A/N: This is a response to a challenge on then_there's_us on livejournal. If you want to get in the mood, youtube "One Headlight," by the Wallflowers. As usual, nothing you recognize belongs to me! One quote is from Neitsze, the song lyrics are from "One Headlight," and there's one quote from "The Pandorica Opens."
I'm so alone, and I feel just like somebody else
Man I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same
Well somewhere here in between
these city walls of dying dreams
I think her death, it must be killing me.
Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was in his study reading over another report from UNIT—he was retired, but that didn't seem to stop them from pestering him—when his wife Doris knocked on the door. He looked up as she stuck her head inside the door. He was grateful for the interruption—any interruption, really. The reports were dry and rather boring and reading for hours gave him a headache even when he wore his glasses.
"It's the phone for you," Doris said and held out the cordless.
"Thanks love." He took it and dropped a kiss on her cheek before he lifted the receiver to his ear. "Lethbridge-Stewart."
"Sorry to disturb you, sir." The voice was young, male, and had a bit of a Welsh accent. "My name is Ianto Jones and I work with Torchwood."
Alistair was on his guard in an instant. UNIT and Torchwood never got along and he'd had his share of headaches dealing with the headstrong, unethical organization. The only reason why the last remnant hadn't been eradicated after Canary Wharf was that it was easier to let them patrol the Cardiff rift, and they were small enough so that UNIT could easily neutralize them if necessary. "If this is official business, Mr. Jones you'd do better to contact the London offices," he informed the man.
"Yes, sir, but it's not official. It's about the Doctor."
"I'm going to Cardiff," he told Doris reluctantly. She reached for her coat. "Alone," he added, and she raised an eyebrow.
"Don't you even think about it," she replied. "He's my friend too, Alistair—and if you leave here alone I'll call Sarah Jane."
He sighed. "Don't know why I bother some times."
"I thought you would have learned by now," his wife agreed.
Ianto Jones's directions led Alistair and Doris to a small visitor center just off the Millennium Plaza. A young, well-dressed Welshman stood behind the counter. He saluted when they entered. "Brigadier, Mrs. Lethbridge-Stewart."
"Ianto Jones, I presume," Alistair responded.
Ianto nodded. "Follow me, please." He flipped the 'open' sign to 'closed' in the window and locked the door.
"You said the Doctor is here," Alistair reminded him.
"Yes, sir. He is." Ianto led them through a long tunnel and a door worthy of the vault of the Bank of England. "He arrived six hours ago." He waited for Alistair and Doris to step through, and then closed the massive thing behind them.
Torchwood three was not how the Brigadier had envisioned it. The main room was cavernous, for little to no apparent reason, until he realized that there was a pteridactyl flying around above their heads. Steel catwalks and stairways ringed the edges of the space at regular intervals and there appeared to be doors set into the concrete walls, leading presumably to the more specialized areas of the building. Three massive computers and a host of monitors were arrayed to their left. Two women were standing next to the technology. They were both relatively young. The Asian woman stepped forward. "Toshiko Sato," she said and held out her hand. Alistair shook it firmly.
The other woman did the same. "Gwen Cooper."
"Miss Sato," he replied cordially. "Miss Cooper. I'm Alistair and this is my wife Doris." She smiled at them as they introduced themselves again. "Now, what happened? Your message over the phone was rather cryptic."
"Necessity, sir," Ianto explained. He glanced up to one of the doors, glass instead of metal like the others, but blinds covered it and the large window that was set into the wall beside it. "The Doctor is—distraught—and Jack didn't want that fact advertised."
"Distraught?" Doris asked, frowning.
"Start from the beginning," Alistair ordered.
Toshiko cleared her throat. "I was here when the box—sorry, the TARDIS—appeared. Everyone else was out hunting Weevils. The rift's been acting up for days." She brushed her long hair back behind her ear and Alistair noted the haggard look of her face and the dark circles beneath her eyes. None of them looked like they'd been getting enough sleep, he realized. "I'd met the Doctor before and heard his ship—I was at Albion hospital during the Slitheen incident—so I had an idea of what was happening, but it just sat there."
Toshiko Sato rubbed her eyes and sighed. As soon as they figured out what the hell was causing the massive influx of rift activity and hence, Weevils, she was going to sleep for a week. She laughed. As if that would ever happen. If she was lucky she'd get two whole days without some kind of disaster. Living on the rift was never boring. She chanced a glance to the strange blue box that had materialized out of thin air in the corner of the room. It continued to sit, unchanged as it had for the past five hours. She knew that she was probably being ridiculous, but she couldn't help being a little creeped-out. It was like, like the thing was watching her, and considering the kind of alien artifacts they ran into on a regular basis it very well could be.
