A/N: As usual, nothing you recognize belongs to me. Doctor Who and Warehouse 13 belong to their respective creators.
This story was written on commission for Jaxin88 on tumblr. If you would like to commission a story you can find information on my tumblr (isilienelenihin) and livejournal (also isilienelenihin).
It was seven am on a Saturday in the small, sleepy town of Univille, South Dakota, a town which was unremarkable in many ways: it had one gas station, one Bed and Breakfast (Leena's), a hardware store, a barbershop, an ice-cream parlor, a veterinary hospital, a coffeehouse, a sushi restaurant, and until recently a post office. It was, however, possibly the most remarkable town in all of South Dakota—possibly in all of the United States of America, because seven miles from Univille was one of the most dangerous and secretive places in the entire country: the Warehouse. Dr. Arthur Neilson, known as 'Artie' by those under his command, often referred to the Warehouse as 'America's Attic.'
This was an apt analogy, except that this 'attic' had more security than Fort Knox and the White house combined and it was also filled with things that could blow up the world, drive a person mad, or potentially kill many, many people—sometimes all at once, which was why it was staffed with a team of agents whose job it was to keep the world in one peice and the artifacts out of the hands of those who would use them. The Warehouse itself was a huge steel building at the end of a dirt road in the precise center of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and waist high, perpetually half-dead grass—at least on the outside. Inside it was vast; the fifteen-foot high shelves extended for what seemed like miles underground; overlooking the storage space was a group of offices that Artie called 'the command center.' Most of the work was done there, but occasionally it was necessary to venture into the stacks. The Dark Vault, located in the center of the Warehouse, was home to the most dangerous of artifacts, and tucked away on the edge was the Bronze Sector. It was filled with people who had been deemed extraordinarily dangerous by the Warehouse, so dangerous, in fact, that they were removed from society—permanently.
On this particular Saturday at this particular time, Peter Latimer, formerly of the US Secret Service and now detailed to the Warehouse, was sound asleep. It was Saturday, after all, and even God took a day off—or at least that was the excuse he used when Claudia tried to get him to help her with inventory. Through a series of unfortunate events she'd managed to nearly blow up the Warehouse, and had gotten put on inventory duty for every foreseeable weekend. Pete liked Claudia; she was smart and spunky and funny, and her tech skills had saved their asses more than once, but he didn't like her enough to spend hours cataloguing artifacts by hand.
He woke slowly to the sound of someone tap-dancing on his skull. After a few moments he realized that the sound was coming from outside his head and was actually someone knocking on his door. Pete rolled over. If he ignored whoever it was (Myka, probably—she was a disgustingly chipper morning person) they would go away, right? That's how these things worked.
The person on the other side of his door was surprisingly tenacious. "Pete?" a muffled voice called. It sounded like Leena. He pulled the pillow on top of his head. "Pete?" the call came again. He continued to ignore it.
The knocking stopped, but it was replaced by the soft scrape of metal-on-metal and a sharp 'click' as a key turned in the lock. The door opened and a young black woman stepped inside. She surveyed the room—cluttered, except for the area around the fifty-two inch television, which was immaculate—with a critical eye and delicately picked her way through the piles of clothes. She was of medium height, with a cloud of dark corkscrew-curls and kind brown eyes. A large pendant (some kind of dark stone) hung from a cord around her neck, and she wore a gauzy blue overshirt that added to her air of ethereal beauty. Leena crossed her arms over her chest when she reached the bed, and sighed. "Come on, Pete."
He mumbled something incoherent.
She rolled her eyes. "I know you're awake. Artie wants everyone down at the Warehouse, asap."
"It's Saturday!" he protested.
"Artifacts wait for no one," Leena called back over her shoulder as she made her way to the door.
"Never should have taken this job," Pete muttered as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He ran one hand through his short, dark hair and groaned.
Leena poked her head back in the door. "You don't mean that."
He sighed. "I don't." And that was the truth. He loved working at the Warehouse: it was wonder and danger and excitement all rolled into one.
Myka, as per usual, was annoyingly cheerful. Besides being logical and extremely focused and a veritable fountain of strange information she was a die-hard morning person. There was nothing good about being woken at an ungodly hour by Artie and summoned to the Warehouse, nothing at all, but she was practically humming as Pete turned the SUV onto the dusty dirt road that led to their destination. Her phone beeped, and she pulled it out and pushed a lock of curly brown hair back behind her ear.
"You do realize that the world is probably exploding, right?" Pete asked. A muffled grunt came from the back seat. Claudia was definitely not a morning person.
"If the two of you didn't stay up all night watching that reruns of 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey' and skyping Todd you wouldn't be in such a bad mood," Myka replied, eyes still on her phone.
"I don't watch that stupid show!'" Pete objected.
"Really." Myka raised an eyebrow and looked him up and down.
He caved. He always caved. "All right, maybe one episode."
She let him have his lie, and the smug smile on her face told him that she knew it was a lie.
"And for the record," Claudia interjected, "Todd and I broke up, because he's in the Witness Protection Program and he had to relocate. So I wasn't skyping him, because that could break his cover and potentially get him killed."
Pete checked the clock. "Wow, Claudia, I'm impressed—a full sentence before noon?"
She stuck her tongue out at him.
He responded in kind.
Myka rolled her eyes. "So you weren't trying to track him down again?"
"No!" she shot back. "Maybe—yes." She groaned and thumped her head against the seat. "Why are all the good ones old enough to be my grandfather, in the witness protection program, or working on some top-secret government mission?"
"Hey!" Pete huffed. "Not that I'm interested, but I'm totally not old enough to be your grandfather."
Claudia patted him on the shoulder. "Whatever helps you sleep at night, gramps."
"I'm not!" he protested. "Tell her I'm not, Myka."
"Definitely not," Myka agreed. "You're only old enough to be her father."
"Thank you," he said, and then paused. "Wait—" Myka and Claudia burst out laughing. "So now you laugh," he muttered. "Won't laugh at any of my jokes, but hey, Pete's old and that's funny."
Artie was waiting for them in the command center; well, he called it the command center. It was a collection of offices and an extensive library on the most eclectic group of subjects that Myka had ever seen—and her father owned a bookshop, so that was saying something. The biggest desk was Artie's of course, and it was also the most cluttered, even more-so than normal. Papers were stacked haphazardly up to six inches high and three books were scattered between them. A huge sheet of paper covered everything, big enough that it draped over the piles and spilled onto the floor on both sides of the desk. Behind the chaos his computer monitor (one of the Warehouse's original computers) was flashing through the SIS—an automatic, computerized inventory system that was designed to catalogue every artifact in the Warehouse continually. Artie stood in front of his desk, and every time the SIS flashed he put a dot on the paper.
