ACT 1 – Ride Into
So let them all dissolve
And welcome a new resolve
Here's where the credits run
Riding off into the sun
And love is real
Reading your eyes in the glow
Play on, play on
--Better than Ezra, "Happy Endings"
"I love you."
They were words she'd never thought she'd hear, lips she never thought she'd kiss, not like this; for a moment Rose Tyler wrapped her arms around the Doctor--a Doctor, this Doctor—and lost herself in the feel of hands and lips and a powerful need that she'd been struggling with for so long she'd almost forgotten she could surrender to it. To this Doctor, apparently her Doctor, who clung so tight that she imagined perhaps he needed her, too.
Maybe there was such a thing as destiny. Maybe, just maybe, there was such a thing as happily every after.
The sound of the TARDIS taking off barely registered for a moment, and when it did her heart lurched and she nearly shouted with frustration—it was hard enough following one Doctor, how was she supposed to keep up with two of them? She pulled away and took a few lame strides down the beach, until she realized it was already too late—except for the dome light, the TARDIS was already half-faded, too far gone. Always running away, she thought, her frayed nerves caught somewhere between fury and grief. He hadn't even said a proper goodbye! She hadn't had a chance to say...well, anything at all, even though she didn't know what she would've said if given the chance. Goodbye. Thank you. Don't forget about me. Don't go just yet. All the words she could've spoken seemed to jam up and stick in her throat.
A warm hand caught hers and held it tightly. She looked up to see the Doctor...the other Doctor, that is, looking down at her. "He knows," he told her quietly. "Just can't stand the mushy stuff. You know how he is."
"And you?" Rose asked, studying the too-familiar face. "What about you?"
He swallowed slightly. "I'm...good enough. I hope."
She realized she was seeing him uncertain, something she'd never thought possible before. Well, no—once before. When he'd regenerated that first time, after Space Station Five. He'd looked a bit like this, then, even with a different face—a bit lost and a bit nervous and a bit excited, because at the end of everything he was still the Doctor and loved not knowing what would come next.
At the end of everything, he was still the Doctor.
She squeezed his hand and pressed her other one against his chest, to feel that single heartbeat again. "You really want to stick around here for the rest of your life?" she asked.
"Well, maybe not just here," he said, and reached up to touch her face, hesitant like she might break. "Unless that's what you want. I mean that, Rose, I'll follow wherever you go."
They were the words she hadn't know she needs so badly to hear, and she kissed him again, savoring it this time. These were the lips she'd stared at in the dimness of the control room, the lips that had laughed and scowled and told her tales; this was the ridiculous hair that she used to think up the lamest excuses to touch; here were the ears, the rough jaw, the sparkling eyes that watched her like a wonder worth crossing a universe to see. The arms that she used to ogle when he stripped off his jacket now seized her tight, like he was never letting go, and she wrapped her arms around the thin shoulders that bore the weight of all the worlds and clung back, because this was hers, now, finally, exactly what she wanted. And they all lived happily ever--
Jackie's cry across the strand snapped them both out of it. The Doctor pulled back, blinking and licking his lips, probably because he had Rose's gloss all over them. (She was suddenly, irrationally glad she'd worn makeup on this mission at all, and to hell with anyone who said it was impractical or vain.) Rose carefully wiped at her own mouth, though it was probably a futile effort, and asked, "What is it? What's the matter?"
"Oh, I've got no reception," Jackie groused. "Bloody stupid Norway. Couldn't you have set us down somewhere else? Somewhere with people?"
"Oi, I don't make the rifts in Time, I just use them," the Doctor protested.
Rose smothered a laugh, not because it was funny, but because after so many days and weeks of searching and running and darkness and parallel worlds and Daleks and death and life, the sheer normalcy of something like her mum and the Doctor bickering—well, for some definitions of normal—it crossed the border of relief into giddy joy. She squeezed the Doctor's hand and said, "It's fine, I've still got my phone, I'll make the call. Unless you want to, Mi--"
She looked around the bleak gray Norwegian strand, and realized for the first time that Mickey wasn't with then. But he'd been right there, until—no, wait, he hadn't disembarked from the TARDIS with them, had he? She turned in a complete circle, searching the horizon like he might've run off and hid, not because he did things like that but because he was supposed to be there, should've been there, he was always there. She kept turning until Jackie said "Rose--" in a low, sad voice.
