Chapter 25: Renewal and Reconciliation
A/N: Many, many thanks to everyone who has contributed to or read and enjoyed this story over these past few months. I've had a great time writing this and everybody's comments have been icing on the cake. In particular, I'd just like to mention sunnytyler001, who planted the seed in my head that grew into this story, imzadimylove, my wonderful beta, MizJoely, my fabulous beta, cytherea999, who beta'd the first few chapters until she became incapacitated by a large truck, lorelaisquared who listened to my random rantings and brainstorming and helped me with the overarching concepts along the way, silvers_shadows who provided some Britpicking services, and alizarin_skies who did the beautiful artwork. Wow, that's a long list! I've never had so much help & support for any of my stories before and it's been amazing!
For anybody interested in reading some of my ramblings and thoughts on this story chapter by chapter, I'll be posting a commentary to my LJ, username meremoon.
She has headstones made for both of them; her lost lover and her unborn child. She has them placed on her parents' estate, round the perimeter of the grounds, and she visits them regularly.
She talks to John, speaking to the cold stone as if he could hear her. She lies down in the grass, curls round the grave and hugs it to her, remembering the touch of his flesh.
She plants flowers and cares for them like she would've cared for her child.
She cries herself to sleep so many nights, remembering his laugh, the crinkle round his eyes when he smiled, his slight frame that somehow held such strength and assuredness. She remembers his kiss, the sound of her name on his lips.
And she mourns.
She makes up a story; something involving a family tragedy or some other random calamity in order to explain to the school why he's not coming back.
To Tony, she tells a bit more of the truth: she tells him that his teacher gave up his life to save all of theirs from an alien threat. "He was a real hero," she says, smiling through tears as she tousles the boy's hair affectionately.
Tony wipes at his eyes. "Like the Doctor?" he asks.
"No," she says, shaking her head. "Like a human. He was his own kind of hero." She pulls him into a hug round her waist.
She tells the whole story to Mum, and she watches as incredulity turn to sorrow and then to regret on her face as Mum hears who John really was, what he did to save the Doctor – and what the Doctor had tried to do for her.
Pete gives her leave from work for as long as she wants, but after a week she needs to get back to it. She returns to the daily duties of her life and her job; occasionally an alien chase or a particularly intriguing mystery gives her the chance to lose herself for a time, and it's a welcome relief, for a short time anyway.
She functions on a purely mechanical level for longer than she cares to think of.
Then one day she's early for a morning meeting, and Jake is there. He sits at the conference table poring over his notes – or, she suspects, merely pretending to pore over them in order to ignore the awkward silence that's always between them, where Mickey used to be.
And she thinks that enough is enough. So she takes a nervous sip of her coffee and she holds the cup up in his direction. "Jake," she prods.
He looks up from his notes, his face straight and serious.
She swishes her coffee cup and touches her tongue to her teeth with the beginnings of a grin. "Remember how Mickey was always late to these meetings? Always tripping over himself and spilling coffee, trying to get here on time?"
A light glimmers on his face and he matches her smile. "Which he never actually was," he adds with a laugh. "It's ridiculous how many messes he made."
"You finally started taking the cup away from him the moment he walked in, to save him from himself," Rose supplies.
"And he still managed to knock it out of my hands and spill it all over my trousers," he responds, laughing outright now. They laugh together, sharing the memory of their lost friend, until they're not any more. Until it ends and Jake looks away out the window and Rose knows it's going to take more than a shared anecdote from the past to re-forge a friendship.
So she tucks her hair behind her ear and bites her lip. "I miss him," she confesses.
His eyes flash something undefinable before settling into agreement. "Yeah," he agrees with a nod. "Me too."
There's a perceptible shift in the air with those words, a deep and easy breath expelling old, stale air. There's been so much blame flying about, so much grief surrounding the Doctor and only now does she begin to see that Mickey had his share too. It should've been obvious – Jake has been hanging on to something – or perhaps against something, against her, and though it's not her fault, she's still sorry she didn't see it sooner.