"Oooh," Pete exclaimed. "Cookies!" He grabbed two and popped one in his mouth. He held the cookie out to Myka, but she shook her head. Claudia snatched it from him and wandered over to Artie.
"What's up, Boss?" she asked and peered over his shoulder.
"Oh good," Artie replied dryly as he turned around and adjusted his glasses. "You're finally here. Did you stop for breakfast somewhere? Because if that's your response time when I tell you to get to the Warehouse because it's urgent I'm surprised the world hasn't exploded yet!"
Claudia took a step back. "Whoa, what's your problem, Artie?"
"My problem is that none of you seem to take this seriously!" he shot back.
"Well maybe we would if you told us what's going on," Pete suggested.
Myka put a hand on Artie's arm. "Calm down, and start from the beginning."
Artie glared at her, but complied. "Artifacts are missing from the Warehouse."
Pete stopped mid-chew. "What?"
"When?" Myka demanded. "And how?"
Artie gestured to the computer screen. "Early this morning, and I'm not sure. Security reports no abnormalities; besides what was taken there's nothing out of place, not one thing. There are no signs of a break in—physical or virtual. Everything is running perfectly."
Claudia blinked. "Except that potentially deadly artifacts are missing and we have no idea how or why."
Artie threw his hands up. "Yes!"
"What do we know?" For all of his goofy jokes, Pete Lattimer was perfectly capable of staying on task.
"It's happened three times since I came to the Warehouse." Artie reached beneath his desk and pulled out a slim silver briefcase. "Artifacts have disappeared without rhyme or reason. In all other instances we were able to track the person responsible—usually a former Warehouse agent turned rogue, once a master thief—but in these instances there was nothing, literally nothing." He set the briefcase down on his office chair, unlocked it with one of his myriad keys, and flipped open the lid. What looked like a short, squat gun sat inside, cushioned by black foam.
"Artie, what is this?" Myka asked.
He pulled the instrument out and messed with the dial on the back. A thin black screen unfolded and the barrel of the thing shone red. "It's a radiation detector. I put in a request after the last incident and someone in Eureka managed to put one together." He sniffed. "Thankfully not everyone at Global Dynamics is as incompetent as Fargo."
"Hey," Claudia objected, "Doug fixed us up good. That new system is a zillion times faster than the old one; it would have taken you days to realize that things had gone missing without his help."
"He tripped a failsafe system that nearly killed us!" Artie pointed out.
Claudia rolled her eyes. "Yeah, thanks to your friend Hugo."
Pete raised his hand. "So what does this doohickey do, exactly?"
"It detects and catalogs radiation." Artie fiddled with the knob and a graph slowly came into focus on the screen. "We're all exposed to very low levels daily; basically everything is slightly irradiated, but there's a different sort where every item that has gone missing was located, and at seemingly random points within the Warehouse itself."
Myka nodded. "You think there's a pattern."
"It's the best lead we have," Artie agreed. "Well—it's the only lead. Ninety minutes ago there was a spike, but there's been nothing since, so whatever or whoever took the artifacts might still be here."
"Have you talked to Helena?" Myka asked. "Maybe something similar happened when she worked at Warehouse 12? You two could compare notes, get a better sense of what we're up against."
"For all we know she's in cohoots with whoever is taking the Artifacts," Artie retorted. "So no, I haven't consulted her. Mrs. Frederic and the Regents said I have to give her a job, they never said I have to trust her." Myka opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her off. "And that's final. H.G. Wells is picking Leena up from the B Leena might be able to tell us about the people who took the artifacts once we catch them."
"I still think that splitting up was a bad idea," Pete said as he and Myka walked down the first of the Edison aisles. Every section was named after a famous person, usually an inventor. The sections housed their namesake's artifacts along with whatever items Leena placed there. She had a unique ability to sense energies, which was important: too much conflict between artifacts would result in massive bursts of static electricity with the potential to level the building. "Everything's in place over here," Pete confirmed.
"Why?" she asked as she scanned the other side of the aisle. "We can cover more ground this way, and besides, you've got the Tesla."
"The last time artifacts went missing and Artie was on his own MacPherson nearly killed him," Pete pointed out.
"MacPherson's dead." Myka stopped. "Are you getting a vibe? About MacPherson? We saw him die, Pete."
He shook his head. "No, I know, it's not about that."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "What is it about, then—H.G.?" He didn't reply, didn't even look at her. "Mrs. Frederic and Adwin Kosan seemed pretty certain they could trust her."
"Yeah, but—she was bronzed, Myka," he replied.
"Because she asked to be bronzed!" Myka snapped. "She's done nothing but try to prove herself; she even saved Artie's life! Without her we never would have found him. MacPherson might have released her, but he never controlled her."
Pete held up his hands in surrender. "Whoa, Myka, easy. I'm just saying—MacPherson was Artie's best friend, his partner, and the guy went rogue. It's gotta be hard to trust people after that."
She took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "Sure, Pete, I just hate how angry he gets. Everyone deserves a second chance; he should know. And how awful would it be, to work in a place like this, a place that's full of impossible, and not being able to change anything? How many artifacts have we taken from people who are desperate, not for power or money, but to fix something?" Myka glanced away. "If I had known about this place after Sam died—I don't know. I might have done exactly what she did. I might have tried to use an artifact to bring him back."
"Yeah, but she killed someone." He took a step closer. "I don't think you would have let it go that far. Not everyone who's the victim of a tragedy turns into a killer."
"You don't know that." Myka turned back to her portion of the inventory list. "But thanks."
"Any time." He glanced down at the sheet in his hand, and then back at the end of the aisle. "Say, Myka—when did we add a blue 'police public call box' to the list for this aisle?"
"We didn't," she called over her shoulder.
Pete stared. "Are you sure?"
He pulled the Tesla from his pocket and clicked the safety off. "Because I'm looking at it."
She whirled around, and sure enough, a large blue box was sitting at the end of the aisle, tucked unobtrusively into a corner. If Pete hadn't mentioned it she would have walked right by. It was maybe seven feet tall, and made of wooden panels that were painted a dark blue. There were chips off the corners, and scratches on the sides. The top row of panels had been replaced by frosted glass window which glowed softly, like someone had left the light on inside. 'Police Public Call Box' a strip of lettering just under the roof read, and there was a sign opposite the door handle that assured the reader that officers and cars were waiting to respond to all calls. A lightbulb sat on top of the roof, protected by a metal casing. It looked old—very old, and it blended in with the other strange objects incredibly well but Myka knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not supposed to be in the Warehouse.
