Chapter 1: Prologue
“And…” the Doctor was saying in his distracted way as he pushed buttons and pulled levers. “Welcome to…” One last button, and Martha felt the TARDIS land. “Cardiff,” the Doctor finished proudly.
“Cardiff?” Martha repeated, her tone disbelieving. “As in… Wales?” It was so… normal.
The Doctor nodded absently. “The city is built over a rift — like the San Andreas Fault in California, only in time and space instead of rock.” While he spoke, he looked over the energy readings. “The rift gives off energy…” An odd reading caught his eye, breaking the rhythm of his speech. “I just… park, open up the engines…” Not just an odd reading. A very odd reading.
“Like a pit stop?” Martha asked.
“Uh, yes, exactly. Shouldn’t take long… rift’s been active lately.” He squinted at the console. “Really active, actually.” He paused, looking worried. “That sort of energy shouldn’t be… could mean… or it could be… Be right back!” he exclaimed suddenly, running out of the console room.
Martha, who had glanced down at the monitor for her first look at Cardiff, called out for him to wait as he sprung away. But he was down a corridor and out of earshot — mentally if not physically — before Martha could tell him that it appeared that the TARDIS had materialized inside a huge, gadget-filled room. She watched as a dark-haired man struggled to zip up a large black backpack while a blonde woman tugged on his sleeve.
“Doctor!” Martha tried again. The couple was now jogging towards the door of the TARDIS. The Doctor’s only response to Martha’s shout was to increase the volume of his continued stream of technobabble, and Martha caught something about voids and ancient energy before her mouth dropped open in shock.
The blonde had pulled out a key.
A TARDIS key.
Martha was openly gaping when the door burst open.
The TARDIS lands in the Torchwood hub, and Jack and Rose race aboard. The TARDIS reacts strongly. Oh, and the Doctor and Rose are reunited.
The moment they heard the noise of the approaching TARDIS, Jack began stuffing the jar containing the Doctor’s hand into a backpack he’d had stowed in the pedestal beneath it. Rose tugged on the sleeve of his coat impatiently.
“Hurry up! It’s not like the Doctor to be late for the party,” she said quickly. “He’s probably just making a pit stop.”
“In my hub?” Jack huffed out, fighting with the zip of the bag.
Rose grinned, tongue poking out between her teeth. “The TARDIS likes to land wherever she wants.” She glanced back at the blue box that was now fully materialized behind them. “Let’s go!”
“It’s probably locked,” Jack mused as they jogged the short distance to the TARDIS. “Do you think he’d hear us if we knocked?” But he was already reaching for his keychain and its vast collection of keys. One of them still matched the door in question. “Somewhere on here I’ve still got-”
Rose glanced down at Jack’s key ring and laughed, tugging a chain over her head — a chain with a single key dangling from the end. “My way’s quicker. And we shouldn’t have to knock on the door of our own home.” Eyes twinkling, she stuck the key in the lock while Jack dropped his keys back in his pocket and failed to hold back a wide grin at her use of the plural.
“Ah,” Rose said as she opened the door. She took Jack’s hand and jumped over the TARDIS threshold. “Home sweet ho- oh,” she stopped mid-word, catching sight of Martha. “Hello,” she began as Jack shut the door behind them, dropping Rose’s hand in the process. The click of the door closing had barely registered before the TARDIS suddenly gave a violent jerk and spun off, out of control.
“She’s ornery as ever, I see,” Jack shouted to Rose over the din of the TARDIS’ manic flying.
Rose stumbled backwards, falling against the doors behind them. “Feels like she’s… scared or upset or something,” she yelled in response, bracing herself against the doors in an attempt to stay upright.
As abruptly as the jerking had begun, it ended. Martha straightened at the console, still staring in disbelief at the two strangers. Jack, his back to the rest of the room, moved in front of Rose to look her over, ignoring the woman he didn’t recognize in favor of making sure Rose was fine. “You all right?” he asked her softly, smoothing a hand over her hair and tucking it behind her ear.
Rose nodded and was about to reply when the Doctor’s annoyed voice drifted into the console room, getting closer with every word. “What was that, then? Did you press that purpley button again, Martha? And why have we stopped in the middle of space?” At the sound of the Doctor’s voice, both Martha and Jack had whirled to face the direction from which he was coming. Rose was hidden behind Jack, still leaning against the doors.
“I hope we haven’t hit the doldrums again,” he continued as he stepped into the console room. “That got boring really fa-” His words and his motion stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Jack.
“Doctor,” Jack said, his voice terse. Regeneration or not, even if they hadn’t been standing on the TARDIS Jack thought he’d have known somehow that this was the Doctor — his Doctor, who he’d known, loved, and been abandoned by so long ago. Behind his back, Rose raised her eyebrows at the tone of Jack’s voice. Apparently he was more upset than he’d let on about being abandoned on Satellite 5.
“Captain.” The Doctor’s voice was equally terse, but with a characteristic quicksilver mood shift became inquisitive as he resumed walking past Martha towards Jack. “How did you get in here?” He looked over his shoulder at Martha from the top of the ramp. “Did you let him in?”
“No,” Rose’s voice came from behind Jack. The Doctor’s head snapped back around, and then his entire body seemed to freeze. Martha didn’t think she’d ever seen him be so still. Rose stepped out to the side and took a few shaky steps forward, TARDIS key dangling at her side, the chain still clutched between her fingers. “He had a key.”
Martha never thought she’d see the day the Doctor was speechless, but it appeared to have arrived.
Rose’s tentative smile widened at the flummoxed look on the Doctor’s face. It was hard to get him to look like that; she had to give herself points for it. “Hello,” she said softly, her face going serious again.
“Impossible…” the Doctor finally managed, his voice coming out as barely a whisper. He took numb steps down the ramp towards her, flexing and relaxing his fingers compulsively. “Must be… a shapeshifter, or… or mind control!”
“Or a Slitheen?” Rose suggested wryly, remembering her question after the Doctor’s regeneration.
The Doctor froze again an arm’s length away from Rose, anguished hope rising in his eyes at the reference to a conversation about which only the two of them knew. “Are you Slitheen?”
Rose’s face brightened, the corners of her mouth threatening to curve into another smile. “No. I am not Slitheen.” She closed the distance between them but didn’t touch him. “It’s me. Honestly, it’s me.”
“You can’t be,” he whispered, aching to touch her but afraid she’d disappear if he did.
“Then how could I remember this? The first time we ever met, such a very long time ago, you took my hand.” She took his then, and tears glistened in their eyes. “And you said one word,” she continued, squeezing his hand lightly. “‘Run,’ you said.”
“Rose,” he finally said, his voice breaking on the word.
“Hello,” she repeated.
And then they were hugging so tightly it was hard to tell where Rose stopped and the Doctor began. Her feet left the floor as he spun her in joyous circles. “Rose,” he said again. “My Rose!”
Martha felt her stomach drop into her toes. This was Rose? The Rose who, she was certain, had always been on the Doctor’s mind, was the reason he never looked twice at Martha as more than just a traveling companion. Martha dropped onto the captain’s bench and continued staring.
“Doctor,” Rose echoed his repetition of names happily, fingers clutching at the fabric of his blue suit as they spun. “My Doctor.”
A smile spread across Jack’s face as he watched the two people he loved most in the universe hugging with such joy. It didn’t stop him wanting to demand an explanation for why he’d been abandoned on Satellite 5, but it was certainly difficult to maintain outright anger when the Doctor was making Rose so happy — or when he was being this obvious about how he felt about her. He wondered idly if this regeneration had been more open about it in the first place — Rose didn’t seem at all surprised by the intensity of their embrace.
Jack caught movement by the console out of the corner of his eye, and he shifted his gaze to look at the woman sitting on the bench. She was staring at the Doctor and Rose, a stricken look on her face. They had stopped spinning, but Rose’s feet had yet to touch the ground. Now her legs dangled, swinging back and forth as the Doctor and Rose just smiled and giggled at each other, faces close, eyes locked. Taking pity on the woman he assumed was the Doctor’s current companion, Jack slipped past Rose and the Doctor and moved up the ramp to stand in front of her.
“Captain Jack Harkness,” he said brightly, sticking out his hand. “And who might you be?”
Martha tore her gaze from the Doctor and the blonde — of course she was blonde, Martha thought caustically — and was momentarily tongue-tied when she realized this Captain Harkness was even more attractive up close than he’d appeared to be from across the console room. “Um…” She blinked a couple times — nope, still unnaturally attractive. The Doctor sure could pick ‘em. “Martha Jones,” she managed, taking Jack’s hand and shaking it numbly.
Jack deliberately widened his smile and squeezed her hand just a little more that strictly necessary. “Pleased to meet you, Martha Jones.”
Martha pulled her hand back slowly, a bemused expression crossing her face. Was he flirting with her?
“Oh, don’t start that,” the Doctor exclaimed reflexively upon hearing that tone in Jack’s voice, finally setting Rose on her feet. “Leave the poor thing alone.” Jack grinned at the familiar exasperation in the tone and winked conspiratorially at Martha.
“I’m just introducing myself.”
“With you, that’s all it takes,” Rose said with a laugh. She and the Doctor walked hand in hand to stand by Jack, and Rose pressed an affectionate kiss to his cheek to soften her remark.
“I don’t mind,” Martha muttered.
Catching sight of Martha, the Doctor seemed to really remember her for the first time since Rose had stepped into view. “Martha!” He tugged Rose closer to Martha excitedly. “Martha, this is Rose Tyler! I told you about her, remember?”
Rose looked at the Doctor with a mixture of surprise and naked emotion. The Doctor never talked about his old companions. Even after she’d met Sarah Jane, she still didn’t hear much about her afterwards. “You did?”
“Well,” the Doctor amended. “Not chapter and verse, our story’s ours, you see. But somehow I couldn’t… not.” Their gazes caught and held, and Martha felt like a voyeur just by looking at them looking at each other. The Doctor had never looked at her in a way that came even close to resembling the way he was looking at Rose, with such tenderness and love and things that just couldn’t be put into words. She blinked back the tears that tried to form in her eyes at the realization that she really had been wrong all along. He’d never felt that way about her. And he obviously never would.
Martha took a deep breath. It was time to pull herself together, she decided. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere — hanging in space, the Doctor had said — with a man who would never love her the way she loved him, the woman he did love, and a captain of some kind. A captain who, judging from the way he was watching the Doctor and Rose, was also unavailable for the foreseeable future. First things first: get unstuck. She coughed a little, clearing her throat pointedly.
“Uh, Doctor,” she began. “Didn’t you say something about being stuck in the middle of space?”
The Doctor tore his gaze from Rose’s face. “Stopped, I said stopped,” he corrected. “Stuck sounds so much more daunting, don’t you think?” He turned away from Martha and towards the console, still clutching Rose’s hand with his own as he began poking away with his free hand. “I wouldn’t say we were stuck unless I was absolutely…” he trailed off when he got to one particular readings display. “Now that’s just odd.”
Rose peered at the monitor. Three years of working for the parallel Torchwood had taught her a lot about alien tech, but they’d had nothing anywhere near the complexity of the TARDIS. She vaguely recognized some of the things this particular graph appeared to be measuring, but had no idea what the readings meant.
Jack stepped quickly next to the Doctor and stared intently at the display. “I see what you mean,” he agreed a moment later. Martha expected the Doctor to scoff and assure Jack that he couldn’t possibly see what the Doctor meant. To her surprise, the Doctor merely nodded, and he and Jack seemed to fall into mental lockstep.
Jack gestured to a particular reading. “That one — it’s too high.”
“This one as well,” the Doctor added, pointing to another gauge on the console. Still holding Rose’s hand, he shifted so that he could pin his best stern glare on both Rose and Jack at the same time. “I think it’s time you two explained to me what’s been going on in Cardiff.”
Martha blinked. “We’re not… getting unstuck?”
“I told you, Martha. We’re not stuck, just… stopped. We’ll be stuck if I can’t figure out why we’ve stopped. And I’m a genius, so I don’t see that happening, eh?”
“Right,” Martha muttered.
The Doctor gave the console an absent pat and then began walking toward the hallways of the TARDIS. “What do you say we retire to the library or some other room more suitable for long stories than this one?” he suggested, drawing Rose behind him, apparently unwilling to let go of her hand.
Rose shrugged at Jack as she passed him, and he shrugged lightly in response. Obviously the story was going to be hashed out eventually. He supposed it was just as well to get it over with — particularly since the Doctor seemed to think knowledge of the goings-on in Cardiff might help him figure out what was wrong with the TARDIS. He turned to follow Rose and the Doctor.
Martha hung back by the captain’s seat, unsure if she was invited to this particular party.
“Come on, Martha,” Jack said as he strode toward the hallway. “You’ll want to hear this story.”
“Yes, come on, Martha,” the Doctor called back.
With a shake of her head, Martha followed them down the hallway into the depths of the TARDIS.
Jack and Rose fill the Doctor in on what happened in Cardiff, Rose fills Martha in on what happened on the Game Station, and the Doctor avoids filling anyone in on anything. He's tricky like that.
The TARDIS seemed to have decided that the library would be the best room in which to have their conversation, as it was the first room they found. The Doctor and Rose sat down in a loveseat, while Martha and Jack took seats facing them in overstuffed chairs.
“Right,” said the Doctor. “Start at the beginning, and don’t leave anything out.”
Jack took deep breath. “It all started when I accidentally took my third trip to World War II-era Britain.” He explained about visiting the dancehall with Tosh — an associate of mine, he said, glossing over the ‘Torchwood’ part for the time being — and getting pulled through the rift. He described his other ‘associates’ opening the rift further in order to rescue Jack and Tosh and the resultant increase in strange occurrences. “And that’s when I looked at a CCTV feed from the plaza above the hub and saw Rose Tyler, big as life.”
Jack had been addressing the Doctor, occasionally glancing at Martha in an effort to make her feel included, but now his eyes met Rose’s. Their smiles as they remembered their joyful reunion were bright and intimate. The Doctor glanced from one to the other and frowned slightly.
“So you didn’t bring her back yourself?” he asked.