But now the silence is open and inviting, so she raises her eyebrows with a question to bring them both into the here and now. "So how've you been?"
"Not bad," he replies slowly, unsure where this is going.
She nudges him along. "Work?"
He shrugs. "Been mostly busy with the teleportation project your father's got us working on. He's been leaning on us pretty hard for some results."
She remembers hearing Pete grumbling about it in an almost grudging way, and she seizes the chance to throw a gibe at him. "That's not how I heard it," she grins playfully. "Pete said something about a broken multimode stabilizer and too many long lunches with Laura from Interstellar Relations downstairs."
The mention of the name makes him suck in a breath and puff out his chest. His face flushes red, confirming the rumours without a single word spoken. He straightens, squares his shoulders and volleys back at her. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to have a life now, is that it?" he demands, his eyes flitting back and forth with a little embarrassment and a lot of delight at the mention of his girlfriend.
Rose knows the girl; she can recall interviewing her when she was hired. She's a tiny bundle of bubbly, slightly nervous energy, long dark hair and thick glasses atop a petite frame, with a genius aptitude for interstellar communications technologies and a mouth that's hard pressed to stop moving once it's started. She'd liked her almost immediately, but as was often the case, her position as the boss's daughter – not to mention former companion of the legendary Doctor – tended to make her unreachable to most overtures of friendship among Torchwood employees.
Jake goes on to tell her more about the girl, and Rose sits back in her chair contentedly as she listens. When Pete enters the room followed by the rest of the meeting crew, she motions to Jake that they'll continue the conversation later.
And they do. They go for drinks after work, and Jake brings his girlfriend along, and when Rose tells her about the time the Altherians kidnapped Jake and interrogated him by tickling him for four hours straight, Laura nearly spits out her drink, the ice is broken and she knows they're going to be great friends.
Gradually her life starts to fill up with friends and loved ones, and contentment creeps in like warmth in the springtime.
She still visits John's grave regularly, but gradually she starts to notice other things as she does; the way the sun dances through the leaves in the trees overhead; the smell of the grass when the gardener's just done the mowing, and crying over him starts to have a cleansing effect. It's cathartic in a way that it never was all those times that she lost the Doctor before, because now she has closure. Their love was real and it came to a final, absolute end, through no fault of theirs, and now her life has to move on without him.
The Doctor is as good as his word; he keeps away, doesn't phone her, and the only reminder she has of him over these months comes in the form of a small bouquet of flowers, hand-picked, that she finds on her doorstep when she arrives home after work on her birthday.
There's no card, but nor is there any doubt who it's from, and she knows his silence isn't for lack of things to say.
She picks up the flowers and unlocks the door, steps inside and fetches a vase. She fills it with water, adds the flowers and then she places the entire assembly on the coffee table. Then she sinks down into the sofa and stares at them until her vision blurs and the red petals are glowing in front of her like a neon sign.
And she ponders how hard it is, loving a man with multiple faces.
But it's much more than that, because so much has changed for her these past few months. She's found her footing at last; she's found her place in this Earthbound life. It's an unusual place, somewhere in between the life she ran away from and the life that was taken from her. It's the middle ground between the two and if she's going to share it with anyone, they'll have to fit here as well.
She knows there's only one person in the universe who might, but she's still unsure if he will. That metacrisis left him with his duplicate's face, his hair and his lanky frame, his gob and all the trimmings of the original Time Lord, but inside him something new has been forming since the day she brought him home; since the moment he told her he loved her when his duplicate wouldn't. She wants to call it a humanity, and certainly the irony isn't lost on her; the fact that they had both fought against his humanity so very hard, but that same humanity was what she'd treasured and cherished in John. It had brought him a sense of peace and ease with himself and she wonders if the same might go for this future, half-human version of him.
