Disclaimer: All breakages and mistakes be mine, Doctor Who is RTD's...David Tennant is (unfortunately) Georgia Moffat's. Damn.
Disclaimer Take Two: I actually don't own the character of Penny Carter either. She was the original companion idea for Series 4 before Catherine Tate expressed interest at coming back as Donna, so Penny is all RTD's...I've just given her an author.
Disclaimer Take Three: I also don't own 'Lost', it belongs to Katy Perry.
A/N: Third in my 'Another Alternative' series, focussing on the relationship between Alt!Ten and Rose after Ten leaves them on the parallel world. This can be read as a standalone but if you're interested, Golden Remnants of Time Travel and Fractures in a Grey City can be found on my profile. This has taken me absolutely forever (ok, so two days but it felt like forever!) because of the alternated POVs and the additional characters and the vaguely complicated-to-write, homage-to-Turn-Left plotline, so I really hope it's ok. All you really need to know is that Alt!TenRose didn't last (*sob*). Ross is, of course, Ross from Sontaran Stratagem and Poison Sky because 'We like Ross' and he's just so damn adorable (I'd say gorgeous but David Tennant is in this fic...). Just to clarify again, John is Alt!Ten.
A/N Take Two: Please remember that all reviews are greatly appreciated so once you've finished reading, have a go at pressing the purdy li'l button at the bottom of the page...Pretty please with an even prettier Time Lord on top?
I'm pushing everyone away,
'Cause I can't feel this anymore,
Can't feel this anymore.
Have you ever been so lost?
Known the way and still so lost.
Another night waiting for someone to take me home,
Have you ever been so lost?
Lost - Katy Perry
The blue box was charred and broken, coated in a thick layer of dust and ash but still recognisable, its blue light flickering into life and spluttering out; not defeated, still fighting. She wanted it to feel her presence, to realise who she was, to find her mind in amongst the chaos surrounding them and caress it with the sweet sense of calm that only a living, breathing time machine could ever create.
"That's a TARDIS," she breathed, smiling like she hadn't done for over a year.
A UNIT security guard stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the impossibility in the next room being hooked up to wire cables and wormhole inducers.
"S'cuse me, ma'am, but can I see your security I.D.?" He held his hand out expectantly and she blinked, taken aback; this is not the expected form of address. She checked her pockets absent-mindedly, searching for the I.D. that she knew didn't exist; she just had to see the TARDIS again. It was one of those desperate times when she wished for psychic paper.
"S'cuse me, Private…" she checked the soldier's name tag. "…Jenkins, but do you know who you're talking to?" It felt too self-absorbed to say it, but somehow even that reminded her of the Doctor, her Doctor, that surety that you're important, that you mean something to the Universe. Truth was, she did, but tagging; 'I think you'll find I'm Torchwood' onto the end of her question sounded a bit too self-important…not that it would have stopped him.
"Jenkins!" A voice barked from down the corridor but she didn't turn to see who it was because the UNIT guard shifted slightly and she could see the TARDIS in all its glory; right in front of her, just out of reach.
"Get out of the way! I've got two Priority One clearances here and they're expected in the tech lab. I don't have time to stand around and watch you dither! Now get a move on!"
"Yes, sir!" He shunted her out of the way, making way for the General and his two guests; a man and woman, walking with such purpose towards the TARDIS, her TARDIS. She recognised the man at once; no one could forget that hair and that blue pinstripe suit. She hardly had time to wonder about how he'd found it again because she saw his hand, the hand he had been created by, entwined with the hand of the woman.
This new woman was brunette, tall, slim, beautiful; a cliché of all the things she would never embody.
She caught his eye for a brief moment. He held her gaze, matching her intensity with his indifference; she could almost have been invisible. He walked on, still intertwined with the other woman.
"John," she whispered. It was almost inaudible, but she knew that he must have heard her. They kept walking, on into the TARDIS.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but you'll have to move. We can't have outsiders in this area…"
The scene dissolved.
The tiled floor was hard and cold under her head as she blearily opened her eyes, letting them focus on the room. She had been dreaming, she knew that much, but the subject of the dream was blurry and uncertain. All that she could remember was that she had seen the TARDIS. A prophecy of things to come, maybe?
Torchwood was working on the Dimension Cannon again, trying to find Donna's parallel world. This world needed a Doctor and his TARDIS; find one, and you can locate the other.
She pushed herself up, noting the flimsy dress she was wearing; a sign of a night out on the town. Her mum was probably the source of the towel that covered what was left of her dignity. The toilet was a few centimetres away and she groaned at the memory; she had never been able to hold her alcohol at the best of times. She'd pushed it last night, breaking the strict limits she knew she had. She peered into the mirror, wiping the lipstick off her chin and smudging the dark circles of mascara away with bitingly cold water. She splashed it onto her face, shaking her head to wake herself up and picking the lump of party streamers out of her tangled hair. It was becoming routine; a destructive habit. Torchwood by day, party by night. It sounded like the tagline from a crap B-movie.
