A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! Quotes taken from "The Next Doctor."
Chapter 59: Puzzle Pieces
Cardiff was in chaos. People were taking to the streets—but not to riot, like they had when the Daleks had pulled the Earth out of its orbit and across the universe. There was music and dancing and overwhelming, exuberant joy. People were out in full force celebrating being alive. Predictably the pubs were packed, even Jack's favorite: a tiny place in a quiet part of town. He signaled the bartender, a pretty redhead with a no-nonsense attitude and a mean right hook (he'd seen her use it on men who didn't understand what 'no' meant). She slid him two beers with a grin. He'd been there often enough that the staff knew him. He liked it that way. They didn't ask questions (not beyond the superficial ones, anyway) and they let him be. Although—she did eye Mickey appreciatively, so maybe he'd get some interesting questions the next time he popped in.
Mickey eyed the drink. Jack waved his hand. "Go on," he told the other man. "You deserve it."
"Thought you were goin' to set me up with an identity an' all that," Mickey replied, but he took the beer.
Jack shrugged. "That can wait until tomorrow. We just saved the multiverse, I think we're allowed a day off." They would think about the messy details in the morning (after the hangover had subsided, of course), because sometimes he felt like a hero but most of the time he felt like the universe's janitor and he wanted to enjoy the afterglow of their actions for just a little while longer.
Mickey took a long drink. "A day off," he repeated with a bit of a laugh. "Man, you never worked with Rose."
"What?" Jack blinked.
"Dunno how she is now," he mused. "Two-hundred and four years old, bloody hell—but she lived and breathed that dimension cannon project. When Pete refused to let her be the one to test the prototype I thought she was going to murder me."
Jack took a long drink. That didn't sound like the Rose he knew—well, he'd known, anyway. He'd lost her before Mickey had, after all, and she'd changed in the time she spent in Pete's World. She'd always been so happy, but there was steel in her too. He'd seen it when she argued with the Doctor. He'd known better than to get in the middle of those fights, when they would rage at each other. The Doctor was almost a thousand years old and had seen and done things that would have reduced Jack to jelly and he stood with the sheer force of his age and his anger gathered around him like a cloak, but Rose brushed that aside like it was cobwebs. She may have been young, but she was bright and burning like a flash fire and her own anger was just as hot. And usually it was the Doctor who backed down.
Mickey set his glass, now empty, on the smooth surface of the bar. "Still, worked out for the best." He made a face. "Although, not sure how much I like the idea of staying in this universe." He laughed, but it was bitter. "I guess I know how she felt—a bit, anyway."
"I'm sorry," Jack said quietly, because the universe never would and someone should, and was that why the Doctor said it so often? Because he knew that too many good people never got apologies when something bad happened to them?
The other man shook his head. "S'not your fault. M'not leavin' anyone behind, not really anyway. My gran's dead—died in her sleep all peaceful-like. Spent her last years livin' in a mansion, an' Rose is right here. Didn't have a girlfriend, not yet, anway." He smiled wistfully. "There was a girl I was seeing—Toshiko Sato. Computer genius, really. She made me look like a clumsy idiot. She was beautiful too, an' shy. I liked her, I liked her a lot." He paused. "I wonder if she'll go to my funeral. Y'think Rose would know?"
Jack didn't hear him. He'd understood intellectually that parallel universes could contain alternate versions of people from his own universe, but he'd never been confronted with the reality of the situation before. There was another Toshiko Sato, alive and well in a different universe. The thought reassured him somehow, even as it brought the old guilt swelling up again. She'd died because of him, because of Gray and his madness—but not completely. He wondered if that was how the Doctor felt when he lost Rose (well, maybe not quite). It hurt like hell, but some part of her survived, and that was good. Saving the world made him maudlin, he thought, and took another drink.
"Anyone in there?" Mickey asked and waved a hand in front of his face. Jack raised an eyebrow. "I said, d'you think—oh, never mind."