After all, he'd chosen to stay here.
She wonders, but she still can't bring herself to pick up the phone and ring him to find out. It's just too much; what ought to be a simple phone call has become a grand gesture that's just too heavy for her to take on.
She thinks maybe she's just waiting for the right pretence.
It comes, of course, and when it does, it's entirely unexpected.
It comes one day when Torchwood is in the thick of a first-contact situation with a race of aliens known as the Olmarrans. They've been tracking their alien vessel for several days now, but today the signal is suddenly garbled, and all indicators point to a much more local source of interference.
It's at this point that they receive a phone call from the local police regarding a disturbance in a hat shop in King's Cross, which happens to be the very same area where they've located the source of the interference.
It's highly doubtful that it's a coincidence, so she takes a team of two operatives with her to the scene in question. When they arrive, they enter the shop to find a contraption set up between the fedoras and the berets, resembling an enormous kumquat with wires and dials and a myriad of electrical connections worthy of Dr. Frankenstein himself. But they hardly have time to examine it and wonder before a head pops up from behind like a jack-in-the-box, and there he is, twisting wires and examining readouts and looking just as wild and brown as ever. He spots her companions first and he clicks his tongue with a wink. "Hello," he greets them with his patent silly grin. "Torchwood, I presume? I suppose you're wondering what I'm doing here – I happened to pick up on a signal from the Olmarrans – truly nasty creatures with an unfortunate tendency to descend on the less developed planets, infect first and ask questions later." He shudders. "Most unpleasant creatures, I assure you and that's not even mentioning how they treat the poultry on their planet. Hopefully you'll never find out." He gives a bang with a hammer, accidentally hitting his finger in the process, and he jumps, squealing in pain. "If I could just get this to..."
And that's when he looks up finally, spots her and it's like he's been thumped in the head, how abruptly all the mirth drains off his face. "Rose."
But there's more pressing matters to address right now, so she pushes all personal matters aside and gets straight to business, questioning him on what he's doing here. The story unfolds, his explanation details the dangers they would've faced with the Olmarrans, and how he's managed to send them packing with the news of a recent migration of mosquitoes to Chelmsford – because it seems that the Olmarrans are deadly allergic to mosquitoes.
Put simply, he's saved the world. Again.
Once the commotion dies down; once they're certain the Olmarrans are off on their way, once the shop owner has been dealt with and the Doctor is busy dismantling his contraption, she sends her companions back to Torchwood and sidles over to where he's working away. He's hunched over his equipment and doesn't hear her approach until she folds her arms over her chest, gives a bemused smile and then a loud sigh.
It startles his attention up to her; startles him even more when he sees her grinning. "What?"
She taps her fingers on her forearm. "Some things never change," she muses.
His eyes darken and she's no idea how, but she thinks she's annoyed him. "And some things do," he retorts as he looks back down at his work, gives a twist with the spanner in his hand, an abrupt jerk like he's trying to break it.
He's meeting levity with chagrin. He's refusing to make light; refusing to gloss over the past burdens between them with charm and prattle. It's an unexpected reaction, and consequently so is her response. Once she gets past the surprise, she looks at him anew and intrigued."Yeah," she agrees wholeheartedly. "That's what's so brilliant about it."
Now it's his turn to be surprised as he looks up again, his brow creased in confusion. "About what?"
She shrugs. "Time. The universe." She smiles, tries to show it to him, but her eyes keep wandering off no matter how many times she steers them back. The way he's staring at her, it's hardly surprising.
After an absurdly long time of this, she decides one of them has to move. So she turns, takes a step away and looks back at him in a casual way that's only slightly forced. "Come on," she beckons with a toss of her head. "I'm meeting Jake and his girlfriend for drinks down the pub." She waves her hand invitingly. "Come with us?"
He doesn't fail to notice her choice of pronoun, the 'us' that includes Jake as a buffer to make this easier for both of them, but he still looks hesitant. "Really?" he probes.
