A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! Quote taken from "Family of Blood," and a bit from e.e. cummings "i carry your heart [i carry it in]."
John Smith felt lighter than he had in years. He was pretty sure that some of his good cheer was due to the chemicals bouncing around in his frankly magnificent brain—it was amazing what being regularly shagged could do for a man's mood—but the woman he was shagging was responsible for most of it, he would say. Or maybe he'd finally figured out how to live after decades of barely managing to exist. Whatever the reason, he was happy and other people noticed. Jack pegged him the instant the other man saw John. The mechanics at the shop weren't far behind, but even the customers were noticing that something had changed.
It was a week before she asked him to move in with her. Well, 'told' would be more appropriate. She was incredibly level-headed and logical about the whole thing. "You spend every night here," Rose pointed out. "Why bother keeping another flat at all? Why don't you just stay?"
He couldn't come up with any reasons not to, so he did. He informed Mike that he no longer needed the cubby behind the shop and carted his few belongings over to Rose's flat. She'd cleared space in her dresser but he hardly filled up a drawer. It wasn't like he had an extensive wardrobe. Besides enough clothes to fill up a rucksack he had his boots, a copy of Charles Dicksons' short stories, several empty alcohol bottles (which he did not bring with) and a battered leather journal.
He didn't go into Rose's closet and so he didn't see the strange blue box that filled up most of it. He didn't even notice that she had a closet—because he was human now, and like any human who wasn't exactly aware of the TARDIS's existence the perception filter kept him from noticing its presence. It could not, however, stop him from dreaming about the ship, and he dreamt of it often. The war had almost gone, the fire had almost faded from his mind's eye, but the ship remained. He wrote about it sometimes, in his journal. He sketched it in pencil and pen and tried to color it in once or twice. Art was not his forte, although he could almost remember being skilled before. His hands were rough and calloused and his fingers too large to properly render his imaginings. He thought about showing the journal to Rose but decided against it. He was happy damn it, for the first time in a very long time (so long he'd almost forgotten what it felt like). If he showed her what he'd written she'd think he was mad. Well, maybe he was—but so was she, a bit, but if she thought he was too mad, if she thought he was dangerous she might leave. He didn't think he could bear that.
She will, a little voice whispered in the back of his mind. She'll leave you all alone and the silence will fall thicker than blood, thicker than asphalt, thicker than naptha and pitch. The fire will follow. He pushed it away, but the fear remained.
He was walking home when he saw the girl. She was young (five, maybe six) and she had a red balloon on a string clenched in her delicate hand. They weren't in a bad neighborhood, far from it actually, but a singular child was still odd. She looked at John strangely and sniffed, long and loud like children do when they have a cold.
He crouched down beside her. "Lost your mum?" he asked and gave her a smile, not his usual megawatt, slightly barmy grin, but the softer one he usually saved for Rose.
The girl looked at him with flat, cold eyes. Children didn't have eyes like that and something in the back of his mind was screaming that this was wrong. "No," she said, and her voice was childish but sure. "Brother of mine is here." She looked past him and John glanced over his shoulder. A boy was walking down the street towards them. As he drew nearer John recognized him—he'd been with the group of poncey uni students who'd accosted Rose at the Big Bad Wolf. He stiffened and stood when the boy stopped a few feet away.
"Sister of mine," them boy said formally.
"Brother," she replied.
"Well then," John said with forced cheer, "looks like you're all set here." He gave the boy a chilly smile and then turned back to his walk. Rose was waiting, after all, and he wasn't about to let anything ruin his day. The dance was tonight and he'd broken down and bought a suit. He'd grumbled, of course, but he actually didn't mind all that much because Rose was going to be wearing that dress he liked—the red one that clung to her like a second skin. The fabric was smooth and silky and hid so very little. She'd be knickerless beneath it, she'd told him so (she liked to watch him squirm). And afterwards—he grinned. The dress looked lovely on her, but it looked better pooled on the floor of their bedroom.
Rose held the dress up against her body. The TARDIS had thoughtfully provided a floor-to-ceiling mirror for her. She laid a hand on the smooth coral wall and smiled. "Thanks," she murmured. The TARDIS hummed a contented reply. Rose wondered how she could have ever doubted that the ship was alive. She wasn't a person, but she had a definite personality. When the Doctor was tinkering unnecessarily, for example, she'd shoo him away with some well-placed pyrotechnics—but when they returned from a particularly taxing adventure Rose often found a bath already drawn. It was rather like having a very alien, slightly maternal, housekeeper. There was no other explanation for the dishes, after all. No one did them. The Doctor seemed to be allergic to anything approaching the dreaded label of 'domestic' and Rose didn't do them either—she left them in the sink and a few hours later they were clean again. She supposed that Jack might have—but he'd been bamboozled by the microwave for the first month they'd traveled together, so it was a safe bet that he hadn't discovered a dishwasher, or that if he had he didn't know how to use it.