"I'll do just that, then," he replied, and raised his hand to signal the bartender. "Now, let's get good and drunk."
The wind was cold, the sun was high and bright, and London was as vivacious and bustling in 1851 as it ever was in 2008 as Rose and the Doctor wandered through the streets. Children laughed and ran around them, ducking and weaving through the crowd. A soberly-dressed policeman tipped his hat to them and Rose smiled in return. Merchants and street-sellers shouted out their wares as fluffy white flakes of snow drifted in the breeze. Her eyes were everywhere, and as usual, his eyes were on her. The Doctor always watched her, especially when she wasn't looking. In the beginning he'd enjoyed the look of wonder that spread across her face; the force of her innocent amazement reminded him that there was more to life than death and destruction and the aftershocks of a war that never was. After a while he'd come to care for her, to love her, and he found himself watching her for the sheer pleasure her presence brought. He learned her with his eyes just as he did with his other senses, catalogued her expressions and set up a little book in his brain devoted to understanding Rose Tyler, a feat he never believed he would fully accomplish, but he would try. After the Master and her return from Pete's World he watched her with a strange sort of desperation, as if she would disappear when he wasn't looking.
The fear had resolved itself, although it reared its ugly head after her actions on the Crucible. She had shown him so much, taught him so much. He loved her for that, and he was terrified that the universe, seeing that he was happy, damn it, would take her from him. It was the sort of thing that the universe was known to do. She was walking with her arms through his in the style of the time and he was pulled back for a moment to another life, when he walked arm-in-arm with another remarkable woman who traveled to parallel universes and existed in a state of paradox—but then she smiled at him and the ghosts of Christmas past drifted away on the wind.
"So," he asked, "is this a good date? Bang on and no trouble at all." He puffed out his chest just a bit. "I am brilliant, if I do say so myself."
Rose flashed him a cheeky, tongue-touched grin. "Think I'll reserve judgment until the end of the night, Doctor.
He looked offended. "I take you to Christmas eve, 1851, Rose Tyler, and you mock me for it?"
She laughed. "You an' trouble, Doctor. Can't go anywhere without it."
He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "I promised you a day without trouble, and that's what you're getting."
"Doctor!" a woman's shout echoed through the air. "Doctor!"
His head snapped up as he triangulated the shouter's position from the way the sound echoed off the buildings around them—superior hearing, and all that—but he remained still. Rose could feel him fairly vibrate with energy, though, and she sighed. She pulled her arm out from his, found his hand, and laced their fingers together. "Come on, then," she said, resigned. "Let's go see who needs your help this time."
The person in question turned out to be a young black woman. She was standing in front of a pair of huge iron doors. They shook periodically, as if something very large and very heavy was running into them. "Okay!" the Doctor yelled as he skidded to a stop in front of the woman. "I've got it now. Whatever's in there I think you should get out of here."
The woman, however, appeared to be ignoring him. "Doctor!" she yelled again.
"Blimey," he said and winced. "She can yell louder than your mum!"
"Oi!" Rose snapped, but her smile took the heat from her voice. "You love my mum, don't deny it."
"Who the hell are you two?" the black woman demanded.
"I'm the Doctor," he asserted.
"Don't be stupid," she scoffed.
He frowned. "No, I am, and this is Rose."
"Hello," she said with a wave. The doors shuddered again.
The black woman was having none of it. "Oh, there can't be two of you!" she exclaimed. She glanced past Rose and her whole face lit up. "About time!" she yelled. "Where have you been, then?"
A well-dressed gentleman loped out from a nearby alley. "All right, all right, stand back now," he ordered.
"Hold on," the Doctor objected. "Who are you?"
The new man turned to glare at him. "I'm the Doctor, sir, simply 'the Doctor:' the one, the only, the best." He winked at Rose and held out his hand. "Rosita, give me the sonic screwdriver."
