A/N: I've had this idea for a long time and I finally did something about it! This is my first real attempt at writing Rose/Nine, so if you think there's something I could do to better capture him, please let me know! Quotes taken from "Rose," and "Dalek." This fic was inspired by "Catalyst," by Anna Nalick, not any song by Carrie Underwood. I suggest you check it out (.com/watch?v=9VbIUO2aROU). It's really fantastic.
He woke to the sound of someone singing, real, actual singing—not the tinny screech of the radio that preceded his entry into the waking world. He opened his eyes. He was not in his bed. His room, unlike the room in which he now resided, did not contain copious amounts of pink. Of course, calling the place he slept a "room" was a stretch. It was a cubby, really, behind the garage where he worked. He was lying on a bed, not in a cot, and the quilt that covered him was warm and thick. Like the rest of the furnishings in the room it was obviously used but in good condition. Light filtered through the blinds and danced across the floor.
He groaned. His was pounding. He hadn't had a hangover like this in—well—he couldn't remember, probably because he kept a bottle of whiskey on his nightstand. There was no whiskey in this room. He was in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room that looked like it belonged to a girl. He rolled out of the bed. At least he was still clothed, although he had no idea where his shoes had got to. He stumbled out of the room and into a hallway. The singing became louder as he walked away from the bedroom.
The hallway opened into what looked like a living room. The place was small, but tidy. A couch dominated the room. A pillow was crushed into a corner and a blanket was crumpled at one end. He felt suddenly guilty. Whoever had taken him in obviously hadn't spent the night with him. He pushed the feeling away.
His boots were lying next to the couch and his jacket was folded neatly and sitting across the back. He shrugged it on and finally he could breathe again. The jacket, battered black leather armor, kept the world at bay. In just a jumper and trousers he felt naked, exposed. He contemplated the boots for a minute, but left them where they lay. He doubted that he'd be running any time soon, and they made it hard to move around quietly. The soldier in his mind wanted to know the layout, to have the exits of the little flat fixed—just in case.
He needed a drink. Really, he needed several. Enough to make the pounding in his head stop. It throbbed a counterpoint to the girl's voice, which was coming from in front of him and a little to the left. He crossed the living room and stopped in the doorway of the kitchen.
The singer was standing at the sink. Light poured in from a window over the counter and made her blonde hair glow golden. She was barefoot like him, but unlike him she wore proper pajamas: fuzzy blue bottoms with green frogs and Lilli pads that sat low on her hips and a pale blue tank top that didn't quite meet the waistband of the bottoms. Her hair was mussed from sleep. She was singing something low and sweet. Her voice was beautiful in a fresh, untrained kind of way. She'd never had lessons. He could tell. He was, after all, a genius.
He shifted and the floor creaked beneath his feet. She whirled around and broke into a grin when she saw him. He blinked. Why was she looking at him like that?
"G'morning," she said, a note of teasing in her voice. "Thought you'd sleep the day away."
He only grunted. No use encouraging her, whoever she was.
Her face fell a bit, but she recovered quickly. "Are you hungry? I made eggs." She gestured at a pair of plates on the counter next to her. He approached them cautiously and sniffed them. They looked all right, and smelled all right. He grabbed the offered plate and fork and slouched into a chair behind the small kitchen table. She joined him. They ate in silence. Something about her bothered him. She was—familiar, almost, even though he was sure he'd never seen her before in his waking life.
Right. Waking being the operative word. Fire and smoke and death rolled through his mind's eye, accompanied by the face of the girl in front of him. Running and fear and blood on his hands. "It's not your fault, and you know what—her voice broke—I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
"Hello?" He blinked. She was waving a hand in front of his face. Her tone was light but her eyes were serious. "Are you okay?"
He glared at her. "M fine."
She clapped. "You can talk! Didn't think you knew how." More teasing. What was she doing in his dreams? More silence. "My name's Rose Tyler," she said finally. "What's yours?"
"John," he replied grudgingly. "John Smith."
"Nice to meet you, John." She looked down, suddenly shy. "Don't usually go bringing blokes home, but you were real far gone, and I couldn't just leave you to sleep it off in that alley."
He pushed the plate away and stood, suddenly furious. "An you figured I was safe," he spat. She looked at him with wide eyes. Good. This was a lesson she needed to learn, and fast. He moved around the table quicker than most people would have thought possible. He looked sort of stocky in his blocky leather jacket but years in the military gave him lightning reflexes. He hand her up against the wall, one hand over her mouth and the other holding her arms behind her head before she could blink. "Thank you for giving me a place to sleep," he said quietly. "But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that I'm safe, Rose Tyler. Now forget about me." He released her and stormed out of the flat.