She was babbling inside her head, she realized. It was ludicrous, but true. God, was she that nervous? They lived together, for crying out loud! He'd claimed her as his wife, his daughter, and occasionally his concubine if the situation called for it, why on Earth was she nervous about a little dance? And then it hit her. They were on Earth and they were going out. As a couple. He wasn't himself, not totally, but it was still a public declaration of their relationship. She'd always thought that they were more than friends, but she still remembered what he'd told Jabe on Platform One: not his wife, nor his mistress, nor his concubine, nor his prostitute. Their relationship was clearly defined by what it wasn't—but neither of them had made much of an effort to define what it was. When he was back they were going to have a long talk. She wasn't going to let him wiggle out of it, no sir, not when he had shared her bed (and not when he'd been the one to initiate said bed-sharing).
If he came back, her traitorous mind whispered. There was still no sign of the watch. Could she keep it up, this life, if the watch was never found and the Doctor never returned? If all she'd ever known was John Smith—maybe. But it wasn't. She'd watched her planet explode, she'd stood in front of his deadliest enemy and told him to put the gun away, she'd let him aim a missile at her to save her planet. She loved him as John Smith because she loved him as the Doctor, as a damaged, prickly alien who gave everything he was to a universe that broke his hearts. She loved all of him, not just the convenient, human packaging.
And when he came back she would tell him.
Jack and Joan were waiting for them outside the club. John nodded a greeting and waited patiently as Rose gave each of their friends a hug. He was grateful for anything that kept them outside the building that was fairly vibrating from the volume of the music being played within. Forty-two years old, him, and he was afraid to go dancing with the woman he loved. He snorted. Coward every time. But coward or not he couldn't refuse Rose something she so clearly wanted, and so when she tugged on his hand and gave him that smile—the one that made him weak in the knees—he obediently followed her into the club.
The lighting was dim, but not horribly so; he managed to navigate the press of young bodies without tripping over himself or someone else so he counted the night a success so far. They each paid their entrance fee, as the dance was for charity, and then Joan led them to a table that was a bit more secluded than the others.
"I'm going to get a drink," she mouthed. Talking was difficult thanks to the music. It was something with a pulsating beat that seemed to shake his bones.
"I'll join you," he replied. Rose and Jack put in their orders and waved their respective partners off.
As soon as John was out of (relative) earshot Rose turned to Jack. "Have you heard anything?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Sorry, sweetheart. No one's called about the watch. I've been keeping an eye online and Joan has a few friends checking the local second-hand stores, but so far they haven't found anything."
She sighed and he could see the moment she let down her mask. The corners of her mouth turned down and she slumped ever-so-slightly in her chair. "What if it's never found, Jack?" She sounded like she was on the verge of tears. "What if he never comes back?"
He wished that he could tell her that everything was going to be all right, that the Doctor would be back in no time and they could be traveling the stars again. The burden of command was weighing heavily on him, and he was accustomed to bearing it. The pressure must have been overwhelming to someone who wasn't used to it—and if the Doctor didn't return they were both stuck out of their time. Rose would lose seven years and he was thousands of years away from the 51st century (not that he would go there, as he was pretty sure the Time Agency still had a bounty on his head). And he was out of his depth.
Jack wasn't the Doctor. He could admit his shortcomings (few as they were) when applicable, and it was definitely applicable now. He'd been a Time Agent for years. He could blend in seamlessly (or nearly seamlessly)—for a while. All of his excursions into other time (missions at first and cons after) had expiration dates. He was, when he thought about it, a glorified tourist. He was used to leaving. He could tolerate the stifling sexual taboos and laughable technology because he knew that it was temporary. When he considered spending the rest of his life in the twenty-first century the days stretched out in front of him in an endless, joyless, merciless progression of time.
He'd dreamt about it more than once and woken in a cold sweat. This life, the life of Jack Harkness, bartender, wasn't a bad life—but it wasn't for him. Joan was a sweet, funny, wonderful woman—but they weren't anything permanent. She was perfect for a distraction, just like he was perfect as hers, but that was as far as they went. Everything about this life was superficial. His real life was on a sentient, dimensionally transcendent space-and-time ship with her temperamental, sexy, prickly pilot and the beautiful woman said pilot loved (and if Jack was honest with himself, he loved them both more than a little).
He realized, belatedly, that Rose was still talking. "What if he does come back and he hates me?" she asked, her voice small and sad.
Jack reached across the table and took her hand. "Oh, Rosie. I don't think there's a universe that exists where the Doctor could hate you."
She refused to be comforted. "He's human now, Jack, but he's just—he's so himself. He thinks the same, he talks the same, he cuts himself in the shower and swears bloody murder. But he never would have kissed me or—any of that." Rose worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "What if he thinks I've taken advantage of him? What if he takes me home?"
"I'll punch him in the face," Jack promised and that at least got him a smile. "We're gonna find the watch, and once the family's out of our hair we're gonna blow this popsicle stand." He gave her his patented Jack Harkness grin, guaranteed to make the ladies fall at your feet. "And once he's back it'll be you, me, and the Doctor traveling the stars—like it should be."
"Tryin' to seduce my date, are you Jack?" a rough northern voice inquired. Joan and John were back.
Jack held up his hands in surrender. "No sir, not me. I choose life."
None of them noticed the small blonde girl who was listening eagerly to every word they said. Her cold, dead eyes sparkled with sinister mirth and her lips twisted into the approximation of a smile. She released the string of her balloon and it floated up to the ceiling until it bounced against the rafters—and popped.