Shareen's 25th, that's where she'd been. She vaguely remembered dancing to 'Blame it on the Girls' on a tabletop in their local pub and she was pretty sure that anyone looking closely (so that would be every single man in the bar) would have been able to get a good look up her skirt. It would be the talk of the gang for months…not that she cared. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, not since he left. That was the cause of the bad dreams, she was sure of it. It was the one-year anniversary of their break-up that week. She knew it sounded odd that she kept track of the end of their relationship but endings seemed to be all she could keep track of nowadays. The end of her relationship with John. The end of her travels with the Doctor. The end of her life on her Earth. She could set her watch by the end of something but beginnings tended to pass her by.
Her phone buzzed on the tiled floor, sending pain crashing through her head in continuous vibrating waves and for the second time that morning, she cursed her ability to torture herself and her inability to hold her liquor. Hangovers were most definitely a bitch.
As usual, Torchwood never sleeps and they'd done it. The Dimension Cannon was operational and they were preparing for the first parallel jump. Her heart raced at the possibility of finding the Doctor again and she was just about to sprint out of the door, unwashed, indecently dressed, and wearing the highest, most uncomfortable stilettos known to man, when she spotted the end of the message.
'Don't worry about getting here. We've called in a specialist. A favour from UNIT."
And her dream flooded back to her as her stomach sank. She followed it back down onto the cold white bathroom tiles and let the hot, angry tears spill over, splashing against the hard floor. She didn't even notice when the door opened.
"Why are we running?" she yelled, giggling. It was something he could get used to, the giggling. It was endearing, made her look like a five-year-old when the tip of her nose crinkled upwards and she grinned madly. Pretty. Pretty Penny Carter. He'd found her in a bar – 'found her', it sounded like she was an object, not at all how he wanted to think of her – and everything had just happened. It was so fast, a blur of hellos and drinks and kisses and then, oh and then, something else, something more. So, so much more than he could have ever hoped for, ever dreamed of.
"Because we can! Because it's fun!" And it was. He'd lost some of the sense of energy he'd had in his Time Lord form, partly from being human, partly from her. She'd drained him, wrung him dry until he wondered if he would ever feel again, but here was Penny and suddenly he felt reborn, bristling with excess energy and running felt like perfection; the wind running through his hair, breath tugging at the back of his throat, feet pounding the ground beneath them, the heartbeat speeding, running with him.
Love was different with Penny, too. He didn't have to work so hard at it. She was soft and warm and so tactile, pliable, so that his fingers could explore, pushing the boundaries that he had so carefully set himself around Ro-…no, he wouldn't think of that, of her. He had pushed her to the back of his mind, packing her away carefully in a neat little compartmentalised box. Because Penny was everything he wanted and nothing he needed.
She was brunette; long chocolate curls framing her face, rippling down her back, along her shoulders. Sensual and oh so sure of herself. God, the confidence that radiated from that woman! Her eyes were blue, a deep cerulean colour that reminded him of the rivers of Gallifrey and sunshine and deep crimson grass. And she smelt…oh, she smelt of lavender and old, leather-bound books, and tangy citrus soap. She enhanced every single one of his senses to the point of explosion and he relished the freedom and the freshness of it all. The sense of rediscovery that only came from starting over, letting yourself be new and unused, and untested.
Smooth, streamlined curves and soft, angular lines made up her figure. He'd spent a long while just exploring every inch of her, watching, listening, touching, tasting. He gorged himself on her, letting himself become a glutton for her. He'd spent a good half hour just discovering her left earlobe. Why her left, he had no idea; it just seemed like the perfect place to find some hidden treasure, and he had. She had a tiny silvery scar just behind it that was particularly sensitive. It was a half hour that he definitely didn't waste in the slightest.
But Penny wasn't her. He might have wanted the brown hair and the blue eyes and the tactile, clever little hands, but what he needed was pink, and yellow, and broken. He imagined it was like being given a new toy when your favourite ran out of batteries or went through the washing machine; you love the glow of the new toy's novelty, but when it wears off, you wish you had the old one back.
Penny's novelty was wearing off with every second they spent together; the giggling started to grate, the intelligence became arrogance, the malleability began to feel altogether too easy. It wasn't her, of course. She was still the Penny Carter that he'd fallen for, in that dingy pub, six months before. It was him; he'd fallen into the cliché. But however much he might need her, he couldn't go back. She didn't want him; that had been clear enough from the very beginning. There was no point in trying to fix something that didn't want to be fixed.
So he kept on running, and Penny ran with him, and he accepted it, because it was what he wanted.