She pulled a thin metal box out of her pocket and flipped it open. Artie' face appeared in grayscale on the small screen inside. "Yes?" he asked briskly.
"Artie," Myka began, her eyes still fixed on the box. "Why is there a 'Police Public Call Box' in the Edison section?"
He frowned. "There's not. There's nothing like that in the Warehouse."
"So glad to hear that," Pete replied. "Since we're staring at it."
"That could be it!" Artie exclaimed. "Is it doing anything?"
"No." Myka edged closer. "It's just sitting here."
"Hold tight, we'll be there in a second." The device squawked, signaling the end of the conversation, and Myka slid it back in her pocket. She approached the box cautiously, but nothing happened. It remained still and silent, but there was a strange air about it, a sense of anticipation, almost.
"Should we be walking right up to the mysterious box that somehow found its way into the biggest collection of dangerous, mysterious items ever?" Pete asked the air.
Myka stretched out her hand and laid it on the box. It was wood—it felt like wood, anyway, but there was a sort of hum beneath her palm, a soundless vibration that made the hair on her arm stand straight up.
"Oh!" a voice echoed from behind them. "Hello." It was male, and youngish, with a bit of a London lilt. Myka and Pete whirled around and found two people standing behind them. The first was a man, early to mid thirties, with brown eyes and expertly styled brown hair. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his faun colored trench coat which he wore over a blue and brown pinstriped suit, but he raised them, palms out, when he caught sight of the Tesla. The girl was younger, mid-twenties at the latest. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail away from her face, and her brown eyes were outlined with thick mascara and eyeliner. She was wearing jeans and sneakers and carried a red leather jacket over her arm. "I'm the Doctor," the man continued, "and this is Rose and that," he nodded at the box, "is mine."
Ninety-seven minutes earlier a wind from nowhere rattled the shelves of the Edison section and a creaking groan echoed off the cement floor and the high, steel ceiling. When the dust settled the TARDIS was parked in an unobtrusive corner where two aisles met. The door swung open, and the Doctor stepped out. His hair was in its traditional style (carelessly cool, and it took him hours to get it just right—he was a bit vain, this time around) and he wore his trenchcoat and suit jacket, despite the heat. One long-fingered hand went into his jacket pocket and he pulled out his 'brainy specs.' He didn't actually need them to see, but he thought they made him look clever and sometimes the image was more important than the reality. Besides—Rose liked the glasses.
The companion in question was hot on his heels and he had to remind his eyes that they belonged on her face and not where they were more inclined to wander. She was wearing his favorite jeans—a dark blue pair that looked like they'd been painted on. They rode low on her hips, and sometimes if he was lucky he caught a glimpse of the taught skin of her stomach or the smooth curve of her rear. Not that he would admit to looking; looking was something that humans did. Time Lords were above all that 'mating' nonsense, he reminded his eyes as they followed the curve of her hips up to the edges of her red leather jacket and paused at the lacy neckline of her tank top. She glanced around at the bare cement floor and the tall, scuffed shelves and the overall derelict feel of the place, and cocked an eyebrow at him.
"You sure about your driving then, Doctor?" she asked.
"Rose Tyler!" he exclaimed as he spun around. "Are you insinuating that there's something wrong with how I pilot the TARDIS?"
She held out her hand and started counting on her fingers. "Well, there was twelve months instead of twelve hours, an' Cardiff instead of Naples, an' then you landed us in 1869 instead of 1969, an' then there was London and the Queen's coronation instead of New York and Elvis Presley."
"We-ell." He scratched the back of his neck. "Okay, I get a bit off sometimes, but you've seen the console. It's supposed to have a crew of six, and there's just me and you. Bound to get a bit dodgy occasionally. Still, I'm sure this time: Earth, South Dakota, 2010. We're exactly where we want to be."
"Looks like a cupboard," she said with a smile, but her teeth worried her bottom lip. "Only the last time we landed in a cupboard didn't go so well."
He ran his hands up the arms of her jacket until they settled on her shoulders and gave her a quiet smile. It was different from his normal, manic grin, and sometimes she fancied it was just for her, that this was one bit of him the rest of the universe never knew. There was so much of him, she'd learned that the hard way, but she liked to imagine that maybe, just maybe there were bits of himself that he handed her that had never been touched before. "No black holes anywhere near us, I promise."
For a moment she thought that he might kiss her; his eyes skated down her face and her lips opened a fraction, but he released her and whirled away to examine their surroundings.
Of course not. Rose pushed her disappointment down and turned her attention to the matter at hand. "Where are we?" she asked.
"We," the Doctor replied with a delighted grin, "are smack-dab in the middle of the greatest collection of mislabeled technology in the history of the human race." He flung out his arms to encompass their surroundings. "Rose Tyler, welcome to the Warehouse."
Rose was less than impressed, but she played along. He was gorgeous like this: glasses askew, hair wild, eyes dancing win an excitement she couldn't help but reciprocate. "What's that when it's at home?"
He wiggled his fingers and she took his hand, bumping his shoulder playfully with her own as he pulled her along. "There has been a Warehouse in existence almost since humanity discovered fire," he told her. The glasses and the suit gave him the air of a rather scatterbrained professor and the tone he used (Rose labeled it, privately of course, his lecture voice) did nothing to detract from the image. "Certain clever people recognized that bits of technology, they call them 'artifacts,' are too dangerous to remain in circulation; so they box them up and store them here."
Rose nodded. "Like the end of Indiana Jones—the first one, not the one with Sean Connery or the one with the aliens."
He gave her a fond, proud look that warmed her down to the tips of her toes. "Exactly, except the Warehouse isn't run by the government."
She blinked. "Really?"
"Yep." He popped the 'p.' "Really."
"Who keeps the lights on, then?"
"The Warehouse is more than just a building," the Doctor explained. "It's an organization, a group of people devoted to the idea that everything comes with a price—especially miracles. Even though the Americans host the Warehouse, technically it doesn't 'belong' to any country." The smile dropped from his face, and an edge crept into his voice. "There are things that could destroy the world here, things that warp reality and kill, if given half a chance. What person could resist the allure of that kind of power?" He pointed to a dusty megaphone on a shelf just above Rose's head. "That belonged to Adolf Hitler, a man who had enough charisma to persuade an entire country to murder a group of its own citizens in the hopes that they would once again be great. It lends whoever uses it that same charisma—but it also magnifies their cruelty and feeds their ambitions until they're willing to do absolutely anything to remain in power. The Warehouse is neutral; the only laws it has are its own, which makes it dangerous, but the purpose is essentially good. There have been Warehouses in more than a dozen countries—Egypt, for example, and England."