Rose was surprised to find that John could dance—and not just the bit of swing the Doctor showed her when he'd twirled her around the console in front of Jack (and if he thought she hadn't seen what he was doing he was very, very wrong). He was shy and a little awkward (and it was adorable, although Rose refrained from commenting), but when she moved against him in time with the throbbing beat of one of the fast songs he caught on momentarily. She shouldn't have been surprised, she realized, because the sort of dancing that happened at clubs like this was close to sex-whilst-standing-and-also-in-public, and John was very good at sex (she thought the Doctor would be too).
When the DJ finally put on a slow song he held her close. They were mostly just swaying on the spot, but that was all right because everyone else was too. Her arms were around his neck and his hands rested just above the swell of her hips. John let his head fall until his forehead was resting gently against hers. "Come with me," he breathed.
Rose laughed. "Where?" she asked.
He wasn't laughing. "I mean it," he insisted. "When the time is up—don't go with him."
She pulled back. A frown crept across her face and her brows crinkled. "I can't."
One of his hands left the silky material of her dress and rested against her cheek. They had stopped dancing. The other couples twirled and rocked around them and they stood like a reef in the ocean. "These past few weeks, months—they've been the happiest I've had in a very long time." He radiated vulnerability, and for the first time since he'd aimed a gun at her Rose felt like everything that he was had been laid bare. He was wearing a suit and thus more layers than normal—and he was standing naked in front of her. "I have been so happy with you. You're completely mad, totally barking," and a quicksilver grin flashed across his face, "and I wouldn't have it any other way. I want to see the world standing next to you, Rose Tyler. When I met you I was angry and bitter and so, so alone and you—you made me better." Her lip trembled as she stared into his eyes. It was so much, too much, it was exactly what she wanted to hear—but she wanted the Doctor to say it.
He pressed his warm, soft lips against hers in a kiss that was tender and very nearly chaste. "I love you," he murmured across her mouth.
She knew that he was waiting for her to say it back, and oh god she wanted to. She wanted to close her eyes and imagine that the Doctor was holding her with his memory intact and kissing her like she was the most important thing in existence (even though they both knew she wasn't). It would have been nice to pretend, she thought wistfully, but the words wouldn't come out. If he said them again when he was fully himself then she would reply. Then she would give him her greatest secret (the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life).
"I can't just disappear," Rose said instead and the shift in his face was like a stab in the gut. She could feel him withdrawing, could feel him pulling back in on himself as the joy drained out of him like water from a sieve. "Give me some time," she pleaded. "I've got to think about it. Being with you—it's been wonderful." She smiled shyly. "It's been better than I ever could have imagined."
"But not enough to make you stay with me," he snapped back. Anger was brewing, anger she thought she just might deserve. Their places had been switched these past few months—she'd been the enigmatic one, forced to hide so much of what she knew to protect him. She just wanted him safe—but he wouldn't see it that way. How could he, when everything he knew told him otherwise?
And then the world exploded around them.
It didn't actually explode, of course, but a blast of something destroyed the door and rocked the building almost to its foundations. Tables shifted and chairs fell and people screamed. Rose fell and John followed her, covering her with his body. When the dust cleared three people—a plump old man with a gray mustache, Rose's waitress friend Jenny, and one of the boys who had accosted her at the Big Bad Wolf—stood where the DJ had been. It was 'had been,' because all that remained of him was a pile of ash, courtesy of one of the strange weapons the people were wielding. They looked sort-of like lobsters, if lobsters were green and scaly and shot what appeared to be lasers from their bums. The boy—Baines, his friends had called him, John remembered (it was funny the things that the brain fixated on when in danger)—stepped forward.
"Where is the Doctor?" he demanded. "Come out come out wherever you are!"
John felt Rose tense beside him. He tried to shift slowly, to place himself between her and the lunatics with guns. It didn't work, as he discovered when he found one of the odd weapons aimed at him.
"Ah, Mr. Smith," Baines said coolly, a manic smile stretched across his face. "We meet again. And look, there's that tart of a waitress you were defending."
"It's him!" a piping voice exclaimed, and the little girl who had held the red balloon skipped out from the shadows. "He's the Doctor! I heard them talking!"
Baines sniffed. "What have you done, Time Lord?"
"What are you on about?" John asked, frowning. "Put down the guns and we'll talk."
"Oh, I don't think so." If anything, the boy's grin widened. "We've heard about you, Doctor. You're a dangerous man—but not when there are innocents around, and I'd hate for one of them to get injured in your place." He sneered. "Oh, like your girlfriend."
The old man moved faster than humanly possible, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye Rose was ripped from behind John and pulled out in front of the crowd. Jenny held one of the green guns to her forehead. "You've made yourself human," Baines continued. "I'd like you to change back. You're no good to us like this—we need a Time Lord."
"Let her go," John growled. Panic was rising like bile in his throat and rage followed. His world narrowed down to the four lunatics standing in front of him and the gun pressed against the woman he loved.
"Change!" Baines yelled back.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" he roared. They were mad, completely and totally mad. The whole world had gone mad.
"Then she dies."
