A/N: So after...whoa, a year? It's been a year since I've put something up? Eek...
Anyway, this story can be read alone. All you need to know is this is set in an AU universe in which the Doctor and Rose are in an established relationship (in which he has actually SAID IT) and traveling with an immortal Jack who left Torchwood Three (with intentions to eventually return) to travel with them.
If you'd like to read the rest of the series, you can find them on my page: Two Months, The Planted Past, and Loop.
And now on to the story.
Chapter One: The Chameleon Arch
Rose tumbled through the TARDIS door at top speed, barely catching herself from smashing her face into the grating. She winced as the Doctor landed on top of her legs. A split second later, Jack dashed through the TARDIS threshold and tripped over the Doctor, narrowly avoiding a green blast that zinged over them to slam into the console, sending sparks flying everywhere.
"The door, the door!"
Jack rolled off the Doctor and scrambled to shut the door. A muffled blast slammed into the other side just as it closed.
The Doctor pulled Rose to her feet, snatched her by the shoulders, and shook her. "Did they see you?"
"I don't know—"
"Did they see you?"
"No!" she gasped.
The Doctor released her, whirling towards Jack. "Did they—"
"No!" Jack shot back, leaning on his knees as his chest heaved.
The Doctor's shoulders relaxed as he breathed a sigh of relief. "Good, good, off we go…" He attacked the console in a frenzy, and the TARDIS dematerialised. Then a screeching sort of beep sounded, and the Doctor yanked the monitor to his face and let out a groan of frustration. "They're following us!"
"One of them had a vortex manipulator!" Jack recalled, straightening.
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair, still staring at the monitor. "They can follow us wherever we go, right across the universe. They're never going to stop…Unless…"
"Doctor, what were those things?" Rose demanded. The Doctor had a rare look of terror in his eyes, and just seeing the Doctor terrified made her terrified.
"Hunters," the Doctor rattled off, still messing up his hair. "Related to the Gelth. Gaseous beings. Usually they're peaceful—bounty hunters, search and rescue types—but these particular ones, the Family of Blood, they're sort of outlaws. They're looking for creatures with long lifespans."
"What, like you and Jack?"
"Not Jack," the Doctor said quickly, pulling one of the floor panels up and lowering himself into the storage unit below. "They can't tell about Jack because he smells human. But me being a Time Lord—well, I'm unique." He thrust a large chest up onto the console room floor and climbed out. "They can track me across the whole of time and space."
"But why?" asked Jack.
The Doctor rummaged through the chest until he found a silver fob watch. "So they can eat me and live off the regeneration energy for centuries, which they'll spend spreading destruction all throughout the universe. Rose, hold this." He pressed the watch into her hand.
"What is it?" She traced the circles on it with her thumb.
"Just this…thing," the Doctor said distractedly as he shut the chest and kicked it back under the floor. "Don't lose it."
"Hold on," said Jack, "So if this Family is hunting you, what are we supposed to do?"
The Doctor started pushing buttons on the console frantically. "They've smelled me, but they haven't seen me. And they've got very short lifespans—three months at most. So, we hide."
"Where in all of time and space are we supposed to hide?"
"Well, that's the problem, isn't it?" said the Doctor, twisting a knob. "I can't. That's why I've got to stop being a Time Lord." He looked up at the TARDIS ceiling, from which some sort of helmet was descending.
"Doctor, why am I holding this watch?" Rose asked, voice reaching a near-hysterical pitch.
The Doctor looked nervously from his contraption to Rose and back up, lost in thought. "All those times I thought about telling you…this wasn't how I thought it would…Well." He swallowed and grabbed the device. "It's a Chameleon Arch. I'm going to become human."
Rose and Jack both gaped at him. "What?"
"I'm going to rewrite every cell in my body to human."
Rose's near hysteria came to fruition. "Rewrite every cell? Like a regeneration? You're going to die?"
"No! Yes! Sort of…I'll still look like this, and the human thing's only temporary. Open the watch and I'll change right back…if you want me to."
This did not make Rose any calmer. "Why wouldn't I want you to change back?"
