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In Another Life

Chapter Text

There's eternity in your eyes
The flesh and the bones they are only disguises across
A world to be lost
And beneath our opinions and beliefs
In another life...

***

The Doctor

What hurt the most, in retrospect, was that Rose still turned to the TARDIS in the end.

Oh, she kissed him, and that was nice, was lovely really, properly kissing Rose when neither of them were possessed or dying. His newly human body had some very firm things to say regarding the possibilities behind that kiss. But, as they walked away down the curve of beach on Dårlig ulv Stranden, Rose still turned back. Just once.

There it is, he thought to himself. There's the apex and crux of the matter. I'm not her Doctor, even if I am; he's her Doctor.

And he hated himself just a little.

Well, more than a little.

Well, a lot, actually.

He was a genocide -- twice -- did it count as three times if two of those times were the same race? Besides, as recent events had proved, he was quite capable of making others into soldiers and then sneering at them for being so. Jack -- poor Jack, so young and so desperate for his approval. He'd ruined Jack, he'd damned him and then rejected him. Martha was ready to brutalise the Earth because of the Doctor's actions. And he knew what would happen to Donna -- oh, how he knew.

Reaching back across the years they were hardly the only ones, either.

But he couldn't reconcile being himself with being the cast-off that his other self seemed to think he was. Or perhaps his other self didn't think that, not entirely anyway, since he knew he would never leave Rose in the hands of someone who would hurt her.

His head hurt. His human head.

"We'll have to walk down to town or get a lift or something," Jackie was saying, as they padded across the stretch of smooth glassy sand. "We can call your dad from there, luv."

"I don't mind the walk," Rose said, threading her fingers through his. Her hand was warm, and she hadn't shied from touching him; he could almost believe --

But she'd turned back.

"What's the name of that town?" Jackie asked. "The horrible little one."

"It's not horrible, Mum," Rose replied. "I think it's Sokndal."

Here he was on Earth, human, with what, forty years left? Fifty if he looked after himself.

"Doubt we'll be able to get a car. Was there a bus?" Jackie asked.

"Yes, Mum," Rose said resignedly, slowing so that Jackie began to pull ahead of them. "We can get the bus to Kristiansand, there's a zeppelinport there."

No screwdriver, no TARDIS. The lack of his TARDIS hurt, like a scab ripped off too soon, but it would heal over and scar up. He had Rose. That was what mattered.

"Can I kiss you again?" he asked nervously, when he was confident Jackie was far enough ahead to be out of earshot.

"You don't need to ask," Rose said, and tilted her face up to his. This kiss was even better. And -- yep, human body, all systems go. His single heart thudded in his chest.

"Oi, you two," Jackie called.

"Coming," Rose answered, and she smiled at him and broke into a run, pulling him after her.

They called Rose's father from Sokndal, reversed-charges, and he wired them enough to get rooms for the night in the small inn and tickets home the following morning. Money -- he'd have to get used to earning it, having it, spending it, at least until he could build himself a screwdriver. Which, he'd have to re-invent about five other tools to do that, but he should manage pretty nicely in a couple of months. A year at the outside.

"You're drifting," Rose said over dinner, catching his eye. "You all right?"

"It's new," he said. "Being human. Your lives aren't half complicated."

"You're tired," Rose decided. "Mum, the Doctor's tired. So'm I."

"Well, don't tell me," Jackie answered. "Get on and have a nap if you feel like it. Nothing much else to do in this place."

Rose sighed, gave him a knowing smile, and pushed her chair back. He followed her out of the restaurant, waving goodnight to Jackie, and across the street to their rooms.

Three rooms. Jackie had insisted.

But Rose unlocked her room and pulled him inside by his arm, leaned her whole body up against his and kissed him.

Stories wheeled through his mind about the power of kisses, all the old human myths and a handful of alien ones, not to mention alien laws; three kisses were a binding contract on some worlds.

Consider me bound, he thought, sliding an arm around her waist. She giggled and put hers around his neck, letting him take some of her weight.

"I've been waiting to do this," she said, sliding a hand under his untucked shirt. "Been looking for you for so long..."

"This -- " he gasped as sensation flooded him. "Oh -- wow -- "

"Missed you," she whispered against his throat. He knew theoretically what was happening; chemicals flooding the brain, glands sending signals, pheromones being flung around, muscles tensing. None of it explained why he was having trouble thinking beyond the next three seconds, beyond the skate of his fingers up her back, the urge to press her down onto the very convenient bed and -- well, and do something, human biology wasn't a mystery by any stretch but it wasn't precisely something he'd recently had much first-hand experience with.

Rose's hand slid down over his belt buckle and her other hand cupped his jaw as she brushed her fingers across his --

"WHOA," he said, jerking back, away from her. "Whoa, oh. Erm. Rose. Sorry -- "

"Are you all right?" she asked, though she didn't come any closer. "I didn't -- maybe you don't want -- "

"No, no no no, nono, I do want, ah." He rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry."

"Because if you don't it's okay, just because one of you...the old you -- maybe even he didn't..."

