“It’s not you. Really it’s not.” Rose looked at him sadly. And he believed that she was indeed as heartbroken as he felt himself. “It’s just...”
“I’m not him,” he concluded. There was no need for her to say it out loud. He knew. He knew better than anybody else would ever know. Although he was the Doctor, he wasn’t the same man. Not any more. Donna had created him and he’d been born right into battle, full of anger and emotions and thoughts that were not there before.
The full-out Time Lord him had been right, when he’d described him as full of anger. He had all theses memories and they were his, too - but he only remembered healing after the time war, having Rose at his side. He’d have to learn that again. But how?
Rose took a step forward, enfolding him in a strong and desperate embrace. A sob escaped her and he put his arms around her, pulling her against himself. He did love her so much, oh so much, but it just wasn’t enough for both of them. Not this time. They both were changed. Rose wasn’t a naive, young girl any more that he could impress by showing her the stars and he wasn’t the Time Lord with a Tardis either. He was a human with the memories and intelligence of one, but he had no access to a Tardis - or any other time travelling device.
And now he wasn’t even sure, why he was stuck here at all.
Rose nodded, more to herself than in answer to his statement. “I wanted you to be the better him.”
And instead she’d gotten a changed him. “I had hoped it wouldn’t make a difference,” he confessed, rubbing at his temple with one hand. He hated confessions. The meta crisis had made him more comfortable with admitting his feelings, but it had by no means made it easier to overcome his own pride.
He was still holding her and she didn’t let him go either. “We’re still friends, right?”
With a sigh he buried his face in her hair. What would he give to e able to just run away and leave everything behind again. “Of course, we are, Rose. We’ll always be special and I love you.”
She nodded against him. “And I love you. Just not...”
“Not like that, yeah.” It would be okay. He loved her and they could work this out together, because were else was he supposed to be?
The last time he’d been stuck without a Tardis, without the possibility to run from his own failures, had been back on Gallifrey. He’d hated it. And he hated it now. Working at Torchwood felt wrong and boring. In an attempt to do something worth his while he raided the bits and pieces of tech they had collected over time and started to built a new sonic screwdriver.
“Bored again?” Rose asked him when she had identified what he was working on.
“A bit, yeah,” he admitted, connecting the delicate micro scanner to a little green screen, he had scavenged.
She laughed, a happy sound in the darkness of their strange working place. “So you’re sonicing another screwdriver?”
“Yeah, there were no storage racks to be set up and I’m no archivist. Sifting and labelling all your stuff is growing a bit... boring.”
She smiled again. “Yeah. Something big could happen now and then. Adventure of the nice adventurous kind.”
He nodded, finally feeling himself answering her smile with one of his own. “Something really big, please.”
Most of the others still thought he and Rose were in love, just going through a phase of finding how their new lives would fit together. But they knew better. Rose was slowly giving up on the idea to every find her own Doctor again. It probably was for the best. She was moving on. But seeing the hint of it in her eyes hurt.
They worked well together, bantering and joking like they had always done. “This feels more like when we first met, doesn’t it?”
He had to admit it did. It was a bit like their first adventures, not really knowing much about each other, getting to know the new girl on board the Tardis, arguing, having fun, healing, not in love, yet. But this time he was the new guy and this didn’t feel like healing.
“There seems to be a colony of Delurians right in the middle of Birmingham. We really should investigate to make sure they don’t mean business.” Rose was staring at an open file on her screen, already making plans.
“We should wipe them out, before they have a chance at business,” he said, pictures of mutilated bodies and invading armies in his mind. Another world, another life.
Rose was staring at him with a concerned look. “You didn’t mean that.” Although her voice sounded firm, an unspoken didn’t you? was hanging in the air between them. The part of him that was more Donna than Doctor was asking the exact same thing.
This wasn’t getting easier over time. Instead he felt more and more like he’d felt in his UNIT days. Exiled, angry, beginning to detest everything around him and still holding on. He needed to channel this anger he was feeling. He needed something to do. He needed something else before he went mad, but he had no idea what that would be.