Jack would know what to do, she decided. Now, if she could just manage to get a hold of him for more than thirty seconds she might be able to tell him what happened. The sheer volume of calls they'd received meant that even Ianto was out hunting. She'd offered to trade places with him—he didn't seem to get the adrenaline high that made field work worthwhile, but Jack had vetoed it. She was the best with the rift machines so she had to stay behind. Tosh took another drink from the oversized mug next to her and once again thanked god for Ianto's coffee-making instructions.
The hub's massive door rolled back and Ianto, Gwen, Owen, and Jack trudged into the hub. They looked like hell and probably felt worse. Gwen cradled her left wrist close to her chest and the sleeve of Ianto's suit jacket was shredded and bloody. Jack, indomitable as ever, flashed her a cheeky grin, but the lewd remark he'd doubtless been planning never left his lips. His eyes widened and she knew that he was staring past her at the strange blue box. The others stopped behind him, also staring.
"Jack," Gwen began, "what's that?"
He remained silent. A myriad of conflicting expressions passed over his face—anger, hope, fear, sorrow, and he opened his mouth several times only to shut it again. Ianto was speaking, explaining something to Gwen but Tosh's eyes were riveted on the box as well—because it changed. The doors opened and a man stepped out. It wasn't the man she was expecting. She'd met the Doctor last year, when the Slitheen crashed a spaceship with a fake alien into Big Ben. She'd been at Albion hospital impersonating Owen because he'd had a massive hangover. She'd met the Doctor, and he'd been a bit daft and apparently a bit manic and he'd sounded like he was from the North. This man was handsome, bordering on pretty, and years younger than the Doctor had appeared.
"Doctor," Jack said softly, his voice carefully neutral. Tosh blinked.
The man stepped closer and she recoiled. His face—his eyes—she'd never seen something so frighteningly empty. The voice of her philosophy professor came to her unbidden: Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you. He radiated fury like ice radiated cold. Every instinct she had was telling her to run, to flee from this strange man who wasn't a man. She didn't know how Jack could stand it—the man wasn't even looking at her and she was having a panic attack.
He cradled the bundle in his arms, and then extended them just a bit, just enough so that they could see what he was holding. It was a girl, a blonde girl. She couldn't have been more than thirty years old. Her skin was waxen and her eyes were closed and there was a crust of red at the corner of her mouth. Tosh noticed with a shot of revulsion that the entire front of his oxford was stained red. Blood. He was covered in blood and he was holding a dead woman in his arms and he looked like death made flesh. He looked like rage and retribution and the vacuum of space.
Jack moved forward. He'd gone white, Tosh realized. For a moment she thought he was going to hit the other man, but he laid a hand on his shoulder. "This way," he said softly, and led him past the others to the autopsy room.
"And then he made him change clothes, thank god," she continued with a shudder. "After that they went up into Jack's office and they've been there since."
Alistair nodded. Doris was gripping his hand tightly. "I'd better go see him," he murmured.
"I'll come with," she agreed.
Ianto coughed. "You might not want to go in there, ma'am," he said apologetically. "They've been drinking."
Alistair's eyebrows shot towards his hairline. The Doctor had, at times displayed a certain fondness for wine, but he got the feeling that wasn't what Ianto was talking about. "I might be able to get through to him if I'm alone," he explained. She looked like she was about to argue, but then she nodded.
The Brigadier knocked briskly on the door before he entered. He'd seen a great many astonishing and impossible things in his long and varied UNIT career. None of them prepared him for what lay behind the door. The room was apparently Harkness's office. He wasn't fond of the man—his high-handed manner struck Alistair as arrogant and dangerous, and he was an incorrigible flirt, but he did get the job done without too many cock-ups. Perhaps he envied the man a bit of his confidence. When UNIT had been forced to interact with Torchwood Harkness had always appeared suave and brash and more than a little sex-obsessed.
He did not appear so now. His office was cluttered but the desk was clear, bare except for a scattering of empty alcohol bottles. Some of them were alien, Alistair noted as he entered the room and closed the door. Harkness looked like hell. Dark circles resided beneath his eyes and his whole face looked drawn and tired. The Doctor sat behind the desk. He looked worse. Stubble coated his cheeks and his skin had an unhealthy, waxy sheen to it. His hair stood practically on end and his pale blue oxford looked like it had been sitting in a pile on the floor for a week. He had a half-empty bottle of some amber colored liquor in his right hand. The other was supporting his head.
"Hello Alistair," he said without looking up. "I'd give you a proper hello, but I'm in the process of getting very drunk at the moment. Perhaps you could come back at a better time—say, a few decades?"