“No,” Jack answered, refocusing on the Doctor. “How could I? I didn’t even know she was alive, let alone in a parallel universe. She just appeared in the plaza.”
The Doctor swung his gaze around to Rose. “What were you doing before you appeared on Jack’s CCTV feed?”
Rose shifted slightly on the couch so that she faced the Doctor. She kept his hand in hers and toyed absently with his fingers with her other hand while she spoke. “Well, you know I was working for the parallel Torchwood?” She paused, continued when the Doctor nodded. “I was in the parallel Cardiff investigatin’ some odd occurrences. There’s a rift in that Cardiff, same as in ours. Only instead of loads of people appearing around it, there was a huge increase in disappearances.” She shrugged. “One minute I was in a nearly-empty plaza takin’ notes for Mickey while he got readings, and the next I was surrounded by people and there wasn’t a single zeppelin in the sky.”
“Hold on, what do zeppelins have to do with things?” Martha interjected.
“Parallel world,” the Doctor answered, waving his free hand dismissively. “Almost the same except a little bit different — in this case, with zeppelins.” He turned his attention back to Rose. “Just like that?” he asked, snapping his fingers.
Rose nodded. “Just like that. And before I’d completely gotten my bearings, I heard Jack shouting my name. Oh, and by the way, you might have let him know I wasn’t dead!” She playfully punched the Doctor’s shoulder. “One person in the whole universe who would have checked the Canary Wharf lists for my name and cared whether it was on them, and you neglect to give him a visit?”
“I had my reasons!” the Doctor exclaimed, sounding affronted. “Busy life,” he added, making Rose frown when his voice went cold and businesslike. “Moving on.”
Jack grimaced. “You abandon me in the year two-hundred-one-hundred, ankle-deep in Dalek dust and immortal and you can’t manage so much as a visit to let me know that, by the way, Rose Tyler’s not dead, just trapped on a parallel world, let alone explain anything else.”
“We are stuck in the middle of space, I’m trying to figure out why, and you’re fixating on that?”
“Ha!” Martha exclaimed as Jack and Rose stared at the Doctor with a mix of frustration and resignation. “You said stuck!”
The Doctor frowned at Martha. “Stopped. I meant stopped. Now, Jack,” he turned to the captain. “I had my reasons for leaving you on the game station, and I’ll explain them to you in time. In the interest of not staying stopped in the middle of space…” He put extra emphasis on the word ‘stopped’ and sent Martha another pointed look. “I’d appreciate it if you would finish the story,” he finished, looking back to Jack.
Jack nodded stiffly, hardly mollified but well aware that he wouldn’t get far until the story was hashed out properly. “So I brought Rose back to the hub, and she started helping me and my associates with our investigation of the rift activity. Things got a bit out of hand. There was a man — the one who’d pulled me and Tosh back into World War II — and he needed the rift open wider. Think Margaret the Slitheen wide,” he added. “I have a rift manipulator-“
“You have a rift manipulator?” the Doctor interrupted. “You shouldn’t have a rift manipulator. I thought you had more respect for timelines than that. Or had you forgotten you were only in the twenty-first century?”
“Well it wasn’t exactly common knowledge that I had it! UNIT and MI-5 have no idea!” Jack responded, bristling at the censorious tone in the Doctor’s voice. “I was trying to make things right!”
“Boys!” Rose exclaimed. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to enjoy the first few hours I’m spending reunited with the pair of you, which means you both stop fightin’ and you,” she said, poking the Doctor’s chest with her finger, “let Jack finish the story.”
Martha grinned in spite of herself. It was hard to dislike someone who could put the Doctor so neatly in his place.
Jack smiled fondly at Rose. “Thank you, Rose. Where was I? Oh, yes. My rift manipulator. I had it, Bilis needed the rift open. So he did some manipulation of his own, and convinced my team to open the rift despite my orders not to.” The Doctor didn’t so much as blink, but he noticed Jack’s use of “my team” and “my orders” as opposed to “my associates” and something along the lines of “the rules” or “common sense,” and filed the distinction away for further elaboration later. Jack was clearly keeping something from him that had to do with the work he’d been doing in Cardiff, and the Doctor meant to know what it was.
“Why did he want the rift open?” Three pairs of slightly surprised eyes trained on Martha’s face. “What?”
“That’s what I like about you, Martha Jones. You always ask the right questions.” The Doctor returned his attention to Jack. “Why did he want the rift open?”
“I get to tell this part,” Rose said, finally extricating her fingers from the Doctor’s grasp so that she could use both hands to gesture as she told the story. “Remember how Margaret the Slitheen wanted to use the energy of the rift in order to escape Earth? Well, Bilis wanted to use the rift energy as well. Only he didn’t want to use it to get somewhere else, he wanted to use it to bring something here. Remember the great beast you sent into the black hole?” At the Doctor’s nod, Rose continued. “Well, turns out he had a son.”
“No.” His quick mind racing, the Doctor began to put it together even as Rose continued speaking.
“Imprisoned beneath the rift, on the edge of the void.”
“He opened the void,” the Doctor murmured, referring to Bilis. “Came through a tiny little tear on his own, which you fell through as well, probably just by chance, maybe because of void stuff or…” His words tripped over each other as new thoughts fought for prevalence. “Bilis used the rift energy to rip open the void and get the beast out of the prison…”
Rose nodded. “Got it in one. Anyway, Bilis brings this beast to Cardiff and if you were caught in its shadow, you died. But Jack beat him, and when he did, the rift closed.” She glanced over at Jack. “We’re hoping that the void would have repaired itself once the rift wasn’t pulling at it anymore, but we didn’t get a chance to check all the data before you showed up.”
“We’ll go back and check once we’ve - Jack beat him?” the Doctor interrupted himself, managing to focus on the one thing Rose had glossed over. “How?” His gaze was sharp, and Jack had the uncanny feeling that the Doctor already knew the answer to his own question.
“I don’t know, Doctor. Why don’t you tell me?” Jack let a hundred years’ worth of frustration and desperation color his tone. “Why don’t you tell me why I’ve survived the things I’ve survived. Lived all the way through the 20th century. Shot through the heart. Fell off a cliff. Trampled by horses. World War I, World War II, poison, starvation…” The words came faster and faster the more he said. “Stray javelin!” he added emphatically.
“Ooh,” the Doctor murmured sympathetically.
“And Abaddon, the Great Devourer. I figured out that I’m the man that can’t die,” Jack finished. “I just didn’t know why. And you knew, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said simply.
“All that time, a hundred years of it I lived through, and you can’t make one stop to explain. I didn’t even find out how it happened until Rose told me, after falling through the void!”
“Rose?” the Doctor repeated, surprised. He switched his stare from Jack to Rose. “How did you know?”
Martha suddenly felt marginally better. Not only was this incredulous question much more like the Doctor she was used to, but it also gave her some petty satisfaction to know that the Doctor didn’t think Rose knew everything.
“I didn’t,” Rose was saying. “I only knew that I wanted him to not be dead, and I made him not dead.” She shrugged her shoulders sadly. “I didn’t know I’d be cursing him with eternal life.”
Martha’s eyes widened. She’d taken it in stride — mostly — as Jack had described being over a hundred years old, surviving innumerable ways of dying, and actually being immortal. But finding out that Rose was the cause of it?
“Look, sorry to interrupt,” she said quickly, cutting off whatever Jack had opened his mouth to say to Rose. “But when you say ‘made him not dead,’ what exactly do you mean? Because it doesn’t sound like you mean resuscitate.”
Rose glanced at the Doctor, who nodded at her imperceptibly. “Back when Jack and the Doctor and I were all travelin’ together, we ran into some trouble with this race called the Daleks. They were-“
“Yeah, I’ve met them,” Martha interrupted.
“What?” Rose exclaimed, thrown off track. A trace of fear entered her face and voice for the first time since she’d stepped foot on the TARDIS. “How many times do we have to kill them?”
“They always survive,” the Doctor murmured bleakly. “They always survive when I lose everything.”
Rose pushed back her own fears and took his hand again, squeezed it gently, the instinct to comfort the Doctor overriding anything else. “I’m back,” she soothed. “An’ Jack’s here, an’ obviously you didn’t lose Martha to them. You don’t always lose everything.”
The Doctor smiled, and for a moment the look on his face reminded her of the way he used to look at her before he regenerated. “Thank you, Rose. Now,” he said, forcibly brightening his voice, the flash of his former self gone. “You were telling Martha about the game station.”
Rose turned back to Martha. “Oh, yeah. So, we’re on this satellite above Earth, up against hundreds of thousands of Daleks. The Doctor was different then — not just in looks, though he had much bigger ears and much smaller hair, but also just the way he was. He was… harder, somehow. Sadder. An’ when faced with certain death, he sent me home.”
“He sent you home?” Martha asked, choosing to ignore the odd implication that the Doctor had looked completely different when Rose had first traveled with him, at least for now. She glanced at the Doctor appraisingly. He’d never sent her home.
“Jus’ like a bloke, all that overprotective nonsense. Didn’t even ask my permission first,” Rose confirmed, throwing a playful frown in the Doctor’s direction. “Programmed the TARDIS to go back to London, my time, then shut down. She just… it was like she was hibernatin’ or something. He wanted me safe,” Rose murmured, her voice going soft with emotion. “Wouldn’t risk me.” She glanced at Jack. “I suspect you never argued the point.”
“Never,” he acknowledged unapologetically.
Rose shook her head. “Men,” she said bemusedly. “At any rate,” she continued, suddenly feeling the need to get to the point, “the Doctor may have wanted me safe, but I wanted him safe more.” She squeezed his hand again and spared him a smile before returning her focus to Martha. “I obviously don’t really know how to fly the TARDIS on my own, and he’d locked her down anyway. But the TARDIS, she’s alive, and in her heart the time vortex burns. So I opened it.”
“You opened… what, exactly?”
“The heart of the TARDIS.” Rose’s eyes went a little blurry as if she were lost in the memory of it. “I looked into the TARDIS, and the TARDIS looked into me. I am the Bad Wolf.”
Jack’s concerned focus on Rose sharpened at her use of the phrase, remembering its appearance in the dance hall in Cardiff. Martha looked to the Doctor in confusion.
“She absorbed the time vortex,” the Doctor clarified, though he was looking worriedly at Rose rather than at Martha. “And she just told the TARDIS to take her back, and she did. Rose,” he said firmly, tugging on her arm. “Rose!”
“Oh.” Rose blinked, and her eyes were clear again. “I’m sorry. Where was I?”
“You came back to me,” the Doctor said gently. “Even though I specifically told you not to.”
“Right. So I had the whole of time running through my head, this phenomenal cosmic power, yeah? And there was Jack, dead in the hallway, courtesy of the Daleks. And I couldn’t stand it. So I made him not dead. I just didn’t know it would be permanent.”
“And what happened to the Daleks?” Martha asked cautiously.
“I reached through time and space and I killed them.”
“What, all of them?”
“All of them,” the Doctor affirmed. “Well, almost all. Well, all the ones she could find.”
“Well,” Martha muttered. “That is impressive.”
Rose shook her head. “I did what I had to do.”
The Doctor finally 'fesses up about his secret prejudices and comes to a disturbing conclusion about what's keeping the TARDIS
stuckstopped in space.
“And what happened to the Daleks?” Martha asked cautiously.
“I reached through time and space and I killed them.”
“What, all of them?”
“All of them,” the Doctor affirmed. “Well, almost all. Well, all the ones she could find.”
“Well,” Martha muttered. “That is impressive.”
Rose shook her head. “I did what I had to do.”
“Hmm,” Martha responded noncommittally. “So, when I interrupted, we were discussing how Captain Jack can’t die?”
“Yes, we were,” Jack agreed, distracted from his thoughts of the words that stalked his friends. “More to the point, I was asking you, Doctor, why you never took a moment of your time to explain any of it to me.”
“I told you. Busy life. Moving on.”
“And I didn’t believe you,” Jack insisted. Rose glared at the Doctor and muttered something obviously uncomplimentary under her breath.
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his neck. “You’re wrong, Jack.”
“I don’t think I am.”
“No, not your opinion. You. You’re just wrong. You’re a fact. You are a fixed point in time, you will always exist. That’s not supposed to happen, and I feel that in my gut. That’s why I ran away from you on Satellite Five.”
Rose blinked in surprise. “You said we couldn’t go back because he was busy rebuilding the planet!”
“One of the only times I’ve ever lied to you outright, Rose Tyler.” He inclined his head slightly. “You should probably be flattered.”
“I’ll take that under consideration. Or not.”
Martha snorted, and Rose nodded at her in satisfaction.
“So what you’re saying is that you’re prejudiced,” Jack said, leaning forward in his chair.
The Doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”
“Shame on you,” Jack said playfully. It was odd, but the Doctor’s simple and honest explanation, despite being mildly offensive, placated Jack more than any complex excuses the Doctor surely could have dreamed up would have. Besides, he knew he couldn’t stay mad at the Doctor for long anyway. It might take time for the wounds his abandonment had left him with to fully heal, but now he felt he could truly allow himself to slip back into the rhythm of his relationship with the Doctor and Rose.
“Yeah,” the Doctor agreed. “Actually, part of the reason we’re stopped in space,” he began, glancing pointedly at Martha when he said they were stopped, “might very well be the fact that you’re here. The TARDIS is just as prejudiced as I am.”
Jack grinned. “Aw, come on, Sweetheart,” he called out. “Remember the good times?”
“Stop that,” the Doctor said in the same tone of exasperated affection he used when Jack flirted with beings more obviously alive than the TARDIS.
“She doesn’t mind,” Rose said absently, causing the Doctor to look at her sharply. It wasn’t so much the words as the way in which she’d said it that caught his attention — she didn’t seem to be joking, echoing the statement made by so many people to whom Jack introduced himself. Instead, she seemed to simply be stating a fact. She smiled at him and he smiled in return, filing that interesting distinction away along with Jack’s earlier slip of the tongue as something to be further investigated later.
“So if Jack being here is part of the problem, how can we solve it without just, you know, tossing him out the door?” Martha scooted forward in her seat, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands.
“Yes,” Jack put in. “I’d like that to not be the solution.”