She squeezed his hand. "So it's what—magic, that makes these things work?"
He scoffed. "No such thing as magic, Rose. It's science, just a different sort than you're used to." The Doctor frowned thoughtfully and swung their joined hands between them. "Remember what I said about parallel universes?"
"That there's a nearly infinite number an' they all split off after something went differently than it did in the original universe?" she asked.
"Exactly. Way back at the very beginning of the universe there were beings who could harness and channel psychic energy—what you lot call 'magic.' My people thought it was the first split between worlds, when this universe selected for a science based on numbers. Psychic energy relies on words and feelings," he continued. "But the universe never forgets. The potential is still there, you see, and there are still people who can access psychic energy, but it's a throwback, like human scientists think the appendix is. Sometimes when humans are under a great deal of stress they tap into that energy and create an artifact. Quite a few start out good, helpful even, but just like your appendix can get infected and eventually kill you, artifacts have a habit of turning on whoever is using them."
"Great," Rose retorted sarcastically, and the smile on her face was less than pleased. "I'm standing in the universe's appendix."
"If you'd like to think of it like that." As quickly as it had come, the darkness was gone, and he was back to his usual chipper self. "I prefer to think of it as 'Antiques Roadshow' with a bit more oomph, but to each his own, I suppose."
They walked in silence for a bit. The Doctor seemed to know exactly where to go, but Rose was lost five minutes in. The shelves all looked the same, except for what they held, and seemed to stretch on forever. "All of these artifacts use psychic energy, then?"
"Hmm? Oh, no. Most of them are, but a few are alien or future tech. Some are the result of humans trying to adapt alien technology, and vice versa." He paused in an intersection and examined the three aisles in front of them studiously.
"S that why we're here?"
The Doctor cocked an eyebrow at her. "Do I need a reason to take you somewhere brilliant?"
"Specifically?" she asked and bumped his shoulder again. She couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face when he bumped back. "Yes. You most certainly do."
His answering smile was just a tad sheepish, and he tugged at his ear. Rose resolved for the thousandth time never to let him play poker—he was terrible at bluffing. "I have been known to find certain items for the TARDIS in the various incarnations of the Warehouse. She's telepathic, and she can channel psychic energy. There's something here that will help with the translation circuit, and I want her in peak condition. Falling into the center of a moderately large asteroid isn't good for her, you know."
"Wasn't good for you either, but you still went," she noted.
"And if I hadn't we never would have made it off that asteroid in one piece, not without bringing something terrible back with us," he reminded her.
Rose said nothing. He could explain until he was blue in the face; it didn't change the despair she'd felt when Ida had told her that he had fallen. She examined the items on the shelf nearest to her. There was one that caught her eye, a battered brass kettle. It was so ordinary, how could it possibly be dangerous enough to warrant storage in a place that held items powerful enough to destroy the world? Touching it was a reflex, and she didn't even notice that her hand was moving toward the kettle until the Doctor wrapped his fingers around her wrist and pulled her away.
"Don't touch anything," he ordered. "Was I not clear? These things are dangerous, Rose. Appearances can be deceiving."
"Sorry." They had little regard for personal space, but her whole body was aware of how close he was. He could feel it too, she knew he could from the way his eyes flicked down to her lips and the way his grip on her wrist shifted, became almost a caress.
"Right!" He broke the moment, as he always did, and the emotional whiplash left her grasping for equilibrium. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," she assured him and squeezed his hand. "Further up and further in, yeah?"
He squeezed back. "Yeah."
"There's really no need for weapons," the Doctor protested as Pete kept the Tesla fixed on them. He edged to the side, subtly trying to shield Rose but Pete shifted his aim.
"Nice try," the agent said. "But we're not stupid. Stay put and keep your hands where we can see them. Myks?"
"Artie wants them upstairs," the replied.
"This is all a misunderstanding," the Doctor tried to explain. "I've got identification in my jacket pocket—if I may?"
"Slowly," Pete instructed.
The Doctor reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, pulled out the psychic paper, and flipped it open so that Pete and Myka could see it. They studied the paper intently. "See?" he asked. "I'm Dr. James McCrimmon, here to inspect your neutralizing agent, and this is my assistant, Rose Tyler."
"I'd wave," the companion in question remarked dryly, "but I'd rather not get shot."
Pete let the tip of the Tesla dip toward the floor.
"What the hell are you doing?" Myka demanded.
"He's got ID," Pete replied, clearly confused.
Myka grabbed the Tesla and swung it back into place—aimed at the Doctor. "I don't know what you're trying to pull, buddy, but that paper's blank."
Pete blinked. "No it isn't. It says right there." He pointed. "Dr. James McCrimmon, Building and Maintenance."
"It's a fake, Pete." She glanced over. "I think it's time for the handcuffs."
"That's fantastic," Rose bit out as Pete pulled her arms behind her back and fastened the cuffs securely around her wrists. "Handcuffs. Again. You take me to all the best places, Doctor."
"I'll take that." Myka pocketed his psychic paper as she cuffed him. "I'm sure Artie will want to examine it."
"Oi!" he protested but Myka ignored him. "That's mine! It's rude to confiscate it like that, seeing as we were minding our own business." He threw a pleading look in Rose's direction but she was having none of it. She turned her head and marched primly in front of Pete.
Artie and Claudia met them at the elevator just outside the command center. Pete gestured at the two chairs which sat in the middle of the room, and Rose and the Doctor sat. The handcuffs made it awkward, but they managed.
"So," Artie began as he glared at them. "These are our thieves?"
Claudia waved the radiation detector over them and it let out a series of high-pitched beeps. "Whoa. Do you guys glow in the dark? Because the levels this baby's picking up are astronomical."
"Doctor?" Rose's eyes were wide and frightened.
"That doohickey there must register Artron," he explained. "It's a sort-of background radiation, comes from travel through the Vortex. It's very traceable, but harmless. Good for you, actually, beefs up the human immune system. Ever wondered why you didn't need shots, going to all those different times and places? Diseases evolve too, you know, but Artron energy lets your immune system compensate. Handy, that."
"So everywhere we go we leave some of that—Artron—behind?" she asked.
