A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me!
WARNING: If you've read 'The Long and Winding Road' (and if you haven't go do so) than you know that my take on Rose Tyler includes a period of torture/experimentation spanning roughly a year and followed by several decades of hiding. This story deals with torture and its effects, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). There may be graphic descriptions in flashbacks and dream sequences. I will tag each chapter appropriately, but I wanted to give you all a head's up first.
The midday sun hammered down on the dusty street of Da Hui Lang spaceport. It was a dump of a place on a dump of a planet in a miserable excuse for a solar system. The buildings, loosely called 'offices' needed to be burned down and rebuilt, the signs could barely be read, and the ships that populated the landing pads looked almost as derelict as the buildings. In other words it was the perfect place for someone looking to get the hell out of dodge, which was exactly what Rose Tyler wanted to do.
At first it had been exhilarating, being back in her original universe. The Dimension Canon had confirmed it and the lack of zeppelins had sealed the deal. She'd managed one trip to the factories of Villenguard (pre-Doctor, of course) and she'd never been so grateful that Jack liked to go on about the superiority of fifty-first century weapons to sonic screwdrivers—but she'd been interrupted. Rose had barely managed to shift in time and crossing the Void had taken its toll. The Dimension Canon sat on her wrist, very nearly useless. The Spatiotemporal stabilizers were shot, and without them she couldn't jump. If she tried she would be flung into the Vortex without an anchor and she would remain, adrift, until she died.
So she was stuck in the twenty-sixth century, on one of many hunks of rock in the outer orbits of a star with the rest of the human race. It was less than ideal. The technology was decidedly better than twenty-first century closer to the inner, or core planets, but it was still thousands of years (and several cultures) away from what she needed to fix the Canon. Most of the parts had been adapted from alien devices—aliens which had been everywhere in the twenty-first century, and strangely lacking in the twenty-sixth.
What she needed was a Time Agent. A Vortex Manipulator would provide her with the parts she needed and then she could leave this backward, unpleasant time behind her. However, in the two and a half years she'd spent traveling from rock to rock she hadn't caught even a trace of Time Agent activity. The Canon would alert her to their presence. She remembered World War I, and she'd insisted that the engineers include the ability to scan for time-traveling tech. So far the Canon had registered nothing.
A sardonic grin twisted her lips. Well. She had nothing, if not time. But not on this planet, not anymore. She'd been here for five months and the dust settled on her jacket like manacles, pulling her down. The atmosphere seemed to suffocate her—the heat and noise and smell. She wasn't an earthbound thing, not even after decades of forced planetside residence. She was a creature of the stars; she had been ever since she took his hand, ever since she felt the Earth turn beneath them.
Her throat burned, from the heat and the dust and the memories that swelled up as they always did when she thought of Him. The feel of his hand in hers, so different each time but both fitting perfectly, the way he always smelled like himself, even when it was books and tea instead of engine grease and leather, the way he could look at her with brown eyes or blue and see directly into her soul. The way he looked on the beach—fragile, damaged—alone.
"Are yah plannin' on buyin' a ticket, or are yah just gonna stand there'n stare at it?" a rough voice intruded on her thoughts. "Cause if yah aren't there're others who will." The man who addressed her was tall, well built, but surly-looking. He carried an unnecessary number of guns, in Rose's estimation, but she was sure he was well-versed in their use.
"Jayne, are you being rude to a potential customer?" The newcomer, another man, shot Jayne a warning look.
"Naw, Mal, she's just hangin' around gawpin' at Serenity," Jayne replied in a tone Rose knew well. Tony had mastered it when he was five.
"My name is Malcom Reynolds," the new man continued, "and this is my ship, Serenity. Were you looking to book passage?"
Rose studied him. He was shorter than Jayne and a bit wider, but his clothes were also cleaner. He looked a bit like a cowboy, but he had a good coat. The Doctor had taught her the value of a good coat. And his ship, while older, was a Firefly. Keep those in good condition and they'd run forever.
She held out her hand. "Rose Tyler. And yes, I'd like to book passage on your ship, Captain Reynolds."
He shook her offered hand. "We're bound for Persephone, but we stick to the outer rim, mostly."
"Works for me." She cocked her head. "How d'you feel about long-term passengers? I'm lookin' for a friend."
He eyed her suspiciously. "You aren't a bounty-hunter, are you? 'Cause I don't do prisoners. We're a cargo ship, primarily, an' prisoners take up too many resources and cause too many headaches. T'aint hardly worth my time. An' I don't do corpses either. Tends to smell up the place and it's close quarters when we're in the black."
Rose laughed. "No, no I'm not. He's a friend, we just got—separated." She held up her purse. "I can pay, in advance." Captain Reynolds named a price she knew to be substantially higher than usual. She opened the purse and counted out exact payment. His face was perfectly neutral as she dropped the cash into his palm. "Well, Captain?"
