over by a layer of baby fat. Her eyes are the same though, warm golden brown, heavily rimmed with a jagged line of black pencil and too many layers of mascara. She somehow looks bright and young, hard and soft at the same time.
She is glaring up at him, but he cannot help but grin down at her. It is wonderful to see her. She is clearly waiting on him to say something, explain his invasion of her personal space so he scrambles for something to say and his eyes catch on her cigarette. "You old enough for those?"
She continues to look up at him, eyes narrowing in suspicion, cigarette held coolly between the first two fingers of her left hand. She studies him, gaze starting at the tips of his well-worn converse and then travelling upward, taking in his black jumper and the heavy fringe that frames his angular face. "What are you some sort of detective?" She is laughing at him, still annoyed.
He shrugs, amused. "Maybe."
"Bugger off then." She dismisses him, stamping out her cigarette against the pavement, sending a flurry of sparks into the air that quickly cool and flutter harmlessly to the ground.
He doesn't leave but settles in beside her on the ground, stretching out his long legs, crossing his ankles casually. He inclines his head at the crumpled pack of cigarettes lying next to her. "Can I have one?"
"Are you old enough?" She bites out sarcastically and then holds out the pack to him anyways.
"I'm older than I look." He pushes his hair out his face and fishes a lighter out of his pocket (bigger on the inside). He hasn't smoked in, literally, ages, not since his third incarnation, back when he was with UNIT in the 70's. Everyone smoked in the 70's. He glances over at her. It's heady and a little terrifying, this feeling of sitting next to her, so close, the memory of her suddenly replaced with this warm tangible version.
She ignores him, continues to doodle on her jeans, a succession of hearts and stars and spirals. There is a long silence, until, suddenly, decisively, she lifts her head and fixes him with a speculative stare. "I haven't seen you around before."
He shrugs again, takes another drag. "No, I'm only passing through."
She laughs, rolls her eyes heavenward. His right heart skips a beat. He knows that laugh, knows that look. "Passing through here?" She gestures out at the desolate expanse of cracked pavement, dead weeds, and graffiti stained retaining walls. "Who'd want to pass through here?"
"Oh, I don't know, this part of London has a certain charm of its own." He smiles softly, looking around at the scattered gum wrappers and empty soda bottles lying abandoned across the pavement. In the distance, a flock of neighbourhood children chase each other, their shouts echoing oddly off the concrete walls of the rectangular buildings. "And the company's not bad either." He almost leans in to bump his shoulder with hers, but stops himself.
She blushes, glances at him. "That line work with all the girls then?"
He smirks, grins. "Most of the time."
She laughs again, a true laugh this time, and the sound of it rings in his ears, travels down his spine and settles like a puddle of gold in the pit of his stomach. "My name's Rose, Rose Tyler."
He nods and grins at her. "John Smith." The lie rolls smoothly from his tongue.
A disbelieving smiles turns up the corners of her mouth. "John Smith? Really?"
He smiles and studies the curve of her jaw, trying to commit the exact angle to memory. "There is a reason it's a popular name."
The right corner of her mouth lifts just a little as she looks at him, a mercurial smirk. "Suppose so. So what do you do? How come you're passing through the Powell Estate?"
He is nonchalant. "Oh, I travel mostly, see new things, new places, meet new people."
She looks wistfully over at him. "I'd love to do that, travel. I've never even been anywhere," she adds as an afterthought.
He looks back at her, and then quickly cuts his eyes away, his hearts beating out a strange rhythm in his chest. "Really? It's a funny old life, sometimes I wish I could just stay put, life out my live in one place with one person..." He realizes what he has said and backtracks quickly, "or more than one person, the same people, you know."
Her brow wrinkles in confusion, "Why don't you then?"
He shifts and the rough concrete of the wall he's leaning against scrapes uncomfortably against his back, "No, couldn't do that, too many places to see, new experiences to have. I'm a chronic wanderer, can't change my ways now."
She shrugs. "Well, I'd still love to travel, even if it was just for a little while."
"Maybe you will someday."
She snorts. "Not likely. I'll be stuck here forever. Dame Rose of the Powell Estate, that's me."
Her words jumpstart an avalanche of memories. Telescopes, diamonds, werewolves, dark corridors, mistletoe, Queen Victoria, and the Torchwood Estate. Torchwood. The word, even the thought of the word, is bitter, burning, sears his mind like acid.