John lunged forward. He didn't care that there were three more of them than him, and that one of them was a little girl and another was a boy just barely into university. They'd threatened Rose and everything he was screamed out against that. There was a madness building inside him, a force of quiet, logical insanity that promised retribution beyond measure. Baines caught him easily and threw him back, but it was just enough of a distraction to pull the-thing-that-had-been-Jenny's attention a fraction away from her task. Rose grabbed the alien's wrist, twisted and pulled. Jack had taught her a thing or two about hand-to-hand combat and she was immensely grateful for his lessons as she wrested the gun away and aimed it at Baines. "Drop it," she ordered.
John stared at her. She was breathing quickly and her eyes were wide, but her hands and her voice were steady. She was afraid but not overwhelmed, and once again he wondered just how dangerous her life was.
"Shoot you down!" Baines crowed.
"Try it," she snapped back, "and I'll vaporize you."
"Careful, son of mine," the old man warned. "This was all so that you could live forever."
The warped grin stayed firmly plastered on his face, but Baines set the gun down. "John, Jack," Rose said firmly, "I want you to get all these people out."
"Such fire," the-thing-that-had-been-Jenny mused, "such spirit! I should have taken you, my dear." The alien leered at Rose.
"Stay back," his precious girl warned. Her eyes were hard and angry and, he thought, just a little terrified. "John," she asked reasonably. "Why are you still here?" The people were pouring past them, pouring out of the building.
"I'm not leaving you," he replied.
If she hadn't been totally focused on the strange beings in front of her he thought she'd be rolling her eyes at him. "Go!" Rose snapped. "I'll catch up later."
"And how do you plan on doing that?" the old man asked conversationally. "The minute you turn away we'll shoot."
The corner of her lips twitched up into something that resembled a smirk. "Like this," she replied, and shot the ceiling. The rafters were all ready damaged from the shock of the aliens' entrance. The blast from Rose's stolen weapon was the final straw. The ceiling collapsed, cutting her off from the things-that-had-been-people.
Jack insisted they go to Rose's flat. John was having none of it. He was not going to bloody leave her in there with those, those things! When Harkness grabbed his arm in a futile attempt to pull John away from the building he barely refrained from punching the other man in the face. Thankfully Rose appeared before actual violence could occur.
"What the hell are you doing!" she shouted. "I told you to go!"
"M not leavin' you!" John snapped back. "Not with those maniacs!"
"Well they're not here now!" she yelled and grabbed his hand. "Now run!"
Rose and John took the lead. She could tell by the look on Joan's face that there would be questions later, but at the moment they could wait. Escaping was the easy part, after all. Convincing the two (relatively) normal members of their little group was the hard part. They made it to Rose and John's little flat without incident. Jack was the last in. He locked the door behind them and whirled around to face Rose.
"Do they know where you live?" he demanded.
She shook her head. "No, I only knew Jenny and I never told her."
Jack began to pace. "That'll buy us some time, but not much. They've got our scents now. They'll hunt us down."
"What are they?" John demanded.
"They killed that man," Joan was saying. Her face was blank and her voice was flat. It was shock, Rose knew. She'd felt much the same when she'd stumbled onto the Slitheen's plot to take over the world (and the Prime Minister's body in a cupboard). It was a survival method, she figured; it kept the potentially fatal paralysis of terror at bay. "They just killed him, no warning, nothing."
"Rose." His voice was firm and familiar and it cut through her mind's frantic racing. John laid his large, calloused hands on her shoulders and she looked up into blazing blue eyes. "What is going on here?"
Jack saved her from having to answer. "They're aliens," he replied.
John raised an eyebrow. "Aliens."
"Yeah. Is that a problem?" Jack's friendly, flirty façade was gone. He was calm, but purposeful—hell, he even stood straighter and John was reminded of his first assessment of the man: here was someone who had taken lives, here was someone who used to be a soldier. Like recognized like—but he'd forgotten about Rose. She'd kept her head, she'd held a gun and he believed that if one of those, those aliens, had made a move she'd have fired. She wasn't a soldier; she hadn't been trained to kill. He didn't know how he could be so certain, but he was.
John shrugged. "I've heard stranger theories."
Rose took over explaining. "They're called the Family of Blood, an' they've been hunting us. Well, they've been hunting you." She took a deep breath. "You're not John Smith."
He almost laughed. He would have, if her face hadn't been so serious, if she didn't look like she believed the absurd things she was saying. "Yes I am," he replied. He even pulled out his passport and showed her. "See? John Smith, age forty-two, born in Manchester, England, the United Kingdom."
She shook her head. "That's just a bit of paper." Her voice was firm, but her eyes were uncertain. "Your name is the Doctor. You're a nine-hundred year old Time Lord. Jack's a Time Agent turned conman turned companion from the fifty-first century an' me—you met me in the basement of Henrik's department store when I was surrounded by shop window dummies come to life."
"This isn't funny anymore, Rose." His insides were turning to ice—he could feel the cold tendrils of dread worming their way up from the pit of his stomach. "Those people killed someone. They're obviously mad. Now is not the time to be making up stories."
"They're not stories!" she snapped. "This is the story!" She gestured to the little flat around them. Jack and Joan had vanished at some point in the conversation, he wasn't sure when and he didn't care. All of John's attention was fixed on the woman who seemed bent on destroying him. "All of this, living in a flat, working as a mechanic, none of it is real."
"That's enough, Rose." His voice was harsh and his face was set in stern, angry lines. "If you wanted out all you had to do was say so."