He was used to the Doctor being rude, and instead of taking offence he sat down and waited. The Time Lord was stubborn, but he was also incredibly fond of the sound of his own voice. He would talk, eventually, but only when he was ready. So they waited. Jack Harkness and Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart sat and let the Doctor attempt to drink himself into unconsciousness.
Thirty minutes later the Time Lord broke the silence. He lifted his head from his hand and stared blankly through them. "She's gone, Jack," he choked. "I finally got her back—and she's gone."
"I know, Doc," Harkness replied quietly.
The Doctor continued as if he hadn't heard—and perhaps he hadn't. "We were supposed to have years, decades even, not months." He laughed bitterly. "It was a safe place—safest place outside the TARDIS and she still managed to wander off and get captured." His eyes closed and his lips drew into a thin line as he lifted the bottle to his mouth. "Oh, Rose," he murmured and took a long drink.
"She wouldn't want to see you like this," Harkness told him.
He wiped the back of his hand across his lips and glared at the other man. "She doesn't want anything, Jack, because she's dead. Because some idiot thought that blonde hair was exotic and she'd make a nice pet." He shuddered. "I left her alone for a minute, a minute and she was gone. And I searched and I searched for her and by the time I found her she'd discovered what happened when a body hit concrete from ten stories."
Alistair felt distinctly uncomfortable and quite a bit useless. He didn't know the young woman in question, and he felt like he was intruding on the grief of two people who clearly cared for her a great deal.
"S a pity," the Doctor murmured as he assessed the amount of alcohol left in the bottle he grasped. "You'd have liked her, Alistair, an' she an' Doris would have got along like a house on fire." He took another long drink and set the bottle down.
"I think you've had enough, Doc," Harkness said gently and reached for the bottle.
The Doctor pulled it away. "I can still think, Jack, so quite clearly I have not had enough to drink," he snapped.
"She didn't die so you could sit here and feel sorry for yourself!" Harkness snapped back. "She'd tell you to get off your arse and go save the universe like you always do!"
"The universe can go hang!" the Doctor shouted. "What the hell has it ever done for me? I've died nine times saving the universe and what have I gotten out of it? Blood and pain, Jack, blood and pain." For a moment he glared at the other man, and then the fight seemed to leave him abruptly. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked them—and then he buried his face in his hands and wept.
Alistair noted with interest the plain gold band that decorated the Doctor's left hand. It would explain so much, but he couldn't picture his old friend with a wife. He'd been close with Sarah Jane, yes, but that had ended and left her pining for thirty years. He'd been a bit miserable after Jo Grant decided to stop traveling in order to marry that professor, but he'd bounced back rather quickly. The only time he'd ever seen the alien close to this distraught was when he'd shown up unannounced on their doorstep just after the war. Even then he'd been full of emotions, anger, pain, doubt—now he just seemed empty, like someone had reached inside and pulled out his hearts.
Harkness stood. "Come on," he said and motioned for Alistair to join him. "Let's get him back to the TARDIS."
The Doctor protested and fought them every step of the way, but eventually the two men managed to drag him back into the ship. The lights flickered half-heartedly when they entered and Jack laid a hand on the wall. "I know," he murmured. "I miss her too." Alistair raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The Doctor always asserted that his ship was alive, and with the things that he'd seen during his UNIT career he was open-minded enough to believe it. Harkness seemed to know the way to the Doctor's bedroom and the Brigadier was grateful. He'd never had an opportunity to do much wandering on the TARDIS and he was sure he'd get turned around in the maze-like hallways.
His suspicions on the Doctor's marital status were confirmed when they finally reached the Time Lord's bedroom. Harkness led the way, and when the Alistair entered his heart clenched. It was not a bachelor's room. Traces of a feminine presence were scattered about—a trashy romance novel on one of the nightstands, a vase of gardenias on the vanity that was pushed up against the wall next to a wide desk covered in bits and bobs of various electronics, a sweater tossed on the bed and a single stiletto-heeled shoe peaking out from the partly-opened closet door. They laid him on the duvet and Harkness paused just inside the door.
"I pity him the waking," he murmured, and Alistair nodded. Then they turned back the way they'd come and left their oldest friend curled up in a room that could only remind him of what he'd lost.
"Who was she?" the Brigadier asked when they rejoined the others in the hub.