"Where is he?" Rose asked. "He didn't—did he?"
"He decided to stay behind," Jackie said, in the same gentle voice she used for breaking news like Granddad's died or I'm out of a job again. "He—said he'd done all he meant to, here. You know, with his gran and all."
"Why didn't he say anything to me?" Rose asked, mind still flying to every empty space where Mickey could've been, jamming up on his absence. "Why—how could he just leave like that?"
The Doctor squeezed her shoulder, and Rose suddenly had a very good idea why, and it made her a little sick. "I'm sorry," he said. "I...it was a good thing, that he came, you know. I was glad to see him."
She shook her head but leaned into his hand, so she'd have at least one point of reference when everything briefly seemed to spin around her. "Why didn't he say anything to me?" she asked.
"Maybe he thought it was better this way?" Jackie offered, but Rose shook her head again, thinking evil thoughts at any man who'd rather run away than talk about feelings. Two in one day was a little bit much to take, and while the other Doctor was frustrating, Mickey hurt, somewhere deep and close to her heart.
The Doctor rubbed her shoulders without saying anything—he probably knew there wasn't anything to say. Eventually the cool, damp breeze reminded Rose that they were trying to get home, and she managed to shake off her shock long enough to fish her Torchwood-issued phone out of her pocket. "I'll just," she said, "I'll call us a ride, hold on."
Jackie nodded, but the Doctor watched her fumble with the phone with interest. "Why'd you get a signal when she can't?" he asked.
"Hyperwave technology," Rose said. "Cribbed it off the Cybermen. Only thing that works across the Void, so they gave me a modified phone while I went looking for your universe."
"That's brilliant," he said warmly. "Can I have a look?"
"Later," Rose said, and finally managed to dial the right number. "Control, are you there?"
"Affirmative," came a bland, anonymous voice, probably some technician or mechanic that she'd seen but had no time to get to know. She had no idea where the rest of her team were, though after the day she'd been having she wouldn't blame them if they'd all run off to catch some sleep. "It's been a while, ma'am."
"Yeah, well, adventures are like that," she said. "Say, is the idiot there who let my mum jump into the cannon after me?"
"I don't know what you mean, ma'am," the receiver said blandly, while Jackie rolled her eyes and waved around a dimensional portal button. Oh, well, no wonder how they'd slipped under Torchwood's radar then...maybe it was a good thing Mickey hadn't come back, because Rose might've killed him.
"Never mind," she said into the phone. "I'm back in the home universe, can you get a lock on my location?"
"Running a sweep, just a moment...ah, we have you. Bad Wolf Bay, Norway. Do you need assistance?"
"Yeah, get us immediate pickup at our current location, three persons, no medical attention necessary. If anyone asks, it's Torchwood authorization ninety-nine. Oh, and have a message sent to Pete Tyler's office letting him know when we'll be back in Britain." Rose tugged at the collar of her jacket. "And could you hurry it up? There's sort of a breeze."
"Three persons for immediate pickup, confirmed," Control repeated. "A UNCF helicopter will be at your location in thirty minutes."
"Brilliant. Thanks." She hung up. "They're sending a helicopter for us. Thirty minutes."
Jackie snorted. "Thirty minutes, who takes thirty minutes?"
"Hey, you can swim if you don't like it," Rose said, and looked back at the Doctor, who was watching her with a little frown line between his eyes. "What? Something the matter?"
"No, nothing," he said quickly. "Just—'Torchwood authorization ninety-nine?'"
She shrugged. "That's the rule that says 'in case of dire emergency, forget all the other rules.' I figured it'd help speed things up a bit."
He folded his arms, though she wasn't entirely sure it wasn't from the chilly breeze. "Since when have you worked for Torchwood?"
"Since I got here," she said. "They're not so bad, in this universe—I reckon it's more like Jack's version than Yvonne Hartman's."
"Oh, I'm not saying it's bad," he stammered. "Just...surprising, is all."
She grinned at him. "What, did you think I was just sitting around waiting for you?"