Her hand on his arm shakes him from his reverie. Her voice is soft, and the weight of her fingertips is familiar. "Hey where'd you go?
He shakes his head and gives her a smile. "Nowhere, just remembering something." She nods, accepts his answer without question. "Who are you waiting for out here?"
She takes back her hand and continues her biro sketches on the soft denim of her jeans. "My boyfriend, he told me to wait here till he's done with band practice."
She must be waiting on Jimmy Stone then, probably that's whose jacket she's wearing. She hadn't ever told him much about her past, keeping almost as silent about the subject as him. During their travels, they had been two new people together; trying to erase memories they didn't want or couldn't keep. He had never really asked about Jimmy Stone or her childhood for that matter. It hadn't seemed important, he had been counting on having more time. She had promised him forever. He looks up at the sky, judging the eminent threat of rain. "Why aren't you waiting for him inside?"
"He says I'm too distracting, that he can't think straight when I'm around, so I'm not allowed at band practice anymore... and mum's busy, she's got a few clients, doing hair for some big wedding tonight, so I'd just be in the way at home." She reaches up to brush a way a piece of hair that the breeze has tossed in her face and the sleeve of her jacket falls back, revealing a fresh bruise on her arm. The mark is ugly, five fingerprints of bright purple and sickly yellow discolouring her pale skin. A cold rage zips through his body, flooding his newly formed nervous system with ice. His chest is tight; he almost forgets to breathe.
For an instant, she is frozen, terrified of his discovery. Their eyes lock and he can see that she is panicking, scrambling for words to explain away the damage. She breaks away from his gaze and pulls the sleeve back down, fiddles with the worn leather cuff. She looks back over at him, wary, a fake smile plastered across her face. She laughs nervously at the look in his eyes. "It's nothing. I fell."
He looks away from her, until the anger starts to fade and he's sure he won't do anything rash. After a few moments, he turns back towards her and pulls her arm towards him, rolling up her jacket sleeve, lightly tracing the air over each bruise with his own fingertips as if the ghost of his touch could heal the burst blood vessels under the bruised skin. "Why do you put up with it?"
She shrugs, bites her lip, pulls away from his grasp, and emits a nervous laugh to cover up the intimacy of the moment, to forget that she has somehow unwittingly allowed this stranger into her life. "He's a good bloke Jimmy, he's smart and talented. He just gets angry sometimes, not at me really, but I just always get in the way or say the wrong thing. But he's just angry at the world. Everyone's always knocking him down, telling him he's not good enough. It's not his fault."
"Whose fault is it?"
She shrugs again, doesn't look at him, just resumes scrawling away on the knee of her jeans with the biro.
"What does your mum have to say about all of this?"
"My mum has got her own problems." She snaps at him, irritated now. Suspicion is creeping back into her eyes. "What'd you care what my mum says about anything?"
He backs down quickly. "I just mean, don't you have friends or family, besides this Jimmy, who care about you, who want to see you happy?"
She's defensive. "I am happy."
She looks as if she's about to cry, but instead she jumps up, looming over him. Her lips part, as she takes in quick breaths through her mouth. She looks down at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. He knows that look, he's about to be told off or slapped in the face. The famous Tyler temper is about to rear its ugly head.
He retreats; it seems he is always running with her, either forwards or backwards, towards or away from. He had nearly forgotten that particular dynamic of their relationship. "No I'm sorry, sit back down. It's none of my business." She remains standing.
For some ineffable reason, she does not run, doesn't tell him off, but instead she studies him and softens. She sits back down, settling in close to his shoulder. He lets the silence sink in, wanting more than anything to know what she's thinking, but savouring the heavy warmth of her arm hovering next to his.
Another moment passes before she speaks again. "S'kay. It's just people don't realize what a really great guy Jimmy is. He gets knocked around a lot. He's had a rough life." She looks over at him, her wide eyes pleading with him to understand.
"Sure." He tries to say it like he means it but the word comes out dead and sullen.
She looks back down at her jeans and her brow wrinkles in confusion. He follows her gaze and both of his hearts leap into his throat, choking off his airway...
Images, sounds flash through his mind, the alarming whirr of the TARDIS engines, a siren song of hope when hope was lost, swirls of energy, a golden cloud, golden eyes, golden skin, an avenging angel, a human girl, the girl he lov...., Dalek rage, Dalek fear, Dalek dust, the soft tingling feel of her lips pressed against his, her weight resting in his arms, hot crackling energy zipping through his limbs and pumping through his blood stream...