She stood ramrod straight and still until the door slammed behind him. Then she let herself fall back against the wall and hugged herself. Tears dripped down her face. For a second, just a second, she thought she saw something familiar in his eyes, something that was the Doctor and not this John Smith who had taken his place. And then it was gone. She rubbed her wrist absently. He hadn't hurt her, at least, not with his hands. He was trying to scare her, just like he did when he showed up at her flat. He even said almost the same thing: "forget me, Rose Tyler" Like that was going to happen.
Her eyes drifted to the calendar nailed to the wall. Five months and eleven days left. She reached beneath her tank top and pulled out a sturdy silver chain. Nestled next to an ordinary looking yale key, a pocket watch decorated in the swirling writing that belonged to the Doctor's people hummed softly. If she held it to her ear she fancied she could hear him talking to her, reassuring her, thanking her. She stroked it gently. Five months and eleven days and this would be over.
She dropped the watch and the key back down her shirt, picked up her phone, and dialed. "Hiya Jack. I found him."
Guilt overtook him as he stepped out into the brisk morning air. He shouldn't have been so harsh. He was just a child, really, and like a child she'd done something kind without thought of the possible consequences. But what if there had been consequences beyond a bit of a scare? What if, instead of him, she'd taken home one of the sleezeballs who hung around outside the bar? They didn't have his scruples when it came to things like sex and money. She could have been robbed, or worse, raped or killed.
Blood coated the little couch, so much blood in a human body. Her hair was spread out on the floor like a halo, her eyes blank and staring, blood staining the little blue tank top and coating the Lilli pads and their corresponding frogs. A deep wound almost severed her head from her body. Her pajama bottoms were bunched around her ankles and a look of horror and fear was frozen on her face.
He shook his head, trying to clear away the image, but it seemed like it was burned into his mind. It made him ill to think about someone doing that to her. Memories of Susan bubbled to the surface—her laugh, her smile, the way she screamed every time she saw a spider.
He needed a drink and he needed one now. He checked his watch, and sighed. It was eight a.m. on Friday, the 17th of October. He was already late for work. The drink would have to wait.
Jack Harkness sat straight up. "Really, Rose? Are you sure?"
A watery laugh spilled out of his Vortex Manipulator. Stupid thing was burned out, but at least the comlink still worked. "He's the Doctor, Jack, of course I'm sure." She sniffed.
"What's he done?" he asked sympathetically.
She sighed. "S just, he doesn't remember me at all."
Jack nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see. "Yeah, but he told us that would happen, Rosie."
Another sigh. "I know Jack, 's just, 's like—like if my mum forgot about me. He's the most important person in the world."
For more reasons than one, Jack knew, although he also knew it would be a cold day in hell before either of them admitted it. He looked around his apartment. It was a studio—small, but serviceable. His years in the Time Agency taught him the value of organization and he put it to good use. Originally he and Rose were going to rent together, but the Doctor vetoed that idea. It would be harder for the Family to track them, he said, if they split up. Well, maybe it would, Jack thought, but conversation over the phone/comlink was much less satisfying than in person.
"Only a few more months, Rosie," he said finally.
"I know Jack. Look, thanks for talking. Gotta go now, time to get ready for work."
"First day, right?"
"Yeah." She sounded a little better, a little more hopeful. "See you later."
"Not if I see you first," he responded with a cheeky grin. She laughed and hung up.
John Smith spent his time at the garage counting down until he could get his next drink. The work was monotonous and far beneath his considerable skills. He could dismantle the beat-up vehicle that currently occupied less than half his attention with his eyes closed and mostly drunk and still reassemble it better than the factory could have. He wiped his hand on the rag that lay next to him and took a small swig out of the flask he always carried. Jefferson didn't like when he drank on the job, but the man could stuff it. A little over three weeks at the place and customers asked for John by name, after they got over actually meeting someone named John Smith, that is. He couldn't understand why people were so fixated on his name. It was just a designation, something that held little to no importance to him. The only reason he used one at all was so that other people had something to call him.