“We have some strange readings popping up all over the city,” Alex informed the near empty room. It was rare for their resident computer genius to sound this confused. “Can you take a look at this?”
The Doctor walked over, pushing his black rimmed glasses back on his nose. Something to do, he thought and felt a sense of longing and adventure. He needed to be himself again, be the Doctor - human or not, he still was the Doctor and he needed to get out. “I think somebody is using a highly advanced technology that is messing with your readings.”
“That’s anybody’s guess, really. Someone who has access to it, obviously.”
“You think someone stole from Torchwood?” Alex seemed appalled by the mere thought of somebody stealing fro their sacred halls of highly advanced equipment.
“One way to find out,” he told her with a smile. But he already knew more than any of the Torchwood employees would find out by just looking at the disturbances their equipment picked up. Someone was meddling with time. And meddling with time was his job.
With the little data Alex had given him, the Doctor set out on his own investigation. He had a vague idea what he was looking for. Only primitive time travelling devices left the signature he had seen on the readouts - nothing nearly as sophisticated as a Tardis, of course. Time travelling technology was exactly what he needed right now to just get away from it all.
He had a feeling he knew what to expect when he followed the traces left by the device. A man and woman were strolling through London, both clad in dark leather, standing out in the middle of the crowd. They were looking for someone or something and both looked grave and businesslike. The woman, blond hair contrasting with her dark outfit, reached up to straighten the collar of her jacket.
Around her wrist he could see the outline of a Vortex Manipulator.
Great, he thought, to himself. Time agents. Not the crowd he wanted to have around longer than necessary. But he could really use one of these Vortex Manipulators.
He considered his options, tailing them with the help of his newly built screwdriver which could easily pic up the signature of their Vortex Manipulators. They must be here for a reason, he thought. And that could be fun.
With a slight feeling of guilt he took his phone from his pocket and switched it of.
This wouldn’t be a Torchwood mission. He was doing this as the Doctor.
“You really think he’ll come here? He isn’t stupid, you know?”
“How smart can somebody be who turned his back on us, darling?” The male agent smiled at his partner. “He’ll be here, don’t worry. He’s only here, because his Vortex Manipulator burned out. That one has nowhere left to run and he knows it.”
“I’m not worried,” she replied with a huff and led the way towards the gates of a warehouse.
The Doctor sneaked around the corner without being seen, tailing behind them. A plain grey warehouse wasn’t what he had been looking for. But there was something interesting to be found here. He could feel it.
When the two agents finally went in and the way was clear for him to find his own way in, he carefully bend forward to make sure that there was truly nobody around. A hand closed over his mouth and he was pulled back. He stiffened for a moment, making ready to get out of this predicament as fast as possible.
“I’m not sure what you think you are doing here, but I’m sure you don’t want to follow these two around.”
American accent, a little laughter in the voice.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Of course, you do.” Jack smiled a very condescending smile and the Doctor felt the urge to smack him right across the face. He held himself back. This wasn’t a Jack he knew. Looking at this Jack, clad in black jeans and a blue shirt with a west barely concealing his weapon, the Doctor felt himself missing the military coat. “So what were you doing then?” Jack asked.
He felt some of the anger at his situation come back full force then. “None of your business, Jack. So, your friends...”
“How do you know that name?” The playboy smile vanished and Jack looked serious and dangerous all of a sudden. The Doctor let him see a bit of his own anger, to make it clear that he wasn’t cowed in the least. They stared at each other until Jack cleared his throat and asked: “You’re not from around here?”
“You could say that.” And had it ever been more true? He wasn’t stuck in the wrong time and the wrong place, this time he was even stuck in a wholly different universe. “What are these two up to?”
“You don’t know?”