The Doctor looked from the Chameleon Arch to Rose again. "I dunno…Just…Look, everything Time Lord about me is going into that watch. That watch is me, all right? So don't lose it." He turned back to the controls and pushed things seemingly at random. "Now, the TARDIS will take care of everything. Invent a life story for me, find me a setting and integrate me. Can't do the same for you...you'll both just have to improvise. I should have just enough residual awareness to let you in. No idea where we'll end up. And Jack…no dying. No injuries. Don't get hurt at all."
Jack crossed his arms in a huff. "It's not like I try to get hurt, Doc."
"I know, it's just—" the Doctor took a deep breath and paused to look at him. "You smell human, but if they ever figure out you're immortal, they will stop at nothing to catch you. You should be able to blend in with the rest of the humans, but if you're coming back from the dead and healing fatal wounds instantly, you are going to be more noticeable to them. And if they decide to track you instead, I can't hide you. So I'm ordering you, no heroics. Live a quiet life for three months, all right?"
Jack nodded, but he looked furious. "So we're all supposed to just camp out somewhere and pretend to be normal for three months?"
The Doctor waved his sonic screwdriver over the Chameleon Arch. "That's the plan. Rose, the watch."
Biting her lip, Rose handed him the watch. He inserted it into the Chameleon Arch and pushed some buttons on the helmet.
"Are you—" Rose took a deep breath. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Course I am," said the Doctor, staring at the Chameleon Arch. His eyes kept sliding to it, as if wary that it might attack him. "The human thing's only temporary, like I said. Three months. Just keep the watch safe."
"But rewriting your cells—won't that hurt?"
"Oh, yeah. It hurts." The Doctor tore his gaze away from the Chameleon Arch. "You shouldn't watch. You could go to the wardrobe; I'm sure the TARDIS has made up some bags for you to fetch."
Rose shook her head. "I'm not leaving you."
"We'll get them after," decided Jack.
The Doctor gave them both a sad smile. "I didn't think you would. I'm sorry. So, so sorry." He straightened. "Right. Take these." He pulled the sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper out of his pocket, and handed them to Jack. "I probably won't know what they are."
"Exactly how much are you going to know?" asked Rose.
The Doctor shrugged. "Dunno. Never done this before." He looked at the Chameleon Arch again. "Whatever a normal human of whatever time we land in would know, I suppose." He took another deep breath, reverting to a business-like tone. "Right, so, don't worry about the TARDIS; it'll be on emergency power. Just let her hide away. Don't let me hurt anyone while I'm human. I don't think I will, but you know what humans are like…"
"Oi," Rose protested weakly.
"Don't let me abandon either of you," the Doctor continued.
"Is that likely?" asked Jack.
"Not entirely sure. Only open the watch if the three months are up or if we're in terrible danger. If they find us…open it."
Rose nodded, brain whirring at a dizzying pace. "Anything…anything else?" she said finally.
"Er…don't let me eat pears? Hate to wake up from being human and find out I've done something stupid like eat a pear." He made a face as if hoping to lighten the tension that had swept over the console room, but neither of his friends so much as cracked a smile.
The Doctor turned and took the Chameleon Arch in his hand. "Take the watch out when…when it's over. There's a perception filter so the human me won't think anything of it. Just…keep it safe. And closed. Unless, you know, there's an emergency or something." He ran his thumb over the curve of the Arch. "Well, suppose I can't delay any longer." He looked up from the Arch to Rose. "I love you, Rose."
"Love you too," she replied shakily. Far from calming her, his words only made the pit in her stomach sink further. She'd found that the only moments the Doctor did say the dreaded phrase tended to be the ones when he saw little but doom on the horizon.
"I just want you to know that before I…right." The Doctor turned to Jack. "Captain, be careful. And thank you."
"See you in hell," Jack offered, wrapping an arm around Rose's shoulders and pulling her back with him.
The Doctor nodded. "See you." He shoved the Chameleon Arch over his head, and gave his friends a weak smile. "Here goes."
He flicked the switch and let out a terrible, agonised scream.
Jack felt Rose jerk in his arms and latched onto her tighter, as much to keep himself from yanking the thing off the Doctor's head as Rose. The Doctor was twitching and writhing, howling like he had been lit on fire—which, if every cell in his body was being rewritten, probably wasn't far off.
Rose sobbed and pressed her face into Jack's chest so she couldn't see. Jack shut his own eyes, unable to block out the terrible screaming, and rocked Rose back and forth a bit. The words, "It's okay," passed his lips once, but the words sounded hollow even to him. Not to mention they were difficult to hear over the Doctor's screaming.