....because she has scrawled 'BAD WOLF' in loopy teenage handwriting across her thigh. "I don't even remember writing that," she whispers, confused, a little bit of fear leaking into her voice. She looks over at him with wide eyes. He opens his mouth to speak and then closes it again, licks his lips, swallows, because his mouth is suddenly dry and he can't seem to find any words.
"Rose!" The moment is shattered. Her head whips up and he has left staring at the words by himself. BAD WOLF. BAD WOLF. BAD WOLF. Someone is hailing her from across the courtyard, a tall youth with long greasy hair and a flannel shirt wrapped around his waist. "Rose, come on we've finished and we're going 'round the pub!"
She darts up, the biro falling from her hand and clattering onto the concrete. She waves cheerfully at the distant figure. "Yeah, alright, just a mo!" The distant figure sets down his guitar case and lights a cigarette.
She turns back to him and he stands up slowly, coughs to clear his throat, breathes deeply, and regains control. "Well, lovely to have met you Rose Tyler... really." He wants to tell her to have a fantastic life, the word fantastic feels right on the tip of his tongue, because suddenly he remembers that fantastic is what it feels like to be around Rose Tyler, fantastic is the colour of her eyes, and the way a smile unfolds across her face. They stand there awkwardly, looking at each other.
He watches as a blush once again spreads across her face, settling warmly in the apple of her cheeks. "You don't even know me."
"I know you're brilliant." He thinks maybe he is coming on a bit strong, giving a little too much away, but he wants to see her happy, so he tells her the truth.
"Rose!" The voice from across the way is sharp now, impatient and brutish. "I'm going to leave without you, you daft cow! Get over here!"
"Hang on a minute Jimmy! Can't you see I'm talking!" she yells, her voice tinged with annoyance and a slight edge of defiance. The figure of Jimmy Stone gestures rudely and Rose turns and gestures rudely back. She turns back to him, rolls her eyes and sighs, her breath blowing a few stray strands of blonde hair out of her face. Her expression softens as she looks at him and she gives him a small smile. "Will I see you around?"
He shakes his head, shoves his hands in his pockets, a gesture that reminds him immediately of his previous self. Old habits die hard. "I'm just passing through remember."
"Oh." She looks down disappointed, her eyelashes sweeping down and hiding her eyes. He studies the thick crooked line of her eyeliner across her eyelids and watches her nudge a rock back and forth with her trainer. The figure of Jimmy Stone looms over them from a distance, tapping his foot impatiently. "Guess this is it then," she mutters.
She suddenly looks lost again, unhappy. Abruptly words are popping out his mouth without his permission, "But you never know!" His eyes flash again to the message scrawled across her jeans. The words BAD WOLF surrounded by dozens of jauntily drawn biro stars. "Maybe it's written in the stars."
She looks back up at him, bites her lip, her eyes laughing, glowing. "Like destiny or something."
He hesitates. He has never believed in destiny, he's not sure if he believes in it now. Destiny is for fairytales and romance novels. If he has learned anything in his 900 odd years, it is that his life is neither. He has seen too much death, said goodbye to many good friends, lost too much. But, his persistent belief in Rose Tyler, in her basic goodness, in her love, in her complete brilliance, it lingers and it clings, and so he finds himself saying, "Yes, very much like destiny."
She sticks her hand out to him and he takes it, holding onto it firmly for maybe just a second too long. Her hand is a bit too small now, his fingers are too long, and the fit is not as perfect as it once was. She pulls away and flashes him a megawatt grin, her tongue peeking out from between her teeth. "Well, until next time then John Smith."
She whirls around and runs towards the waiting figure of Jimmy Stone. He can hear their voices raise in anger, but he can't make out what they're saying. The faraway figure of Jimmy Stone gestures at him and he waves casually back and then watches as they argue. Jimmy Stone grabs her arm but Rose pulls away flouncing on ahead of him. He looks up, slightly startled, as a vein of lightening cracks across the quickly darkening sky, followed by a boom of thunder. It abruptly begins to rain; water flattens his hair to his head and drips into his eyes. The Doctor stands there and smiles, thinking of what was, and what is, and what will be, because somewhere out there, in space, in time, somewhere he is still holding hands with Rose Tyler and maybe he will again.