Author's note: This is part of my Changes!verse series, in which the Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, and (mortal) Jack Harkness are traveling together as lovers and partners. It is rated Teen for non-explicit sexual content. If you would like to see the illustrated version of this story, visit me at lindenharp dot livejournal dot com. No, I have not forgotten about "Consequences" and "Lyonnesse", and plan to finish both of those.
For the last twenty-three days, Gallifrey has been visiting him in his dreams.
He hasn't told Rose and Jack. Doesn't intend to. They'd have questions. They'd want details. And they'd correct him. They'd say, "You mean you've been going to Gallifrey in your dreams." He doesn't mean that, not at all. Gallifrey is dust and ashes, and the whole of the War is time-locked. Even in dreams it is forever barred to him. Instead, the dead of Gallifrey seek him out, sometimes in twos and threes, sometimes in multitudes. Time Lords and Ladies, High Councillors and renegades -- all gaze at him silently, then turn and walk through the TARDIS door, vanishing into the Vortex.
Some of the dream visitors have a word hovering on their lips, like a drop of rain trembling on the edge of a flower petal. Each time he waits, but they remain mute. He can almost see the shape of the word. Sometimes it looks like help; sometimes coward or murderer; sometimes, why. Mostly he suspects that the word is where. Where am I? Where am I going? Time Lords didn't believe in ghosts. Ten million years of science and civilisation on Gallifrey had replaced primitive superstitions about an afterlife with the technological certainty of the Matrix. One's memories would live on -- if not one's consciousness -- in the most sophisticated artificial neural net ever created.
The Matrix was destroyed -- along with the rest of Gallifrey -- in a firestorm several billion kilometres across. Millions of years of knowledge lost; the recorded memories of thousands of Time Lords wiped out in the same nanosecond as all of their living descendants. 'Cept me. I wish-- As often as it comes into his head, he never finishes that sentence. Maybe it's because he's not sure which of the many possible endings he'd choose.
...someone else had pushed the button.
...I'd died with the others.
...I'd died earlier in the War, so as not to know how it ended.
...I had the courage to destroy Davros and his infant monsters back on Skaro.
Or maybe it's because he's afraid to find out how he'd finish the sentence.
He's had bad dreams before. Could hardly be otherwise, considering the things he saw in the War, the things he did. For months afterwards, he hardly slept, not even the minimal amount that Time Lord physiology requires. Those nightmares -- filled with fire and ash and screams -- still visit him occasionally, but not as often. It helps that he no longer sleeps alone. Warm human bodies pressed against him are soothing. It's a primitive response to need touch -- not that he needs it. 'Course not. It's... pleasant to touch an' be touched. That's a far cry from needin' it.
These recent dreams are very different to the others. They seem real. Impossibly real. Every other Time Lord is gone, and who should know that better than the one who murdered them? Still, no reason to mention them to his partners. Rose would want him to talk. Jack would hold his tongue, but his clever mind would be working overtime; observing, analysing, speculating. So he says nothing. And though it isn't agreeable to have dead Time Lords wandering through his sleeping mind, he's endured much worse. He does his best not to think about them, and mostly he succeeds.
Until they become impossible to ignore.
"Something's wrong with the Doctor," Rose says, the instant she steps into the workroom.
She hasn't been running, and she doesn't sound panicked, so Jack finishes easing the new induction coil into its slot before turning to face her. Her expression is as somber as he's ever seen it. He raises his eyebrows, inviting her to continue.
"We were in the console room, and I asked him about those flori-thingies on Verdana. He was explaining, but all of a sudden he stopped talking, and turned around and stared at... nothing."
Jack shrugs. "So he got distracted. It happens." He lowers the pitch of his voice and adopts a vaguely northern accent. "Time Lord, me. Lots goin' on up here, y'know." He taps the side of his head with one finger. He doesn't get the laugh he expects, or even a smile.
"'S not funny, Jack. It was like he was watching something that wasn't there. Something that was moving, 'cos his head turned and his eyes were following it around the room to the front door. Then he stared so hard I half expected to see the door open."
With a lightness he doesn't feel, Jack says, "Not likely, since we're in the Vortex. Did you ask him about it?"
"Didn't get a chance. He mumbled something about needing a tool from storage, and went off to find it."
Jack says slowly, "Could be that he saw something you didn't, Rose. Time Lords have more senses than we do, physical and psychic. Maybe there was some kind of time fluctuation." It's not likely, not while the TARDIS is in the Vortex, but it's possible. Almost anything is possible where the Doctor is concerned.