“Well,” the Doctor said, leaning back against the loveseat. “In theory, when Jack came into the TARDIS, she would have done everything she could to get rid of him. Sorry, Jack,” he interjected at Jack’s frown. “She can’t help it. We could have ended up at the end of the universe before you’d even stepped foot inside.”
“But we didn’t,” said Rose.
“No, we did not.”
“Why?” Martha asked.
“As I said, Martha Jones. Always asking the right questions.” The Doctor stood. “We figure out what is neutralizing the effect that Jack has on the TARDIS, use it to convince her that he’s all right, and we’ll be in business.”
The others followed the Doctor’s example and stood up. “And how do we do that?” Martha asked the Doctor.
“Jack and I do that by engaging in some jiggery-pokery.” The Doctor began walking out of the library.
“Hold on,” Martha cried, rushing after him. “How come I can’t help? And Rose?” she added, somewhat of an afterthought.
The Doctor grinned smugly. “How are you at jiggery-pokery? And how much do you know about how the time vortex works? Or the things that can influence the TARDIS’ behavior?”
Martha sighed. “All right, all right. Point taken.”
Rose came to the Doctor’s side. “I’ll make tea, yeah?” she said, touching his shoulder lightly.
The Doctor smiled warmly. “Rose Tyler, always taking care of the domestics.”
“You’re after a smack, you are, bein’ insultin’ mere hours after I get back.” But she was smiling, and so was the Doctor, and Martha had the distinct feeling there was a joke there that she wasn’t quite grasping. “Kitchen still in the same place?” Rose continued.
The Doctor thought for a moment. “Last I checked, I’m pretty sure,” he said.
“Right,” Rose said, nodding. She reached up on her tip-toes and kissed the Doctor’s cheek quickly. Jack’s eyebrows rose slightly when the Doctor neither stiffened nor pulled away, but rather leaned ever-so-slightly into the touch. This regeneration must have been freer with physical signs of affection than the first version Jack had known. “Get on with the jiggery-pokery, then,” Rose continued. She turned to Martha and smiled. “Why don’t you help me make tea, and we’ll talk?”
Martha glanced briefly between Jack and the Doctor and Rose. Finally, she smiled wanly back at Rose. “Suppose I can’t do anything with that lot anyway,” she said, gesturing in the direction of the boys.
Rose turned to leave the library and Martha made to follow her. “Hey!” Jack’s flirtatious voice stopped them. “The Doctor gets sugar and I get nothing?” Rose grinned and turned back to Jack. With a mischievous glance at the Doctor, she took Jack’s face in her hands and kissed him full on the mouth. Smiling against her lips, he kissed her back, relatively chastely, until he could feel the full intensity of the Doctor’s oncoming storm glare on the back of his head.
“Better?” Rose asked, tongue in cheek, after he pulled away.
“Oh, much,” Jack replied, grinning at her and then at the still-glowering Doctor.
Martha shook her head slightly. So much for being a third wheel, she thought. She was starting to feel more like a fourth wheel on a tricycle. Suddenly a nice cup of tea seemed like just the thing. “Tea?” she said mildly, trying to move things along.
“Tea,” Rose agreed. Feeling expansively happy, she hooked Martha’s elbow with her own. She was back with the Doctor and with Jack. She was going to the TARDIS kitchen to make tea while the Doctor fiddled with the console. The situation was such a familiar and comforting one that the addition of the Doctor’s current companion hardly fazed her at all. Besides, Sarah Jane turned out all right. In her current mood, Rose was willing to bet that Martha Jones would do the same. The Doctor only took the best, after all. Besides, the petty part of Rose’s mind insisted, it had been Rose the Doctor had been unable to keep from touching for the last hour, not Martha.
Martha shot a surprised look at the Doctor when Rose took her arm. He gave her an encouraging nod and a smile. She shrugged slightly. “All right, then. We’ll bring your tea out to the console room in a bit?”
“That will do nicely, thanks,” the Doctor said, already on the way out the door.
“Good luck,” Rose said, waving slightly as Jack and the Doctor set off in one direction out the door of the library before pulling Martha off in the other.
As soon as he was certain Rose and Martha were out of earshot, the Doctor fixed a glare on Jack. “What was all that, then?”
Jack fought back a grin. “All what?” he asked, adopting an innocent expression. Or at least an expression as innocent as one could get when it was made with his face.
“You know very well what,” the Doctor exclaimed as they entered the console room. His tone was full of indignation, and Jack was almost worried he might have crossed a line. Certainly, he mused, with his first Doctor it would have been nearly a sure thing. It had been clear what Jack’s first version of the Doctor had thought of the idea of Rose doing any dancing with Jack - which was to say that he thought it was a bad idea of which he’d never approve. Then again, this version of the Doctor was demonstrably more affectionate.
“Why?” Jack asked cheekily. “See something you like?” He waggled his brows suggestively and was relieved when the Doctor cracked a smile.
“Oh, never mind.” The Doctor gestured toward one of the console displays. “I want to show you this,” he said, his tone suddenly very serious. His many-track mind had been whirring away throughout the conversation in the library, and he was desperately afraid he’d already worked out how Jack’s effect on the TARDIS was being neutralized. He’d never been happier that Jack was about as close to the Doctor’s intelligence level as a human could get, because he really wanted a second opinion for once, and with the Time Lords gone, if there was anyone left in the universe who could give him a good one on a subject like this, it was Jack. “And I want you to tell me what you think of it, keeping in mind the things we’ve just talked about in the library.”
Jack sobered instantly and focused on the monitor to which the Doctor had pointed. He glanced over the readings. The strength of the vortex in the TARDIS was higher than normal, but he thought that might simply be a product of a sort of fight or flight response to his own presence onboard. The artron energy, which if Jack remembered correctly from the legends and his own prior experience with the Doctor was temporal energy generated in the mind of a Time Lord that helped to power a TARDIS, was also slightly elevated. Jack mused that perhaps emotional turmoil might cause the Doctor to give off more of it, which the TARDIS might have then absorbed. But what did the events in Cardiff or on the game station have to do with artron energy?
Then, the huon energy reading caught his eye. Huon energy, found only in the heart of a TARDIS — only the Doctor’s TARDIS now that there weren’t any others left in the universe. Except this time he realized that the reading he’d been looking at and finding only slightly elevated wasn’t an internal reading.
“That’s a huon energy reading that’s measuring huon energy external to the heart of the TARDIS,” he said, shocked to the core.
The Doctor nodded gravely. Jack was about to reach the same conclusion that he had. “And what do you think about that with regards to our prior conversation?”
Jack stared at the monitor for a moment before it hit him and his eyes flew to the Doctor’s serious ones. “It can’t be,” he said, his voice full of equal measures of fear and wonder.
“Oh, Jack. I am very much afraid that it can.”
In which Martha and Rose discuss the Doctor, and the Doctor and Jack discuss Rose.
While Jack and the Doctor made their way back to the console room to attempt to fix things — and Rose was under no illusions that they would have made much progress by the time she and Martha brought them tea — Rose and Martha made their way to the kitchen.
Obligingly, the TARDIS had kept the kitchen in the same location, so Rose had no trouble finding it. She noted that very little had changed in the room since the last time she’d seen it, though she did think she saw the vague beginnings of a change towards a kicky ‘50s diner look. She smiled as she dropped Martha’s arm and went unerringly to the cupboard with the tea paraphernalia.
“Almost as it was when I left it,” she said happily. “Though give her a few weeks, and I’d bet you five quid we’ll have a chrome-and-leather booth instead of a table. Visited the nineteen-fifties recently? After we saw the queen’s coronation, we had a kitchen like a vintage ice cream shop for weeks. Then she switched to this.”
Martha blinked, confused. “I’m sorry?”
“Oh.” Rose grabbed the electric kettle and stuck it under the faucet. “Hasn’t the TARDIS redecorated anywhere while you’ve been on board?”
“The TARDIS redecorates?” Martha asked by way of reply.
Rose laughed and switched the kettle on. “Only when she feels like it. She moves the rooms around every so often, too. One time it took us a week just to find the kitchen again, and when we did there wasn’t a single thing in it she hadn’t changed out.” Of course, Rose thought idly, that had been with her first Doctor and she’d always harbored the suspicion that it wouldn’t have taken them nearly as long to find the room again if it weren’t for the strength of his aversion to all things domestic.
Martha shook her head. “Well, if any redecorating has happened, it hasn’t been anywhere I’ve seen.” She sat down at the table, somewhat peevishly as it stung a little to see Rose moving with such assurance and obvious habit around the kitchen.
She took four thick mugs out of the cupboard; if they were going to be rattling about in the console room there was no point in trying to use decent teacups. “How long have you been traveling with the Doctor?” she asked, trying to keep her voice casual. She glanced over her shoulder at Martha.
“A few months,” she answered. “Maybe six… it’s hard to tell.”
Rose nodded. “It is, yeah.” She gazed pensively in the direction of the console room, wondering how long it had been for the Doctor since Canary Wharf.
Martha hesitated, then asked softly, “How long… how long were you in the parallel world?”
Rose sighed. “Three years. Three very long years.” She poured the now-boiling water into a teapot and set the tea to brewing, then crossed the room to sit facing Martha at the table. “I hope you like your tea strong,” she said brightly. “Jack and I got used to it that way before, since the Doctor-“
“Likes his tea to be able to stand on its own,” Martha finished with a smile.
Rose grinned. “He does at that.” They sat in awkward silence for a moment before Rose gave an exasperated-sounding sigh. “I know this must be difficult for you, me showing up here, but there are things I just need to ask you.”
Martha squared her shoulders and looked Rose in the eye. “Okay.”
“Do you have any idea how long it’s been for him?”
Martha searched Rose’s expression and couldn’t tell if she wanted Martha’s answer to be a long or a short time. “I can’t be certain,” Martha admitted. “He speaks of you. Very highly,” she added, slightly begrudgingly. “’Rose’d know’ seems to be one of his favorite phrases whenever we can’t quite figure something out.” Rose’s smile at that was a slightly embarrassed one. “He takes me places he took you first,” Martha added, unable to keep from sounding accusatory.
Rose reached out and touched the hand Martha was resting on the table. “I’m sorry. He’s… he’s so Doctorish sometimes, you just can’t know what to do with ‘im.”
Martha nodded. “He is.” She didn’t pull away from Rose, but neither did she make any move to return the gesture in any way. Rose withdrew her hand, understanding the limits of how much progress could be made at once, and Martha continued. “So he talks about you, but never about Canary Wharf.” Now it was Martha’s turn to look pensively toward the console room. “When he first told me that he’d lost you, he didn’t even mention it. After I’d been traveling with him for a while, I asked him about Canary Wharf, if he’d been there and all that.” She shook her head at the memory of his reaction. “He just closed up, tighter than I’d ever seen him.”
After meeting the Daleks in New York City, Martha had been wondering about the day they’d come to London. The Doctor never spoke of it, but she remembered his brief mention of being there when she’d told him about her cousin while they stood on the moon and gazed at the earth. She wondered about the details of the battle. What had really happened, who he’d been with. Why the Daleks had been able to come back.
“Doctor?” she asked him. They were in the console room, Martha sitting on the bench, the Doctor fiddling idly with the TARDIS as they took a leisurely journey through space.
“Hmm?” he responded distractedly. He was leaning over the console, squinting at a monitor.
“You were at Canary Wharf, right?”
At the question, the Doctor stilled momentarily, then slowly straightened to his full height. His jaw was set, his eyes flinty. “Yes,” was all he said, his voice tight.
Martha was surprised at this reaction. Usually he was full of enthusiasm when she asked about a previous adventure of his, bubbling over with stories invariably peppered with jokes she didn’t understand because she wasn’t Rose or, occasionally, another of his prior companions. Now she found herself in the odd position of having to encourage the Doctor to talk. “And what happened?”
The Doctor seemed to pull even more inside himself, if it were possible. Everything about him was impossibly hard when he finally responded — face, voice, even the way he stood. “Rose and I were there. We fought, and we beat the Daleks and the Cybermen. But I lost her.”
“You… lost her?” Martha pressed, hoping for elaboration.
“Yes,” he whispered, anguish suddenly breaking through the stone. Then he turned and strode quickly out of the console room and into the unknown depths of the TARDIS.
“He didn’t come back for hours,” Martha told Rose. “When he did, he didn’t speak of it, and I didn’t dare bring it up again.”
“Oh, Doctor,” murmured Rose, pain evident on her face. Apparently the knowledge that he had suffered without her as she had suffered without him wasn’t much of a comfort to her, a fact which Martha grudgingly admired.
“I got the impression that he’d been traveling alone for a while before he let me tag along. And even then it took two or three trips before he stopped saying ‘one more trip’ every time we’d go somewhere.”
Rose smiled slightly at that, thinking it more characteristic of her first Doctor than her second. “I think the tea ought to be ready,” she said, rising from the table. “I’ll pour.” She went back to the counter and did just that, adding milk and a sugar cube to hers, one sugar to Jack’s, and four to the Doctor’s. “How do you take yours?”
“Milk and one sugar.”
Rose nodded, turned to face Martha, leaning against the counter as if for support. “How has he been?”
“What do you mean?”
“I… how has he been? Does he smile enough? When he misses his destination by a hundred years, does he laugh about it? Does he hug everyone and lick everything? Does he still stroke bits of the TARDIS and put his fingers in the marmalade?”
Martha nodded, understanding now what Rose was asking. “I don’t know what he was like with you. But he’s… he’s all those things, but underneath it he’s sad.” Martha took a deep breath and decided she was enough of a grown-up not to be petty. “He missed you, Rose Tyler. More than I think I could ever miss anyone. It was like a piece of him was gone, and he wasn’t sure what to do with the hole. So we went to all these places, and he would have fun and save the universe and have tea and lick everything, but always part of him was somewhere else.” She sighed then. “He would look at me, look through me, and only see you not there.”
A tear rolled down Rose’s cheek, and she wasn’t sure for whom it fell. Her lonely Doctor, herself, or perhaps for poor Martha Jones, who never had the chance to feel like she measured up. “I’m sorry,” Rose whispered.
Martha merely raised her chin. “We should take them their tea,” she said, standing up.