He glanced at the money in his palm, and then closed his fingers over it and slid his hand into his pocket. "Welcome aboard, Ms. Tyler. Jayne!" he called back to the surly man. "If Kaylee's got her head out of the engine have her show Ms. Tyler to a bunk. Zoe and I have business in town." Captain Reynolds tipped his hat to her and then strode out into the hot, crowded street. An elegant, graceful black woman followed him—Zoe, Rose assumed. The woman glanced at her appraisingly and the hairs on the back of her neck quivered. She was a predator, and like recognized like. She would not want to face Zoe in a fight if she could help it.
Jayne, meanwhile, was hollering up the ship's ramp. A few seconds later a cheerful, brown-haired girl scampered out. "What's all this, then?" she asked, hands on her hips. "Captain said the rest of the day was mine, so long as I fixed that coupling and it is fixed, he saw himself."
Jayne grunted noncommittally. "Picked up a passenger an' Mal wants you to get her settled."
Kaylee, as she could be no one else, glanced at Rose and her pugnacious fire seemed to vanish. A smile wreathed her face and she was lovely, even with engine grease smeared across her cheek. "Oh, hello! I'm Kaylee Fry!"
"Rose Tyler." She hefted her bag—a good, canvas backpack. It had everything she needed, everything she owned. She'd learned to travel light. It was hard to disappear when you had a house or a pet or an excessive number of shoes, after all. "Lead on."
Kaylee was sweet, Rose thought as she followed the younger girl through the bowels of the ship. It was powered down now, but she thought that when the engines were going it would hum nicely. She missed that, the sound of the TARDIS, the soft vibrations she could feel in her bones. They seemed to change frequency and pitch with the Doctor's (or perhaps the ship's) mood. She wasn't sure where the humming came from, but it was comforting and familiar, as was the metal grating beneath her feet. She was so close, so close to escaping. She could feel the excitement building, the old thrill that had accompanied each of their adventures.
The Doctor was out there somewhere, and she'd get back to him even if it took her decades.
Once Wash, their pilot, had taken them into the black Mal had introduced the crew to her. She'd met Jayne already, and Kaylee. Also traveling with the crew was a Shepherd named Book. He seemed like a kind, gentle man and Rose liked him almost immediately. He had a way of setting a person at ease she thought must be natural. It was hard to fake people-skills like that. Wash was friendly too, but he was Zoe's husband and Rose could read the possessiveness in the black woman's eyes. She kept her flirting to a minimum. They had a doctor as well, which surprised her. Simon Tam was a soft spoken, elegant young man—and he was handsome to boot. Rose didn't miss the way that Kaylee's smile softened when Simon stepped forward, or the awkward hitch to his conversation when he noticed she was watching. Had she and the Doctor been so obvious? Mickey's reaction to traveling with them and his choice to stay in Pete's World said yes. Her mum's insistence on their status as a couple agreed. Pity. Apparently she was the only person who didn't know, much like the two before her.
When Mal introduced Inara Serra Rose thought her eyebrows might hit the roof. She'd run into companions before but never on a ship like Serenity. The others she'd believe, even the doctor—but then, everyone was running from something. These people were lucky enough to be running together. Inara was lovely, of course, and cultured and clever and far too observant for Rose's taste, but then she was a companion. She was trained to be all of those things. Her questions were pleasant but Rose caught the veiled probes. They had every reason to be suspicious. Passenger fare wasn't much and neither was cargo. If Captain Reynolds wanted to keep his ship in the air he'd have to find some pretty creative ways to earn cash. She'd lay odds that they'd done a fair bit of smuggling. He didn't strike her as the type to sanction unnecessary killing, which ruled out a career as a hit squad or band of enforcers. He was too independent to tolerate being under anyone's boot, that ruled out organized crime, and she doubted that a Shepherd (at least one with convictions as strong as Book appeared to have) would travel for an extended period of time with anyone who condoned serious violence.
So. She was riding along with a crew of potential smugglers with no love for the Alliance. Rose smiled. She could work with that.
The cement wall of the claustrophobic cell was cold against her back and the cement floor was cold against her arse and the soles of her feet. She shivered and wrapped her arms more tightly around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Her breath made a cloud of fog in front of her face. She was a thing now, not a person, and things did not need heat. The only reason she wasn't freezing was that her prison was connected to the main building, the part where people were—and people needed heat.
She shifted and winced. Wet warmth oozed down her side—she'd pulled the stitches just a bit too hard and the wound was open again. The cold made her bones ache and sent pins and needles through her arms and legs but if she tried to move, to keep herself warm, she bled. Bleeding meant more 'doctors' who weren't the right Doctor. Bleeding meant more knives, more pain.
