A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me. HOLY SHIT LOOK I UPDATED.
I'm sorry that it took me so long to get this chapter out, but I promise I'm going to start updating TLAWR more regularly. I did publish a few other stories whilst this one was on unofficial hiatus, so take a look at those if you're looking for something to read. :D I hit a wall with this story when I last updated, but some time off helped me clear my head and get back in the game! Enjoy!
His lips were softer than she remembered and Donna tasted just a hint of cherry; he'd always been a chapstick addict, her Lee. He had at least a dozen of those little tubes and they kept vanishing. She thought maybe the children were hiding them—but there were no children, not really, and no chapstick, and there were memories in her head that never happened. It was wonderful sometimes and other times she felt like she was going mad—but he was here and he was real and he remembered too. She wasn't alone. Not that she'd been alone, exactly, on the TARDIS, but it was different. Rose and the Doctor were a pair and although they never excluded her (except, of course, from things she wanted to be excluded from) she missed being part of a pair, but more specifically, she missed being with Lee. She missed having someone there to catch her. She missed, more than anything, feeling safe. Not being safe, necessarily, but feeling safe.
Donna didn't know when she started crying, but there were tears on her cheeks and she thought she felt them on Lee as well. It was like everything—the fear and confusion and pain and loss and doubt were crashing down on her all over again. Lee broke the kiss and rested his cheek against hers. His stubble prickled but she didn't care; it was one more reassurance that he was here and he was real.
They held each other for a long while in silence, because there were some moments that didn't need words. Eventually Donna's breathing slowed and the steady trickle of tears down her cheeks stopped and Lee's arms loosened around her. He cleared his throat. "So. Where do we go from here?"
Donna pulled back a bit and wiped her eyes. Wordlessly, Lee handed her a handkerchief. She took it with a watery smile. He always carried one; his favorite was a set that the kids bought him for his birthday—she stopped herself. They weren't real. This, now, here, was real. "I don't want to stop travelling yet," she told him. "There's so much out there—if you could see, it Lee." The faint hint of a smile curved her lips and her eyes were distant. "It's amazing." She turned back to him. "You know," Donna began hesitantly, "you could always come with. The Doctor's mad, yeah, but you'll like him, and Rose keeps him firmly in place most of the time."
Lee cupped her face and gave her a tender smile. "If it meant being with you, Donna, I'm sure I'd love it—but I can't. Before I met you, before the Library, I was an accountant with a knack for fixing things but now..." He sighed. "I have responsibilities here. I work for Torchwood and we help people. For once in my life I'm part of something that's bigger than me."
"Yeah." It hurt, a bit, knowing that they were going to be separated after they'd found each other again, but it wasn't permanent. She could never begrudge him the chance to discover what she already had: that the universe is a vast and wonderful place, and that one person can change the course of history. "We should take it slow, anyway. I'm not the same person I was when we met. Cal made me forget about the Doctor and everything I've seen."
He nodded. "I'd like that."
"So," Donna began after a moment. "Where'd you grow up? What's your family like? How'd you decide to be an accountant?"
He told her about his sister and her husband and how they eloped straight out of university, about how his mother used to sing him to sleep and his father would hoist Lee up on his shoulders. He described the way the two moons would rise in the south over his home by the sea, and how small he felt the first time he went off-world. It was strange and beautiful, seeing his blue-green planet against the black velvet of space, and it reminded him how insignificant his single life was against the scale of the universe. Lee talked about growing up in the 51st century, about the holo-vids of what life on earth was supposedly like and how wrong they were, and about his life in the 21st century. His stories from Torchwood were equal parts horrifying and hilarious, and there was such a light in his eyes as he spoke. He had always been good and kind and honest, but here he could be great, could be brave and strong and Donna could never, would never take that away from him.
In return she told him her life, about growing up with her mum and her dad and granddad, about life before the Doctor, about being a temp and living in a world that was myopically focused on her own miniscule existence. She recounted the story of how she first met the Doctor, how he saved her from the Racnoss and how she refused to go with him, how the life that he led (and the friend that he lost) was too much for her. And then she told him how she realized over the next few months that she wanted to be more than what she was, that she wanted to see the universe in all its terror and wonder. She told him how she searched for the Doctor, how she eventually found him again, and how she met the woman he lost.
"You are amazing," he said, his face awash with awe. "I always thought you were, of course, but really, Donna. Look at all that you've done."