Jack reached into the pocket of his great coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He handed it to Alistair. "Her name was Rose Tyler," he replied. "And some psychologists, they have this idea about traits—defining characteristics that make up someone's personality. They think that there are people who have at the heart of them one central idea, one characteristic that makes them who they are." He smiled softly. "Everything that Rose did was motivated by love." They gathered around—Gwen and Toshiko, Ianto and Doris, even Owen who had reappeared from the autopsy room—as he told the story of a girl with stars in her eyes and a man without a home. His team listened intently. They'd never heard the story of his past. After his initial run-in with Torchwood and the torture session that helped secure his employment he'd learned to keep his cards close to his chest. It was strange to hear him talk so much about the man he used to be, the conman, the liar, and eventually the hero who had died and come back to life only to be abandoned.
"The Doctor apologized," he finished. "They kept traveling—not even a regeneration could make her leave him—and then she was lost. He wouldn't say how, just that it had to do with Torchwood and the battle of Canary Wharf." He looked like he was going to say more, but a ringing claxon filled the hub.
"It's the rift monitor!" Tosh exclaimed and dashed over to the computers. The others followed her.
Jack whistled. "That's a hell of an energy draw." He motioned to lines on the screen that were climbing higher and higher.
"What could draw that much power from the Rift?" Gwen asked, eyes wide.
And then the claxon cut off abruptly. The images on the monitor wavered, and then went dark. Two words appeared on the screens, repeating over and over again.
"Bad Wolf," Owen read. "What the hell does that mean?"
The TARDIS door slammed open and the Doctor strode out into the hub. His hair was wild and his shirt was rumpled but he stood tall and confidant. For the first time Alistair realized how good his friend had become at playing human—because he wasn't anymore. Standing before them was the Doctor in his purest form—the man who stared into the Untempered Schism as a child, who rode the time lines and had everything that was, is, and could be at his fingertips. This was the Doctor, the last of a race that was ancient when the universe was young. "What have you done?" he demanded.
Harkness held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Nothing! The computers just started going nuts." He paused and gave the Doctor a significant look. "It's Bad Wolf again."
"Impossible!" he muttered, and bounded over to the computers. His eyes widened as he took in the text that covered the screens.
"What is happening, Doctor?" the Brigadier demanded.
He was silent for a long moment, and when he looked up it was as if he had been transformed. The emptiness was gone, replaced by the burning light of a desperate hope that flared to life in his eyes. "If I'm very lucky," he said slowly. "A miracle." And then he turned and dashed for the autopsy room.
Alistair thought he was going to pull the metal door off of its hinges, but it held. They followed the Doctor into the sterile metal and tile room and remained on the outskirts, partly out of respect, and he suspected partly out of fear. The Time Lord stood next to the examining table, next to the cold corpse of the woman he loved and took her hand. She was presentable, well, as presentable as a dead body could be. Owen had cleaned off the blood and removed her shredded clothing. She was pale and composed and naked beneath the white sheet that covered her to her neck.
"Please," the Doctor whispered as his eyes fastened on her face. "Please please please please please!" He looked like a racehorse awaiting the starter pistol—every sense was trained on the body in front of him. For a few long minutes nothing happened—and then Alistair blinked. He could have sworn he saw a flash of gold crackle across the girl's pale skin. And there, there it was again! And was he going blind, or was she glowing?
"Come on!" the Time Lord yelled and they jumped, startled. "Come on you beautiful, brilliant girl!" He leaned in and touched his forehead to hers. "Come back to me, Rose," he murmured. "Please, just do this for me. Come back."
The glow brightened and Alistair was forced to look away. For a moment he thought he heard a song. It was strange, familiar, like something he'd heard in a dream once—but then it was gone and the light had died down. He lowered his arm slowly and it felt like the universe itself was holding its breath—until she drew in a deep, gasping breath and her eyes opened.
She stared at him for a moment—disheveled and distraught, so out-of-control and not at all like she was used to seeing him—and then she smiled. "Hello," she said.
"Hello," he replied, and then he pulled her into a fierce hug.
Later, after Rose was safely ensconced in their bedroom on the TARDIS and sound asleep, the Doctor sat in the library, perusing a battered-looking book.
Alistair sat in the over-stuffed chair across from him, watching his old friend. The alien looked years, maybe decades younger. He still appeared exhausted, but he'd shaved and showered and looked a bit more presentable. "I still don't understand what happened," the Brigadier confessed.
"We are joined by the bonds of love," he told him softly, a gentle smile playing about his lips. "And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords. Death cannot stop true love; all it can do is delay it for a while." He paused. "Oh, sorry, that's The Princess Bride—but the point is valid all the same." The Doctor set his book aside. "She did something a while back, something stupid and incredibly dangerous—but it saved my life. Apparently it also saved hers." He shrugged. "This universe is huge and ridiculous and sometimes—sometimes there are miracles."