Minutes passed as the Doctor shouted and seized, and then, finally, he stopped.
Rose tore herself away from Jack, trembling. "Doctor?"
The Doctor stared blankly ahead for another second before his eyes rolled into his head and his knees collapsed under him. The Chameleon Arch slid off, swinging above him in a pendulum. The TARDIS landed with a jolt, and its lights died, leaving only a faint green glow coming from the console.
"Emergency power," Jack observed as both he and Rose rushed over to the Doctor. He pressed his hands on either side of the Doctor's chest. "Only one heart's beating."
"Well, he's only got one heart now, yeah?" Rose replied, swiping tears off her face with the back of her hand. She plucked the watch from the helmet and ran her thumb over it again. The watch seemed heavier, warmer.
Carefully, Jack slid his arms under the Doctor's knees and back and scooped him up. "Come on, let's see where we are."
They opened the door. Rose took one look and let out a bitter laugh. "Anywhere in time and space and we end up on the Powell Estate."
"What's he done now?" Jackie demanded when she saw on her doorstep the Doctor unconscious in Jack's arms. Her face softened when she saw Rose's tear-streaked face. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
Jack laid the Doctor on the sofa. "You got a torch I can borrow, Jackie?"
"In the kitchen," she waved a hand in the kitchen's direction. "I'll make some tea while I'm at it."
Jackie went to the kitchen and Jack went back to the TARDIS with the torch to fetch the bags of clothes, leaving Rose on the sofa with the Doctor, his head in her lap.
Rose couldn't bring herself to say anything as she ran her fingers through his hair and stared at his face. He felt warmer. And he looked younger, somehow. Unburdened. Not quite as Doctorish as usual.
Soon, Jack returned with the bags and Jackie returned with tea. "Bit like Christmas, innit?" she said softly as she handed Rose her tea. "Are you going to tell me what happened, sweetheart? Why he's so sick? His face is still the same."
Rose told her everything as they dressed the Doctor in the pyjamas from the bags Jack had retrieved from the TARDIS.
"You mean he's going to be like this for three months?" Jackie said as they tucked him into bed.
Rose nodded, pulling a chair up beside the bed. "He said the TARDIS was going to give him a life story or something. He might not even remember us."
Jack popped his head in. "I've put his suit back in the TARDIS. Has he moved at all?"
"Not a peep, poor thing," said Jackie, shaking her head at him.
But at that moment, the Doctor groaned. Rose, Jack, and Jackie all scooted in closer as he opened his eyes and blinked.
"Rose? Jack? Jackie?" he said in bewilderment. "Why exactly are you all gathered around my bedside?"
The three of them looked at each other. "What do you remember?" asked Rose tentatively.
The human Doctor's nose wrinkled. "Well…we were cleaning up after dinner? And…" His eyes widened. "I hit my head."
"Yep," Jack said quickly. "Hit your head on the cabinet and clonked right out."
"And you didn't take me to a hospital?" the human Doctor asked, scandalised.
"We were just talking about it," said Jackie, arranging the blankets. "But you've woke up, so no need."
The human Doctor thought about this for a moment. "Well, suppose you're right. And I feel fine. Brilliant, in fact." He pushed the covers off himself and stretched with a yawn. "But blimey, you all decided to just stare at me while I'm sleeping? I mean, Rose, I don't mind you, but as much as I love your family, wouldn't you agree it's a bit unsettling to have your mother-in-law and brother-in-law watch you sleep?"
Jack and Jackie both winced. "Mother-in-law?"
"We were all worried, Doc—" Rose cut herself off quickly. She couldn't very well call him Doctor now, could she?
What did he even think his name was? It wasn't like she could ask him…
"Right…well, all better now," the human Doctor said cheerily. "Right as rain, safe as houses. Fresh air'd do me. Rose, up for a walk?"
Rose and Jack looked at each other for a moment. "Sure," Rose said, pasting on a fake smile. "Allons-y."
The human Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Is that French?"
Her shoulders slumped. "Yeah."
The human Doctor reached for the bag full of clothes from which the pyjamas had come and pulled out some jeans. He did not seem to notice that the bag was bigger on the inside as he continued to pull out a wallet, a mobile, a t-shirt, and some trainers. "When did you learn French? Oi, hold on." He turned to see Jack and Jackie both still staring at him. "Are you going to stay and watch me dress, too? Because sorry, but that—that is where I draw the line. That's just creepy. Do you mind?"