“I tend to ask questions, when I want answers,” he said, gritting his teeth. Deliberately menacing. Jack had been a time agent and potentially dangerous the first time he’d met him - or his other self had met him. This universe could be different in a great many ways.
“They are here to get me back to base for a little brainwashing session.”
“I broke my programming.”
“Uh-huh.” He wasn’t at all sure what to think of this Jack. For all he knew he could be in league with the other time agents. “All that sounds rather interesting. But why are all of you here? Don’t tell me there isn’t an ulterior motive.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. When he smiled again, it was strained. “You’re not easy to fool, are you?”
The Doctor met the comment with a snort and rolled his eyes. He was really losing all patience. “Not easily fooled, that’s me, space soldier. Whatever this is about you better help me see to it that nobody gets hurt, you hear me.”
He nodded and extending his hand, Jack introduced himself. “Jack Harkness. Hello.”
“Hello,” the Doctor answered rolling his eyes again at the deja-vu.
“Hello,” Jack said again, starring at the Doctor with a fascinated and slightly flirty expression. “And who might you be then?”
“Oh god,” the Doctor groaned. “Stop it. You really, really have to stop this hello non-sense.”
Jack’s smile grew just a tiny little bit brighter. “Why? Is it working already?”
Maybe he should get Jack back to Torchwood and let Rose handle this. She’d always been good with Jack. All this eye-rolling was making his head hurt.
“You can call me the Doctor.”
Rose was staring at them with wide eyes and a calculating expression that the Doctor had come to call her “saviour of the earth”-look. “You brought, Jack?” she asked with a hint of incredulity. “The real, Jack?”
“Why does everybody seem to know the name I used on ma last mission? What is this place?”
“Welcome to Torchwood. Earth’s last and most important defence line against alien invasion and timey-wimey meddling.” Rose didn’t smile, still giving Jack the critical once over.
He ignored that all-together, waved at her and smiled as if he was meeting a date. “Hello.”
“Hello,” Rose said in turn. Only a slight tremor in her voice belied the fond memory she was relieving.
Jack was looking around the room, stuffed with tech. “A nice place you people have here.” He turned to look back at the Doctor. “You’re nice Doctor over there failed to mention you had all the posh stuff. I was a bit surprised to find a nice, regular 21st century guy who knew all about time agents.”
Rose chuckled, giving the Doctor a significant look. “Yeah, well, you may have met our most experienced agent already.”
The Doctor nodded at her and she nodded back in perfect understanding. It was good to know that they still communicated better than they had every before and in a way he felt like that was partially because they both have changed so much. Jack was looking from one to the other in a speculating way. “So, you to come as a set?” There was no mistaking his meaning, with him wriggling eyebrows in an obvious way.
It hit the wrong nerve with both of them and Rose face fell visibly. “We used to.”
“So, what you’re saying is, the time agency is trying to use the rift in Cardiff to built something like a time weapon. That sounds horribly impractical.” Rose shook her head. “A rift weapon controlled by people having only their own interests at heart. And we thought it was so boring around here lately.”
The Doctor was leaning against the desk, Jack was sitting at, his arms crossed across his chest. “These idiot. That could rip the planet apart.”
“But why do they want you out of the way?” Rose was looking at Jack.
“Like I told your Doctor over there. I broke my programming - or more precisely I finally understood that I had been turned into a pawn and broke away. They know I know too much... It’s as easy as that.”
“You sure?” the Doctor asked sternly. Something was still wrong, he just didn’t know what it was, yet. But he’d find out.
Jack sneaked out of the complex two hours later.
The Doctor was following him at a safe distance, making sure to stay out of Jack’s way and detection range. The two agents are waiting for him the way the Doctor had thought they would be. “Hello, Jack. Long time no see,” the woman greeted him. “You ran away with something that belongs to the agency and we’re here to get it back.”
“I gathered as much, really.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s hidden. You won’t get it. I’ve met the people of the future Torchwood institute today and I think they are the right people to lead humanity into it’s future. No need to meddle with it.”