"I s'pose," Rose concedes, "but whatever it was, it worried him." She combs her fingers through her hair, frowning.
"Do you want me to talk to him?"
She sighs. "And say what? 'Rose wants t'know what you were looking at'? 'Sides, the Doctor's very good at not talking when he doesn't want to."
"Or talking without saying anything." The Doctor is their friend and lover, but there are some things he doesn't share with his human partners. "Let's just keep an eye on him. Whatever it was, maybe it was a one-time thing."
Rassilon! One moment he's telling Rose about the physiology of Florambulons, and the next he's looking at a Time Lord in formal Prydonian robes, headdress and all. His first thought is that Jack found the robes in the wardrobe and is playing a prank; that would explain why Rose is pretending not to see him. Only... this 'Prydonian' is a short, stocky bloke with dark eyes. Can't be Jack... He watches intently as the robed figure walks down the ramp to the door, then passes through it as though it is as insubstantial as air.
He turns to find Rose looking at him, puzzlement creasing her forehead. He can see the question forming on her lips, and he needs to get away before she can ask it. A tool he'll be wanting later on makes a convenient excuse to disappear. He strides out of the console room and hurries towards storeroom three. The sense of relief he feels doesn't last for long. Rose is curious, maybe even worried. She's not gonna drop it.
As he passes the library, he spots someone at the far end of the corridor, walking rapidly away from him. Even at this distance, he can see that it's a slender, dark-haired young woman in student robes of Arcalian green. She turns left onto a cross-corridor.
"Stop! Who are you?" The Gallifreyan words feel clumsy on his tongue. Except for the occasional muttered curse, he hasn't spoken his native language since the War. The woman pauses mid-step, looking over her shoulder at him. Her features are delicate and lovely and inexpressibly sad. Her lips part slightly, but she remains silent. And then she turns the corner out of sight.
"No!" he shouts, breaking into a run. He arrives at the intersection two seconds later and skids to a halt. The connecting corridor is empty. He stands there motionless for one minute and forty-two seconds, then walks slowly to the medbay.
He tests everything that he can think of -- twice. He screens his blood for pathogens and drugs that might cause hallucinations, does a neuro-scan of the optical centre of his brain, and checks hormone levels. Everything normal. To be thorough, he searches for environmental factors: radiation, air-borne contaminants, faulty temporal shielding. Nothing.
A psychic attack, maybe? It would take enormous power to project through the TARDIS shields, 'specially in the Vortex. Not many beings in the Universe capable of that, an' none that could do it without the TARDIS noticin'. That leaves only two possible explanations -- and he doesn't believe in ghosts.
I'm goin' mad.
She's scared now, because whatever is going on with the Doctor is getting worse. There's been two more 'episodes' that they know about. At breakfast, she sees him glowering at Jack -- no, at a point two feet behind Jack. He mutters something the TARDIS won't translate, and pushes his chair back so abruptly that his untouched mug of tea sloshes over. She wants to say something, but one look at his face silences her. As soon as the sound of his boots fades down the hallway, she turns towards Jack.
He glances up from his wristcomp. "Nothing. Well, nothing my instruments can detect," he amends.
She nods. Jack's wristcomp is Time Agency issue, which means it's very advanced technology -- by human standards. Time Lord technology, as they've been told a million times, is far superior. Fat lot of good that does us. 'S not as though we can ask the Doctor for help. Not when he's the reason they need the tech.
Jack pulls Rose into his arms for a long hug, and places a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Don't worry. Whatever it is, we'll sort it."
After supper, the Time Lord says something vague about working on the dimensional stabiliser, and tells his partners not to wait up.
"You want some help, Doctor?"
"Nah, no need," the Doctor says with a casualness Jack doesn't fully trust. "You two get some shut-eye."
Jack and Rose curl up in the huge bed that the TARDIS installed in the Doctor's room when they first became a threesome. The antique four-poster feels much too big with only the two of them in it. Granted, the Doctor rarely sleeps, and they don't have sex every night, but he usually slips into bed for some cuddling before his human partners fall asleep.
Rose is lying on her side, her back to him. Jack puts his hand on her shoulder. She stiffens. "Not now, Jack. Sorry. I... I can't."
He wouldn't want it advertised, but he's not much in the mood either. "I know, Rose. I just want to hold you."
Rose rolls over, burying her face in Jack's chest. "'M sorry," she mumbles.
He strokes the back of her head. "I'm worried about him, too."