She nods and then he does too.
They're an awkward pair at the pub, and that awkwardness spreads to their two other companions as the four of them sit stiffly round the small table. She's hyper-aware of how he positions himself as he sits next to her, plants himself a firm distance away so they can't possibly bump accidentally. She's no better where she sits, her eyes constantly flitting down into her glass as she runs her hand up and down the outside, wetting her fingers in the condensation. She feels her every movement exaggerated; even her breathing keeps her in motion, her chest moving in and out, closer and back again.
But then the drinks start to flow, and there's food delivered. Anecdotes are shared about the days' work that tangent into playful gibes, thrown in every direction except between the two of them. The public place, their two friends at the table, mean there are clearly defined boundaries; so long as they remain in this setting, nothing can happen. It's an odd sort of confined freedom that allows them to start venturing glances at each other, nudging at those boundaries that prove to be more elastic than rigid. He tops off her glass of wine, she helps herself to a bite of food off his plate, and when she grabs for his arm through laughter at a particularly hilarious joke, he doesn't shrink back. On the contrary, after she releases hold on him, she's fairly certain he edges closer to her in his seat.
She follows suit; her arm brushes on his, and the hairs tickle together as they come to rest against each other.
And then she feels him stiffen.
He stiffens, and then he's miles away again, moving his arm from hers with the pretence of lifting his glass to take a sip. It's all smoothed over like pulling a jumper over a stained shirt, and then he's all charm and wide grins and false joviality for the rest of the evening.
Though actually, the evening comes to a close only a short time later when Jake makes an offhand comment about being tired and the Doctor suggests, just a little too hastily, that it's time to call it a night. And before she knows it, Jake and Laura are gone, and the Doctor is offering her a cordial and extremely distant thanks for the invitation before he's off too.
She stands on the pavement outside and watches him go, his long coat and trainers fading off into the night, until bewilderment finally explodes into urgency in her brain. She takes off after him, following him with a gait that's halfway between a walk and a run. "Doctor!" she calls. She's got no idea what she's going to say when she catches up, just that it needs to be said.
She hurries in the direction she saw him go, until she turns a corner and spots him. "Doctor!" she calls again, and this time he hears and stops.
He turns to her, his face shadowed by doubt and confusion and city lights. "Jon," he corrects as she comes to face him.
Her breath is far shorter than it ought to be after that short jog, and she feels herself flush against the cold night air. She shakes her head at herself. "Jon," she amends. "Right, sorry. I still haven't got used to it."
He pushes his hands into his pockets and looks up with a tired sigh. "Rose, you don't have to get used to anything. I just…"
"I want to."
It's firm and sudden, the way she cuts him off with those three words. They're out of her mouth before they're fully formed in her mind; they're unexpected, true and honest. It's exactly what she wants him to know: she wants to know him. She wants to get used to him. She hasn't yet.
The fact that she hasn't is proven once again by his reaction. There's a frown on his face full of scepticism, but she can make out so much more underneath – layers of pain or vulnerability, she's not sure, but it's there in him, hiding but not completely concealed. It flickers in the brown of his eyes and then comes out in one simple word from his mouth; one honest question, "Why?"
The stark contrast hits her once again and she gives a laugh that's equally incredulous and affectionate. But it makes his frown deepen and she knows he's misunderstood. "You're so different," she says, meaning to explain herself and answering his question in the process. She straightens up, feels the smile fall from her face, giving way to wide eyes and resolve. "That's why," she says plainly.
He turns his head slightly as if the different angle offers a different view of her. As if he can see something new, something vital in her this way. Maybe he can. "Since when?" he asks.
A door opens behind him and a group of revellers stumble out to the street, talking and laughing. The noise brings a new awareness of her surroundings, and with the awareness comes the nerves. Her hand goes to her hair, tucks it behind her ear as she kicks at a stone on the ground. "Since always," she admits, swallowing hard at the confession. "I just didn't want to see it before."