Rose nodded. “If you’ll take yours and one of those, we can each carry two and won’t need a tray. The one on the left is the Doctor’s,” she added, a small peace offering.
Martha picked up the mugs with a tight smile and followed Rose out of the kitchen, only feeling slightly guilty for leaving Rose’s tearful apology hanging. She could only deal with so much in one afternoon and still be civil and understanding, after all.
The Doctor and Jack sat on the captain’s bench and stared at the console. They had been trying to discuss the possibility that Rose was giving off more huon energy than the TARDIS herself, but had run out of words. Finally, Jack found his voice again.
“I thought you took the vortex back out of her.”
“So did I,” responded the Doctor. “That’s why I regenerated. Absorbing all that energy was like burning from the inside out.” He shuddered slightly at the memory and shook his head. “It’s a miracle Rose survived.” That was as close as the Doctor could get to admitting that he had no idea how she had, when he’d had it in him for so much less time and still had to regenerate. “And if she’s giving off that much huon energy, it’s a miracle all over again that she gets up every day, because it should be deadly.”
“Maybe…” Jack began after a few moments of contemplative silence.
“What?” the Doctor asked after Jack trailed off without completing his thought.
Jack looked at the Doctor to find that he was now looking intently at Jack rather than at the console. “Well… this Bad Wolf thing. Maybe it goes further than just the game station.”
“How do you mean?” the Doctor asked carefully. His thoughts turned to a windy day in Norway and he instinctively shied away from them.
“She said she’s the Bad Wolf. She survived when she shouldn’t have. Except maybe she was supposed to.” Jack shifted his gaze back to the console. “I saw it in Cardiff. Bad Wolf.” He sighed. “On a wall in the dance hall.”
The Doctor got up to pace. “Why would it be there? We never went there, before or after I regenerated.”
“I don’t know.” Jack shrugged. “Except that it got me thinking about the two of you more than usual — and that’s saying something, by the way — which probably made it easier to spot her on the CCTV feed.”
“Jack, when she says she is the Bad Wolf, what she means is that she’s the one who spread the words over time and space. When she had the vortex in her, before she destroyed the Daleks — it’s how she knew she could get back and save us.”
“And my seeing the words in Cardiff could be the reason why I was able to notice her in the plaza, which led to her being there when you materialized in the hub.”
The Doctor nodded. “A message again, for you this time instead of her.”
“But how would she have known to leave it there?”
“Jack, she had the vortex running through her head. The whole of time, not just what she’d already lived through.”
Jack shook his head. “I can’t imagine.”
“You don’t want to,” the Doctor muttered darkly. He ran his fingers through his already-messy hair. “I’ll need to run some tests on her… don’t want to alarm her, though… can say it’s because she fell through the void, which… actually, ought to run some tests with regards to that as well.”
Jack watched the Doctor, wry amusement ghosting across his serious face. “You do ramble on, don’t you?”
The Doctor plopped back down on the bench next to Jack, continuing as if Jack hadn’t interrupted. “If it were anyone else,” he mused, thinking briefly of Donna and her huon-infused tea, “it would be fascinating.”
“But it’s Rose.”
“Yeah.” He was about to say something else when he heard footsteps down the corridor. Rose and Martha were returning with the tea. He jumped up, Jack right behind him. He glanced meaningfully at the other man, who nodded in response. They’d say nothing yet. By tacit agreement they took up positions at the console, endeavoring to give the appearance of being hard at work.
In which the Doctor and Jack avoid the subject at hand, Rose is amused by Martha's least favorite thing about 1969, and Martha finds out about regeneration.
“I tell you what,” Rose said, her voice flowing musically into the console room ahead of her. “If your tea’s cold, blame the TARDIS. I swear she made the corridors longer on us.”
“Now why would she do a thing like that?” the Doctor asked innocently, accepting his mug of tea from Martha.
“Don’t ask me,” Martha replied, a touch of accusation in her tone. “I didn’t even know that the corridors could get longer or shorter.”
“As many times as I’ve said she’s alive and you say you didn’t know,” the Doctor admonished.
Martha shook her head. Sure he’d said that the TARDIS was alive. But she’d sort of assumed he’d been kidding. Or anthropomorphizing or something. She had certainly never thought that it meant the ship could randomly change itself — or, rather, herself. But apparently, he hadn’t been kidding. She idly wondered if the propensity of her socks to go missing in the wash had anything to do with her denial of the TARDIS’ status as a living being.
“So, have you made any progress?” Rose asked as she handed Jack his tea.
Jack and the Doctor glanced at each other and shook their heads simultaneously. “Not really,” the Doctor said. “A little bit of data collection, a little poking around in her insides.” He tried a shrug. “The TARDIS’ll let me know what’s wrong eventually.”
Rose laughed, though her instincts told her he was hiding something. “That’s what you said when we were stuck on that ridiculous upside-down planet. It was two weeks before you finally figured out how to get us right side up again!”
“Hmm,” the Doctor replied, taking another sip of tea. “Rose, you still make the best tea in the universe.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” she said with a smile.
“It’s not flattery if it’s true,” Jack put in. He took another sip of his tea. “And Rose Tyler, it is very true.”
Martha rolled her eyes. Okay, it was good tea, but really. Best in the universe? Granted, she thought as she drank hers, she couldn’t think of any off the top of her head that was better. But she figured it had to be out there somewhere.
“So,” Martha put in, “what sort of data have you collected?”
“Oh, energy readings, vortex readings, that sort of thing.”
“And we’re working on isolating the problem.” The Doctor glanced at Jack again. “It’s just going to take some time, right Captain?”
Jack nodded. “Right.”
“Anything Martha or I can do to help?” Rose asked, peering curiously at the console. “Help you organize all that data you’re collectin’?”
The Doctor shook his head. “No, no, no. Jack and I have things well in hand.”
Rose took a contemplative sip of tea. Definitely hiding something, she thought. The question was what were they hiding, and why? She decided she’d let it go for now; it was obvious that both her men were dead-set on being secretive. She sat down on the captain’s bench. “So. We’ve talked about what Jack and I were doing in Cardiff.” She tilted her head. “What were you doing in Cardiff? Topping off the engines?”
The Doctor strode around the console towards the bench. “Exactly. We’d just gotten back from being stuck in 1969,” he added, dropping down next to Rose and slinging an arm around her shoulders. “Us in 1969, the TARDIS in 2007… bit of a dilemma, that.”
“We were there for weeks; I had to get a job! In a shop!” Martha exclaimed.
Rose smiled slightly. “A job in a shop, how horrible.” She looked over at the Doctor and grinned conspiratorially. “At least you didn’t have to get a mortgage.”
“We did stay somewhere with carpets and doors, though.”
“Now that is horrible,” she said, tongue stuck between her teeth as she smiled.
“That sounds like a story you’ll have to tell us sometime,” Jack said, sitting down on Rose’s other side and taking her hand in his.
Rose squeezed his hand. “I’m sure we’ll get around to it.” She looked back to the Doctor. “So if you were in 1969 putting Martha to work in a shop, and the TARDIS was in 2007, how did you get back?”
“Sally Sparrow,” the Doctor said, his voice tinged with pride.
“Who’s Sally Sparrow?” Rose asked, sounding amused.
“Fantastic girl,” he replied, grinning. “Only actually met her the one time, very briefly. But she helped us get the TARDIS back before she even knew us.”
“How’d she do that?”
“By accepting that time is just a big ball of wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey stuff.” The Doctor started to get excited. “Things sometimes happen to me out of order, right?” Rose nodded. “Well, it all happened to her before it happened to me, and after it happened to her but before it happened to me, she compiled a file with all the information about what happened in it. And then she met us, and gave us the file.”
“That’s brilliant,” Jack murmured.
“Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff?” Rose asked bemusedly.
“Got a better way to describe it?”
“Point taken. Where were you headed after your pit stop?”
Martha, who was leaning against the console since there wasn’t room on the bench for a fourth person, lit up. “We were gonna go to this planet, right? The Doctor told me about it, it’s called Woman Wept, because there’s a continent that looks like a woman weeping.”
“Oh,” Rose exclaimed. “Were you gonna show her the frozen sea? Oh, that’s one of my favorite places I went with the old you.” She saw Martha’s face fall out of the corner of her eye and mentally kicked herself. Hadn’t Martha just informed her back in the kitchen that the Doctor had a habit of taking Martha places where he’d taken Rose? And hadn’t it been clear how Martha felt about that? “We should still go,” she said firmly. “Once we’re back on our feet. Jack hasn’t been there either, right Jack?”
Jack shook his head. “Nope. Frozen sea, eh?”
“Waves a hundred feet tall,” the Doctor said. “Just frozen in mid-swell.” He drank the last of his tea and fixed his gaze on Rose.
“Listen, Rose. You just fell through the void for no apparent reason, right?”
“Right,” Rose said, suspicious of the sudden change in topic.
“I would feel a lot better about it if you’d come to the med bay and let me run a few tests.”
Rose involuntarily gripped Jack’s hand a little tighter. “Tests? What kind of tests?”
“Don’t worry, just some simple scans.” The Doctor brushed his knuckles over her cheekbone softly. “You know I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt you, Rose.”
“I know,” Rose sighed. “I just don’t like tests.” She shifted closer to the Doctor and rested her head on his shoulder. He rested his chin on top of her head and looked over at Jack, eyes serious. Martha stared at the three of them over the top of her mug of tea and wondered just exactly was going on there. It was almost as if the Doctor and Jack thought they might find out something terrible when the Doctor ran his tests on Rose. But the Doctor wasn’t the type to sugarcoat, so Martha didn’t think that could be the answer. Of course, the Doctor and Rose, well, that was a situation Martha didn’t have any experience with analyzing.
The Doctor glanced down at Rose’s mug. “Are you done with your tea, then?”
Rose shifted. “Yeah.”
“Might as well get the tests over with.” He squeezed her gently with the arm that was wrapped around her shoulders and smiled a little.
“Might as well,” she muttered, standing up. Jack stood up as well, not letting go of her hand.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
Rose smiled. “No, that’s all right.” She went up on her tiptoes and hugged him. “Have some things to say to him, anyway,” she whispered in Jack’s ear.
“Well, I’m sure the tests will show that you’re fantastic,” Jack replied brightly, releasing her. “And Martha and I can hold down the fort while you’re busy.”
“Just mind that the fort is all you’re holding down,” the Doctor muttered. He turned to Martha and smiled. “We’ll be back in a bit — won’t be too long. And don’t worry about Jack, he’s harmless.”
Jack snorted and Martha just nodded.
Rose slipped her hand into the Doctor’s, and they left the console room in a comfortable silence. Martha watched them leave wistfully. She’d never have guessed the Doctor was that much of a hand-holder. Sure, he’d grabbed her hand in moments of peril, but just to walk through the TARDIS? No, then they’d just walked side by side, or with Martha following the Doctor from a step behind. She sighed a little.
“You know, Rose being here doesn’t diminish his affection for you.” Jack’s voice was gentle.
“There’s nothing to diminish,” Martha responded bitterly.
“That’s not true.”
Martha shook her head. “Fine, but he’s never felt… that way about me.”
“Maybe he hasn’t,” Jack agreed. “I have a suspicion that he hasn’t felt that way about anyone but Rose in longer than you or I could imagine.” He reached out and touched her shoulder. “But he doesn’t take anyone on board unless he sees something in them that he likes. Just because it isn’t romantic love that he feels for you doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you in other ways.”
Martha shrugged out from under Jack’s touch and turned to pace around the console. “A, I think you’re underestimating yourself.” Jack kept his face impassive, but couldn’t deny that he hoped what Martha said was true. He’d loved both Rose and the Doctor for over a hundred years. The events in Cardiff had assured Jack of Rose’s feelings for him, however tightly they were tied to her feelings for the Doctor. Truth be told, so were his for her. To hear an outside observer assert that the Doctor’s feelings weren’t limited to Rose was heartening. “B,” Martha continued, ticking the points off with her fingers, “whether the Doctor has affection for me or not, how long is he going to want to keep me around when he’s got you and his Perfect Rose?”
Jack sat back down on the bench. “Don’t sell yourself short, Martha Jones. The Doctor only takes the best. If he’s been letting you travel with him for any sustained length of time, then you must have something going for you. Besides, no one on this ship thinks Rose is perfect.”
Martha shrugged again, pushing away thoughts of John Smith and his Journal of Impossible Things. Her pacing around the console had brought her back in front of Jack and she sat down next to him. “Can I ask you something?”
“What was he like? Before he lost Rose, I mean.”
“To be honest,” Jack replied, shifting slightly sideways so that he faced Martha. “I don’t really know what this Doctor was like before he lost Rose.” He thought of the near-constant hand-holding and Rose’s cheek-kissing. “But judging from what I’ve seen of him, he was pretty different than when I knew him.”
“Okay, hold on.” Martha tucked one foot under the other leg and turned sideways as Jack had. “What do you mean this Doctor? And Rose, earlier she said that when you were traveling with them, he had bigger ears?”
Jack shifted uncomfortably. If the Doctor hadn’t told Martha about regeneration, Jack wasn’t sure it was his place to tell her instead. Of course, he didn’t think the Doctor would have lied to Martha about it had she asked him outright. “You know that he’s a Time Lord, right?”
“How much has he told you about the Time Lords?”
“He told me about Gallifrey — I made him, though, and most of what he said was about the planet itself or the cities and buildings, not the people. And he told me a little about the Time War. Not much, though. He doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“Well, the Time Lords have this trick, something they do instead of dying. When they’re about to die, they can change every single cell in their body. It’s called regeneration, and it keeps them from going belly up.”
Martha blinked in surprise. “Ever? You mean he’s as immortal as you are?”
Jack shook his head. “From what I know, though I’ve never asked him outright, there are limits to the number of times a Time Lord can regenerate. There’s some disagreement in the stories and legends of them whether there was a difference between the number of regenerations they were allowed by Time Lord society and the number of times they actually could regenerate. But as far as I know, I’m the only thing in the universe that’s truly immortal,” he finished sadly.
“So… when they regenerate, it changes their appearance?”