"What are you talking about?" she demanded. There were tears standing in her eyes and he felt his resolve weaken, felt his anger dissipate just a bit before it came crashing back. He'd been patient, he'd been understanding. He hadn't pushed when she asked him not to, hadn't tried to get her to tell him more than she was willing to divulge about her life but this—this was going too far.
"Are you trying to let me down gently?" he sneered. "Figured you'd pull one over the daft old soldier who thought he loved you? Just come out and say it, Rose, say that you don't want me, say that you'd rather have Jack and this Doctor who abandoned you without a second thought—"
It was at that moment that her palm slammed against his cheek with enough force to turn his head, effectively cutting off his furious tirade. "God!" she shouted. "You are such a bloody bastard!" He gaped at her. It was a cliché, but she was beautiful when she was angry—her eyes sparkled with fury and her cheeks were pink and her chest heaved and he cursed himself for noticing all of that when he was supposed to be fuming. "I said this was a bad plan," she continued, oblivious to his shock. "I told you, but you were all 'I'm the Doctor and I'm a bloody genius, I shite gold an' no one knows better than me!" She gesticulated wildly and he had to take a step back or risk getting hit again—and she hit hard. "We had to hide, you said, 'cause those aliens, the Family, they could use you to live forever. Like mayflies, you said, just six months and then we could be off again, travelin' like we're supposed to. An' then you went an' turned yourself human so they wouldn't track us—fat lot of good that did! An' then I lost the bloody watch! You took everything that made you a Time Lord and put it in a fob watch an' I lost it!" She turned away from him and buried her face in her hands.
John was confused and angry and hurt—but he couldn't just stand there and watch her break apart. "Rose," he murmured, and touched her shoulder hesitantly.
She let him tug her around to face him again, let him wrap his arms around her and rest his chin on top of her head. She clung to him, fisted her hands in the fabric of his jumper beneath his ubiquitous leather jacket and pressed her forehead against his chest. He could feel the wet warmth of her tears soaking through to his skin. Her lips were moving, he could feel them, but he couldn't catch what she was saying. He lowered his head.
"I'm sorry," she was mumbling over and over again. "Oh god I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry."
"Hush," he replied gently. "Hush now, Rose. It'll be all right."
She pushed away from him and wiped her eyes. "No," she told him. "No, it won't. You trusted me and I let you down. You told me to keep it safe and I didn't."
"No," he agreed. "You kept yourself safe and that's what's important." He looked away. "I don't know what's going on, Rose, but we can fix it. Just please, please stop it with these stories. If you really believe them—we can get you help, we can. Just—stay with me."
It was Rose's turn to stare at him, disbelieving. "You think I've gone barmy," she realized.
John snorted. "You start talking about aliens and watches and all that rubbish; what am I supposed to think?"
"You could trust me," she bit out.
"Because you've been so forthcoming and honest," he snapped back. "Getting any sort of information out of you is like pulling teeth!"
She glared at him, and then she held out her hand. He frowned. "Come on, then," Rose told him. "You want proof? I'll give you proof."
He took her hand because walking without her fingers woven through his felt wrong. "Rose," he said as she practically dragged him down the hallway. "We're going to your bedroom."
"Yeah," she replied. "What of it?" and shot him a glare.
"Your proof that I'm a nine-hundred year-old alien is in your bedroom," he continued, just to be sure he understood where the situation was going.
She didn't respond. Instead, she shoved him through the door and stormed over to her closet. She threw open the door—and he froze. Sitting inside her closet was the blue box—the space and time ship that he'd dreamt about. Maybe he was dreaming now. Maybe this whole day was a nightmare brought about by nerves and a dodgy curry from that place on the corner. Maybe he'd wake up and he'd be curled around Rose in their bed.
He pinched himself. Nothing changed. Rose pulled a key attached to a long silver chain out of the bodice of her dress. John frowned. He knew that key. She wore it everywhere, under her clothes usually. It was the key Jack had given her—all that had been left of her belongings from the fire at the Big Bad Wolf. She slipped it into the lock and turned. The door to the blue box opened.
Rose turned back to face him. "It's called the TARDIS—that stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space," she said softly. "This is your ship." She laid a hand on the battered wood paneling fondly. "She's alive, you know. I couldn't believe it at first, but she is. She's the last of her kind—just like you." Fire bloomed in his mind's eye at her words, fire and death and silence that ripped into him. She hesitated, suddenly uncertain. "D'you want to come in?" She worried her bottom lip with her teeth.
John shook his head wordlessly, and sank down on the edge of the bed. He rested his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. It was a lie; his entire life was a lie and his nightmares were real. He'd seen the world of this 'Doctor;' it was fire and death and grief. It was loneliness and separation and an endless, doomed struggle against an indifferent, thankless universe. And Rose—was she lying too? Was everything between them, every touch, every kiss, every sweet swell of desire a fiction? Was she only playing a role?
She wanted to go to him, to wrap her arms around him and tell him that everything would be all right. She wanted to—but she didn't, because she'd learned from the Doctor that sweet lies only hurt in the end. So Rose stood in front of him and smoothed the fabric of her dress over her hips, just to give her hands something to do whilst she waited.
"Was any of it real?" he asked after a long moment, in a voice that was tortured and rough. When he raised his face from his hands tear tracks wound down his cheeks.
