Series: The Other Egg of the Phoenix (But can be read on its own without losing anything.)
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I even stole the other egg of the phoenix from Neil Gaiman. Oh … and if you can't tell, I had Dan Auerbach's "Whispered Words" stuck in my head the entire time I was writing this. Go and have a listen. Well go on, it's on YouTube ...
Part I: Fixed Abodes
I hear words, pretty lies
Like the words they tell you 'fore you die.
"Whispered Words," by Dan Auerbach
Prologue: Then—Time And Tide
She stood on a beach at the end of the world, with the water halfway up her calves and the bright sun blinding her through her tears, staring at nothing.
He was gone. She'd let go, and he'd left her. It was over.
It had hit her, then, what she'd done, and she hadn't been able to face him—other him, whatever. She couldn't face any of it. So she'd turned and shucked off her boots and walked out into the water.
It was freezing cold, but that was good. That was a distraction, like ice numbing a wound.
She could feel the gap in the world closing up, still closing, smaller and smaller. Now it was too small for a ship to pass through, too small for a person. No going back. Closing in around her like a cage, trapping her.
Part of her wanted to keep walking, just plunge out into the water until it closed over her head and blotted out the sun. Disappear into her own personal Darkness. But the cold stopped her, brought her back to herself. Or maybe it was that she was frozen, unable to move.
No way out that way. No way out, period. She'd been running since she was nineteen, and now she'd reached the end. No where left to run.
She put her hands over her face, unable to look at the world.
A small sound of pain penetrated her confusion. She became aware that there was someone else with her. The … other Doctor.
"M'sorry," she managed. She'd been so upset she'd just run off and left the poor man standing there. Apparently he'd followed her out into the waves. And here she was ignoring him. She hadn't meant to do that.
Come on, Rose. Pull yourself together.
She wiped away her tears and turned to face him. She was having trouble meeting his eyes. They were too much like … his. And bleak, bleak as the windswept sand, full of silent pain.
Cos he was trapped here, too, wasn't he?
It was that thought that finally unfroze her. She couldn't care about herself, not yet, she couldn't make any sense of this mess in her head, but the man next to her (whoever he was, but that wasn't the important thing at the moment) needed her. She needed to start moving, if only physically, and carry on for his sake.
"It's a long walk to town," she said. Maybe not what he needed to hear, but it was the best she could do. "I … I wanna get going, yeah?"
She turned and started to walk away. It was easier to breathe, now, now that she had some direction.
She could still see the faint impression of where the TARDIS had stood on the sand, but it was already blurred and softened by the water, and the tide was coming in.
1. Now—The Stranger
Pete was waiting for them when they arrived. "Perfect timing," he said, like she was just getting in late from work. "I only just managed to get off the phone with Torchwood. They're in a bit of a state."
He looked somehow older than Rose remembered, like she hadn't seen him just this morning. This morning for him, that was. But it seemed his red hair was a touch thinner, with a few more hints of gray, and there were lines on his face she couldn't recall. Maybe it was her memory playing tricks on her. For Rose, it had been a long time since she'd said goodbye to her father.
Said goodbye for the last time.
Then he gave up the casual act, and held out his arms to his daughter. "How are you, sweetheart?" he asked, his voice cracking slightly.
She went to him and hugged him, hard, hugged him for all the weeks and months she'd been away, hugged him for the lifetime apart she'd been expecting. "Daddy."
They released each other far too soon, and then it was Jackie's turn, babbling a mile a minute about Daleks and explosions and death rays and clones (not to mention bloody cold beaches in bloody Norway, of all places …) and by the way Tony was in bed, wasn't he? It was getting on past eleven …
The three of them huddled together in the oppressively wide space of the mansion's front hall, trying to reassure themselves by touch that they were all really there. Hard to believe they were all home, safe, everything normal, when the last time they'd been together the world was ending in darkness and Rose was departing on a mission she'd never return from even if she survived.
Rose could have stayed that way for hours, but Pete turned back to their … guest. A skinny man in a singed blue suit, hanging back by the door, hands shoved in his pockets. It had once struck Rose that he looked a bit like Harry Potter, but not any more. He looked distant, remote. A little dangerous, and trying to pretend he wasn't.
A stranger, left behind in a little island of loneliness while everyone else went home.
Pete held out his hand from within the circle of his family, slowly, as if afraid of spooking the man. He spoke the way one might speak to an Alzheimer's patient, trying to sound normal while wondering how many of his words would be understood. "Hello. I'm Pete Tyler."