"Yep." He popped the 'p,' but his eyes were hard as he regarded Myka and the others. "Very clever, tracking it. Sometimes I underestimate humans."
Artie stood in front of them and crossed his arms. "Who do you work for? What organization do you represent? Where are the artifacts you've taken?"
The Doctor snorted. "Me? Work? I don't work for anyone, not anymore. UNIT once, and the Council occasionally, but that was ages ago. Lifetimes—literally."
"Where have you hidden the artifacts you stole?" he continued.
"Stole!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I didn't steal anything. I borrowed one or two," Rose shot him a look, "or maybe a few dozen," he amended, "items, but it's all perfectly legitimate. I have permission to be here and everything, just ask Mrs. Frederic."
Artie opened his mouth to reply and the Warehouse door swung open. A tall woman in a leather jacket and blue blouse stepped inside. She had fair skin and black hair, and high, prominent cheekbones. She was beautiful in an elegant sort of way that was distinctly at odds from her practical clothing.
"Leena's just behind me," she told Pete, Myka, Artie, and Claudia. "Have we apprehended the criminals yet? They must be master thieves to…" Her eyes flickered to the side, where Rose and the Doctor were sitting, and whatever she was going to say died in her throat. She stared at the two of them for a moment, and then she took a hesitant step forward. "Doctor?" she asked.
The indignation at his capture and subsequent interrogation smoothed from his face and was replaced by genuine pleasure. "Hello, Helena," he replied. "It's been a while."
"It certainly has." Humor crept back into her voice as she noticed the handcuffs. "What have you done this time?"
"Oi!" he protested. "I haven't done anything! Why does everyone always assume I've done something?"
Rose snorted. "Yeah, pull the other one—s' got bells on it, Doctor."
"Cheeky," he admonished, but his smile took the bite out of his words. "Rose Tyler, let me introduce Helena Georgina Wells—inventor and Warehouse agent, or H.G. Wells, as she's better known."
"Hello," Rose said. "He's told me loads about you. Did you really base The Time Machine off of his stories?"
Artie bristled. "You know this man?" he demanded.
Helena nodded. "The Doctor is a friend of the Warehouse. He had the run of Warehouse twelve." She didn't reply to Rose at all; in fact, she seemed to avoid looking at the young woman—and there was something like guilt in the set of her shoulders and the way her hands toyed with the hem of her jacket.
"So, H.G. says he's okay," Pete pointed out. "And they haven't tried to hurt us at all. They haven't even tried to run. Maybe we should just call Mrs. Frederic…"
"And how do I know you're not in it together?" Artie shot back. "The Regents said I have to tolerate you, they never said I have to trust you."
"Artie?" Leena walked into the room. "H.G. said you needed me?"
Myka stood by Claudia, who was attempting to find more information about their uninvited guests. 'The Doctor' was a pseudonym if she'd ever heard one, but Rose Tyler might give them something. Pete leaned over Claudia's shoulder.
"Anything?" he asked.
Claudia held up a hand. "Dude. You can't rush perfection. Hacking is an art."
Helena crossed the room to stand next to Myka. "I need to talk to you." Her voice was urgent.
Myka cocked an eyebrow. "Okay."
The other woman took a fortifying breath, and began. "Do you remember what I said about time travel when you and Pete went back to help Jack and Rebecca?"
"Yeah." Myka crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her hip against the desk. Something was off about Helena's behavior—something that hinted that Myka wasn't going to like where this was going. "You said that physical time travel is impossible—that the only way was to send your consciousness back."
"I lied." The words came out in a rush and Helena's hands clenched reflexively.
Myka nodded; her lips were pulled into a thin line. "Why am I not surprised?" she asked the empty air. "I vouched for you, Helena, I put myself on the line. What else have you been hiding?"
"Nothing," H.G. asserted. "Nothing, I swear, but—the Doctor, he's a time traveler, and a friend, and I couldn't betray his secret like that."
"You're doing it now," Pete pointed out.
"Circumstances have changed," Helena replied. "He's out of his time, and there are some things he can't know—and some things he must."
"Hey, guys?" Claudia broke in. "I think you want to see this."
"What is it?" Pete asked.
"I found something."
"On the Doctor?" Myka turned around.
Claudia shook her head. "No—on her."
'TERRORIST ATTACK AT CANARY WHARF,' sprawled across the top of the page in size twenty-six font. It was a news article from one of the many newspaper companies, and it was dated July of 2006. 'In a horrific display of cruelty," the article read, "an unknown organization launched a brutally efficient attack around the world. Authorities have released statements listing contaminated water as the source of the terrifying hallucinations experienced last week. The target of the attack was apparently Canary Wharf, a district in London which had heavy casualties." A list of the dead followed, in alphabetical order. Toward the bottom of the list one name was highlighted—Rose Tyler. Just above was another name—Jackie Tyler. The list indicated that they were mother and daughter.
"So," Claudia began. "If she died six years ago—how is she here?"
"Because it hasn't happened for her yet," Helena answered. "Because she's out of her time." Her eyes flashed back to where Rose and the Doctor were sitting. He was talking animatedly and she was watching him, smiling despite her discomfort and their generally tenuous situation.
Myka followed her gaze. "Helena, you said the past can't be changed."
"It's not the past for them," she replied. "Not yet."
"Wouldn't that create a paradox?" Claudia inquired. "I mean—if Rose doesn't die, then no one will be here to tell him that she died, so he won't know to stop her from dying."
H.G. shook her head. "Time isn't like that. It's not linear, not a strict progression. It's constantly being altered all around us."
"Why didn't you ask the Doctor for help when your daughter was killed?" Pete asked. "If he is a time traveler, why didn't he take you back? Why didn't you change it?"
"I did." Helena studied the bookcase to her right and refused to meet anyone's gaze. "He refused."
"Why?" Pete pressed.
Her response was slow, like the words were being pulled from her, unwillingly. "Because time can be rewritten only until it is read. Once you know what happens changing it creates a paradox. A large enough paradox could rip apart the space-time continuum, also known as the Time Vortex, and destroy the universe. Possibly the multiverse."
"That's a major no-no," Claudia pointed out. "I choose life, just so we're clear."
"We all do," Pete agreed. "Right?"
Helena did not respond.
"You can't tell them," Myka declared.
"I can save her!" Helena turned, her eyes pleading. "Myka, I can stop this. He visited me once, just before I was bronzed—this version of him—and he told me that I made the right choice. And I can spare him the pain. Loosing someone you love—it's awful, and he's already lost so much."