Jack awakens in the middle of the night from a disquieting dream that he can't quite remember. When he retrieves his wristcomp from the night-stand, it tells him that it's four in the morning, ship's time. He's too wound up to go back to sleep. May as well get up and do something. He dresses swiftly and quietly in the dark, careful not to disturb Rose, then makes his way to the console room.
The Doctor is bent over a monitor screen, frowning at a screenful of gibberish that Jack now knows is Gallifreyan.
"Problem?" Jack asks.
The Doctor jerks upright. "Nah. Jus' reading up on some technical details."
"Doctor, if you need help with anything..." He can see from the Doctor's expression that the Time Lord knows he isn't talking about TARDIS repairs.
"No, I don't," the Doctor snaps. "Least, nothin' a human can do." In a softer tone he adds, "Go back to bed, Jack."
Jack leans back against a coral strut and folds his arms across his chest. "I'm not feeling particularly sleepy, Doctor."
"Then do somethin' else, Captain, but do it somewhere else. I bloody well don't need you hoverin' when I'm tryin' to concentrate."
It's a blunt dismissal, much harsher than the Doctor's usual grumpiness. Jack is almost tempted to respond with a salute. Sir! Yes, sir! But that would just make matters worse, and arguing is clearly a lost cause. Without another word he turns, heading for the gym. An hour or two punching and kicking the hell out of a stuffed leather bag is just what he needs right now.
When Rose stumbles out of bed, Jack is gone. No surprise there. She loves the bloke, really she does, but he's -- ugh! -- a morning person.
Breakfast is a bit tense at first. The clatter of mugs and the crunch of toast are the loudest noises in the kitchen. Conversation creeps in slowly.
"Captain, pass the grindleberry jam. Ta."
"Rose, did I ever tell you about the time I visited the grindleberry festival on Laira IV? The Grindleberry Princess asked me to be her consort. What she didn't tell me is that the role required a ceremonial anointing--"
"I can believe it. Sticky situations are your speciality, Captain."
"Doctor, where we going today?"
"I was thinkin' of the Forest of K'lil, on Trewaq."
"Trewaq -- haven't been there in ages. Rose, you're going to love it."
She's certain she will. She'd enjoy visiting a rubbish tip in Slough, just as long as the Doctor is feeling better. And he must be, teasing Jack like that.
It's gettin' worse. The funny thing is that Jack and Rose think he's getting better. He doesn't jump or stare any more when he sees one of these 'ghosts', because he sees them constantly. Whenever, wherever he is, at least one of the bloody things is present. If this was a time echo, he could mostly ignore them. If this was a time echo, they'd ignore him -- they'd be unaware of him. Instead, they watch him, follow him all the bloody time and if this keeps up for much longer he's gonna scream.
Today Rose almost got hurt because of him. He didn't warn her not to smell the lovely but poisonous amohat flowers. Why? Because he was too distracted by the sight of Gold Usher leading a ceremonial procession through the forest and -- literally -- through the trees. Luckily, Jack recognised the amohat and grabbed Rose's wrist in time to pull her back to safety. That was a near thing.
And what will be the next step down into madness? They gonna start talkin' to me? Tellin' me to do stuff? A human experiencing a severe psychotic break might become violent and attack a friend -- or gun down a roomful of strangers. He doesn't need to ask himself what a psychotic Time Lord might be capable of. I wiped out two of the most powerful races in the Universe, an' I was sane then. Mostly.
With a shudder, he remembers his sixth incarnation. In a moment of regeneration-induced paranoia, he had attacked his companion. Tried to choke the life out of Peri, 'cos I thought she was an alien spy. If I hadn't come to my senses when I did--
For a moment, the image in his mind wavers, and the terrified young woman is blonde, not brunette. No! I won't let that happen! For starters, he's got to get Rose and Jack off the TARDIS to a safe place, and the sooner the better. He can't do what he needs to do while they're still on board.
"Visit my mum?" Rose echoes. "You're offering to visit my mum?"
He shakes his head. "I'm offerin' to take you an' Jack to visit your mum. Got some work to do in the TARDIS, an' I've got to disconnect some o' the temporal shieldin' to do it."
She looks at Jack. "Definitely not safe for humans to be around," he confirms. "The results of exposure could be anything from a dizzy spell to a serious case of dead."
"But it's safe for the Doctor?"
The Doctor gives a loud snort. "Time Lord, me. I can survive exposure to raw Vortex. Think I can manage a bit of unshielded maintenance in the TARDIS." He smiles at her. "I'll come get you two when it's safe." It's not really a lie. I will -- if I can.
"All right," she says slowly. "'S long as you come into the flat afterwards for a proper visit. And that means staying for tea."