"No! Rose!" he said, then inhaled, trying to clear his mind. It was remarkably difficult. It wasn't that he'd never noticed her breasts before or anything, but they'd never been quite so...focus-able before. He inhaled again.

"It's a new body," he said quietly, not quite meeting her eyes. "A human body. It's not what I'm used to. Which is fine! It's fine," he reassured her, when she opened her mouth. "Very, very...fine. But it's a bit, sort of..."

Rose's eyes widened and her hands flew to her face.

"Oh, oh my god," she said, and he could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh. "You're a virgin!"

"I am not," he protested. "I'll have you know I -- "

No good could come of completing that sentence, so he didn't; he snapped his jaw shut, heard his teeth click.

"I just need," he said slowly, after a moment's consideration, "some time to catalogue my reactions."

Rose lifted an eyebrow.

"How much time?" she asked.

He stepped forward again and took both of her hands in his, lifting one to his face, the other to his shoulder. She smelled amazing -- not good, per se, but really really...human.

"Slow," he said. "Yes, yes to everything, yes to you, Rose, but...slow."

She smiled and pulled him close. "Slow, I can do."

"D'you remember when we danced?" he asked, releasing her wrists, resting his hands on her hips. She leaned against his chest.

"Yeah. I remember everything," she murmured, pressing her face into his shirt. He swayed with her, a different kind of dance, missing music, and also just a little missing Jack. Jack, who had been a sort of witness to what he'd had with Rose.

Now there were no witnesses. Just the two of them. Dancing.

After a minute or so she inhaled, and he was worried she'd say something awful, but then she laughed.

"I don't want to fuss, but you reek," she said affectionately.

He sniffed the air. "Is that me? I thought it was just the way things smelled to humans."

"Some of it's probably me," she said, and stepped back. "We should wash. You'll feel better after."

"Wash...together?" he asked, half-hopeful, half-terrified.

"The showers are pretty small," she replied, digging in her pocket and passing him a key, kissing him again in the process. "Go. Wash. I'll see you when we're both less foul."

He looked down at the key, then up at her. "I do mean yes, Rose."

"I know you do. But you're here now. You're staying. Aren't you?"

She looked really as though she didn't know whether he would. And hell, he wasn't sure if he could live for forty or fifty years on one planet, but he wouldn't leave her. Not his Rose. Not ever again. Not even if she thought he was second-best, not even if the sight of her turning away towards the TARDIS was burned in his memory.

"Course I am," he said cheerfully. "Right. Washing. Then..."

"Dancing," she supplied.

"Yeah. Ah, okay." And he found himself in the hallway, unlocking the door to his own room, listening for the sound of water running from the room next to his.

The water felt surprisingly good on his skin, human skin, pale and covered in freckles. He did a mole-check; yep, still had the mole. That was nice. He'd have missed the mole if it was gone. If he had to choose a body to be stuck in for the rest of his life, this was a pretty good one, better than most he'd had. Never going to be ginger now, though.

The thoughts flitted through his mind as he stood under the cool water, letting it slick down his hair and run off his joints -- shoulder, elbow, knuckle, knee. It ran into his eyes and stung a little, tasted slightly bitter in his mouth. He could just about separate out the chemical components of it in his head if he tried, but a human tongue had its limitations.

Rose's tongue, pink and damp, curled over her lip in concentration. Rose's hands...

He resolutely shut off that line of thinking, because alone in a shower it wasn't going to get him anywhere good.

He toweled off his hair, which did feel brilliant -- clearly there were many benefits to a human body. He studied himself in the mirror for a minute before tying the towel around his waist. He should see if the suit and shirt could be salvaged; he hadn't any other clothes, after all.

When he walked out into the bedroom proper, Rose was sitting on his bed. In a towel. And very little else. Nothing else, in fact.

"Was beginning to worry you'd drowned," she said. "How'd you like it?"

"Brilliant," he answered, eyes drifting down to the swell of her breasts beneath the towel. Really, if he wasn't careful this was going to become a fixation.

"Doctor," she said. "Up here."

He felt a blush -- a blush! a real human blush! -- as he dragged his eyes up her throat, over her mouth, met her gaze. She was still smiling.

He kissed her as an apology, then kissed her to show that it wasn't all he was thinking about, and then kissed her because she had her hand on the back of his neck and wouldn't let him go, and then kissed her as she was lying back and pulling him down (sweet relief -- bending over her had started to give his brand-new back a cramp) and kissed her to say thank-you for her hand flat and warm on his stomach and kissed her to taste the last kiss and kissed her because it was fun and kissed her because it was good and then decided for a change to kiss her just below her jaw. Down her throat. Right between her clavicles and just above the soft pale towel. She had already hooked her thumbs in his towel and shoved it off to the floor, sometime when he was busy memorising the taste of her skin.

"Doctor," she breathed, and her hand slid down his hip, nails scratching the small of his back lightly. "I thought -- "

"Bored with slow," he said, and she laughed, which meant he had to kiss her again. This was fun, they were both laughing, Rose ruffling his wet hair and arching her back to help him slide her towel off. She hooked one leg around his hip, letting him explore her body with fingertips and lips and tongue. Cataloguing her reactions was really much more fun than cataloguing his. Soft breathy sighs when he nuzzled her shoulder, moans when he kissed her breasts, a short keening gasp when he ran his hand experimentally down her belly. And her hips, lovely hips, beautiful hips, pressing against his until he realised that some of the moans were coming from his own mouth.