She knelt in front of him and cupped his face in her hands. "It was all real," she told him softly. Her heart ached for him like a physical wound in her chest. "You don't understand—but you're so much yourself. Everything about you—the way you talk, the way you smile, even the way you say my name." His eyes burned into hers with sorrow that could swallow worlds and maybe, just maybe the faintest glimmer of hope. "You've just forgotten," she continued. "And it's time for you to remember."
"What if I don't want to?" he almost begged and the hope in his gaze merged with desperation. "What if this is what I want, this life as this man with you, Rose Tyler?"
She closed her eyes and shook her head. "You can't." Her voice broke. "God, I wish—but you can't."
"Why not?" he demanded.
"Because the universe needs you!" Rose insisted. She opened her eyes and his face swam before her, obscured by the tears she knew were dripping down her cheeks. "I know it's hard and I know it's terrifying, but you do so much good. We could travel and laugh and have a decent life here—but it's not enough, not for you and not for me." She took a breath and forged ahead. "I love you. I love you because you're him, but I love all of you—the daft alien bits included. I love the running and the danger and even the times we get thrown in jail. I love seeing other planets and times and meeting new people, and by people I mean aliens."
"Does he love you?" John asked suddenly.
Rose looked away. "I think so." Her voice was quiet, almost wistful. "For a genius you're a bit thick when it comes to 'domestic' things like love," she teased gently. "M not lettin' you wiggle out of this one, though."
"Will he remember this?" John continued. He was looking at her like she was the single most important thing in the whole of creation. It was intoxicating and familiar. His words in 10 Downing Street came to her unbidden: I could save the world but lose you.
"I hope so," she breathed.
"Good," he said firmly, and then he kissed her. It was hard and demanding and just this side of punishing. She opened her mouth and let him take what he needed from her. She could taste salt on his lips and she wasn't sure if they were his tears or hers—because it was a glorious kiss, but it was also goodbye.
The door to their bedroom opened behind them, but they were too focused on each other to notice or care. It wasn't until Jack coughed loudly that Rose and John finally separated. "You've got a visitor," Jack told them.
Rose wiped her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself. John didn't bother. He stared at the ground, his eyes unfocused and unseeing. Rose gave Jack a smile that looked as fake as it felt. She knew that the Doctor was John so if they could find the watch he would be waking up, not dying—so why did it feel like the opposite was true? "Who is it, Jack?" she asked. "Can it wait? We're a little busy here."
Jack shook his head. "You guys want to see this," he assured them—and then Timothy Latimer stepped into the room.
Rose blinked. "Tim?"
He held out his hands. Cradled in his palms, as if it were unbelievably precious, was a watch. A fob watch. "He said that it's time," Tim told them. His eyes were wide and awed. "He said you should open it."
"Where did you find that!" Rose exclaimed and snatched it away from him. She pressed it to her chest just above her heart. It was warm just like it always was, and it hummed and vibrated faintly and if she listened hard she could almost hear him speaking to her, whispering words of reassurance and thanks.
Tim fidgeted. "In the Big Bad Wolf—it called out to me. I grabbed it just after I found you." He held up his hands in surrender when she fixed him with a furious glare. "I wanted to give it back—but he said to hide it. And then—" He swallowed nervously. "Then I was afraid."
"Why?" John asked dully. His eyes remained fixed on the carpet.
"Because I've seen the Doctor," Tim told them. "And he's like fire, and ice, and rage. He's the night and the storm in the heart of the sun."
John closed his eyes. "Stop it," he ordered, but Tim continued.
"He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe."
"Stop it!" John yelled.
"And he's wonderful," Tim finished. "He's saved the world, the whole universe thousands of times. He finds ordinary people and he makes them better and sometimes—sometimes they make him better."
Rose held out the watch. "Take it," she insisted. He shook his head. She took his hand, dropped the watch on his palm, and folded his fingers over it. Her fingertips brushed the warm metal casing and images flashed through her mind.
The sun was high in the sky overhead. A warm breeze blew in from over the turquoise ocean as they walked barefoot on a white sand beach. The skirt of her pink dress fluttered around her legs and she brushed stray strands of hair back behind her ear and the red hibiscus bloom fixed there. He had abandoned his leather jacket and jumper for a white linen shirt. He'd pushed the sleeves up to his elbows earlier when he'd been changing the flat tire on their car and a smudge of grease remained on the back of his right hand. They'd come to Australia on a whim—she'd never been and he'd only been once, a long time ago (and apparently he spent most of that time at an airport so in her opinion that didn't even count). They'd gotten married on a whim too. They didn't need it, not like other people did, but it would make terminology easier (he was so much more than a 'boyfriend' and 'significant other' was stuffy and 'lover' was a little too much information for most people). He'd rounded up someone named Teagan—a woman who traveled with him when he was the Doctor, apparently, to be their witness. Rose purchased the rings in the only jeweler's shop in the tiny town where they'd ended up. Hers had an opal set in the center. She liked the watch the colors shift—they reminded her of the way his eyes matched his mood. He married her on the beach and they made love for the first time as husband and wife on a blanket beneath the stars.