Her arm throbbed. They'd stolen everything: her career, her family, her life—even her name. God, she hadn't heard her name in so long. All she had was a number now, burned into her arm three inches above her elbow so that everyone could see that she wasn't a person. She was different. She was wrong. She was a resource to be exploited. She was a puzzle. She was a threat.
"Rose," she murmured into the still air. She was Rose. She was born in 1987 to Pete and Jackie Tyler. She grew up on the Powell Estate, and when she was nineteen years old she met a man who wasn't a man, an alien who called himself the Doctor. When she was twenty-one she lost him. She had a mum and a dad who were dead and a little brother who was somewhere out there. She would not forget.
She pressed one finger against the oozing wound in her side. It came away red. Gently she dabbed it on the wall next to her. 'Rose,' she wrote out in blood. 'My name is Rose.'
She jerked awake. One hand flailed out and slammed against something metal. Rose bit back a curse and forced herself still. The wall, she'd hit the wall. A low hum hovered the in the background of her hearing and gentle vibrations radiated from the metal surface next to her. Gradually her heart ceased pounding and her breathing slowed. It was dark because it was the night cycle. The space was small because she was onboard a ship. It was cold because Captain Reynolds saved money by keeping the environmental controls just under standard. That Torchwood was behind her now. They were whole universe away—they couldn't hurt her now. Rose's fingers curled around the butt of her trust psychokinetic wavelength extrapolator. No one was going to hurt her like that, not ever.
"They come for you at night, the men with knives," someone said from the vicinity of the foot of her bed. In two seconds flat Rose was up and out, standing next to the cot with her gun pointed at something.
"Who's there?" she demanded.
The lights flickered on. A girl was sitting on her bed, an unfamiliar girl. She was thin, almost waifish, with brown eyes and hair. She stared at Rose, completely calm, seemingly unconcerned with the weapon aimed between her eyes. "They cut you in your dreams. Piece you apart and put you back together, try to find what makes you you."
Rose lowered the gun slowly. "How do you know that?" she asked. "And what are you doing in my bunk?"
"I can hear you when you're sleeping." The girl studied Rose as if she was a particularly difficult puzzle. "You're quiet when you're awake, just a murmur, like a brook—but you're an ocean when you sleep." She tilted her head to the side. "There are monsters in the darkness. Sharks and krakens and wolves."
"I thought I met everyone earlier," she said when the girl was silent for a while, and slid her gun back beneath her pillow.
The girl smiled. "Simon worries too much. He can't tell the difference between a wolf and a snake." She held out her hand. "I'm River—except when I'm not."
"Rose," she said, and shook the offered hand.
River released her and drifted towards the door. "Remember," she said before she slipped away. "Roses have thorns, wolves have claws—and girls have guns."
River was at breakfast the next morning cycle. Rose was up early—a legacy of her time at Torchwood and subsequent status as a fugitive; she needed little sleep. Too much and she would dream and that was to be avoided at all costs. She understood why the Doctor ran now—if she could only run far and fast enough perhaps she could leave her nightmares behind.
Shepherd Book was also awake. He smiled and greeted her pleasantly, and set her to work. She didn't mind. She liked being useful. There wasn't much that could be done about the food; it was protein bars and runny egg substitute and artificially flavored juice packets—basically anything that could be bought cheaply that wouldn't spoil. Real food—flour and sugar and eggs and fruit and vegetables—was expensive and more difficult to maintain. The Doctor had taken her to ships in the future that would contain whole forests, oxygen factories, he called them and hydroponic gardens that were used to grow their own produce. Some of them even kept cows and chickens on board for fresh milk and eggs—but that was centuries in the future.
Still, she did her best and formed the slices of protein bar into something that resembled a sausage patty. She added a bit of her own spices, a blend that reminded her of home (and cost an arm and a leg to procure, but food was worth it).
Most of the crew, it seemed, tended to be late risers. Rose and the Shepherd worked in quiet harmony. She relished silence after the non-stop noise that accompanied being planet-bound.
"You're quiet now," a voice commented at her elbow.
It was reflex and probably all her fault, Rose realized. She'd gotten lost in her thoughts and dropped her guard—and she did not respond well to being startled. She whirled around, her fingers shifting on the knife from slicing to stabbing position. Wide brown eyes looked up at her and her breath burst out of her in a loud exhale.
"River," Rose acknowledged with a frown. "Don't do that. If you're gonna be behind me, make some noise, something. Let me know you're coming."
"Sorry," the girl mumbled. "I forgot."
Book was watching the exchange with a great deal of interest. "I thought Simon told you to stay in your room," he noted with a raised eyebrow.
River rolled her eyes and flounced over to the table. "It's boring in my room. I've calculated the area and measured all of the walls and recited Pi to the 200th digit." She ran her hand along the worn wooden surface of the table. Real wood—it must be special. "Simon worries too much. There are no snakes on board Serenity." She grinned at Rose then, as if they were sharing a joke. "Only wolves."