She scrambled up from the floor when she heard the polite little cough that came from behind her. She didn't know why she bothered smoothing her dress down; there wasn't much dress to smooth in the first place and it was quite obvious that she hadn't looked vaguely presentable since leaving the flat the night before.
The boy at the door (with a baby face like that, she could hardly think of him as anything else) smiled weakly, his hands reaching awkwardly up into his hair. This wasn't what he'd expected when he'd picked up the pretty, and completely hammered, girl from the bar last night, she could tell. It wasn't what she'd expected either, although she didn't really remember much of it. Flashes of skin, fingernails down an unfamiliar back, long low moans, and whispered praise. Never had better than you, never ever. Best of the best. The very, very best. Right there, that's it, baby. The usual lies you tell when you have a stranger in your bed; selfish human perjury.
"Hi," she said, embarrassed.
"Hey…um, if you, you know, need a minute…I could, um, wait outside…"
"No, thanks…" she trailed off, realising that she couldn't remember his name. She frowned apologetically and he realised why she had stopped talking.
"Ross," he supplied helpfully. "Ross Jenkins."
"Nice to meet you, Ross, Ross Jenkins." She smiled a little goofily, inwardly grimacing at her terrible attempt at humour. There was silence for a moment.
"So, um, do you have a name?" he asked tentatively.
"Oh! Sorry…" She realised with a jolt that she hadn't said her name out loud for so long. She had hated it ever since that first goodbye at Bad Wolf Bay four years ago. She gulped slowly, drinking down oxygen before opening her mouth again. "Rose Tyler."
"Nice name," he said, smiling. She could understand why she'd taken him home; he wasn't just gorgeous, he was empathic, and that was exactly what she needed. "I'd, uh, better get home…I'm already late for work and my uniform is still stuck in the dryer…" He seemed to realise that he'd given her too much information and blushed slightly, awkward again.
"Uniform?" she enquired, trying to break the tension slightly.
"Yeah. I work at UNIT. Just started a few weeks ago…bit intimidating still, I guess."
"UNIT?" she asked quickly, looking for some sort of clarification as a dangerous idea formed in her mind. He took her question for puzzlement and supplied its full name.
"Sorry, it's the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. I'm a security guard." He grinned broadly, proud of his job.
"I know what UNIT is," she said hurriedly, somewhat rudely. She instantly regretted it when his face fell and she quickly explained her question. "You see, I work for Torchwood and I was supposed to go in today to take a look at some…some equipment…but they said they'd brought in an expert from UNIT…"
"Oh, that'll be Doctor Smith and Lieutenant Carter, then."
"Doctor…" Tears welled up in her eyes before she could stop them.
"Yeah. John Smith and Penelope Carter. They're big alien specialists. Keep to themselves mostly but they're really helpful when we're stumped…" He stopped, his eyes wide with anxiety. "I shouldn't be telling you all this. I could lose my job."
"No, no I'm glad you did. You see, Ross, I need clearance to get to that equipment, and you might just be it…"
"John…John, get up…John!" He was vaguely aware that he was being shaken but he didn't know who it was, or why they were shaking him.
"Whassamatter?" he muttered incoherently, swatting Penny's hand away with slightly more force than he'd intended. It had long been established that this human version of him was a heavy sleeper. He snored too, but Penny didn't like to comment on it too much. She loved his imperfections, every single one of them. "Rose…?" he mumbled questioningly. She sprang back from him, hurt. Was he dreaming about her?
His relationship with That Bitch (as Penny mentally referred to her) was a constant source of conflict between them. He'd never really told her what had happened between them, or even why she was so special in the first place, but he'd always made a point of mentioning her wistfully whenever he'd had a bit too much to drink and on one, heartbreaking occasion, he had whispered her name as he came undone inside her. She'd never seen him look so in love.
She bit back a scathing reply to his sleepy question and settled for nudging him in the ribs. "I just had a call from work. Torchwood wants us to do a job for them. They've got the Dimension Cannon working again, John."
Fatigue disappeared immediately. The word 'Torchwood' exploded into his brain; the biggest warning sign in the entire Universe…it was actually mauve. He ignored it. It had been a year since he had seen her and for much of that time, he'd wondered if he could ever face seeing her again but all his doubts were washed away when he heard that word and considered the possibility that he actually might have to work with Rose Tyler again. He caught Penny's eye. She had obviously been aiming for a disapproving expression, a withering look, but she just looked hurt and he inwardly cursed himself for his enthusiasm, which she must've known was for Rose, not Torchwood. He still remembered that night; the night he had said Rose's name as he made love to Penny. He knew it had hurt her deeper than she admitted, he knew because he had felt the same every time Rose had cried out for the Doctor as she saw stars in their shared bed.