She smiled, but shook her head. "I'm nothing special. The Doctor and Rose—he nearly died when he lost her and she spent centuries trying to get back to him. They're—they're like a couple out of some play or poem. They're amazing."
"That's not true." He pulled her close and ran a hand through her long, brilliant red hair. "The Doctor might save the universe, but you saved him. Where would we have been today if he'd never met you?" There was an image that pulled at her, something from the parallel universe. She remembered a stretcher and a road and the sonic screwdriver falling to the pavement. Donna shuddered and pushed it away. Whatever it was, it didn't happen. "You're more organized than I'll ever be," Lee continued, "and you've got the biggest heart under all that shouting. You're the most interesting, amazing woman I've ever met."
It was nearly morning when they finally bothered to look at the clock. "Blimey!" Donna laughed. "I didn't mean to talk your ear off."
"Wasn't just you, love," he answered with a yawn. She snuggled against him. He was warm and solid and comforting—and he made an excellent pillow. He said something about a flat and a bed but she was comfortable where she was, and she murmured something intelligible before sleep claimed her fully. It might have been an assent, or it might have been a rebuttal, but it sounded most like 'I love you.'
Rosita laid another log on the fire and fiddled with the coals, anything, Rose thought, to distract from the suddenly heavy mood. Because it was true—the only way she would leave him now, after she'd fought her way back, was if she died. She wasn't immortal; she could be injured and probably killed as well. Whatever Bad Wolf had done it hadn't made her like Jack, and maybe that was a kindness. She didn't relish the idea of living forever and watching everyone she loved (including the Doctor) die around her. She'd seen far too much of that life already, thank you very much.
"How did you meet the Doctor?" she asked, to break the tension.
Rosita straightened. "I was down by the Osterman's Wharf when one of those things, those men made of metal, attacked. The Doctor saved my life." She raised her chin as if she was daring Rose to find fault with her actions. "There was nothing for me in my old life, and he was all alone. He needed someone to look after him."
"Yeah, he does," Rose agreed. "He's so lonely. He saves the entire universe, but he still needs someone to save him sometimes."
"D'you think your husband can help him?" Rosita asks hesitantly. "He has such terrible dreams. He calls out at night and when he wakes he's in a panic. I try to talk to him about it but he just brushes me off, says it's nothin' to worry about n' that 'of course a Time Lord has horrible dreams.' Rubbish, that's what it is. Complete bollocks."
Rose laid a hand on the younger woman's arm. "We'll try. And John—he's very good." It was so strange, calling the Doctor anything but the Doctor, and she wasn't about to let him forget that this was the third time he'd introduced her as his wife.
"Doctor!" A loud, masculine voice echoed through the stable and Rose jumped.
Rosita rolled her eyes. "He's not here, Jeb!" she called back.
A scruffy young man stepped into the stable proper. Jeb, Rose assumed. His clothes looked to be of middling quality, and he had a hat perched jauntily on his head, which he swept off at the sight of Rosita and folded himself into a deep bow. "Rosita, my love!" he proclaimed grandiosely. "My day is complete." He was handsome, Rose decided, with black hair and blue eyes and a rakish grin that reminded her just a bit of Jack.
Rosita rolled her eyes. "I'm sure. Is it finished?"
Jeb grinned. "The TARDIS is complete, milady. Would you and your lovely friend care to see?"
"Yes!" Rose exclaimed. Ever since Bad Wolf she had been close to the ship. She thought, at first, that she was simply getting used to living in a telepathic, dimensionally transcendant, space and time ship, but when she remembered what had happened, everything she had done—it made sense. There was a bond between them: she had used it on the Crucible to save the TARDIS and she had drawn comfort from it ever since she made her way back into this universe. Even now the TARDIS sang in her head—but it was strange. She had been around multiple TARDIS before (the Doctor never mentioned how close he was to meeting himself) and there was always an echo—except for now.
Rose realized that Rosita and Jeb were looking at her with some confusion. "I mean, if that's alright with you."
Rosita sighed. "Come on, then. Let's see her."
Jeb led them out the stable's back door and into a large, paved courtyard. He gestured grandly for Rose and Rosita to exit first. "The TARDIS," he said proudly. "Just as the Doctor ordered."