“Yes, among other things. He’s still the same man, of course. Same memories, same knowledge, same feelings. But a completely different package.” Jack grinned. “I’d say that this regeneration is a lot more… tactile than the one I knew before. He and Rose held hands before, but Rose would have been shocked by the amount of time he’s spent touching her today if it were the old Doctor.” Now Jack chuckled. “This one talks more, too. Actually, I think the version I knew would get annoyed by this version. He was very no-nonsense, my first Doctor.”
“With big ears?”
Jack grinned. “Big ears, big nose. He used to say he had a daft face,” he added affectionately. “But he was so intense, you hardly noticed. He was the regeneration that suffered through the immediate aftermath of the Time War. He could be so silly, but it was like he could turn it off and on at will, and underneath… he was in such pain. I’ve never asked, but I think Rose was his first companion after the war.” Jack smiled, but it was soft, quiet smile, in stark contrast to other smiles Martha had seen on his face. “He saw something in her, before he even really knew her. Like a light in the dark. You’d like her, Martha, if things were different.”
Martha grimaced a little. “Maybe. So it’s not just looks that change?” she asked, steering the conversation away from Rose.
“No, his personality changes as well.”
“But he’s the same man.”
“Yep. Absolutely the same man.”
Martha shook her head. “That’s just weird.”
“All the things you’ve probably seen while traveling with the Doctor, and it’s regeneration that trips you up? You travel in time and fight monsters!”
She shrugged. “Maybe I’d have to experience it to get it.”
“Well,” Jack said, “I hope you’ll never have to. From things he said when I was traveling with him before, I gather he’s going through them a bit on the fast side.” He looked pensively in the direction the Doctor and Rose had gone. “He deserves a bit of a rest, I think.”
“If you think he’d take a rest, then I guess he really does change personalities.”
Jack grinned, lightning fast. “Well, when I say rest, I mean rest Doctor-style.” Jack decided it was time to at least attempt to take the conversation in a lighter direction. “So, Martha Jones. Who were you before you went gallivanting through time and space?”
Martha smiled, and told him.
The chapter with all the Ten/Rose. The Doctor and Rose in the med bay, and the things they need to say.
After leaving Martha and Jack alone in the console room, the Doctor and Rose made their way to the med bay in a comfortable silence, their joined hands swinging ever so slightly back and forth between them. Once they reached the med bay, Rose hung back by the door while the Doctor went over to rummage in a cabinet.
“How long?” Rose asked suddenly, slightly surprised at herself. So much for keeping it light on her first day back.
The Doctor paused in his rummaging and took a deep breath before turning around to face Rose. “With Martha? Four months. Well, more if you count 1969 and the two and half months I spent as a human. Since Canary Wharf?” He seemed to have to force the name out and collect himself before he could continue. “A year and a half or so.” His fingers tightened compulsively on the scanner he’d pulled out of the cabinet. Such painful ground they walked, when moments before her hand had been in his where it belonged, and everything had been fine. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “And you?”
“Three years,” she admitted softly, her eyes locked with the Doctor’s. She watched that deep sadness come into his, the kind that reminded her of her first Doctor, or of the days after Reinette.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Rose felt fresh tears rising and tried to smile. “Me, too.” They stared at each other for an endless moment. Then, before either of them had really realized they were moving, they met in the middle of the room in a bone-crushing hug. “I’m so sorry,” Rose babbled, tears flowing freely. “I didn’t mean to let go, I swear it. I tried to hold on, I tried…”
“Shh, shh,” the Doctor soothed. “It’s my fault. I got you into that situation and I should have been able to get you out of it.”
They pulled back slightly so that they could look at each other, though they still clung to one another. “I swore I wouldn’t leave you, and then I did,” Rose said brokenly. “I promised, and then I left.”
“No,” said the Doctor, moving his hands to frame her face. “You were taken from me. I never blamed you, never.” He stroked her cheek once and then kept his hands where they were. “Not a day went by that I didn’t think of you, and blame myself for losing you.”
Rose’s breath hitched on a half-sob as she tried to stem the flow of tears. “I missed you every day,” she said. “What I said to you on the beach — about loving you. I never stopped.” She gave a watery smile, so reminiscent of their moment in Norway that the Doctor felt his stomach clutch. He brushed at her tears with his thumbs, reassuring himself that she was real and solid in front of him. “And I never blamed you, either,” she finished. “For any of it.”
The Doctor smiled then, beatifically. He was still smiling when he leaned down and touched his lips to hers. The kiss was quiet and chaste, yet Rose could still feel the distant rumbling of a storm in the gentle pressure. He shifted slightly, changing the angle, and she responded by sliding her hands from their resting place on his shoulders into the disarray of his hair. When he ended the kiss, he rested his forehead against hers and her hands dropped back to his shoulders.
“I never got to finish what I was saying to you in Norway,” he said, voice a few steps lower than normal.
“No, you didn’t.” Rose couldn’t seem to get her voice above a whisper.
“Where was I?” the Doctor said with a smile. “Oh yes, I remember.” He stood up straight and tucked a wayward strand of Rose’s hair behind her ear tenderly. “Rose Tyler. I love you.”
Rose smiled so widely she was certain she’d be stuck that way. A mischievous twinkle shone through her tears. “Quite right, too.”
The Doctor laughed. He dropped his hands to her hips and pulled Rose against him in a tight hug, burying his face in her hair and breathing her in. She tilted her head up and to the side until their noses brushed. “Doctor.” Anything else she might have said was lost as he kissed her again, this time not so chastely. He ran his tongue lightly along her bottom lip, and took full advantage when she tentatively parted her lips. His hands moved over her back, while hers returned once more to his hair, fingers tangling in the unruly strands.
Even the fact that he was a Time Lord couldn’t help the Doctor say with one hundred percent certainty whether the kiss went on for a minute or an hour. Though, he thought if he had to guess that it was something along the lines of two minutes and fifty-seven-point-six seconds. Still, it felt a lot longer, so he couldn’t be certain. Their faces stayed close, breaths mingling in the quiet of the med bay. For a moment, the only sound was the barely-audible but contented-sounding hum of the TARDIS.
“How long are you gonna stay with me?” The Doctor marveled at the fact that he’d asked her this question not just an unprecedented once, but then asked it again. He also marveled at the fact that he felt just as compelled to hold his breath waiting for the answer this time as he had the first.
Rose smiled and traced her fingers over his cheekbone. “Forever.” She moved her hands to rest on his chest, fingers curling slightly around the lapels of his suit coat.
The word, spoken like a promise, reminded the Doctor sharply of his entire purpose for bringing her to the med bay. She might be promising a lot more than she thought she was, which was fantastic for the Doctor but might give her a passing worry. He put his hands on her hips and gently, regretfully pushed her away. “We should really get those tests done.” One last brush of his hand over her hair, and he turned back to the cabinet, bending over to pick up the scanner he’d dropped when he’d run to hug Rose.
Rose had known the Doctor too long to be put off by the sudden shift from romance to seriousness. Besides, although she felt fine, she knew it was logical for the Doctor to check her over. She had, after all, spontaneously traveled through the void. She boosted herself up onto the examining table and sat on the edge, feet dangling.
The Doctor moved from the cabinet to the table in a few strides and stood in front of Rose, a serious expression on his face. “It didn’t hurt? When you came through, did you have any pain anywhere?”
“No.” Rose tilted her head slightly, trying to remember each second. “There was nothing before I went, no warning. And after…” She bit her lip. “Maybe a little dizziness? But then Jack was there, right away, and I was only thinking about that.”
“Hmm.” The Doctor grimaced a little and concentrated on adjusting the settings on the scanner. “And the week you were in Cardiff, how did you feel then?”
“Well, considering that I spent the first couple days fighting evil and most of the rest keeping vigil over Jack’s dead body…”
The Doctor glanced up apologetically. “I mean physically. I know it was a… difficult week for you.”
“Still didn’t have much time to notice, but I don’t remember feeling particularly different.”
Rose smiled impishly. “I can assure you that any dizziness I am currently feeling has nothing to do with voids. Or with traveling through them.” The Doctor preened a little at that, some of the seriousness finally fading from his eyes. “Actually,” Rose continued, thinking to lighten the mood further, “I feel fantastic now. Not just because of…” she trailed off. “You know. But I just…” She shrugged. “I feel absolutely fantastic. Like I just woke up from the best night of sleep I ever had.”
The Doctor’s smile froze for a split second. Then he was pressing a kiss to her forehead and Rose decided that maybe she’d imagined it. “I’m glad,” the Doctor murmured before dropping one last light kiss on the top of her head. “But I still want to check you over.”
“Be my guest,” she said, spreading her arms wide and then plopping them back into her lap while the Doctor slid on his thickly-framed glasses. She fidgeted nervously as he passed the scanner over her, concentrating on whatever readings he was getting and making little “hmm” and “tsk” noises periodically. After five or ten minutes of that, he set the scanner down next to Rose and pulled his sonic screwdriver out of one of his pockets. He chose a setting and aimed it at Rose’s forehead. Another “hmm,” and he moved it down to aim at her heart.
“Wait, wait,” Rose said nervously. “I know! Tsk, right?”
The Doctor frowned at her over the top of his glasses. “Hmm,” he said sternly. Rose stifled a giggle. A moment later, the Doctor put the sonic screwdriver back into his pocket and rested his hands on Rose’s knees.
“So, Doctor, what’s the verdict?” Rose asked, her voice just a touch too bright to be believable.
“Rose Tyler, you’re healthy as a horse.” His tone was happy and his eyes were warm, but Rose thought she saw shadows underneath. “Which is good news, even if it doesn’t particularly help up figure things out,” he added. Rose decided that perhaps the shadows were simply a reflection of their current problem rather than something he was keeping from her.
“A horse?” she asked, grinning.
“Oh, yeah, a great big healthy…quarter horse!” The Doctor took a step forward so that he was standing between Rose’s knees and leaned forward, resting his hands on the examining table on either side of her hips. Their faces were mere inches apart.
“Well that’s flattering,” Rose said, her breath fanning the Doctor’s face with every word.
“I didn’t say you looked like one,” the Doctor informed her. “Just that your health is comparable.”
“Hmm,” Rose replied pointedly, earning a chuckle from the Doctor. He pressed a quick kiss to her lips and then stepped back.
“We should probably go check on Jack and Martha. Her mum’d kill me if I let him get too friendly.” He held out a hand to Rose. She took it and hopped down from the table.
“He doesn’t mean anything, you know that.”
“Well,” the Doctor said, dragging the word out as he led Rose into the hallway. “Most of the time, anyway.”
Rose looked over at the Doctor, who was keeping his gaze studiously straight ahead. She arched a brow in amusement. “Do I detect a hint of, dare I say it, jealousy in that statement?” The Doctor mumbled something unintelligible. “What was that?” Rose pressed, tongue poking out of her teeth as she grinned.
“He means it with you.” The Doctor ran his free hand through his hair in embarrassment. But Rose only laughed sweetly.
“Of course he does,” she replied, the week she’d spent in Cardiff having made her secure in the knowledge that Jack loved her. “But, Doctor,” she continued, squeezing his hand. “He means it with you, too.”
In which Jack tells naked stories, the girls take a nap, and the boys are caught red-handed. Only one of those is as naughty as it sounds.
“So there I was, naked…”
“Naked?” Martha laughed as Jack gave an animated account of his short stint on global television.
“Naked! And these two robots are standing there with saw attachments on their arms telling me they’d love to rip off my head!”
“So what did you do?”
“I pulled out my pocket laser,” he replied with a smug smile.
Martha gaped at him, her eyes wide and sparkling with humor. “Pulled it out from where?”
Jack grinned. “Well, let’s just say that their defabricator only worked on clothes and accessories on the surface of your body.”
Martha held her hand up, palm out, and shook her head laughingly. “Okay, that’s enough. Don’t need to know the details.”
“So I took them out with the laser, then used a few parts from them and a few from the defabricator and built myself a kick-ass gun. Blasted my way out of the game, used my wristcomp to find the Doctor, and the rest is history.”
Martha was about to reply when she noticed an infinitesimal shift in Jack’s focus a split second before hearing footsteps coming from the hallway. She bit back a sigh. It had been nice to forget, even for a short time, that Rose Tyler was back in the Doctor’s life and that whatever chance Martha might have ever had with him was gone. Jack had a way of making your troubles seem far away, but even he belonged to Rose and the Doctor in the end.
The Doctor and Rose entered the console room holding hands.
“So,” Jack said brightly, getting up from the bench to meet the Doctor and Rose by the console. “What’s the verdict?”
“Healthy as a horse,” the Doctor replied.
“Neigh,” Rose said dryly. Then she smiled. “I told you I felt fine.”
Jack pulled her into a hug and rested his chin on top of her head. “Yeah, but we think you’re kind of important, so we just like to be sure.” He looked at the Doctor over the top of Rose’s head, his expression a silent question about the other tests. The Doctor nodded solemnly. Jack’s face fell a little before he reined himself in. He pressed a kiss to Rose’s hair and then released her.
“I was just telling Martha about my fifteen minutes of global fame on the game station,” he said, gesturing back at the other woman.
Rose laughed. “Do all the stories you tell new acquaintances involve you being naked?”
“Of course.” Jack grinned cheekily. “Gotta reel ‘em in somehow.”
“Mind you,” Rose said, addressing Martha. “All these naked stories of his, and I’ve never so much as seen him in swim trunks.” She wagged a finger at him. “I don’t believe at least half of what he says.”
The four of them talked back and forth for a while. Martha perhaps spent more time observing than talking, but the dynamic between the Doctor and his two former companions was almost interesting enough to make her not mind it — almost. Regardless of what Jack said, it was rapidly becoming clear that Martha was going to have to do some serious thinking about her continued future as a time traveler. Even if she were still welcome on the TARDIS, did she really want to stick around to try to turn a trio into a quartet?
Eventually, Rose interrupted Martha’s musings by giving a great yawn and stretching her arms high above her head. “Well,” she said, “it’s been a long day on top of a long week.”
And, she thought, she could tell she wasn’t going to get anything out of the Doctor and Jack tonight, despite the Meaningful Looks they kept passing each other when they thought she wasn’t paying attention. Give her a few hours’ sleep, though, and she was confident she’d be able to corner them.