He smiled a bit ruefully. "Well, I may have had some romantic notions..."
"Arrogant notions, you mean," she said. "Besides, if you can go off with Martha and Donna and all them, why can't I have Torchwood?"
"So fair's fair," he agreed. "All right. What do we do for thirty minutes until the helicopter gets here?"
Jackie responded by collapsing to the sand. "We sit down for a bit," she said. "I'm knackered. You know, the other thing about that TARDIS, it hasn't got any proper seating at all." The Doctor rolled his eyes at her, but he too sat down, heedless of the damp, and when Rose sat next to him he put his arm around her shoulders like it belonged there and then looked down at her like he was asking for permission. She shut her eyes and pressed close into his shoulder, soaking in his warmth and presence like a shield against the last three or four days.
The helicopter, when it finally came, had to hover over the beach while they shimmied up a swaying rope ladder; this had Jackie making distressed little noises all the way up, like it was any more dangerous than hopping back and forth between dimensions. The Doctor came last, flailing a bit to get inside, while Rose got herself belted in and switched on the radio in her headset. "Thanks for the ride," she said to the crew.
"Not a problem, Ms. Prentice," the pilot said, waving to her. "Mrs. Tyler. Sir."
The Doctor, who had put his ear protectors on the wrong way round, looked up from where he was fussing with his seat belt. "What? What?"
"This is," Rose said, with only the slightest pause, "Dr. John Smith. He's my guest and I'm granting him full security clearance."
"Understood, ma'am," the pilot said. "I'm Flight Lieutenant Penn, my copilot is Pilot Officer Ambrose. We're about ten minutes from the defender Valiant, and you'll transfer from there to the airship Prince Edward, which will take you to London-Heathrow."
"That's brilliant, thanks." She switched her headset off the crew's channel and smiled at her mum and at the Doctor, who was toying compulsively with his radio controls. She batted his hand away and set them. "You catch that? We'll be home in about an hour."
"We will?" He blinked. "I mean, yeah, of course we will. Home." He grinned at her and then looked out the little window, where the North Sea was already rippling away beneath them. Rose settled back into her seat, but couldn't stop herself from snatching looks at him every few minutes, any time some part of her tried to insist this wasn't real.
The Valiant was buzzing with life, and an airship—presumably the Prince Edward—was already at station-keeping alongside it, the closed gangways dangling through the air like strands of spider silk. The bloated balloon of the blimp looked a bit silly next to the muscular outlines of the defender, but the Doctor was looking everywhere at once and judging nothing. "This is just like the Valiant," he said. "I mean, other Earth's Valiant, the one UNIT built. Where'd you get it?"
"United Nations Office of Homeworld Security," Rose said. "They oversee the combined multinational forces—basically what's left of the army that fought the Cybermen. They also technically have oversight over Torchwood, but it's more of a benign neglect thing most of the time."
"Homeworld Security," he echoed, and made a face. "I guess they can't all have clever acronyms, eh?"
A young officer in a crisp duty uniform came across the deck to salute them. "Ms. Prentice, Mrs. Tyler, Dr. Smith. The Prince Edward is experiencing some delays casting off; the captain has invited you to wait in the officer's mess while things get sorted out."
"That's lovely, thank you," Rose said, and winced when she got another salute. "You really don't have to do that, you know."
"Ma'am?" the officer—lieutenant commander's insignia, despite his age—blinked at her.
"Never mind," she sighed. "Lead the way, Commander."
As they went below decks, the Doctor leaned into her ear. "Ooh, look who's all that, eh? Salutes, officer's mess, ma'am..."
"It's not like I ask them to," Rose protested. "I just can't make them stop it." Somehow, that only made him grin wider.
The officer's mess was functional, as befitted a vessel of war, but there were touches that probably set it apart from the regular mess, like the comfy seat cushions and watercolors on the walls. A waiter brought round some tea and sandwiches, simple stuff, but Rose hadn't realized how hungry she was (or how thirsty—all that shifting from here to there caused dehydration) until the food was in front of her. She started attacking the tray immediately, leaving it up to Jackie to smile and say, "Thank you, airman. And tell the captain thanks for us, too."