A hot air balloon was tethered to an empty hitching-post. It was the exact same shade of blue as the TARDIS and it bobbed and wavered in the wind. "And this is the Doctor's ship?" Rose asked, careful to keep her voice neutral.
"Course it is!" Rosita replied impatiently. "I thought you'd know that, seeing as how you traveled with him before."
"Right, yeah." Rose nodded mechanically. "It was—broken—when John and I met him." Jeb and Rosita continued their playful banter but Rose was transfixed by the sight in front of her. His screwdriver was made of wood, his TARDIS was a hot air balloon, and he did not know her. That man, whoever he really was, was not the Doctor. But at the same time—he believed that he was. She was always good at picking out liars and this man was not lying, nor did he appear to be dangerous or malicious. The psychic abilities she gained from merging with the TARDIS would have warned her, and the TARDIS herself was placid and content in Rose's mind.
But still—something was rotten in the state of Denmark.
A door slammed in the stable behind them and two voices cut through the cold December air. "Rosita!" the imposter called.
The Doctor stuck his head out through the door. "Rose! What are you doing out here? And what is that?"
"Ah!" The imposter appeared behind the Doctor. "I see you've found my TARDIS."
The Doctor blinked. "That is your TARDIS?"
Rose moved toward him as quickly as she could without arousing suspicion. "Doctor," she murmured. "I need to talk with you—now."
"It is," the imposter replies. "T-A-R-D-I-S, TARDIS, Tethered Aerial Release Developed in Style. Do you see?"
The Doctor nodded. "Yes, I think I do."
"He's not the Doctor!" Rose insisted as the imposter conversed with Jeb and Rosita. "He's not, he can't be, and he's got a dead man's luggage and…"
"What is it?" The Doctor turned to face her. The playfulness she'd glimpsed earlier was gone; it had been replaced by a deep sadness.
"There's an awful lot of luggage for one man. And what's more," she pulled out a thin metal cylinder. "There was one of these in his suitcase. You know something, don't you, Doctor? You know what happened?"
"I have a theory," he confirmed and took the cylinder from her.
She nodded. "It's not good."
A bitter smile twisted his lips for just a moment. "Oh Rose, it never is. Everywhere I go, death follows." He turned away. Jeb was gone—he earlier left clutching the wad of notes that the imposter had given him (one more difference, the Doctor never carried money, hardly paid any attention to it at all). It was just Rosita and the imposter, who was staring off into the distance, his eyes fixed on something only he could see. The girl stood next to him. She looked like she wanted to comfort him but was unsure of how to do so.
"Doctor," the real Doctor called, and the imposter shook himself.
"Yes, Dr. Tyler?" he enquired. The Doctor tossed the infostamp his way. He caught it with ease. "You brought this from the Reverend's house!" the imposter exclaimed.
The Doctor shook his head. "No. Rose found it in Mr. Lake's luggage." He took a deep breath. "And I'm sorry, I'm so sorry—but I think I know what happened to you, why you lost your memory."
The imposter blinked. "Dr. Tyler, you must tell me!" When the Doctor remained silent he frowned. "Sir, there is nothing I wish to know more, now please—tell me!"
The Doctor regarded him solemnly. "I believe you." He turned back to face Rose and the stable. "Let's go inside. You'll want to sit down."
It was nearly closing time in a small bar in Cardiff, Wales, and Jack Harkness was not remotely drunk. It wasn't for lack of trying—he enjoyed his liquor as much as (probably more than) any other man—but something about his physiology post-Satellite Five rendered alcohol into basically tasty water. Mickey, on the other hand, was completely blitzed. He had one arm slung around Jack's neck and the other waved wildly in the air as he bellowed a rather crass, surprisingly explicit drinking song. It had to be from the alternate universe—Pete's World, as the Doctor called it—because Jack had spent a lot of time in bars during his stint as a Time Agent, and he would have remembered this song. As it is, he committed the lyrics to memory as he weaved the two of them through the densely packed joint. Not that he blamed these people for celebrating; the world nearly ended, after all, and if he could have gotten drunk off his ass he would have.
Mickey was a good deal more muscular than Jack remembered, and he definitely didn't remember the beard. He was strong enough to manhandle Mickey through the press of people (fifty-first century genes and working at Torchwood kept him fighting fit) but he wondered just how much time had passed for the other man in the alternate universe. The Mickey Jack had first met never would have hopped through universes to find the Doctor. He was a good kid, yeah, but still a kid. He wasn't a kid anymore.