“I’m exhausted,” she continued. “Think I’ll head to bed.” She tilted her head questioningly at the Doctor. He nodded slightly, letting her know that she did in fact have a bed to get back to, that it hadn’t been taken over by someone else.
“Some rest would do you good,” he said simply. He turned to Martha. “Jack and I’ll be rubbish for entertainment.” He gestured at the console, indicating that the two of them were intending to get to work once Rose was gone. “You might as well get some rest, too.”
Martha sighed but nodded in agreement. She watched as Rose kissed both Jack and the Doctor softly on the cheek. With a small wave to the men, she followed Rose down the corridor towards the bedrooms.
After a minute or so of walking, Rose stopped. She took a deep breath and reached for the handle of a nondescript door.
“Wait!” Martha exclaimed. “You can’t use that room. The Doctor says it’s off-limits.”
Rose kept her hand on the door but turned to look at Martha. Her expression held both surprise and gentle pity. Martha felt her stomach sink and she knew what Rose was going to say before she even opened her mouth.
“Martha, this is my room.”
“Of course it is,” Martha replied, unable to keep the resentment out of her tone. “No wonder he spent hours in there by himself.”
“He did?” Rose wasn’t sure if that bit of information inspired sadness or warm fuzzies — she liked knowing that he hadn’t simply forgotten her or put her out of his mind. But she didn’t like thinking of him shutting himself away like that.
Martha grimaced. “You probably shouldn’t tell him that I told you that.”
Rose shook her head mutely, emotion shimmering in her eyes. She cracked the door open and then turned to Martha. “Thank you.”
Rose smiled. “Everything. Telling me about how he’s been. Taking care of him. Just… being there.” She looked down, sadness in her eyes. “When I couldn’t be.”
Martha nodded slowly. “Just… don’t hurt him again.”
If Rose was surprised by the fierce protective tone of Martha’s voice, she gave no indication of it. Martha thought that perhaps if anyone would understand that protectiveness, it would be Rose.
“I’ve never hurt him on purpose,” Rose said quietly. “And I never will.”
Martha nodded and then turned away to walk briskly to her room. Rose sighed softly and pushed her door all the way open. It was dark inside, but she shut the door behind her and took a deep breath before turning on the light.
Tears welled in her eyes when she realized that the only things that were different from when she’d left it were indications of the Doctor having been there. Her bed was neatly made — she’d never have managed that, she thought wryly. The photos she kept on her dresser were slightly rearranged, with the ones of her and the Doctor moved to the front. One of them, of her standing in the circle of her brown-eyed Doctor’s arms with broad grins on both their faces, had been taken out of its frame and was lying next to it on the dresser. Its edges were beginning to show slight wear from being handled often.
Rose sniffled and peeked into the duffel bag her mum had returned to the TARDIS while the Doctor finished his ghost busting machine. “You’ll forget this otherwise,” Jackie’d said as she hurried to finish the laundry. She’d been going for a brash and annoyed sort of tone, Rose thought, but only ended up sounding exasperatedly affectionate.
Now, though, the duffel was empty. Further investigation revealed that the Doctor had carefully folded or hung up all of her clothes. Rose tried not to think of just how much her absence had affected him if it had caused him to perform such a domestic task as putting away the laundry.
She reached into one of the drawers, pulled out a set of pajamas, and changed into them. Taking one last fond glance around her room — damn, it was good to be home — she dimmed the lights and slid into her bed.
While Rose and Martha slept, the Doctor and Jack sat on the bench in the console room. They had spent the last few hours making sure that there were no more than the usual mechanical problems with the TARDIS so that they could be certain that the root of their problem lay elsewhere.
“Well,” the Doctor announced glumly, “there’s nothing more we can do via jiggery-pokery.”
Jack grimaced. “Okay. So, short of tossing me out the doors, what can we do to get moving?”
The Doctor was silent for a moment, until he was absolutely certain he had no other viable (or even any particularly non-viable) options. He sighed and shook his head. “We have to tell Rose. She’s already unconsciously keeping us steady. If she were aware of her enhanced connection to the TARDIS, it’s probable that she could make the final push and convince the old girl that you’re okay.”
“Why can’t you?” Jack asked curiously. “Too prejudiced?”
The Doctor glanced over at Jack sharply, but relaxed when he saw the humor in the other man’s eyes. He shrugged. “Can’t be sure why not — and yes, I’ve tried. I think it probably has to do with the fact that it was Rose who halted the ship in the first place.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
They sat in contemplative silence for a few moments. The Doctor, having accepted that something in Rose had been fundamentally altered when she’d taken the Vortex into herself, began considering what the various consequences might be. Once she knew, he fully intended to convince her to let him run a series of tests, including DNA workups and bio scans.
“Did Rose tell you how long she’d been in the parallel universe?” the Doctor asked suddenly.
“No,” Jack said, looking at him oddly. “Didn’t get around to that bit of information, what with the world almost getting destroyed and me dying and all.” He tilted his head in consideration. “Can’t have been very long though. She doesn’t look more than a few months older than the day I met her, and she was what? Twenty then?” He smiled reminiscently. “Yeah, I remember — we celebrated her twentieth birthday on Castella Six right before…” He trailed off. It had been right before they’d visited Japan, which had been right before the Game Station.
The Doctor nodded. “And she traveled with me for over a year after that — it’s hard to tell sometimes in the TARDIS, even I lose track, but it was definitely over a year.”
Jack shrugged. “So it must not have been that long, and she’s aging well.”
“Jack. She told me how long it had been.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose that would be one of the first things you’d get to.” Jack glanced at the Doctor’s face and felt a stab of foreboding low in his stomach. “Doctor, how long?”
“Well, she could still just be… oh, hell. It’s no good, is it?”
“She’s got good genes, Jack, but no matter how good your genes are, you should still have changed a bit between your twentieth and your twenty-fourth birthdays.”
Horror dawned over Jack’s features. “You don’t think she’s…”
“Like you?” the Doctor queried. Jack said nothing and waited for the Doctor to continue. “I don’t know. If she is, she doesn’t feel different like you do.” He pushed to his feet and paced around the console. “But I’m bloody well not putting it to the test — at least not any test that can’t be done using the instruments in my med bay.” He continued to pace while Jack stared moodily at the display monitors despite the TARDIS’ continued refusal to translate the Gallifreyan for him.
As the Doctor passed by the bench, Jack spoke up. “How do we even begin to tell Rose?”
“Tell me what?”
In which Rose finally gets the truth out of the boys.
At the sound of Rose’s voice, both men whipped their heads towards the doorway. Rose stood there, looking fresh-faced and bright-eyed. She figured she’d gotten about four hours of sleep, which was at the high end of what she tended to need in recent years. She’d then showered and gleefully changed into her old favorite pair of jeans and her most comfortable hoodie. A pair of battered trainers completed her lazy-day comfort look.
Rose wished she could say that her two men were so enthralled by her that even in such unimpressive clothes she could send them into a shocked silence, but given what she’d heard Jack say as she walked in and her earlier suspicion that they were keeping something from her, she was certain she’d have to be content with simply surprising them. She smiled warmly, ready to put the screws to them if need be.
As she stepped into the room, the Doctor took large steps to meet her. “Well, when he says that, he means — shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“Don’t think you’ll get ‘round me by playing that rambly-Doctor interruptin’ yourself game, Doctor.” She poked him in the chest and brushed past him. “And you,” she said, crossing to Jack. “Don’t think you can play innocent, I’ve seen too much of you to believe it when you get that look on your face.”
She put her hands on her hips and turned so she could aim her glare at both of them at once. “You’ve been keeping something from me since the library. Maybe you didn’t want to talk about it in front of Martha or maybe you had things to work out, but she’s not here right now and I am not prepared to give you any more time.” She looked expectantly at each of them in turn. “Well?”
“No, really,” the Doctor said, acting as though she hadn’t said a word. “You were exhausted, I know you, I could tell.” He was in front of her in three paces and took her face in his hands, peering curiously into her eyes.
“Oi!” she exclaimed. “I’m not a specimen!” She jerked backwards but laughed good-naturedly. “I just don’t need that much sleep these days.”
The Doctor stared at her for a moment and then nodded. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
Rose sobered when she heard the tone of his voice. Perhaps this was more serious than she thought. “Doctor, what is this about? You said I was healthy, were you lyin’ to me?”
“I think you should sit down,” he began.
“I will not! What’s wrong with me? Doctor?”
Jack reached out and grabbed the sleeve of her hoodie and tugged her over to the bench. “Sit with me, baby doll. You’re fine,” he assured her. “I promise.” He glanced at the Doctor, hoping that they were right and he wasn’t going to be proved a liar. “Just sit with me, okay?”
Rose glanced from Jack to the Doctor and nodded slowly. “Fine. But you tell me everything, okay? Don’t leave anythin’ out — and I will be able to tell if you do.”
The Doctor glanced at Jack, who slung his arm behind Rose’s shoulders and shifted an inch or two closer to her.
“Rose,” the Doctor began, “other than needing less sleep lately, have you noticed anything else… different about yourself?”
Rose blinked. All this over not needing as much sleep? But then, the Doctor hadn’t known about that until a moment ago, so it couldn’t be the problem, even if he hadn’t been surprised by it either. Jack and the Doctor were looking at her very seriously, so rather than laugh off the question or give a flippant answer, she did honestly try to think of something.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “No, I can’t say that I have.”
“Have you looked in the mirror, Rose?” The Doctor brushed a tender finger over her cheek. “When I say that you haven’t changed a bit — haven’t aged a bit — since the last time I saw you, I’m not just being polite, or kind.” He dropped his hand from her face and patted the console. “And earlier, in the library, you told me how the TARDIS was feeling, like you just knew. How did you know?”
Rose looked at Jack. She was confused by the Doctor’s line of questioning. “What’s he on about?” she asked Jack, trying to keep her voice steady. He tucked a wayward strand of her hair behind her ear and mustered a smile for her.
“When the Rift was opened in the Hub, there was debris flying everywhere. Everyone had cuts and scrapes over their faces and hands when it was over.” His crystalline blue eyes were more serious than Rose had ever seen them. “Everyone except me,” he paused and took her hand, “and you.”
Rose’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?” she whispered. She whipped her head back around to look at the Doctor. “Doctor? What are you saying?”
“Rose, we think — well, I say ‘think,’ but we know, really, because I wouldn’t say this if I weren’t at least 95.6758% sure that it were true, because if I were wrong it would just be such a mess, and-”
At Rose’s exasperated exclamation the Doctor shut his mouth abruptly. “Sorry,” he said after taking a breath. “What I meant to say was: do you remember the golden light from the heart of the TARDIS?” At Rose’s nod, he continued. “That’s huon energy. Normally, it’s only found inside the TARDIS — it’s an essential part of the process that allows the ship to harness the Time Vortex and move through it. When you opened the console and absorbed the Vortex, you must have absorbed huon energy first, which then allowed you to manipulate both the Vortex and the TARDIS.”
Under Rose’s unblinking stare, he paced agitatedly. He pulled his brainy specs out of his pocket and slipped them on without even thinking about it. “When I took the Vortex out of you, I must have left behind some of the huon energy. Slowly, your cells must have then adapted somehow, because now you’re literally soaked in it.”
The Doctor stopped pacing and faced Rose. “And there have been some residual effects.”
“When you say ‘residual effects,’” she murmured, squeezing Jack’s hand nervously. “Is it hurting me?”
The Doctor sat down on her other side and took her free hand apologetically. “Rose, some of the tests I did on you before were to do with those effects, and as far as I can see, you really are as healthy as a horse. Everything I know tells me you should be dead, but nothing I’ve found so far is detrimental to your health; in fact, it appears that it’s actually making you healthier. You traveled through the void and only felt a little dizzy. You only need a few hours of sleep to feel refreshed.” He gestured at Jack. “You appear to be as impervious to minor injuries as Jack is.”
Rose looked over at Jack, wide-eyed. “No cuts, like you. Like you,” she repeated. “Oh, God.”
“Let’s just hope the opportunity to test whether or not you’re as impervious to death as I am never arises,” Jack put in.
The Doctor squeezed her hand again. “I don’t know if you’re immortal like him, Rose. You might be, or you might just have an extended life span.”
The Doctor shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know if something like this has ever happened before. I’ve certainly never been in this situation before and if there was any Time Lord who was ever going to get into this situation, well, it was probably always going to be me, so I don’t even think there’ll be anything in the library.” He glanced at the Gallifreyan display on the monitor. “Even if Gallifrey weren’t gone, I don’t think the Time Lords would know for certain.”
“You’re one of a kind, Rose Tyler,” Jack said, smiling.
Rose gave a half-hearted laugh. “Or maybe one of two.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I suppose it won’t be too long before one of our adventures is death-defying enough for me to find out.”
The Doctor grimaced. “Or perhaps I can figure things out with a little bit of testing and comparison in the med bay.”
“Won’t that be fun?” Jack said dryly.
The three of them sat in silence for a few minutes. Jack still had his arm over Rose’s shoulders, and when the Doctor had sat down next to her, Jack had rested his palm lightly against the Doctor’s back. The Doctor still held one of Rose’s hands.
“Am I still human?” she asked suddenly.
The Doctor shrugged, took off his glasses and slipped them in his pocket. “Is Jack?” But he smiled comfortingly. “I know you hate tests, but as I said, there are a few I’d like to do once we’ve solved our current dilemma — cell tests and DNA mapping. It won’t hurt.”
Rose nodded. “I understand.” She smiled at him weakly. “I trust you.”
The Doctor smiled back at her, leaned in and kissed her softly. “Thank you.”
Rose patted the Doctor’s hands with her free hand and then did the same to Jack’s knee. “So I suppose you two have been figurin’ all that out rather than figurin’ out how to fix what’s wrong with the TARDIS, then?”
“Actually,” the Doctor replied, “we’ve been multi-tasking. Well, I say multi-tasking. Really it just so happens that I’m fairly certain you are the key to fixing what’s wrong with the TARDIS.”
“What?” Rose sat up straight and stared at the Doctor in surprise. “I learned a few things about alien tech at Torchwood, but the TARDIS is way more than a little beyond me.”