He pulls a face, but nods. If this works, he'll not only sit down to tea with Jackie Tyler, he'll compliment her cooking, and offer to help with the washing up. Assumin' that Rose even lets me in. She won't be half angry with me... an' confused an' maybe scared. Should have told her before this. Jack will deal better. If it doesn't work, if it all goes pear-shaped, Rose will be best off here, on her own planet, with her mother and Jack to comfort her.
They land in the Powell Estate with a minimum of turbulence. He watches the two humans from the doorway of the TARDIS. He'd resisted the temptation to give them proper snogs before sending them off. That sort of sentimentality would be out of character, and might make his partners suspicious. As soon as they're safely out of sight, he heads towards the nearby Tesco, to purchase the final item he needs to set his plan into motion.
The visit's going pretty well. In between bites of Jaffa cake, Rose is chattering away about their trip to the bazaars of Alpha Regulus III. He judges that Jackie is only half-listening. Mostly she's just enjoying her daughter's presence. Another part of her is busy smiling at him, refilling his teacup, and offering him more not-quite-stale digestive biscuits.
Jackie Tyler can not resist flirting with an attractive man. It's a tropism, Jack decides, like a flower turning towards the sun. Not that he minds in the least -- by the standards of his century, her coy attentions are hardly more than polite small talk. Still, his relationship with Rose has made him very aware of twenty-first century socio-sexual mores, and he's careful how he responds to her mother.
He's pretending to sip a third cup of tea when he starts to feel restless. I ought to go back to the TARDIS, he thinks, though he doesn't know why. Nothing's wrong here. He's reasonably content sitting in Jackie Tyler's flat. And Rose is happy to be here. Or is she? No, she feels it too... whatever it is. Rose is fidgeting and glancing towards the door.
"Rose, I'm going into the TARDIS to check on something. Back in a few minutes, okay?" He gestures with one of the discreet Time Agency hand-signals he's taught her: stay here. Even as his hand is still moving, he can tell that it's no use.
"'M coming with you, Jack."
Jackie springs to her feet, looking from one to the other with dismay. "Not so soon! Rose, sweetheart, what's your hurry? 'Sides, I thought you couldn't go back in until Himself finishes his tinkering."
"He won't have started yet," Jack lies smoothly.
"We're not gonna leave yet, Mum," Rose adds. "Promise. Jus' got to... umm... check on something."
They leave Jackie uncharacteristically speechless as they hurry out the door of the flat.
Rose halts at the bottom of the stairs. "What's going on, Jack?"
He shakes his head. "I don't know. Feels like some kind of psychic pull."
He lifts his hands in the universal gesture of uncertainty. "I wouldn't have thought so. He's a touch telepath -- with humans, anyhow." Jack has only a trace of psi sensitivity, and Rose has none. Still, he isn't fool enough to make assumptions about what the Time Lord can or can not do.
They return to the TARDIS at a trot. Rose has her key ready, but she freezes with her hand halfway to the lock. "Is it safe to go in?"
Jack can't detect anything through the outer shielding, but it ought to be okay to open the door slightly. He studies the reading on his wristcomp. Normal, for the moment. He'd like to leave Rose outside, but he knows she'll refuse. He sticks his head in the door. "Doctor?"
Rose follows him inside. The console room is empty. "Maybe he went to get some tools?" she suggests.
Jack starts to shrug, but feels that vague pull again. "This way."
Through the console room, left, second right, and then another left. There's no hesitating at any of the intersections: they just know where to turn. The sense of urgency increases as they head deeper and deeper into the TARDIS.
"It feels very old in here," Rose whispers.
It hardly needs saying. The Doctor has had the TARDIS for centuries, and he was not the first to fly her. But Rose is right: this part of the ship feels even more ancient than the rest. The air smells faintly of cedar and cinnamon. The light has a golden tinge to it, and there is a sense of stillness mixed with anticipation that he has felt in very few places. The V'lau Ari temple. The Tomb of the Six. The Great Library of Destat. Stonehenge. "I think we're almost there." he whispers back.
They turn right into a short corridor. At the end is a door made of some pale wood, polished to a soft amber sheen. The main panel is deeply carved. The border pattern is made of rounded glyphs that intertwine with one another, and in the centre is the figure-eight motif that Jack has seen elsewhere in the TARDIS.
Rose places her hand on the brass door-knob. "Are we allowed in here? I think this is a... a private place."
"We're supposed to be here," Jack says with a certainty he can't explain.
Rose turns the knob and pushes, and the heavy door swings open.