For a moment Myka wavered, caught between what she knew had to be done, and the sincerity of Helena's pleas. But then she shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "But we can't let you risk the universe for one person."
Artie's eyes darted between where the 'Doctor' and Rose were sitting and Pete, Myka, and H.G. Wells clustered around Claudia. They were plotting something, he was sure of it, and H.G. was at the center. She might even be working with the intruders; he wouldn't put it past her. Only the most dangerous people were bronzed, and by her own admission she'd been half-mad with grief. She'd killed an agent with her recklessness and disregard, and if they weren't careful she would kill them too. H.G. fooled the Regents, even Mrs. Frederic, but she didn't fool him.
"Can you read their auras?" he asked Leena. She regarded him like he was exceptionally slow. "Okay, okay. Stupid question. What do you see?"
Leena studied the new arrivals intently for a moment. "They're both very bright, and—strange, especially the girl. There's courage there, and strength, and a fair bit of stubbornness and selfishness as well—but love overpowers it all. Love for him, for the universe. She loves him with everything she is. There's grief too, regret, uncertainty, fear—of losing him, of being lost. But there's something else—something hidden." She frowned. "I can't sense it—but it's there."
"What about him?" Artie gestured to the man who called himself the 'Doctor.'
"He's something else entirely. Everything is intense, with him—rage and hate and overbearing guilt, grief and loss and resolve. He did something, Artie, something horrific and necessary and it colors everything around him—except for her. He loves her as much as she loves him. There's hope where she is, and exuberance, and joy." Leena paused and shook her head, as if she was trying to clear it. "I've never seen anything like it. He can't be human, not with an aura like that."
Artie blinked. "What do you mean, not human?"
"He's an alien." Leena folded her arms over her chest. "He has to be."
"So." Myka leaned against the bookcase next to Helena. "When did you first meet him?"
"I was eight," H.G. replied with a fond smile. "He pulled a pound coin from my ear. I thought he was a magician. It was only later, when I was apprenticed to Warehouse twelve, that I discovered who he really was. He and Caturanga, my old teacher, got on quite well. They used to play chess for hours; any time he needed spare parts he'd drop in for a visit." She looked away. "After Christina, he interceded with the Regents on my behalf—twice."
"Why didn't we know about him?" Myka asked. "If he's a friend of the Warehouse I think Artie at least would know."
Helena held up her hands. "He's always been secretive—and there are people, Myka, who wanted to capture him, to study him. The fewer people who knew the truth about him, the safer he was."
Claudia raised a hand. "We've got incoming, people."
Myka turned around. Pete was already leaning over the young woman's shoulder, staring at the screen. "What do you mean, incoming?"
"I was hacking this place—something called 'Torchwood,' and they caught me." Her face twisted into an embarrassed grimace. "Their firewalls are off the charts—this is security like I've never seen before."
"Artie," Pete called. "You might want to look at this." Artie left Leena and joined the others around Claudia. Pete, with great reluctance, took Artie's place guarding their visitors. The screen on Claudia's computer went black, and then what looked like live video started to play. A man sat behind a desk and stared out at them. He was handsome, devastatingly so, actually, with neatly combed brown hair and piercing blue eyes. His clothes were strange—like H.G. he appeared to have a fondness for retro style; he was even wearing what looked like a World War II era RAF coat.
"Who are you," Artie demanded. "And what have you done?"
"Captain Jack Harkness of the Torchwood Institute," the man responded. "You've been digging into sensitive information about a few friends of mine." He leaned forward. There was something vaguely menacing about him, a hardness around his eyes and a set to his jaw that spoke of determination and force. "And I'd like to know why."
"Jack?" They turned to Rose, who was standing behind them. The Doctor was lounging in the chair toying with a thin metal tube.
"You were handcuffed!" Pete exclaimed.
Rose shrugged. "I can pick normal handcuffs in ten seconds, mate. Not much of a challenge compared to some of the fixes we've been in."
"Bit hard on the wrists, though," the Doctor complained. He stood and wandered over to join Rose, looking for all the world like he owned the place. "Captain." He acknowledged the figure in the screen with a short nod. A muscle in his jaw twitched and his shoulders were stiff and tense. Rose threaded her fingers through his and sent a questioning look his way. He squeezed her hand, but didn't answer.
"Doctor," the Captain replied, equally tense—but then he grinned and the threatening façade melted in the face of his sheer appeal. "And my favorite girl! How are you, sweetheart? I told you she'd come back." The last comment, fairly dripping smug satisfaction, was directed at the Doctor.
"Oh my god," Rose breathed. "I thought you were dead. He said you were alive, but then he'd never take me to visit you—I thought he was lying, trying to protect me. But you're alive." She paused. "Wait. What do you mean, 'come back?'" Her eyes widened and she took a step forward. "Where did I go, Jack? What happened?"
"Canary Wharf, Rose?" he asked, his forehead creasing as he frowned. "Don't tell me—shit."
"That's enough, Captain." The Doctor moved in front of Rose. "We're fine here, really, and you've already said too much."
"You are an arrogant prick," Jack shot back. "And I may have forgiven you too quickly." He sighed, and seemed to deflate. "But you're right, this once. Don't worry, doll." He flashed a blinding gin at Rose. "It'll work out in the end. As for the rest of you…" He focused on the others. "There's nothing in these files that concerns you, and I really don't want to have to make a trip to the states to wipe your hard drives and possibly your memories—so keep out, okay?" And then he was gone.
"What the hell is the 'Torchwood Royal Institute?'" Pete asked.
"Torchwood?" Rose murmured to the Doctor. "Sounds familiar."
"No idea," Myka replied. "Never heard of it."
"Scotland," he reminded Rose. "Remember the Werewolf? It was at the Torchwood Estate."
"Yeah," she agreed. "But what's that got to do with Jack?"
"The Royal Torchwood Institute was founded by Queen Victoria in 1869." Helena's voice cut through the questions and confused mutterings. "For the purpose of protecting the empire from alien threats."
"Aliens." Claudia was clearly skeptical. "Like—little green men, aliens?"
"Oi!" the Doctor objected. "That's prejudice, that is." He stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and sniffed. "Nothing 'little' about me, nor green."
She laughed. "Nice one, but I'm not buying it. Aliens aren't real."
"No, he is," Rose insisted.
"I am," the Doctor agreed. "Two hearts, nine hundred years old, definitely not human."
"You look human," Pete pointed out.
"You look Time Lord," the Doctor shot back.