The marketplace was a riot of color. Tents and awnings sheltered vendors and their wares from the blazing sun. The air was hot and filled with the scent of spices, of cooking meat, of warm bodies and fragrant flowers. Rose wandered through the crowd, John's hand firmly in hers. She wanted somewhere warm after their sojourn to Scotland ended in seven straight days of damp, chilly rain. Her dress was sleeveless and light and sweat still dripped down her neck to her back, but she didn't care. Street vendors filled the marketplace with shouts and cries and descriptions of their wares designed to lure shoppers in. A boy wearing a brilliant yellow cloth wrapped around his lower body and an orange 'Avengers' t-shirt carried dried fish attached to a pole on his shoulder. A little girl chased her sister through the stalls, shrieking with laughter. A man sat on a towel on the ground, shaded by two umbrellas whilst he tended a pot of stew over a fire. Rose's left hand was laced through John's right and her free hand rested on the growing swell of her stomach. Getting pregnant wasn't something they'd planned, but she wouldn't change it for the world. He tugged on her hand and she turned her face to gaze up at him. "Look, Rose," he exclaimed enthusiastically. "They have bananas!" She closed her eyes and let her head fall back—and laughed.
It was night and the sky was filled with stars. The boat swayed gently in time with the waves that lapped at its TARDIS blue sides. They'd named it the 'Bad Wolf,' in honor of the place that had brought them together. Rose had wanted to call it 'Gallifrey,' because it was their home, but John wanted to make it about who they are, not who they were, and she had given in. It had felt like mourning, at first, and a bit like forgetting, but she'd realized that the Doctor had been her life, but John was her life now—and she was happy. The slap of bare feet on the smooth wooden deck alerted her to their daughter's presence. Susan was eight years old and had her father's blue eyes and her mother's nose and ears, thankfully. Behind her, as always, were Alistair and Ian. Alistair was six and had his father's nose and his mother's smile. Ian looked just like his father, but he had Rose's patience and easy-going nature. He was three, and still young enough to cuddle. He climbed into her lap whilst Alistair and Susan scrambled over the deck. If she let them they'd try and climb the mast. Rose held her youngest child close and breathed in the smell of sea and salt and little boy. A large hand covered her shoulder and soft lips pressed a kiss on her hair. Her husband always moved silently—a feat that she could never accomplish on the 'Bad Wolf's' deck. "I love you," he murmured. "I love you," she replied.
She buried him at sea. He'd lived long enough to see Susan get her M.D. and Ian graduate with his Master's degree in astronomy and Alistair married to a lovely girl from Manchester, oddly enough. He always said that they were brilliant, of course they were—they were his children, after all, but thank god they took after their mother. When the children were grown they'd continued to travel. It was as natural as breathing to them; they'd only stopped when his health started to fail. Even then she thought it was the waiting that killed him, the necessity of staying in one place. He wasn't meant to be still. She remembered him as he'd lived, not as he'd died—always in motion, always ready for adventure. The children had come back, Susan with her wife, a lovely woman named Anne who worked as a psychologist, Ian with his friend Jamie who was as good as their own daughter, and Alistair with his wife Margret and their children John and Jackie. Even Jack Harkness made an appearance. They'd taken the 'Bad Wolf' out into the Pacific Ocean and then Rose had opened the cardboard box she clutched to her chest and let the wind take his ashes. Jack had held her and let her cry into his shirt and then they'd spent the evening remembering. It was a good life, she thought as she watched her family remember their father and grandfather. It was a good life with a good man. It was enough.
Rose blinked and the strange scenes were gone—she was back in her flat, one hand covering John's, which was wrapped around the watch. The tiny spark of hope she'd seen early blazed into a wildfire, fueled by stubbornness and sheer desperation. "You saw that," he whispered. She nodded, unable to find words to describe the experience. It was like she'd lived forty years in the space of a breath. Emotions boiled through her, love and fear and heartache and contentment and hope—but beneath it all she knew: it was a dream. A beautiful, fulfilling dream—but only a fantasy. John didn't see that, or he refused to believe it, because he continued to speak. "Those aliens, the 'Family' or what have you—they want the Doctor." He held up the watch. "This is him, you said—we could give them the watch, Rose." His eyes begged her to understand, to agree with him. "We could have that life."
There was a sound like thunder and the world rocked around them. John grabbed her and held her steady. Tim raced to the window. "They're bombing the city!" he yelled. Another concussion almost knocked him off of his feet.
John leapt up and headed for the door, but Rose pulled him back. "You can't!" she cried. "I won't let you!"
"You were happy with me!" he insisted.
"Not finding the watch is one thing," she argued. "I won't let you give them the Doctor."
"It would mean war," Jack said. His voice was quiet but strong and his eyes were sad. "That's why we were hiding. If you give them that watch they'll live forever and you won't get a chance at that life you saw. It'll be fire and death all across the universe."
John closed his eyes. He could see it in his mind—thanks to the watch, no doubt. He couldn't stop it, couldn't stop seeing Jack cut down in the street, couldn't stop seeing Rose in his arms, a trail of red dripping from the corner of her mouth as the light left her eyes. He was a soldier. He knew about hard choices and sacrifice. He knew that his life wasn't worth theirs—wasn't worth Rose. He'd known what was going to happen for a while, but he'd raged against it, he'd searched desperately and allowed himself to cling to the hope that maybe, just maybe it wouldn't come to that. Maybe the universe would be kind. Maybe there was another way.