The waiter blushed, and his arm twitched like he didn't know whether he was supposed to salute or not. "Yes, ma'am," he mumbled. "Of course, ma'am."
The Doctor stared at him as he left, then at Jackie. "What was that, then?"
"I don't know what you mean," Jackie said primly, selecting a sandwich.
"That," he gestured, "with the," and then mimicked the boy's star-struck expression. "Who are you people, and what have you done with the Tylers?"
Rose couldn't choke down her sandwich fast enough to protest verbally, so she settled for swatting him on the arm while she chewed. "Oi, we're no different than we were," she said when she could speak again. "Just got different jobs, is all."
"And before, I wasn't married to the Secretary for Homeworld Security," Jackie added.
The Doctor smiled while he fixed himself a cup of tea. "Really? Good on Pete, then. Couldn't think of a better person in the whole world to get that sorted."
"You only know like five people in this world," Rose pointed out.
The Doctor snorted. "Details, details. So Pete's the Secretary of Stuff That's Not UNIT and you're...what, his trophy wife?"
This was directed at Jackie, who made a face. "Don't be daft, Doctor, I've got a job of my own."
"She's got a foundation," Rose added.
"A foundation?" The Doctor looked worried. "Please tell me you're talking about a building..."
"No, no, it's a charitable thing," Jackie said. "We help children who lost their parents in the Cyberwar. Make sure they get an education, health care, that sort of thing. The Cybermen mostly ignored the kids, you know, so there's a lot of them who need the help, and I figured if I've got to put up with playing the part of That Woman--" this was the only way Jackie would refer to her late alternate self these days, probably some compromise between uncomprehending disgust and the urge not to speak ill of the dead-- "I might as well do something useful, you know?"
"She just likes to pretend she's Princess Diana," Rose added.
"Oh, stop it," Jackie said, without actually denying the charge. "I just wanted to do my bit, is all, and since I'm not a politician like Pete or a space detective like Rose or a soldier like..."
She hesitated like she'd said something wrong, and then Rose realized she had said something, sort of, but before the awkwardness could transform into a full-blown emotion like anger or sadness, the Doctor cleared his throat. "Well, I'm going to admit I'm surprised," he declared. "Never thought you had it in you to run a foundation."
"Oh, I don't run the place," Jackie said, sounding scandalized. "Who d'you think I am, an accountant? No, I've got people to do all the technical bits, with the money and all. I just, you know, do appearances and things. She was quite famous, That Woman, and everyone thinks I've had such a change of heart, the press even called me Scroogella for a bit."
The Doctor grinned. "Now, see, that I can picture just fine. That's brilliant, Jackie."
The lieutenant commander came back to let them know that the Prince Edward was ready to cast off, if they were ready, and so they finished their tea and sandwiches and back up to the flight deck. As they walked, the Doctor asked, "So what is it you do for Torchwood, besides loading yourself into a dimensional cannon a few times a week?"
She laughed. "It's not that exciting, trust me."
"Oh, don't listen to her," Jackie said. "She's famous, our Rose. Saved the world from the Sycorax herself this time round."
"Really?" He looked at her with raised eyebrows.
"The others helped," she protested. "My team—I'm a unit leader in the field division. The Sycorax in this universe decided we'd be easy pickings after the Cyberwar, but my team managed to chase them off. Didn't have to blow them up, either."
"They were on the telly," Jackie confided in a stage whisper. "The head of the Institute called them Earth's greatest defenders. They got medals."
"Stop it," Rose said, feeling herself blush. "It's not normally that exciting. There's lots of paperwork."
They were at the gangways, now, which swayed in the combined drafts of two sets of engines."Sounds like you've done well for yourselves," the Doctor said, sounding strangely quiet, as they stepped into the plastic tubes. "Both of you, I mean."
Rose seized his arm, balancing herself on the safety railing with the other. "And now you're here," she said. "And that makes everything even better."
He looked at her as if surprised by her confidence, then smiled. "Yeah?" he asked. "I mean, yeah. Yeah, it will be. It'll be brilliant." And he leaned in suddenly to kiss her again, and Rose didn't protest until Jackie started griping and poking them both in the back.