A brief flash of annoyance passed over the stranger's face. "I remember," he said. "I'm the Doctor, after all."
"He remembers everything, Dad," said Rose, hastily. She needed both of them, needed them to get along.
"Ah," said Pete. "I'm a little confused about what's been happening …" Here he glanced uncertainly at Jackie. "But I understand you're going to be staying with us."
For a moment the man in the blue suit stood gazing at the little family as if across an impassible gap. Then he gave a warm smile (only Rose knew his face well enough to spot the slight tightness around his mouth, and knew that it was forced) and took Pete's hand in a solid handshake. "If you'll have me."
Pete looked between his wife and daughter with some amusement. "As if I'm the one in charge around here."
2. Then—Interesting Times
He'd asked her, at the airport, if they were taking a taxi home, and seemed mildly surprised when she'd said no. He was even more surprised when he'd seen the official Torchwood van.
"I thought it was supposed to be, y'know, secret. That thing's got the name all over it. It's got it in great big yellow letters all over the bloomin' roof!"
"Torchwood's been public now for years," Rose told him. "Lot of the work's still classified, though. Hello, Bruce."
"Ma'am," said the driver, giving her a respectful nod. He was dressed in the full black uniform, gun holstered on his hip, and Rose knew he had a plasma rifle in the van. "Mrs. Tyler." He gave Jackie a rather different sort of respectful nod. There was a bit more wariness in it. Jackie Tyler had something of a reputation.
"Hello, dear," said Jackie. "Now come on, you two, it's starting to rain."
The doctor was looking at Bruce's gun. Bruce was looking at … the doctor.
Rose couldn't quite think of him as the Doctor. Not the man she knew, just a shadow of him. A man who called himself a doctor, like any man with with the degree might do. Except he didn't have any other name to append to it, nothing to call his own. A lowercase personality.
"I'm the Doctor," said the doctor.
"Bruce Hammond," said Bruce, warily.
Rose wondered what he'd been told. "Come on," she repeated after her mother, and tugged the doctor's hand. "She's right, it is rainin'."
"D'you need a guard?" he asked.
"I'm a Torchwood agent, and I'm the daughter of a billionaire and the head of the Torchwood Committee. It's a precaution. Anyway," she glanced up at the night sky, knowing that no stars shone behind the clouds, "we've been having … interesting times."
"So I've gathered. Is that …"
He squinted out the window as they pulled away from the airport, not quite believing what he saw through the gloom and the rain.
"A half a Dalek bein' used as a planter?" said Jackie. "Yeah. They was all over, this past spring."
"It's a memorial," explained Rose. "To the people who died in the invasion. But it's all over now. All got cleared up months ago."
The doctor shifted his gaze away from the damaged buildings and empty streets outside, looking at Rose instead. "All over," he repeated.
He didn't say anything about the security at the mansion, the reinforced gates or the armed guards. Rose let Jackie do the talking, explaining who he was, and that he was going to be staying. No one quite dared to argue with her.
3. Now—Welcome Home
Pete had a nasty habit of serving Vitex to guests he didn't want returning. Rose was relieved to find that not only had he put on a kettle of tea in anticipation of their arrival, he'd brought out a plate of sandwiches Mrs. Barnes must have made up earlier. Jackie and Rose declined the sandwiches, but the doctor accepted, gratefully; in fact, he seemed ready to inhale anything set in front of him. "I'm starving," he said. "Really, really long day."
Rose touched his shoulder lightly. "Take it easy, yeah?" she murmured. "Don't go makin' yourself sick."
He glared at her. "I am not," he informed her around a mouthful of pastrami and rye, "going to make myself sick. I'm a flippin' Time Lord."
"Half Time Lord," she corrected.
Jackie was trying, once again, to explain things to Pete. Probably doing more harm than good. Rose the dog was hiding under Jackie's chair and growling. Rose herself was content just to sit there on the saggy old sofa in front of the fire, with her mother and father and doctor, part of a family. Something she'd thought she was going to lose.
She never thought she'd sit on this sofa again.
"So there's two of him?" Pete asked, looking slightly daunted at the prospect, and more than a little skeptical.
"That's right," said the doctor. He downed the last bite of sandwich and dusted crumbs from his fingers. Rose had been too busy relaxing with her tea to count the exact number of sandwiches that had been on the plate to begin with, but despite her concerns the metacrisis seemed to have inherited the Doctor's cast-iron stomach. "But only one of me in this universe."