The black woman, presumably Rosita, rummaged around in a pouch tied around her waist and procured what looked to be a normal, wooden-handled screwdriver.
"What?" the Doctor objected.
The other Doctor held out his hand again, and gestured at Rose. "If you and the lovely lady could please step back, sir," he directed them. "This is a job for a Time Lord."
"What?" seemed to be the only thing Rose's Doctor was capable of saying, but he complied.
"Is that a past you?" Rose asked in a whisper.
"No!" he whispered back. "Definitely not. I'd remember that jacket and that hair. No, this isn't a past me—but it could be a future me."
She glanced around. "But then—where am I, Doctor?" She grabbed his arm. "You're not going to leave me again, are you? I thought we were over that!"
"I will never leave you, Rose Tyler," he said softly. "But someday you'll leave me."
"Oh," she said, like she'd been punched in the stomach.
"Oh, he agreed."
"Look, if you two aren't going to help could you clear off?" Rosita asked with a great deal of irritation.
The Doctor was about to respond with something suitably witty when the metal doors burst open. The thing that sauntered into the street looked like some sort of cross between a cyberman and a dog. The two Doctors' responses were almost identical as they cooed over the shiny new monster. Rose and Rosita were not amused. Nor, it would seem, was the cyberthing.
After the thing was vanquished (well, the Doctor would have said vanquished. Rose would have said escaped. Perhaps they could have vanquished it, had she and Rosita not been required to save both Doctors' respective lives when they employed their traditional lack-of-plan) the man claiming to be the Doctor offered his thanks and asked for introductions.
"I'm a doctor too," Rose's Doctor offered. 'Dr. John Tyler at your service, and this is my wife Rose." He frowned you don't remember us?"
"Should I?" the new Doctor asked.
Rose stepped forward. "Doctor," she ventured, and laid a palm against his cheek. "Don't you remember me?"
He flinched away from her touch and she withdrew her hand as if she'd been burned. "I'm sorry, madame," he said quietly, "but we've never met before."
"That's not true," she asserted. Her voice was level but the heartache was plain as day. "That's really not true."
Rosita returned with what was left of the rope. "Been hunting that thing for a fortnight, we have," she grumbled. "Got to go get all the traps now, for all the good they've done."
"Well," the new Doctor took advantage of her appearance to change the subject. "You've met Rosita, my faithful companion." He smiled at the black woman. "She's always telling me off."
Rose's Doctor squeezed her hand. "They do that, don't they," he replied with a fond look at the woman next to him.
Rosita was not impressed. "We've only got twenty minutes until the funeral," she told the new Doctor and stalked off to complete her tasks.
"Funeral?" Rose's Doctor inquired.
"Oh, it's a long story," the new Doctor replied as he stretched. He went to bend his back and winced. "Not as young as I thought."
"No," Rose's Doctor mused. "No you're not."
"And you two, how do you know me?" he continued. "I would swear I've never set eyes on either of you in any of my lives."
Rose folded her arms across her chest. "I think you've got a few memories missing, Doctor."
He fixed his eyes on her, suddenly serious. "How do you know that?"
Her face softened just a bit. "You've forgotten me."
"And me," her Doctor added. "Strange, that. You don't forget your companions, Doctor, not any of them."
The new Doctor smiled softly. "No—they're all I ever remember." The fond expression drained from his face. "Great swathes of my life have been stolen away. When I turn my mind to the past—there's nothing."
Roses Doctor frowned. "Going how far back?"
"Since the cybermen," the new Doctor confided. "Old enemies of mine. You won't believe this, Dr. Tyler," he continued, "but they are creatures from another world.
"Really?" He tried to sound surprised when he answered the new Doctor, but he failed. Rose elbowed him and he yelped.