When Mike locked the door, signaling that it was five p.m. and the workday was officially over, John was the first to leave. He went, of course, to the only place he ever went besides the nearest liquor store, a few local take-out places, and the cubby that served as his home: he went to the bar. It was a small, dingy place, although it was clean—a step up from a great many places he'd been. It was the darkness that made it seem run-down. Unlike the bars that catered to students or young people, John's place of choice was patronized mostly by people like him—working class functional alcoholics. There was a smattering of a younger crowd—the children of regulars, sometimes, and a few business people who looked like they got lost (perhaps on purpose). A small stage up against one wall was the only bright point in the building. Usually it was empty, but tonight a drummer, a guitarist, and a base player lounged beneath the lights. An upright piano sat off to one side, looking bereft without its accompanying player. He blinked. Right. Friday. Live music over the weekends.
John slid into his usual seat and frowned. There was something different about the stage tonight.
"Hello handsome," an accented voice—American—cut through his thoughts. John glanced at the bartender, who was smiling at him. He dismissed the pretty boy with a sharp nod and a request for whiskey—lots of it—and returned his attention to the stage. Ah, yes. Tonight a microphone stood in front of the three musicians. There'd been a singer when he'd first come to the bar, a man who was complete rubbish, but he'd left by the second week. John snorted. Good riddance. He'd managed to murder far too many songs before he'd been ousted.
A soft "clink" alerted him to his drink's presence. John downed one shot and grabbed another, turning to face the stage as a murmur ran through the bar. A woman was walking to the front of the stage. Unlike most of the women in the crowd, she wore a dress, a long black dress that hugged her body in the style of classic Hollywood gowns. It looked like something out of a jazz club in the 40's. Her hair was blonde and pulled into a simple bun. She was smart, letting the dress speak for itself without garish embellishment like most young women.
He was staring, he realized, and he stared harder when he realized who it was. Well, it would be her. The girl from the morning, Rose, stood on the stage looking very different from the last time he saw her. Her eyes were smoky and her lips were red, very red. The spotlight cast shadows on her cheeks and down her neck, playing up the gold of her hair and casting her eyes into darkness.
The drummer began a soft rhythm with two wire brushes. The guitar came in next, followed closely by the pianist who had returned from wherever he'd been hiding. Rose held the microphone in one hand and stood perfectly still. Her eyes wandered over the crowd and came to rest on him. She knew him.
Then she drew a breath and began to sing. Her voice washed over the people in the bar like a tidal wave. It was rich and smooth and somehow familiar. He recognized the tune she'd been singing that morning. It was a strange choice, he thought, although it suited the place. It was an older song, American, and sad.
Her eyes remained on his as she swayed slightly, moving to the soft beat of the music. He clapped when it was over and she curtsied, flashing a grin at her audience. She sang several other songs, a few ballads, a few classics, a love song or two, but she always returned to the sad songs. She sang those best, he thought. Something about her eyes, like she was pouring her whole heart into them. It was hours later when she made her final farewell. Appreciative applause followed her out.
"That was beautiful, baby doll." It was the American again.
"Thanks Jack," she said with a giggle. He knew that voice. He'd heard it early that morning, and then later on the stage. John glanced over in time to see Rose give the pretty bartender a kiss on the cheek. The boy's eyes flickered to John, and Rose followed them. She cocked an eyebrow and slid onto the stool next to him.
"You can still sit up straight," she noted. "S an improvement from last night."
He contemplated ignoring her, but decided not to on a whim. "It's early yet." They sat in silence for a moment. "Why the sad songs?" he asked finally.
She blinked, but tipped her head thoughtfully. "Everyone's got sadness," she replied after a while. "Singin about it makes it easier. Shows how something beautiful can come out of something painful."
He had nothing to say to that, so he said nothing. Instead he downed another shot. She watched him with a studied intensity that he found disconcerting. Obviously she had ignored his advice from earlier. It felt good to talk to someone, but she was a child and he, well, he was a monster. Men like him didn't rescue the princess and live happily-ever-after. Men like him were the things waiting in the darkness to destroy anything they touched. He grabbed another shot.
"Keep up like that an I'll be dragging you back to my flat again," she commented.
He waved a hand in dismissal. "Genius, me. Know how much I can drink." And he intended to get very drunk tonight. If he could drink enough then the dreams wouldn't come. Fire and ice and blood, rage and hate and death. And sometimes her face, her voice. Better with two.
Why was she in his dreams?
She snorted. "Right. An that's why you spent the night in my room 'stead of in an alley."
He growled. "Why do you care?"
His question seemed to take her by surprise. She looked at him with wide, honest eyes. "Don't like seeing people hurting," she replied quietly. "An you, you look like you're hurting." She reached out and cupped his cheek with her hand. It was the alcohol that let her do it, he decided, not his own desire to be touched. Not the loneliness that he was drowning in. Not some twisted need for absolution. "Nobody deserves to hurt that much."