His eyebrows rise. "And now?"
She shrugs. "Now I do."
He's silent for a moment before his shoulders sag. Before he sighs, tired and uncertain. "Rose..."
She needs to give him more; she can see that, so she shakes her head hard to silence him before he can object further. "It's different this time," she says. He raises an eyebrow at her. "It is," she insists. "Last time he came between us. This time he's what's bringing me back to you." The pronoun is left deliberately vague; it could refer to any number of faces of him – but still they're all him and they're all leading her back here.
He folds his arms over his chest doubtfully. Still, he doesn't draw back when she takes a step closer.
"Last time it was all about who you weren't," she explains, looking up at him from under her ducked head and earnest brow. "Now it's all about who you are."
She looks down, chewing her lip as she reaches out a tentative hand, hesitates, then finds his to give it a squeeze. She's encouraged when she feels his fingers curl back round hers, but his stance remains still, giving nothing away.
Slowly, she lifts her gaze up over the close-shaven skin of his neck, past his cheek that's freckled and slightly tanned, to fall finally into his.
The face that greets her is something to behold. He's all wide eyes and warmth edged with uncertainty. He's untamed hair and the smell of a thousand other worlds, with a human heart and a human smile that's directed at her, and as he smiles down she lets out a breath, realising just how hard she's been holding it.
The smile she returns is a bit shier but no less enthusiastic. She leans closer, touches her forehead to his shoulder, and her heart pounds harder when she feels his fingers thread through her hair, holding her to him.
Something unwinds within her and she sighs into him. Her free hand finds its way round his back and she feels his breath on her brow, his lips pressing in her hair to do wonderful things. It's right and it's real, the way they fit together in the embrace, soft and warm where it used to be sharp and cold. It's familiarity mixed up with new places to explore, and she holds onto him for a wonderful eternity that's too full for words, just breathing into his shirt, stroking his hand with her thumb and listening to his contented heartbeat thrumming in his chest.
She's come home at last.
They both have.
And knowing they're home means they can take their time, so she lets the moment pass quietly and then she pulls back just enough to find him with her gaze, upward looking and forward facing. "I was surprised to see you," she murmurs. His hand slides down her arm and she catches it with hers, twining their fingers together. "In London, I mean," she clarifies.
He runs his free hand through his hair thoughtfully. "Well, I've been staying in the area – more or less lately," he says, tilting his head to the side. "Doing a little teaching, the occasional alien investigation. Your father calls me for help every so often." She looks surprised and he shrugs. "I thought it might be time to start making my own adventures, instead of expecting them to come to me."
The words echo through her, bringing back memories of a darkened school building, another man – the same man – saying much the same thing. "You don't stop, you never stop. You learn to make it happen; you seek out and find the adventures instead of waiting for them to find you."
The memory gives her chills; makes her gasp and it's a reaction that doesn't go unnoticed. "What?" he asks.
She frowns slightly, looks into him with curious eyes. "You're full of ghosts, aren't you?"
He leans back from her slightly. "What do you mean?"
She closes the gap, reaches out to tap a finger on his brow. "How many different minds and different personalities have been in your head over the years?"
"Oh," he says knowingly as he rubs a hand on his cheek and ponders. "Well, this is my tenth incarnation, eleventh if you count the metacrisis, but that doesn't include any incidences of body-swapping, brainwashing, mind control." He shoots her a pointed glance. "Turning human." His eyebrows go up as his head bobs in agreement. "I suppose there've been a few."
She laughs. "See? Full of ghosts They're all in there." She pokes at his shoulder.
He looks doubtful. Narrows his eyes a bit. "Is that good or bad?"
She shrugs. "It's you." She gives his hand a tug and turns to continue down the street. "It's brilliant."
They stroll on together, old and new, human and alien come together at last in their hearts and in their lives.
He walks her home and they talk late into the night.