Thankfully the new Doctor seemed to be impervious to sarcasm. "It is said they fell on London town out of the sky in a blaze of light." He paused and his eyes unfocused. "And they found me." His voice shifted, like he was no longer talking to them, but to himself. "Something was taken," he murmured, "and something was lost." Then he seemed to shake off the memory and looked at them, eyes bright and curious. "What was I like—in the past?"
"Well, I don't think I should say, actually," Rose's Doctor replied with a frown. "Gotta be careful with memory loss—one wrong word…"
"It is strange, though," the new Doctor murmured as he studied them. "I talk of cybermen from the stars—and you don't blink, Dr. Tyler."
"We were your companions," Rose asserted quietly. "We've seen worse. And—we've seen cybermen before."
The new Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Really? When—oh! The funeral! The funeral is at two o'clock!" He gave them a short little bow. "It was a pleasure to meet you two, but please don't breathe a word of it!"
"Can't we come with you?" Rose's Doctor implored.
The new Doctor shook his head. "It's far too dangerous, but rest assured I shall keep this city safe! Oh, and merry Christmas to you both." Then he dashed off down the alley.
"Aren't we going to follow?" Rose asked.
"Of course we are," the Doctor said, and looked at her like she'd dribbled on her shirt. He didn't do it nearly as often as he had in his ninth body, but it still surfaced every-so-often. "But there's something wrong here, Rose. I can feel it."
Rose Tyler was not happy. Their 'date' had, as usual, turned into Rose-and-the-Doctor-save-the-world-or-at-least-a-city, which wasn't exactly unusual. Running into another version of the Doctor, however, was, especially as he was from the future and didn't remember either of them. The Doctor, her Doctor, thought that something was wrong. She agreed. She always knew the Doctor, ever since Satellite Five she'd get a sort of tugging sensation behind her bellybutton, like he was planet and his gravity was pulling her in. She'd felt it when she ran into him in the wrong order after she managed to claw her way back into the proper universe, she'd felt it with the old man and the clown in the technicolored coat and even the scarf-wearing curly-haired maniac—but not with this Doctor. She felt nothing from him.
And, instead of helping her Doctor fix this mess she was following Rosita to the TARDIS because the Doctor thought they could cover more ground separately. She snorted. A likely story. He probably just wanted to get himself alone so they could fanboy over the universe together without the women around to inject reality into their cloud castles. She sighed as Rosita turned into a side alley and she followed. She was being unfair, she knew, but the whole situation was putting her on edge. In fact, Rose was so absorbed in her own internal monologue that she almost ran into Rosita, who was waiting for her midway down the alley.
"All right then, why are you followin' me?" the woman demanded. "If you're tryin' to spy on the Doctor you can just turn right around; I'm not tellin' you anything."
Rose held up her hands in what she hoped was a mollifying gesture. "M not spying, I promise. The D-John sent me along to make sure you get to the TARDIS alright." She sighed. "Really I think he just wanted to have a bit of alone time with the Doctor. Men. You save their life and then they send you away because it's 'too dangerous.'"
Rosita softened a bit. "Tell me about it. Is he as bad as the Doctor, your fella?"
A smile curved Rose's lips. "Definitely. Doesn't matter how many times I prove I'm perfectly capable of protecting myself, he still feels like he has to swoop in and save the day." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "I think he's got a complex."
Rosita looked puzzled. "A what?"
The slang always got her, Rose realized. Freud hadn't lived yet and the psychobabble that had invaded modern speech didn't exist. "He thinks he's like god—that he can save everyone."
"That's the Doctor, all right," Rosita agreed. "Come on then, TARDIS is this way." She led Rose down a twisting path of alleys and sidestreets until they came to an abandoned stable.
"An' the TARDIS is in here, is it?" Rose asked.
"It's outside," Rosita replied. "But this is where we're staying." She knelt down by the fireplace—cold—and began to set some kindling inside. Rose wandered around the stables. Boxes were stacked haphazardly in one of the stalls. She flipped one open and was confronted with stacks of folded cloth. Clothes. They were boxes of clothes.