"Arthur, what's going on?" A new voice echoed through the room from the vicinity of the door. A black woman of medium height stood behind them. She wore a black and white tweed skirt suit that would have fit right in during the fifties and matching black pumps. Her hair was brained and carefully coiled atop her head. A pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses sat delicately on her nose and her lips were a deep red.
"Mrs. Frederic," Artie replied and stepped forward. "We had a break-in, but we caught the intruders." He gestured to the Doctor and Rose.
"Irene!" the Doctor proclaimed with a wide grin. "So lovely to see you again. You don't look a day over thirty five." He put his arm around Rose. "I'd like you to meet Rose Tyler, she's traveling with me. Irene Frederic is the guardian of the Warehouse," he explained. "She's got a psychic bond with the building, sort of like I've got with the TARDIS."
"So this building is alive too?" Rose asked. He nodded. "Cool."
"Doctor." The barest hint of a smile crossed Mrs. Frederic's face. "I see you've regenerated again. You look younger than I've ever seen you."
"Twice actually," he corrected, and went a bit pink around the ears. "And I see that you neglected to tell your friends about me."
"We heard what happened—the war." Mrs. Frederic's voice was gentle. "We were uncertain if you had survived."
"Yes, well." He glanced away. "I did." He turned to Myka. "May I have my psychic paper back, please? Don't want to leave that lying about—all sorts of trouble a person could get into with that."
She handed it over reluctantly. "So it's true then—you're an alien, and you're a friend of the Warehouse?"
"The Doctor was kind enough to remove and store some items that we are unable or unwilling to store here," Mrs. Frederic answered. "In return he is allowed on the premises and permitted to remove certain artifacts that will assist him."
"Dude." Claudia grinned. "Aliens are real. Wait until Fargo hears about this."
"Knowledge of the Doctor's whereabouts is top secret." Mrs. Frederic looked at Claudia pointedly over the tops of her glasses. "And it is not to leave this room."
"Killjoy," Claudia muttered.
"What did you take this time?" Helena asked. "I missed all the excitement earlier."
"Ah." The Doctor shoved a hand into his trouser pocket. Eyebrows all around the room shot up as his arm disappeared to his elbow. Rose was used to the sight, and thus unaffected. "What?" he asked, clearly puzzled by their shock. "They're bigger on the inside." After a long moment of rummaging through his seemingly bottomless pockets, he pulled out a small glass vial. Inside the vial was something that looked like a slimy yellow leech, about the size of a large slug, covered in a viscous, pale yellow liquid. "Aha!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "The babblefish!"
"The what?" Helena asked, baffled.
Rose snickered. "You're having me on," she protested. "That's straight out of Hitchhiker's Guide, that is."
"Rose Tyler!" he replied brightly. "I knew you read something besides those awful magazines you're always leaving around, and Douglas Addams was a very good friend of mine." He examined the repulsive thing with a look of wondrous enthusiasm on his face. "Took him on a couple of trips, actually. These beauties are actually the result of a forty-eighth century genetic engineering experiment. The idea was to create a cheap, self-maintaining universal translator; by then humanity stretched across thousands of planets and paying someone to translate all the different languages you were likely to encounter was far too costly, and automatic programs were a bit dodgy. The genius of the babblefish is that it taps directly into the brain waves of the beings around it via a self-generated telepathic field. It gets around the sounds—or lack thereof—entirely, and focuses on the meaning, which it then conveys directly to the user's brain. And it lives off the psychic energy created by brainwaves, so it's a perfect system." He beamed at the others, who regarded him with a range of expression, from curious to disgusted to annoyed. "You just pop one of these beautiful creatures in your ear, and wham! Instant personal translator, no upkeep needed."
"What happens when they die?" Claudia asked with morbid fascination.
"That gets a bit messy," the Doctor allowed. "They sort of slither back out."
"I trust you have the situation in hand, Arthur," Mrs. Frederic said.
"Yes ma'am,' he replied, although he still appeared disgruntled. He glanced over at the former captives. "I wish you'd reconsider—" but she was gone when he turned around. He frowned. "I hate when she does that."
They were deep inside the TARDIS, far from the living quarters and the garden and the swimming pool and the library, inside the real guts of the ship. Narrow corridors and cat walks criss crossed around them—steel mesh floor and rough coral walls. There was a low vibration and a steady sound that Rose could almost hear—like a heartbeat. It was also much warmer than she was used to, and damp. Pipes climbed the walls, like capillaries, and the Doctor stood on a narrow outcropping, his shirtsleeves rolled up around his elbows. His trenchcoat, suitjacket, and tie lay in a precisely folded pile on Rose's right. She sat on the edge of one of the cat walks and swung her legs over the side. Her leather jacket lay behind the Doctor's clothes. A large toolbox sat to her left, and periodically he would hold out his hand and ask her for one. It was a comfortable, familiar routine that had started when she first came aboard the TARDIS. Both of her Doctors liked to tinker, and they both also liked company. The work went faster when he didn't have to keep climbing out of whatever hole he'd gotten himself into or scramble out from beneath the console to get a tool, and she, in turn, was able to watch him without him watching her. She valued the unguarded moments, when he was just a bloke fixing a car (a dimensionally transcendent car that traveled through space and time, but the metaphor worked).
Apparently there was a colony of babblefish living in the TARDIS. They were a part of the translation circuit, and their numbers had dropped by enough to make the Doctor nervous about traveling. The last thing they needed was the translation circuit to cut out a million miles from anyone who spoke English. He might be all right—he bragged, after all, about being able to speak any language ever invented—but she would certainly be cast adrift.
And if he was injured, she'd have no way to help him. The thought made her shiver, and a cold ache settled in her chest. She'd almost lost him. So many times they'd rushed into danger without even pausing to think—but if he hadn't found the TARDIS on that impossible planet she would have been stranded a million miles from home, in the wrong time, and he would have been dead—sucked into a black hole. It was not a pleasant scenario.
"I never knew this was here," Rose said as she studied their surroundings.
"There's a lot more to the TARDIS than the console room and the habitation area," the Doctor remarked. "She's a bit like a cyborg, only better: part organic, part machine, all alien and all gorgeous." The steady hum shifted and the Doctor patted the section of wall next to him. "Yes," he said fondly. "You are a beautiful thing. The mechanical parts let us interface with her, because a TARDIS, without alterations, is an eleven-dimensional being who experiences reality and time simultaneously. Not even the Time Lords saw what the TARDIS sees."
The grating beneath Rose trembled and Helena—H.G. Wells—poked her head around the corner. "Hello," she said brightly and sauntered in. "The TARDIS led me here, I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all." He held out his hand. "The laser spanner, please, Rose." She obliged.