"Sorry," Jack said automatically. He grabbed Jackie's arm and ushered her through the door. He gave Rose a significant look. "Enjoy your walk." And he shut the door, leaving Rose alone with the husband whose name she didn't even know.
"Was that rude?" the human Doctor wondered as he pulled off the pyjamas. "Because I want to get along with them, Rose, really, I do. And it was nice for Jackie to let us stay here before our contract starts."
"Contract?" Rose said blankly.
"The flat, Rose!" the human Doctor explained as he pulled on jeans. "Our flat. The one we're moving into tomorrow?"
Rose gaped at him for a moment before recovering and nodding. "Right, yeah. Our flat."
The human Doctor tilted his head as he looked at her. "You all right, Rose? You're awfully quiet. What're you thinking about?"
"Oh, um…last week?" Rose fumbled, fishing for some sort of comment about the Doctor's new backstory.
The human Doctor grinned at her. "Ah, yes. What was your favourite part?"
Rose stuck her tongue out. "You first."
"Oh, it was all fantastic," John said with relish as he pulled on the t-shirt. "I think my favourite was in the hotel….or in that photo booth…or the fourth time in the hotel…or in that little off-limits room in the Empire State building when we ditched our tour group."
Shocked, Rose sputtered. "Oh, yeah, definitely." She nearly giggled—this entire situation was absurd—but she covered her mouth to stifle the sound.
"And do you remember, the look on that officer's face when he caught us?" the human Doctor laughed as he laced up his trainers. "I mean, really! Didn't have to arrest us…did I ever apologise for making us spend part of our honeymoon in jail?"
Rose wanted to cry and laugh hysterically, and settled for fixing her face into a grin that couldn't quite reach her eyes. "Wouldn't have had it any other way."
Having finished tying his shoes, the human Doctor stood up, gave a little bow, and reached out his hand. "John Tyler, ready to escort the lovely Rose on her walk."
Rose took his hand and forced another smile. His hand felt achingly familiar, and she reminded herself with a pang that this wasn't the Doctor. "After you, then."
When they returned from their walk, John shuffled off to take a shower, and Rose met Jack and her mother in the kitchen.
"So?" asked Jack, handing her a cuppa and leaning forward.
"He thinks he's John Tyler," Rose announced listlessly, "And apparently he and I just got off our honeymoon in New York. We're moving into a flat tomorrow morning and he's starting his new job day after."
"He's got a job?"
"He's got a flat?"
Rose shrugged. "Suppose it makes sense. The Doctor never liked mortgages."
"Where's he working, then?" Jackie asked, taking another sip of her tea.
"Royal Hope Hospital," Rose answered dully. "He's a doctor. Training the med students or something."
"Right, well that's not confusing," said Jackie irritably, "At least he'll have money."
"Oh, he's got some money already. Took me out for chips. Paid with a card he got from the TARDIS bag. He thinks his father worked for UNIT and left him some."
Jack rubbed his face. "Well, if UNIT did actually pay the Doctor when he worked there, that money would have accrued a lot of interest by now. So John's father's dead then?"
Rose sighed. "Apparently his entire family died in a house fire. I think it must have happened when he was a teenager, because he went straight to university after that. He didn't want to talk about it."
"Oh, that's awful," murmured Jackie.
Jack nodded. "Not too far from the truth, though."
Rose propped up her elbow on the table and let her head rest in her hand. "He talked a lot about you," she said to Jack, "I'm pretty sure you're best mates. You just also happen to be my brother."
Jack sighed. "Probably so he doesn't get jealous if I spend time with you. Twenty-first-century humans are so sensitive."
"What are you going to do, go back to Torchwood?"
Jack shook his head. "I miss them, but…It's almost a year since I left. I want to go back the same day I left, and if I go back now, I can't."
"You can stay here," Jackie said immediately.
"Thanks," said Jack with a crooked grin, "I'll take it."
"You can have Rose's room," continued Jackie, "Not like she'll be using it if she's got her own flat."
Rose cringed a bit at the thought of Jack alone with her mum in her room, but nodded. "This is just…weird. Even for us."
Jack sighed. "It's going to be a long three months."