Jack paused outside the door of the bar. His flat was closer (and it was strange for him, having a flat after so many years of sleeping in a tiny room beneath the Hub), but he didn't think Ianto would appreciate him bringing another man home, even if it was just to sleep off a hangover on the couch and even if said man had helped to save the multiverse. That left the Hub, because Jack certainly wasn't going to let Mickey wander the streets in his current condition. While the ex-Time Agent had never met Jackie Tyler, he'd heard stories from the Doctor about her slap, and he was willing to bet that it was genetic.
Jack dropped his keys while he tried to open the 'Visitor's Center' entrance and swore softly. Mickey mumbled something from where Jack had propped him against the wall and giggled.
"I'm glad you find this so funny," Jack drawled, and wished it wasn't quite so dark in front of the Hub's back door. He was pretty sure intoxicated Mickey would be a hit on the internet (or at least with Rose and the Doctor). They were using the back door because there was no way in hell he'd risk the other man losing his balance on the lift. It was cool, yeah, but not for the reflex-impaired. "Come on chuckles," he muttered, and pulled Mickey inside.
The Hub was basically deserted. He'd sent Gwen and Ianto home, Ianto with a promise that he wouldn't be too late in joining the other man and Gwen with orders to shag Rhys until they both passed out. Lee had disappeared with Donna after saying something about a library and a computer and teleports. It had all been rather jumbled and disjointed and Jack had been more concerned with making sure everyone was still alive to pay very close attention. He'd lost too many people in the past few months. He groped for the light switch—they were supposed to be motion activated, dammit, but the sensors had gone out months ago and trying to get money for a supposedly defunct government agency wasn't as easy as it sounded.
Jack found the switch eventually and pulled Mickey into the main room. He pointedly ignored the bank of computers with their screens flashing with urgent inquiries from a dozen other agencies and several individuals. He would deal with those later, after UNIT finished their cleanup operation. There were couches set against the wall to make a sort-of sitting room; Mickey could crash on one of them and then he'd be conveniently close to work in the morning. After all, Jack had an employment offer to extend. He was down a computer genius and a doctor, and apparently Mickey was something of a computer genius.
One of the couches was taken. Lee sat with his back against the arm of the couch and his cheek resting on the side. One leg hung off and the other was stretched out along the back. Donna lay against him, her arms around his waist like he was a human-sized teddy bear. One of Lee's hands rested on her back, and the other was tangled in her vibrant red hair and Jack couldn't help but smile. Everyone had found their happy ending: he had Ianto, Gwen had Rhys, Lee had Donna, the Doctor had Rose—and he saw the way that Mickey was looking at Martha. They were both brave, they both saved the world (and maybe the universe), and they were both clever and strong, and deserved someone who could appreciate how special they were. Because they weren't just the stand-in, the second choice. They were amazing.
He shoved Mickey on to the second couch. Mickey grumbled something, but then he flung an arm over the side and started to snore. Jack snagged a pair of blankets from the closet and draped them over the sleepers. "Sweet dreams, kids," he murmured. Then he turned off the lights and headed home. There was a well-dressed Welshman waiting for him, after all, and he had an appointment to keep.
The fire crackled inside the stable, but despite the warmth it gave Rose shivered. Tension was thick in the air. The imposter sat on the floor next to Rosita, his legs crossed and a look of eager expectation on his face. The Doctor perched on a pile of suitcases, and Rose sat next to him, on a suitcase just under his. It made him taller than the rest of them, made him look automatically like he was in charge. He probably didn't even notice he was doing it, but she did. She always did. He used a thousand little tricks to make people trust him and she knew them all. He flipped an infostamp nonchalantly in one hand but the other was wrapped around hers and she could feel the tension pouring off of him in waves. He looked like he was going to a funeral.
"Right," he said after a while. "I suppose I should begin with how Cybermen ended up in Victorian London." Rose squeezed his hand and he smiled at her, though it did not reach his eyes. "A long time from now," he began, "although not really very far from here, there was a battle. These Cybermen aren't from around here, you see, they're from an entirely different universe, one that's parallel to our universe. They were pushing through the walls between the two, trying to cross from that one to this."
"But we beat them," Rose put in. "We sent them into the Void, the space between the worlds."