The Doctor got to his feet and rocked idly back on his heels. “Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with you on that. No offense.” Rose shook her head absently, waiting for him to continue. “But when you and Jack came on board, the TARDIS reacted, and that’s why we’re stopped,” he emphasized the word, drawing it out and widening his eyes pointedly, “in the middle of space. First she reacted to Jack — that’s why she lit out of Cardiff like she was terrified of something. But then she reacted to you.”
“Me? But I didn’t do anything!”
“Neither did Jack. But the energy you’re giving off — the TARDIS recognized that, she recognized you, and so she stopped.”
“Okay,” Rose said, trying to take the startling information about the after-effects of the Vortex in stride. “Even if that’s true, even if it was my presence that stopped the TARDIS, that still only leaves us stopped in the middle of nowhere.”
Jack shifted next to Rose, pulling back the arm that had been resting behind her and gently holding both her shoulders with his hands. She moved her gaze from the Doctor to Jack, the question still in her eyes. “We think — well, the Doctor thinks and I agree — that the huon energy you’re giving off, and the fact that it came from this TARDIS in the first place, gives you a stronger connection to her than you had before.”
“If you embrace that, if you harness that,” the Doctor said, picking up the thread of Jack’s explanation, “then I think you should be able to tell her that Jack’s all right and she can just go back to Cardiff.”
“Why can’t you? She’s your ship, isn’t she?”
The Doctor frowned. “She won’t listen to me,” he mumbled, thinking to himself that taking only the best was all well and good, until they were smart enough to pick up on things you’d rather they just missed. “You’re the one who told her to stop, even if it was subconsciously.” He shrugged, embarrassed at the fact that his ship wasn’t listening to him. “So you’re the one who has to tell her to go again. It’s just a small recalibration, really.”
Rose thought about it for a moment. “What if it doesn’t work?”
Jack kissed her temple. “Let’s cross that bridge if we come to it.”
In which Rose fixes the TARDIS with the Doctor's help, and Jack, er, congratulates them on their success. *wink*
“Just one problem,” Rose said, putting her hands on her knees and leaning forward.
The Doctor tilted his head to the side. “Only one?”
“Ha,” Rose responded dryly. “But really, Doctor, you don’t see the flaw in the plan?”
“Other than the small possibility — and really, it’s me, so it is pretty small — that I’m wrong, and lack a back-up plan?”
“I don’t know anything about fixing the TARDIS, and other than aiming a sentence in the general direction of the walls and the one time I almost killed myself absorbing the Time Vortex, I’ve no experience even communicating with her. How am I supposed to not only start up a conversation about Jack, but…” she paused, searching for the word the Doctor had used. “Recalibrate something?” she finished.
“Ah,” the Doctor said. Jack tilted his head and watched the other man. It was a problem he’d thought of but decided not to bring up until it was absolutely necessary. He had, of course, hoped it wouldn’t be a problem, even if he hadn’t believed it. He still held out hope that the Doctor would have a solution, and was relieved to see that he probably wasn’t going to be disappointed. “I think I can help you with that,” the Doctor said. He looked Rose steadily in the eye. “You know I’m telepathic, right?”
Rose nodded. “Yeah. S’how you communicated with that jellyfish thing at the Olympics.”
He smiled a little at her description of the isolus, but nodded. “Exactly. If you’re willing, I can do something similar with you and show you how to strengthen your connection to the ship, help you do it.”
“You’ll be inside my head?”
“Yes. I’m sorry,” he hastened to add. “I know how you feel about stuff like that, but if there’s anything you don’t want me to see, just imagine shutting a door on it. I won’t look.”
“No,” Rose said, shaking her head. “It’s all right. Been lonely in my head for the last few years. Could do with some company.”
The Doctor resisted the urge to question her further on this revelation. Had she felt the lack of the TARDIS the same way he felt the lack of the rest of the Time Lords? He pushed the question aside as Rose tilted her head in consideration.
“Just shut a door?” she verified.
“You could even slam it if you wanted.” He brushed his knuckles across her cheek softly. “Not that you’d need to, but you could.”
The Doctor got to his feet and did a quick circuit around the console, occasionally flipping a switch or adjusting a dial. He stopped when he was in front of Jack and Rose again. “Okay. Hopefully Rose will be able to tell the TARDIS where to go, so it’s nice and simple. But as simple is not always our forte,” he continued with a wink, “I’ve set the TARDIS controls for Cardiff shortly after we left.” He turned to Jack. “Do you remember enough from when we traveled together to keep her steady if Rose and I don’t come out of it right away and she goes off?”
Jack nodded. “Sure thing, Doc. Long as you both surface eventually.”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows at the subtle warning in Jack’s tone. As if the Doctor’s first priority wasn’t going to be making sure Rose was fine — no, better than fine — the whole time. He’d only just gotten her back, there was no way he was going to lose her again. “We’ll be safe as houses, don’t worry.”
“Hmm,” was all Jack would say.
The Doctor held out a hand for Rose and tugged her to her feet when she took it. She stood in front of him, close but not touching other than his hand in hers. “So… how do we do this, then?”
“Well,” the Doctor said, dropping her hand and raising both of his to her temples. He shut his eyes and Rose followed suit. “I just do this, and…”
Rose stifled a gasp as a thousand images rushed through her mind all at once.
Sorry, she heard as the rush slowed until she felt nothing from the Doctor — for surely all that had come from him — but an encompassing feeling of safety. A lot goes on in my head at once.
Apparently, Rose thought caustically. No wonder you can never hold a subject for more than a few sentences.
Am I wrong?
Rose felt very smug and immediately felt a wave of happy annoyance from the Doctor. Curious, she concentrated on her love for the Doctor and was staggered by the response it triggered.
Oh, she thought, breathless even in her mind.
As Jack looked on, a concerned mask locked over his face, the Doctor and Rose both broke out in wide smiles, eyes still closed. Then to Jack’s surprise, the Doctor spoke out loud.
“I told you I did, didn’t I.” He paused, as if Rose were speaking to him. Jack supposed it was entirely possible that she was, just not out loud or with actual words. “I know,” the Doctor said. Then his face went serious again, his voice low and intense. “But now’s not the time, eh? The TARDIS needs fixing.”
Rose nodded ever so slightly. “I’m ready,” she whispered.
Jack watched them lapse into silence again, their lips occasionally half-forming words they were most likely speaking to each other inside their minds.
Okay, Rose, the Doctor told her silently. I need you to concentrate on the TARDIS, on whatever feeling of connection you’ve felt before, and then try to intensify it.
Rose, her eyes still closed, looked around the empty black space she felt as if she were occupying. Off in the distance, she thought she saw a faint golden glow. She concentrated on it and felt the same warm glow in her heart that she felt whenever she thought she understood what the TARDIS meant by one of her hums or buzzes. She focused on it even more and felt a burst of pride from the Doctor. That’s it, Rose, he said in her head. Knew you could do it.
Glad one of us did, she thought at him wryly. She felt the Doctor’s strength seep into the corners of her mind and found it even easier to focus on the golden glow, which grew larger and brighter with every second, until she felt completely surrounded by it.
Now, came the Doctor’s voice, tell her it’s okay.
Rose took a deep breath. She had no idea what she was doing. But the Doctor believed in her, and she was dimly aware of Jack’s presence in the room. She could feel his mind, not connected to hers like the Doctor’s was, but still there nearby and still focused on her. Believing in her.
Hello, girl, she began. I’m so glad to be home. An’ so is Jack. Rose smiled. You remember him, I know you do. He’s the one that makes you feel like something’s wrong, but it’s not his fault. Nothing’s wrong. He just feels different now because of me. Because of us, Rose corrected herself. You were with me, singing in my head, and we saved him, remember?
The glow surrounding Rose and the Doctor intensified. Though Rose still didn’t hear actual words coming from the TARDIS, she felt the response. Confusion, uncertainty. Trust. Rose nodded encouragingly. I promise, she said. She felt the Doctor send out a surge of agreement. Jack’s different, but he’s still Jack. We still love him. He’s still welcome here. He’s still ours.
Rose felt a surge of response from the TARDIS accompanied by a sort of shifting that she couldn’t quantify or identify. The glow around them grew even brighter, until it was so bright that Rose blinked in response.
And found herself back in the console room, staring into the Doctor’s deep brown eyes. She was dimly aware that Jack had jumped to his feet, leapt at the console, and was now doing his own version of the Doctor’s customary flying-the-TARDIS dance of wild lever-pulling and button-pushing.
“Did I do it?” she whispered, unable to stop staring into the Doctor’s eyes. He lowered his forehead to hers.
“Rose Tyler, you did it.” He caught her mouth in a deep kiss, and through the vestiges of their mental connection Rose felt a myriad of emotions from him, pride and love and lust and wonder all mixed together. She kissed him back, forgetting everything else until the sharp jerk of the TARDIS’ landing had them breaking apart and stumbling to keep their balance.
Jack grinned at them. “Good. If you didn’t come up for air soon, I was gonna get jealous.” He was at their side in an instant and pulled Rose into bear hug. “I knew you could do it,” he said, and he kissed her with no less enthusiasm than the Doctor had. Then he released her and, before the Doctor could guess his intentions, pulled the Doctor’s wiry frame against his own more muscled one and kissed him thoroughly as well.
The Doctor sputtered for a moment when Jack released him, and Rose giggled at the gobsmacked look on his face.
“You did it,” Jack said, gesturing at the monitor. It showed an image of the plaza above his hub. Judging from the angle, Jack thought they were probably parked right on top of the invisible lift. He grabbed the Doctor with one arm and Rose with the other and pulled them into a group hug.
They were still hugging and laughing when Martha stumbled in. “Is everything all right?” she asked, sounding worried. “I was sleeping, and then I nearly got tossed out of bed.” She glanced at the monitor. “Are we in Cardiff?”
The Doctor disentangled himself from Jack and Rose and beamed at Martha. “That we are, Martha Jones. That we are.”
“How did you do it?” she asked, a smile on her face.
The Doctor opened his mouth, ready to sing Rose’s praises, but she cut him off. “Jiggery pokery and sweet talk,” she said, nudging the Doctor slightly with her elbow. “I provided the sweet talk, and these two did the rest.”
The Doctor seemed satisfied by this account of events, if only because Rose had turned around and narrowed her eyes at him briefly before he had the chance to elaborate. Jack, for his part, caught on to what Rose was trying to do for Martha, and probably also for herself, and just smiled. “Sometimes the sweet talk is the most important part,” he said, ruffling her hair as he brushed by her to fiddle with the monitor.
“Now that we’re here,” he continued, changing the subject, “there’s something I need to tell you, Doctor.” He made a few keystrokes and accessed his remote login to the Torchwood computer system. “And I don’t think you’ll like it at first, so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me explain.” He swung the monitor around so that the Doctor could see it — and the Torchwood logo it now displayed.
The Doctor’s eyes narrowed instantly, and Martha was reminded of the way he’d looked when she’d asked him about Canary Wharf, though even this was nowhere near as cold as that had been.
“Is this the part where you tell me I’m under arrest?” he asked Jack coolly. “And Rose? You gonna stick her under a microscope, too?” He shifted closer to her, standing so that he was between her and Jack, his stance protective.
Jack shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not like that any more. I made it not like that. I never even worked for Torchwood I — that’s the Torchwood you ran into, in London. I did freelance work for their outpost in Cardiff, and Doctor, I swear to you, any time you came near them I threw them off.”
He pulled up a document from his private, encrypted files. Even Tosh would have had trouble getting to them, but it was still something he’d kept only hard copies of until after Alex had handed Torchwood III over to Jack — so to speak — and Torchwood I had fallen in the aftermath of Canary Wharf. It was a list of dates and times the Doctor had visited the rift, prior to meeting Jack, after meeting Jack. All times that Jack had made sure Torchwood wouldn’t be watching.
“Time and time again, I kept them away from you. And it could be hard, let me tell you. Thankfully it was me they chose to send out after Margaret the Slitheen, or else we could have been in a right mess.”
“It’s true,” Rose said softly. She took his hand and squeezed gently. “I’ve seen his team at work, been through his hub. His Torchwood isn’t their Torchwood.”
Martha had silently watched the proceedings without really understanding what the deal was with Torchwood. From the Doctor’s reaction and Jack’s mention of running into them in London, she felt safe assuming they’d had something to do with Rose’s unplanned trip to a parallel universe. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, trying to decide if she really ought to say anything. Rose was looking pleadingly up at the Doctor’s face, but he was focused on Jack, still looking cold.
“For what it’s worth, Doctor,” Martha finally said, “I think Jack’s a good bloke. I don’t know your history with Torchwood, but from what it sounds like, Jack isn’t like that.”
Rose nodded. “She’s right. You know him, Doctor. You know he wouldn’t do anything that would hurt you or me.”
Slowly, the iciness in the Doctor’s expression faded away.
“I did it for you,” Jack said quietly. “In your honor. And Rose’s.”
The Doctor closed his eyes. “It had to be Torchwood,” he said. Then he opened his eyes, and the coldness was gone, replaced by a perhaps slightly dimmed version of his usual mischievous twinkle. “Couldn’t have been UNIT, or some black-ops division of MI-5, no. Had to be Torchwood.”
Jack let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Hey, don’t complain too much. You wouldn’t believe the trouble I went through to keep them from interfering with the whole Margaret thing.”
Rose smiled and the Doctor managed a chuckle. “Well thanks for that, then. Had enough trouble on our hands with rifts and extrapolators and Raxacoricofallapatorians. Or one of each, anyway. Mind you-”
Rose cleared her throat, cutting off the ramble the Doctor had been about to launch into. “I think you should meet his team,” she said. The Doctor narrowed his eyes at her and she narrowed hers right back. “They’re good people, Doctor. They’re doing their best.” She tilted her head. “Doin’ what I was doin’ in Pete’s World. And you weren’t angry with me over it.”
The Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets and paced away from his companions silently.