There wasn't. As soon as he saw the blue box he knew he was going to die. Please, he begged the universe or the Doctor or whoever would listen. Please keep her safe. Please keep her happy. Please, love her like she deserves to be loved.
"Can you give me a minute?" he asked. Jack and Tim left without a word. He turned to Rose. "Promise me something," he said haltingly. "Promise me that you'll remember that I love you, no matter what he does. Promise me that you'll remember that I always will. Promise me that you'll remember that I, at least, had the courage to say it." She nodded and he noted with a sort of detached fascination that there were tears in her eyes. He laid a rough palm against her cheek and kissed her tenderly. "Don't cry for me, precious girl," he murmured. "Now go. I don't want you to see this." She looked for a moment like she was going to disagree, but then she nodded. She glanced over her shoulder at him before she shut the door and he tried to give her a smile. It didn't feel very convincing, and from her expression he thought it must not look convincing either. Then she was gone and he turned the handle and the lock clicked into place—and he opened the watch.
It was a bit like regenerating—every cell was rewriting itself. It was like being born and dying simultaneously and also sort-of like that bit in The Matrix when Neo learns Kung Fu. Facts and figures and dates and times and people and places poured in until it felt like his head was going to explode. He was freezing and scalding and his heart was pounding like it wanted to jump out of his chest. It was agonizing. He managed not to scream but he couldn't stop the whimpers from escaping. Everything was too bright, too loud. He could hear Rose pacing in the hallway, deduced that Jack was in the living room with Tim Latimer from the vibrations he felt through the floorboards. He discerned the location of the Family's spaceship based on the way their bombs hit the buildings and pavement of the neighborhood. He had precisely thirteen ideas for disabling their ship and exactly four ways to give them exactly what they wanted—eternal life.
He was fresh out of mercy.
Rose paced the hallway restlessly. Objectively she knew that there was no way she could hurry the process along, but she wanted to, oh, she wanted to so badly. The Doctor had screamed when he became human, screamed like he was being ripped apart. She heard his cries in her dreams sometimes. They pulled her out of sleep in cold sweat and she would wake John just to feel him alive next to her—and then since they were both awake—well.
She wondered what the Doctor would think of their sex life. He'd been interested enough in Jabe, and he'd been quick enough to claim her when Jack came aboard (even if he never actually acted on said claim). He had to know that she was his, and if he hadn't before than he did now.
The door swung open and the Doctor stepped out. She took an involuntary step toward him. He was looking down at the watch he still held in one hand, but when he saw her a warm, gentle smile curved his lips. "Rose Tyler," he said and she shuddered just like she always did—and then she was next to him. She pressed her ear against his chest and let the reassuring rhythm of his double heartbeat soothe away the fear and tension that had plagued her throughout their stay. Cool, leather-clad arms held her in place and she swore that she felt the ghost of his lips against the top of her head. He held her for a moment and then let his arms fall. Rose stepped back. "Captain," he said with a nod in Jack's direction.
Jack, of course, would have none of that. He embraced the Doctor roughly. "Good to have you back," he told the Time Lord.
"Good to be back," the Doctor acknowledged.
Joan stepped forward. She studied him for a moment and then opened her arms. The Doctor flashed a manic grin and gave her a brief hug. "You're a good woman, Joan Redfern, and a saint if you're willing to put up with this 'un." He jerked his finger at Jack, who made a show of being hurt.
Tim Latimer hung back. He was quiet by nature, and a bit shy. It seemed odd to Rose that he'd be feeling self-conscious around the Doctor after he'd been carrying the watch for weeks, but there was something to be said about the Time Lord's presence. She'd never stop joking about his ego, but when he was intense (like now) he tended to suck the air out of the room.
"Thank you," the Doctor told him gravely.
Tim nodded. "You're welcome." He paused. "But, why me? Why could I hear the watch?"
"Oh," the Doctor said off-hand, "you've got an extra synaptic engram in that bonehead of yours. Gives you a bit of telepathy—nothin' to worry about; you were born with it. Just—trust your feelings. Odds are they'll lead you right."
Tim's eyes darted towards Rose and the Doctor's lips twisted in an ironic, self-depreciating smile. He took her hand and led her back into the hall, away from the others. "Now listen, Rose," he began when she opened her mouth. "This is serious. I need you to stay here."
"No chance!" she exclaimed. "I'm going wherever you are."
"I'm going to their ship," he told her firmly. "I've got to end this. If you come along you'll be just one more distraction at best; at worst you'll be one more thing they can use against me."
She stiffened. "Right," she bit out. "Cause I've never saved your life or anything like that."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, for the love of—" And then he kissed her. It was fast, but forceful enough to leave her breathless. The Doctor rested his forehead on hers and smiled. "You've saved my life a thousand times, Rose Tyler, but I've just had five months of memories replaced in my skull an' I don't have the leisure to sort through them at the moment. If you come with there will be exactly one thing I'll be thinkin' of and it's not blowing up their ship—though it may involve pyrotechnics. So please, stay here with Jack an' Joan an' Timothy." Apparently stunned beyond words, she nodded. He pressed another quick kiss to her lips. "Be back soon."
"Where are you going?" Jack asked as the Doctor opened the flat's front door.
"Got to see a man about a dog," he replied, and then he was gone.