"Well, I can see you're going to have a lot to tell us at the debriefing," Pete told Rose. She was grateful that he didn't ask her anything more then and there. In fact, he was using his brisk wrapping-up-the-meeting voice. "You're due at Torchwood tomorrow, nine o'clock sharp."
Rose groaned. Not loudly. She didn't have the energy.
"Sorry," said Pete. "Best I could do. They wanted to see you tonight, but I figured you needed a decent night's sleep before the debriefing."
"A week's would be better," she grumbled. "What's the hurry? It's all over, isn't it?"
"The Daleks may have been stopped at the source, but that won't make much impression on the top brass," said Pete. "That's another world. It's not real to them. Can't blame them, I suppose—if I hadn't seen it myself ..."
He looked between Rose and Jackie, the unspoken thought clear in his face. If it hadn't been for them.
"Anyway, there's still the Darkness to be dealt with," he concluded. "Until that happens, I doubt anyone at Torchwood will be getting much rest."
"Oh, that'll clear up on its own," said the doctor. "Surprised it hasn't already, really. But now the Reality Bomb was never detonated, all of that's over. Er … how long's it been since it started, anyway?"
"Three years," said Rose. "Started about a year after I got here." Got stuck here.
"Blimey, three years." The doctor scratched the back of his neck. "Let's see, Rassilon's Law of Temporal Divergence ..." He began muttering equations under his breath, mostly in languages Rose didn't recognize. Then he shook his head. "No, sorry, never was very good at paradoxical higher-dimensional math. I'd need to take some readings, see how fast the timeline is repairing itself before I could tell you when the stars will come back."
Pete nodded. Rose couldn't tell if he believed it or not. "That would be your department, Rose."
"What about …" She looked at the doctor, who turned to look at Pete.
"Ah, yes," said Pete. He cleared his throat, as one trying to tactfully broach a difficult subject. "Torchwood will get you paperwork and ID. Now, are you … biologically human?"
"No," said the doctor firmly. "This body is part human. Bit less than half, I'd say, but it's a little hard to quantify."
"That'll complicate the paperwork," said Pete. "This world has not had good experiences with aliens lately. And the Darkness isn't helping matters any. It might take longer than you like to get everything in order. Don't worry," he held up a hand to forestall Rose, "I'll sort it. Meanwhile, er, Doctor, it's best if you lay low and stick close to home. Be careful what you say and who you say it to, that sort of thing."
The doctor nodded.
"The rest of the Torchwood Committee would like to talk to you, as well," Pete went on. "They've heard a lot about you. I'm sure we could find a place for you as a consultant."
"A job?" asked the doctor, wrinkling his nose slightly in consternation. "Me?"
"Yeah, a job," snickered Rose. "Can't be having a slacker boyfriend, can I?"
He flopped back into his seat. "Oh, all right. I suppose I could be an unpaid scientific advisor, did that before. No, WAIT!" he shouted, almost startling the others into spilling their tea. "Can I be a paid scientific advisor? That would be even better!"
"I'm on the Torchwood Oversight Committee," said Pete dryly. "I'll see what I can do about making sure we pay our employees."
"And I'll need a lab and some equipment," the doctor added. "And—" He paused and turned to Rose. "Boyfriend?"
If she hadn't been so tired, she probably would have thought better of saying it to begin with. But he didn't seem terribly bothered. So she hid her smile behind her tea and raised her eyebrows at him, as if to say, Do you object to that? Daring him to do so.
He replied with a Who, me? Not me! look, and a small, pleased smile.
That was another difference.
Pete finished his tea and set the cup down in the saucer with a decisive clunk, interrupting Rose's guilt at that thought. He stood up. "Well, I think it's time we said goodnight. We've all got to get up early tomorrow. Doctor." He hesitated slightly before he used the name, but it seemed only because he had almost used a more familiar word. Perhaps "son." The doctor, evidently realizing this, responded with a small, genuine smile as Pete shook his hand again. "Rose will get you settled in one of the guest bedrooms."
The inflection of that last sentence and an eyebrow raised in her direction made it more of a question—and an unspoken approval of whatever sleeping arrangements she chose.
Rose nodded and collected a hug and kiss goodnight from each of her parents. Jackie hugged the doctor, who didn't seem quite as appalled by it as the original would have been.
"Welcome home, love," she murmured, and followed Pete out of the room. The dog bolted from under the chair and scurried at her heels.
Rose saw the doctor mouth a word to himself.
To Be Continued