All of this didn’t really come as surprise to the Doctor.
“Give us the ship, Jack, and we’ll see that you’re going to be treated gently. They’ll erase the last few years and you’ll be fine.”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
Jack laughed. “I’ve been an idiot to believe what you were telling me all these years. Do whatever you want, but you won’t get that ship.”
The man who had been silent until now stepped forward now, holding a blaster and pointing it right at Jack. “Why did you have to develop a conscience.”
“We destroyed a whole planet through our meddling, Garen. You may be able to live with that, but I can’t just go on and forget about. You can kill me or take me back, but I’ve taken precautions. The agency will never get that technology. End of story.”
The female agent nodded, looking a little sad, but determined. The man pointed his gun at Jack’s head. “We can’t go home without the ship. You know that. We’re at fault for letting you take it in the first place. If we go back empty handed, we’re dead to.”
With a deep sigh the Doctor stepped out from his own hiding place. “Then don’t go back. Find a new life. Can’t be hard for such smart people, right?” The gun turned to point at him instead. “And Jack, really? That’s your plan? You’ve never had the best plans. I’m actually a little surprised you didn’t charge in guns blazing.”
He knew all eyes were following him, but to surprised with his performance to really act just yet. Jack is stunned, by his words, by his presence and didn’t protest when the Doctor reached for his arm. It literally took only a zip of his screwdriver to have the Vortex Manipulator working again. The were pulled away the next second, without a sound, the world shifting out of focus and suddenly back in.
They were standing on a white sand beach and the sun was shining. Jack stared at him. “How did you... It wasn’t working.”
“Last time I met you, all hell broke lose, too. So I was warned.”
“The last time...?”
“Doesn’t seem like things have changed so much.” He sighed. The air was clear, smelling of sea and salt and fish. “We have to talk,” he proclaimed, feeling better than he had in days.
Jack had other ideas. He moved over, put his hands on the Doctor’s shoulders and leaned over to kiss him.
And to his own surprise the Doctor didn’t mind. He let himself be pulled into the kiss and returned it.
Finally he could forget about his sadness and anger.
“I’m sorry, Rose, but we may be at war with the time agency.”
It was time for her to roll her eyes at him. “No, Doctor, you’re not sorry.” She gave his shoulder a soft slap. “In fact I think you haven’t looked this happy.”
“You called me Doctor.”
“Because you are.” Rose smiled. “You’re not him and you’re different and not mine, but you’re the only Doctor this world has. Human or not.”
“So what about this ship, Jack, was talking about? What is it?”
“It’s a Rutan anti-matter ship with primitive time travel technology.”
“A time machine!” she exclaimed. “You’ll travel through space and time again, That’s wonderful.” She pulled him into a crushing hug. “We’ll need that, if we’re at war, right?”
“It’s not a Tardis and Rutan technology isn’t easily accessible for humanoid - but, yeah.”
Jack was sitting at the newly installed helm of their little time machine, watching the Doctor make final adjustment. The interior looked like a strange blend of all kinds of technology from all over the universe and it gave off a soft reddish light.
“Ready for a test flight?”
“I’ve been ready since day one,” Jack smiled. He pulled the Doctor towards him to press a soft kiss onto his lips. “Much more sophisticated than a Vortex Manipulator.”
“Much more dangerous, too. It’s a weapon.” The Doctor looked at his handiwork and nodded to himself. “That should do. Not a Tardis, but better than nothing.” He entered coordinates, pressed a few buttons and started them on their first official journey.
Jack leaned back in his chair, watching him. “You know, I love you, crazy scientist genius.”
The Doctor shrugged and smiled. This was only the beginning of a completely new adventure and he was glad that he wasn’t alone in this.
“But what’s a Tardis?” Jack asked.
And everything was brand new here in the universe of Pete’s world.
“That’s a long story, Jack. Let’s see were we are first, right?”
Healing had started. He could feel it.