"Whose luggage is this?" she asked.
"Some man named Jackson Lake," Rosita replied. She had a fire going and she held her hands out to warm them. "The Doctor figures he was the first bloke to get murdered."
Rose turned back to face her. "The first?"
Rosita nodded. "Aye, the reverend is just the last—it's his funeral that's happening now."
"Is the Doctor attending?" Rose cocked an eyebrow.
"Oh no!" Rosita snorted a laugh. "He's breakin' into his house to see if there's anything to lead him to those cybermen."
"Sounds like the Doctor, all right," Rose agreed. They were silent for a few long minutes, but it was companionable, not strained.
"Were you an' him close then?" Rosita asked finally.
Rose smiled. "Very. He knew things I'd never told anyone before, not even my mum, and I—I'd like to think that I was special." She shrugged. "But we're all special or he wouldn't ask us to come with him. I've never met a future companion—'s a bit odd to see the Doctor runnin' around out there without me."
"If the two of you were so close, why aren't you with 'im?" Rosita wanted to know. "I could sure use a hand. For a genius he isn't half-stupid."
"I expect I'm dead," Rose replied. She struggled to keep her tone light and she thought she may have succeeded. "It's not surprising, really. It's the only way I'd leave him…"
"You're not with him now," the other woman pointed out.
Rose shifted uncomfortably. "We're on holiday, John and I. Bit of a break from it all, you know? But he doesn't even remember me—so no, something happened. Something bad." And that brought an end to the conversation, because they'd both seen enough of the Doctor's life to know that casualties were inevitable.
Back in the Torchwood Hub, Lee brought Donna a cup of tea. She was sitting on one of the battered couches that served occasionally as beds during especially troubled times. He had a flat, but he didn't want to take her back to it; he was sure that the mess would drive her away. She smiled and sipped her tea. He'd always been a little slack with tidying up, but she ran a tight ship.
"So, you travel through time," Lee said after a quiet moment. "With those two—Rose and the Doctor."
"Yeah," Donna agreed and set her mug on the low table in front of her.
"And are the three of you…" he trailed off.
She raised an eyebrow. "Are the three of us what? Out with it!"
"Are you together?" he asked.
Donna gaped at him. "What? No, no no no! Not in a million years!" She frowned. "What's the future like then, if you have to ask that question? Did it look like we're together?"
He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "No, I was just—I had to ask. It's—different—in the 51st century." He sighed. "There are so many categories now that don't exist when I'm from. Three way relationships aren't uncommon, you know."
She snorted. "Well, Rose is more than welcome to that skinny streak of nothing. I don't understand how she can hug him without getting a papercut. I like something to grab on to."
"Yes," he agreed softly. "I know." His eyes remained fixed on his hands wrapped around the mug. He looked like a lost little boy and she wanted nothing more than to pull him into her arms and comfort him—but she was a little lost herself. She'd almost managed to get over him, to push their synthetic life into the corner of her mind and keep it there. Was that what the Doctor did when Rose was lost? Did he put everything that was their life together in a little box in his head? She'd seen how well that worked out for him.
It was Lee who broke the awkward silence. "What are we, Donna?" he asked quietly. "Because—because I really don't know, but it felt real. I feel like I know you, like I know everything about you. I know that you don't get on with your mum, that you never have but you're thick as thieves with your granddad. I know that you can shout for England and that I'll never win an argument with you. I know how you like your tea and which side of the bed you prefer. I know how you look with our children in your arms and your opinions on baby names." He swallowed. "I know how you look spread out beneath me or above me with your hair like a curtain of fire. I know how you taste—I remember, Donna. I remember everything." His voice broke. "It feels real."
"I asked the Doctor that same question, just after the library," she said after a while. "And he told me that if I remember it than it happened, and if I think it's real, than it is." She took his face in her hands and cradled his cheeks in her palms. "It's real to me, Lee," Donna said. "It was always real."