After a moment or two of quiet, Jack took a deep breath. “Assuming I still have a place here-” He broke off and glanced at Rose, who, he was certain, would really be the one deciding that matter. She nodded emphatically. The Doctor glanced back at them momentarily, still uncharacteristically silent. He didn’t contradict Rose’s response, so Jack pressed on. “Then I’ll need to say goodbye to my team, give them their marching orders, make sure they’ll never let Torchwood return to what it was before I took over. I think meeting you would help ensure that.”
He logged out of his remote access account and the quiet plaza once again appeared on the monitor. The Doctor turned around to face Jack, who shrugged slightly. “Please, Doctor. It would mean a lot to me.”
Rose practically held her breath waiting for the Doctor’s response. When he allowed a slow smile to spread across his face, she sighed in relief.
“All right, Captain,” the Doctor said. “Show me what you’ve got.”
In which the Doctor finds himself visiting Torchwood again, and is at least pleased that no one points a gun at him this time.
Martha hung back as Jack led her, Rose, and the Doctor over the plaza and around to a dilapidated tourist office. Rose and the Doctor held hands casually, habitually, as if they might not even realize they were doing it. Their steps were synchronized, but again, Martha was certain they had made no effort to make it so. Jack walked in front of them, touched neither of them, yet the three of them still seemed to make up a unit somehow. Martha shook her head as Jack reached the door of the tourist office. She was going mental, she was. Spent too long in that box, she thought.
“We have to go in the back,” Jack was saying, hand on the door. “Since you parked on my front door.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Did I now? Can we just get on with it?” Rose nudged his shoulder and gave him a pointed glare. He pouted slightly. “Sorry.”
Jack shook his head and grinned at Rose conspiratorially. “He’s even more rude now than he was when I left you.”
Rose laughed musically. “Yeah, that’s ‘im, rude.” She winked at the Doctor. “Rude and not ginger.”
Jack grinned and opened the door. A glance around the small office showed that Ianto was absent, as the office itself was empty. As Jack ushered the Doctor, Rose, and Martha through the door, he hoped it was because he hadn’t been gone long enough for the team to have finished deciding what to do about it. It would be much easier to mollify them if they were still in the hub arguing about his disappearance rather than if they were roaming about Cardiff searching for a sign of him.
He led his friends to the lift down to the hub. Once they’d filed in behind him, he pressed the button to go down and rolled his shoulders in an attempt to loosen the tension knotted between them. Rose briefly touched him in comfort with the hand that wasn’t holding the Doctor’s. Then she smoothed the Doctor’s lapel in a gesture that to Martha seemed to be equal parts habit, comfort, and restraint.
The lift reached the bottom with a tiny lurch, and Jack glanced over at the Doctor. “I did this for you, remember? Because of what you did for me, the man you taught me to be.”
The Doctor nodded solemnly, and the way his eyes locked with Jack’s reminded Martha that Rose was not the only one in the lift with whom the Doctor shared some sort of incomprehensible — to Martha, anyway — bond.
The doors opened and Jack led them out into the hub. The Doctor shuddered distastefully and mumbled something about how at least there were fewer guns aimed at him than there had been when they last visited a Torchwood facility. Rose squeezed his hand reproachfully. “Behave!” she hissed at him under her breath. Martha smirked.
As they walked further into the hub and no one came rushing to meet them save the pterodactyl (Martha yelped in surprise before grinning hugely and declaring it “brilliant”), it became clear to Jack that his team was not at home. He looked at the Doctor. “How long have we been gone?” he asked worriedly.
The Doctor squinted slightly, thinking. “A few hours,” he decided. “A few days at most.”
Jack nodded. His team was probably out looking for him, and they would be either mildly worried or worried sick, depending on when they had arrived on the Doctor’s scale. And he was only coming back to tell them he was leaving for good. He felt a wave of guilt wash over him and grimaced a little.
“So where’s this famous team of yours?” the Doctor asked.
“Probably out looking for me and Rose,” Jack said. “I hope it hasn’t been that much longer than a few hours,” he added, looking around for any sign of the passage of time.
“Well,” Martha said helpfully, “what day was it when you left?”
Rose dropped the Doctor’s hand and put her hands on her hips. Jack turned and looked at her, blinking. They stared at each other for a few moments, mouths working soundlessly. Then Rose laughed helplessly and smiled at Martha. “Couldn’t tell you,” she admitted.
“We were a bit busy,” Jack said. “I was dead for days!”
“Days?” the Doctor said. He frowned. “You didn’t mention that.” He crossed the few feet separating himself and Jack and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He fiddled with the setting and aimed it at Jack’s face.
“Oi!” Jack exclaimed. But he stood still, allowing the Doctor to check him over.
The screwdriver hummed for a few seconds while the Doctor waved it over Jack’s face and chest. Then the Doctor gave a satisfied “hmm” and tucked the screwdriver back into his pocket. “You’re resilient, you are, Captain Jack Harkness.” Then he frowned again. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help.”
Jack nodded. It was probably the closest thing to an apology for leaving him behind on the game station that Jack was ever likely to get from the Doctor, and he would take it. “We managed,” he said. He glanced around the hub once more and then sighed. “Well, I suppose I’d better call them back here.”
He started to walk away, then turned back and gave the Doctor a solemn-eyed grin. “Wouldn’t want you to get bored waiting and run off without me. Again.”
“I was busy!” the Doctor began indignantly, before Rose silenced him with an icy glare. He muttered something incomprehensible under his breath and wandered past Jack to begin inspecting the equipment filling the hub.
Rose shrugged apologetically at Jack, both of them knowing the Doctor would come around soon enough, and gestured to Martha. “Come on, Martha. I’ll show you around while Jack contacts the others.” They parted ways with Jack, who headed up to his office. Rose led Martha through the cavernous room, pointing out things she recognized from her tenure in both versions of Torchwood and giving brief descriptions of Jack’s team members. When they passed the Doctor, they heard him exclaim “Oh, you’re beautiful” in the general direction of one of Tosh’s rift-monitoring devices. Martha stifled a laugh and Rose rolled her eyes affectionately.
Martha enjoyed Rose’s short tour of the Torchwood facility. She liked the idea of saving the universe from the comfort and relative safety of her own planet. She missed her family, however daft they could be, and she knew that her sudden disappearances were distressing for them.
After a while, Jack and the Doctor had joined her and Rose, and the three of them were currently bent over a computer discussing something animatedly. She watched them interact and decided that she also liked the idea of not being the odd one out in that dynamic. An idea began percolating in the back of her mind.
Jack’s team blew into the hub a few moments later, and noise filled the air as four angry people hurled questions and accusations like bullets at Jack, with the occasional stray question or gesture directed at Rose instead. They tried to get a word in edgewise, but all Martha could discern from the jumble was phrases like “lift blocked” and “blue box” and “you left us, Jack.”
Suddenly, an extremely loud whistle rent the air and over the surprised silence, the Doctor shouted “Fingers on lips!” He put his own finger over his mouth and glared at the group of people surrounding him.
Rose immediately broke into a wide smile and brought her index finger to her mouth, her eyes twinkling with suppressed mirth. Jack rolled his eyes but complied, and Martha gamely followed suit. The Doctor stared down every member of Jack’s team until they did the same.
“That’s better,” the Doctor said, dropping his hand to his side. “This is Martha and I’m the Doctor.”
Ianto’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak, but the Doctor stopped him with another steely-eyed glare. Ianto hastily returned his finger to his lips.
“Jack and Rose used to travel with me,” he said briskly. “I stopped here to refuel my ship, they saw me. They jumped aboard, things got a little sticky. That’s where they’ve been for the last-” He broke off, pointed at a vaguely familiar-looking dark-haired woman who had led the chorus of questions. “How long were they gone?”
Gwen lifted her finger. “Thirty hours.”
“Thirty hours,” the Doctor repeated. His face brightened. “I was right! No less than a few hours, no more than a few days!” He turned to Jack. “How’s that for my navigation, eh?” He tilted his head in consideration. “And good landing, too, thanks for that. But they were my coordinates.”
Jack found himself rolling his eyes again and dropped his hand from his face. “Can I speak to my team now?”
“Oh, yes, go right ahead!” The Doctor beamed at Jack and gestured for him to begin.
“Thanks,” he said dryly. He glanced around at his team’s guarded faces and sighed. “Let’s do this in the conference room.”
A short time later, they were all settled in the hub’s conference room. Jack sat at the head of the table, with the Doctor and Rose on his right and Martha on his left. The rest of his team was ranged around the table. Everyone had a steaming mug of Ianto’s tea in front of them. Jack took a deep breath, and began.
“As the man said, this is the Doctor.” He looked at Ianto. “Yes, that Doctor. I told you when you badgered your way into this job after Canary Wharf that he was not the threat the original Torchwood assumed him to be. You asked me how I knew, and I wouldn’t tell you.” Jack looked over at the Doctor and smiled slightly. “I knew he wasn’t because I knew him. He saved my life in more ways than I could count. We… parted company,” he said, sending Rose a wry smile, “but I still felt I owed him for that.”
“So you protected him from inside the organization?”
“Yes. I did everything I could, but I couldn’t stop…” he trailed off, shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.” He took another sip of tea, then proceeded to explain to the team what had happened to Rose to send her to the parallel universe, and how he and Rose had run for the TARDIS when it had appeared thirty hours ago. He gave an abbreviated version of the events that had transpired on the TARDIS and answered the questions the team threw at him about the Doctor, the TARDIS, and Jack’s history with them.
“Well, I’m glad you’re back,” Tosh said when he’d finished. “The place doesn’t run the same without you.”
Jack grimaced. “About that…”
“Jack,” Gwen said warningly. “You are back, aren’t you? You’re not leaving us again?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re ready to do this without me, though. To do what I’ve taught you to do, be the people I’ve taught you to be.”
The Torchwood team began talking all at once, hurling words at Jack with even more force than they had when they’d first walked in. Jack looked the closest thing to overwhelmed that Rose figured she would ever see him be. She wasn’t having it. She shot to her feet.
“Oi, you lot! Shut up, all of you, shut up!” She glared at Gwen, Ianto, Owen, and Toshiko until they lapsed into silence. “You know Jack’s… different. He doesn’t fit here anymore. Here he’s out of his time, out of his place. He loves you, and he was meant to be here to teach you how to do Torchwood the right way, but in the long run his place isn’t here. His place is in the stars.” His place is with us, she added silently. Next to Rose, the Doctor was nodding slowly in agreement, and the look in his eyes almost had her wondering if some traces of their earlier mental connection had allowed him to hear her silent addition.
“I’ll leave you a way to contact me for emergencies,” Jack said when Rose paused to let her words sink in. “Real emergencies, I mean. As in, the Great Devourer or exploding rift emergencies. And I’m not talking about leaving in the next five minutes.” He looked over at the Doctor, who gave a quick nod of assent. For Jack, he’d wait for a few days before getting antsy. “I’ll stay a few days to smooth out things, help you find a fifth team member,” Jack continued.
“I might be able to help you with that,” said Martha, sitting up straighter. Jack and the Doctor both looked at her in surprise.
“Martha?” the Doctor said, looking slightly crestfallen at the idea that she would want to leave him.
“It’s just… the TARDIS is going to be a bit crowded, I think. And it would be nice to stay a bit closer to home and still get to save the universe. Or at least the Earth.” She shifted her gaze to Jack, sensing that it was really him she’d have to convince. “I’ve been traveling with him for months, I think that’s experience enough with aliens. And though I haven’t finished yet, I am training to be a doctor, so I could help out in that regard.” She glanced at Owen, recalling that when he’d been introduced, the title “doctor” had preceded his name. He was glowering, but she wasn’t sure if that was because she’d suggested she help him out or if it was just because of the whole situation.
“Jack and I wouldn’t want you to leave on our account,” Rose said apologetically.
Martha smiled. “It’s not just because of that. I spent a lot of time with him feeling like second best. It’s time I learnt to stand on my own and fight the good fight without worrying about how I measure up.”
The Doctor looked at her steadily, and she had the oddest feeling he was analyzing her, trying to decide what she was thinking just by the way the light was hitting her eyes. Then he nodded. “You were brilliant, Martha Jones. You’ll be missed.”
Jack crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s that taken care of, then,” he said. “I’ll stay around for a few days to help train up Martha, get you all settled without me.” He got to his feet. “I don’t do this lightly,” he said. “I’m not leaving you on a whim, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think you were ready. I am trusting you with a very, very important responsibility.” He held each member of his team’s gaze for a few seconds. “Don’t let me down.”
Three days later, Jack was fairly confident his team wouldn’t fall apart without him there. Gwen was sliding nicely into the role of team leader, and Ianto was stepping up to be a real second-in-command for her rather than just the tea boy. Then again, Jack thought with a begrudging pride, Ianto had always been more than just a tea boy, even if no one ever really noticed. Tosh accepted the changes in her eager-to-please way, befriending Martha immediately and assuring Jack repeatedly that they’d be fine. Owen was adjusting to the idea of sharing his med bay but seemed grateful that Martha wasn’t yet a “real” doctor all the same.
The Doctor had spent the three days tinkering with the TARDIS, which he’d moved from its spot on top of the invisible lift into the middle of the hub. When she wasn’t sitting with the Doctor because neither of them felt entirely comfortable letting the other out of sight quite yet, Rose had busied herself transferring anything of Jack’s that he wanted to have with him from his rooms and storage areas in the hub onto the TARDIS. The ship had obligingly shuffled rooms so that Rose’s was in between the Doctor’s and Jack’s, much to Rose’s amusement and the Doctor’s befuddlement. “Interfering old goat,” he’d muttered when Rose informed him, earning himself a small shower of sparks when he returned to his tinkering a moment later. Rose bit back a chuckle and settled on a knowing grin. She could tell by the glint in the Doctor’s eyes that he was more pleased about the change than he was currently willing to actually let on.
There was a round of goodbyes ranging from tearful (Gwen clung) to stoic (Owen shook his hand stiffly), and then it was time to go. Jack followed the Doctor and Rose into the TARDIS. He stopped in the doorway and looked back out at his friends and former subordinates, and in that moment, he knew they would be fine. He waved to them and stepped over the TARDIS threshold.
When he closed the door behind him and joined the Doctor and Rose at the console, for the first time in over a hundred years, he knew he was home.