He nodded. "We did. But then there was an even greater battle. Something was coming from beyond the stars, something that was eating away at the walls between all worlds. We stopped it—but these Cybermen slipped through one of the cracks. Their ship was badly damaged, had to have been, and they fell through time until they landed here—and found you."
"Yes, yes," the imposter waved his hand in dismissal. "I know all of that; I fought them. What happened?"
The Doctor gestured to the luggage around them. "At the same time another man came to London: Mr. Jackson Lake. Plenty of luggage, money in his pocket, coming to town for—I don't know—the winter season, maybe. I dunno." Rose leant into him and lays her head on his shoulder. "He ran into the Cybermen too, and just like you—exactly like you—he took hold of an infostamp. He used it to defeat them."
"Jackson Lake is dead," the imposter asserted firmly. "The Cybermen murdered him."
"But no body was found," the Doctor pointed out. "And you kept all his suitcases, but you could never bear to open them—why?" The imposter opened his mouth to reply, but only closed it again. "I told you the answer was in the watch." The Doctor released Rose's hand and held his out. "May I see?"
The imposter relinquished the watch slowly, as if he didn't really want to part with it. The Doctor flipped the watch over to reveal two letters monogrammed on the front. "J,L," he read. "This watch belongs to Jackson Lake."
Rosita started at the imposter. "Jackson Lake—is you, sir."
The newly discovered Jackson Lake stared at them. "But," he began, plainly confused and disbelieving. "But I'm the Doctor!"
"D'you know what an infostamp is?" the Doctor asked, seemingly apropos of nothing. "It's a book. I know you're familiar with them; you used one at the Reverend's house to disable the Cyberman that was waiting for us there. You overloaded the core and the concentrated power overloaded his system. I'm betting something like that happened when you first encountered the Cybermen, back when you were Jackson Lake. And this one," he said as he fiddled with the cylinder. "This one is all about the Doctor." The tip of the infostamp flickered, and then images and short video clips flashed on the wall opposite them. Ten different men paraded before them, old and wise and young and mocking and handsome and thin and heavy and blonde and dark and serious and laughing—and Rose knew them all. She'd seen them all, every one of them on her travels. The last face, though, was the face of the man standing next to her. "It's everything you could ever want to know about the Doctor," he continued and shut the stamp off. "Probably stolen from the Daleks."
Jackson was staring. "That's you. You are the Doctor."
"That's me," he agreed. "The one and only."
Jackson sat back heavily. There was a look on his face that Rose knew well; she'd seen it on the Doctor a thousand times, and on rare occasions she'd seen it in the mirror. "I am nothing but a lie," he said hollowly.
The Doctor blinked and crouched down in front of Jackson. "No," he replied emphatically. "No, you're not. The infostamp is just information, just data. All that bravery and cleverness? That came from you. Saving Rosita, defending Londontown, building the TARDIS—that was you."
"There's more." The emptiness was gone, replaced with an aching need, a raw, bleeding desperation. He seized the lapels of the Doctor's suit. "I demand you tell me, sir!" Jackson shouted. "I demand you tell me what they took!"
Rosita pulled him back. "Sir!"
He released the Doctor grudgingly, and the Time Lord held out his hand and drew Rose down next to him. "Rose spotted it straight away," he said sadly.
She covered Jackson's hand with her own. "I'm sorry," she told him, and she was. "I'm so sorry—but it's an awful lot of luggage for one man." She could see the understanding dawning on his face, the horror blooming where anger had so recently resided. "Like the Doctor said—infostamps are just facts and figures. 'S not enough to make a man lose his mind. What you experienced, it's called a fugue state. I've seen it happen before." He stared at her, uncomprehending. "It's like—the mind just runs away. You wanted to be the Doctor, because Jackson Lake had lost so much. You couldn't stand to be you anymore. I'm sorry," she said again. "I am so, so sorry."
Jackson shrugged her hand off and curled in on himself. He fisted his hands in his hair and groaned. "I remember," he choked. "Oh, I remember. Caroline—they killed my wife!"
The infostamp in the Doctor's hand gave off a strange sequence of beeps—and then the tip lit up a brilliant blue. He peered at it, and then pulled the sonic out.
"Doctor?" Rose asked, and stood. Rosita remained kneeling next to Jackson, who was staring at the floor of the stable, oblivious to anything but his own pain. "What's going on? What's it doing?"
"It's a signal," he replied and scanned it with the sonic. "A call to arms. The Cybermen are mobilizing."