Helena remained standing. "Claudia was wondering if you'd like a tour of the Warehouse," she said to Rose. "I can help the Doctor, if you'd like."
Rose glanced to the Doctor, who nodded slightly. "All right." She stood and stretched. "Call me if you need me, okay?"
He made an 'x' over both sides of his chest. "Cross my hearts. Now go! It's an amazing place, really. Once in a lifetime opportunity."
After she turned the corner and the vibrations of her footsteps faded Helena sank to the floor and slid her legs over the edge. The Doctor remained with his back to her, his focus apparently on the task at hand.
"I am sorry, Helena," he said after a long moment of silence. "But I couldn't take you back."
"I know." A rueful smile crossed her face. "I do. I had a great deal of time to think. Did you know that people are still aware, once they've been bronzed? I've had a century to process everything."
"I tried to help you." There was a pleading note to his voice, a desperate search for understanding. "I thought interceding with the Regents would give you time to grieve."
"Doctor." Her voice was stern, but compassionate. "I forgave you. I did." She took a deep breath. "But I have a question."
She regarded him seriously. "What if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that something awful was going to happen, something catastrophic—and you knew you could stop it. You knew you could save someone."
"Helena," he interrupted, "Christina is—"
"This isn't about Christina!" she snapped. "It's about Rose. Torchwood is looking for you, Doctor, and they're going to find you. And when they do—she's going to die. You came to me, before I was bronzed; you came to me in this form, and you told me that I made the right choice. You told me that I was right to hide this from you." Helena grabbed his shoulder and tugged until he turned to face her. His eyes were dark and stormy, echoes of the ones she remembered: unbearably ancient and filled with a terrible, burning power and the hopelessness of a man who has lost the last good thing in his life. She did not recoil, though, because she faced him down once before and she could do it again. "You believed in me when I was a child." Her voice shook with the force of her emotion; if she could save one person, just one, perhaps Christina didn't die in vain. If she could save him, her oldest friend, if she could spare him the pain she had felt, deep and wide enough to drive her to madness, perhaps she could find some peace. "You knew, despite what all others believed, that I was special, that I could help people. Listen to me now, Doctor. When you return to 2006, do not take Rose with you. Leave her in Cardiff with Captain Harkness, leave her on the Moon if you must, but do not take her back to London. July, you need to go in July to stop them. But if you bring her with you she will die. I have seen what that does to you, my friend, and I would not wish that on my worst enemy."
"There are laws, Helena!" he raged. She was familiar with helpless anger; after Christina's death it was her constant companion. "Laws that must be obeyed, or the universe will shatter." He laughed, but there was no joy in it. "No one is a slave to time like a Time Lord."
"I have studied these events," she argued. "They are not fixed moments. There is nothing which says they must occur."
"Your understanding of time is imperfect," he told her. The anger was gone, drained from him like water from a sieve. "Helena—these laws are all that is left of my people. Beyond saving the universe, even, if I forget them, I forget myself."
"How many times did you rage against their refusal to interfere?" she asked pointedly. "How many times did you tell me of their stubbornness and their pigheaded aversion to change? The universe needs you, Doctor—and you need her." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "There are not punishments, nor are there rewards in this life, Doctor—only consequences. If you ignore me you will lose her…are you willing to take that risk?"
"No," he said eventually. His shoulders sagged and he hung his head, one hand pressed against the rough coral wall. "Not her. Susan, Leela, Romana, Ace—Sarah Jane, even—but not her. Not Rose."
"I'm sorry," Helena offered.
The Doctor did not respond. He remained where he was, lost in memories of horrors that she could not see, until she stood silently and left him to his tortured contemplation.
When Rose returned Helena was gone. The Doctor was still there, though. His forehead was pressed against the coral and his right hand was splayed out beside his head. She entered cautiously. He was brighter, this time around, but when he was in a mood she thought she caught flashes of his old self: bitter and manic and lonely and broken. He was better at hiding, was really all that had changed, better at distraction and misdirection. He was a good liar, now—but she knew him, and she could see right through him.
"Doctor?" she called.
He started. "Rose!" He blinked and seemed to realize where he was. "Have a good time?"
"Yeah." She smiled at him. "The Warehouse is mad."
"Good mad, though," he agreed.
"Good mad." She nodded. "I prefer the TARDIS, though."
He smiled. "Me too."
Rose stood on the catwalk as the Doctor clambered up the side, all long-limbs and flyaway hair. There was a grease smudge on his cheek and his glasses were tucked high on his forehead. More grease adorned his shirt and there was just a hint of stubble on his jaw. His eyes were warm and dancing, but there was something hollow about his face, something that reminded her of long nights spent beneath the console and hours of silent contemplation.
"There's something I have to do, Rose," he said after the silence stretched out between them. He rested his hands on her shoulders, skin against skin. She shivered. "And you can't come with."
"Why not?" she objected.
"It's dangerous." There was no humor in his voice, not a trace. "I thought you'd like to visit Jack." It was a peace offering of sorts, a trade off—spend time with the man who'd come to be one of her closest friends and in return, let the Doctor go off on some harebrained, possibly fatal adventure. "Please," he continued. "Give me this one, Rose."
She blinked. "You never ask."
"I am now." He slid his hands down her arms so that he could thread his fingers through hers.
"Fine." She pulled back a hair, just far enough that she could look him in the eye, so he would know that she was serious. "But you're going to explain what happened after, and you'd better come back mister. Preferably like this. It took me ages to figure out how to make your tea, an' I'm not relearning how to cook if I don't have to."
"Deal," he murmured. A strange solemnity stole over them; the hum of the TARDIS faded, and the air was still. Anticipation was building like the tide between them, ready to crest and wash over and pull them out to sea. He released one of her hands and traced the curve of her cheek with gentle fingertips. "I've always wondered…" His voice was low and soft, so different from what she was used to hearing that she hardly registered it as his. But then his hand slid behind her neck and urged her head back and she was staring into his eyes, willing him to complete the motion.
He did. His lips were soft and dry and cool. It was a soft kiss, a simple kiss. It was alarmingly chaste, but she'd never expected to be kissing the Doctor and it was almost surreal in how normal it felt. Rose pulled back after a moment and regarded the man in front of her. "For luck?" she asked. They'd come close before, but he'd always pulled back, and she was willing to offer him an out, if this wasn't what he truly wanted.
The Doctor gave her a crooked smile. "We'll finish this later," he promised. "After I come back."
Her smile was brighter than the stars. "Deal."