He stroked Penny's arm, willing himself not to jump out of bed and shower in 0.2 seconds. "We could forego this one if you want, Pen? We don't need the money. Let them give it to someone else." He smiled as convincingly as possible, winding his hand up into her hair, trying to persuade her to climb back into bed with him, but she wasn't having it.
"No, John," she sighed. "They want to use the Dimension Cannon to find a TARDIS and I'm not going to let you sit at home and let someone else get there before you. You've waited two years for this." She pushed his hand away and got up off the bed. "Get up" she ordered, and he complied.
Torchwood had welcomed her with open arms when she had explained who she was. They'd offered her a job straight away, putting her to work on all of the alien tech that they had yet to categorise. She relished the opportunity to work with aliens again, to see their technology and feel knowledgeable and intelligent when she could tell everyone what it was; it gave her a sense of purpose again.
Of course, she'd jumped at the opportunity to test-drive the Dimension Cannon, crossing hundreds of parallel worlds, risking destruction to see him again. It made her physically sick to think that she wouldn't be the one to test it again.
Ross had agreed, or rather, she had persuaded him to get her into UNIT's headquarters at Torchwood. She had to get near the Dimension Cannon, and more to the point, she had to get near John. She had to see him, touch him, prove that she hadn't imagined the year they had spent together after that oh so final goodbye in Norway two years ago. It hadn't been blissful, but she'd certainly been more together than she was now. Back when she'd had John to come home to every night, to love, she hadn't drunk herself silly every night, or gone home with complete strangers only to wake up in the morning with her wallet and TV gone. Jackie had gone spare when that had happened but she just couldn't work up the energy to care. Nothing had any meaning anymore, but that would change.
She walked through the double glass doors like she owned the place. Ross followed after her hurriedly. He looked dashing in his uniform, she had to admit, but she wasn't interested in Ross right now. She let herself imagine that she could smell him; that beautiful mix of tea and bananas and hair gel. It guided her towards the Dimension Cannon, as Ross explained to a flustered looking guard that she had Priority One clearance. She didn't listen because at that moment, she saw him across the room. He was unmistakeable; the cut of the suit and the amazing hair just the way she'd left it a year ago.
"John!" she called, his name slipping out so easily that she could have seen him yesterday. She began to walk towards him, beaming.
There was an exuberance in his face that she hadn't seen for a long time, even before they went their separate ways. He flashed a lopsided grin at her, adjusting his glasses and turning away, tugging on the jacket of the woman next to him. She hadn't even seen her in her eagerness to get to John but the woman turned and looked at her and she stopped dead. She was almost exactly like the woman in her dream that morning.
"Rose…" he said, and his voice was rough, his eyes black with want and need and all the things she had been missing. The woman cleared her throat politely, except Rose noticed that her hands were clenched into tight, angry fists. He seemed to come to his senses. "Oh, um, this is my friend, Penny Carter." He smiled down at Penny as her whole world was pulled out from under her. She felt her stomach sinking into the floor and her heart shattering into a million tiny pieces as she forced herself to hold back the tears that were threatening to cascade down her face. 'Friend'…'This is my friend'. Which other friends did he kiss and caress, which friends did he profess love for? Was that honestly all she meant to him?
They ignored her from then on. She might as well not exist.
"I've missed you."
"Me too. More than you could possibly imagine."
"They've found a TARDIS…" His voice bristled with excitement at the prospect of seeing his old time machine again. Of travelling through space and time, exploring new worlds, rediscovering his stolen memories.
"I know. I saw it before Davros moved the planets. It's from Donna's parallel world, where she didn't meet him…" His grin widened even more. The time spent apart had taught her that he was the sort of man who could leave her by choice; he wasn't the Time Lord she had lost in the Battle of Canary Wharf. She knew that now and was determined to treat them as different men, who she loved equally.
"You know what this means, don't you?" he asked, and it was just like the night after he'd regenerated, when he'd asked her to take his hand and they'd picked a star to visit.
"We've got some travelling to do, Mister Smith!" Her smile was full of light and warmth, instead of hollow desperation as it had been the last time he'd seen her, but his face fell.
"Oh, I've, uh, got to stay here…Penny…" And she understood. He'd slipped up, calling her a 'friend'. This woman was his girlfriend, partner…lover. Her smile faded.
"Right. Yeah. 'Course. Have fun!" It was her turn to walk away. The walk back felt like the slowest in all her twenty-five years.
He turned to face Penny. Her face was blotchy with the build-up of tears that she refused to shed. "I'm sorry, Pen…" he whispered, pulling her into his arms and stroking her hair. She held him there for a moment, carefully inhaling his scent, committing it to memory before she pushed him away gently. When she spoke, her voice was firm and confident, leaving no room for disagreement or protestations. Just three words filled with such sheer conviction that he had to comply with them.
"Go after her."
Running was perfection.