She shoved him and he tensed for a brief moment, because she was shoving his shoulder, pushing him off, but then she gripped his hip and pulled with her other hand and he was underneath her, looking up at Rose. His Rose, who he would have torn worlds apart to get to. He had killed a sun once just so he could say goodbye to her.

Goodbye, and something else -- he'd only said it once, and he'd said it to her just that afternoon on the beach, and it didn't come any easier to him now, but as she arched and moaned and oh god, wonderful human bodies, he pulled her down and whispered in her ear, over and over.

I love you, I love you, I love you, as if that would anchor her to him, as if it would make her believe he was her Doctor, as much as he believed she was his Rose.

***

"So," Rose said, after he'd sufficiently caught his breath to be able to focus on things like 'hearing' and 'speech'. "Slow, huh?"

He pressed his nose to the crown of her head and inhaled. "Was that too fast?"

"No," she said, fingers tracing imaginary circles on his shoulder. "I'm glad."

"Good."

"I thought maybe you were scared."

"Me, scared?" he scoffed.

"I can see through you, remember?" she asked, propping herself up on her elbows -- elbows on his chest. His body for her; body and soul.

Except that she'd turned around.

"Should we pick you out a name?" she asked, looking down at him. "Do you want a name? If you're staying?"

Did he?

"Names have power," he said. "You name something, that gives you power over it. Remind me to tell you about the Carrionites. Names...names can be good. But I've sort of already got one."

"Yeah, but like...you're human now. Can get complicated, not having a name."

"D'you want me to?"

She shook her head. "Doesn't matter to me. You're my Doctor," she added, running a fingertip along his eyebrows. It tickled.

"I'll think about it," he said. "I dunno, I can't see myself with a name. Not a name-name. There's always John, I suppose. I don't feel very much like a John Smith, though. Not for the rest of my life, anyway. What other sorts of names, d'you think?"

"What about Michael?" she suggested.

"Oh, no, I don't feel at all like a Michael. Or a Robert. Can't abide the name Robert."

Rose laughed. "Fine, not Robert then. Should I keep going?"

"Later," he said, closing his eyes. "Later, maybe."

"Later," she echoed sleepily, and it would have been blissful, brilliant to fall asleep like this with Rose, except then there was a thudding on the door.

"ROSE?" Jackie yelled. "ROSE, I THOUGHT YOU WERE IN THE OTHER ROOM. AND WHERE'S THE DOCTOR GONE?"

"Blimey, it's Mum," Rose said, starting up off him (ow, palm in his solar plexus, ow) and tumbling off the bed, hiding behind it. She made a desperate motion at him and he realised what she wanted.

"SORRY, JACKIE," he called, climbing out of the bed and fumbling for his -- towel! hurrah! -- and answering the door with it half-wrapped around him. "Sorry, I, ah...Rose...is not here."

Jackie peered past him into the room. "Well, where's she gone, then?"

"Where's she gone, where's she gone -- down the shops? Maybe?"

"Don't be daft, there aren't any shops still open. Which reminds me," she said, shoving a plastic bag into his chest, ow again. "Got you some clothes. Looks like you're in need of 'em," she added, looking him up and down. Jackie was, if nothing else, a reassuring constant. "Don't blame me for the shirts, it was all the gift shop had. D'you reckon she went to the pub for a pint? Did she have a good nap?"

He beamed. "Yes. I think she probably had a great nap."

There was a squeak from behind the bed, which he tried to cover with a coughing fit.

"Well. If you see her, let her know I have some clothes for her as well," Jackie said. "Breakfast tomorrow at eight, we have a bus to catch."

"Yes, yes, right," he said, and was closing the door when she stopped him.

"Oh, and Rose?" she called past him.

There was a resigned sigh, and Rose put her head up over the edge of the bed.

"Yes, Mum?" she asked, in a very small voice.

"Try not to wear him out?"

Blushing was really something he was going to have to get used to, he suspected. Jackie pressed another bag into his hands, presumably the clothing she'd bought for Rose, and winked at him as she walked away.

His bag had a pair of khaki trousers in, as well as a t-shirt with a giant viking helmet printed on it. Rose laughed herself sick until she opened hers. She held up the shirt reading "I <3 DIKES" and stared in horror.

"Swap you," she offered.

"I do like dikes," he said, pulling it on. "I mean, does anyone have a particular dislike for them? They're very useful. Why wouldn't you like a dike? Let alone know enough people who didn't like them that you'd have to proclaim your fondness?"

Rose started laughing again, and he had to kiss her to stop it, and then of course the shirts had to come off again.

***

"Dyke means what?"

***

Rose Tyler

Rose woke to the sound of thick, troubled breathing; for a second in the dark she didn't know where she was, but she reached out and there was the Doctor, real and solid -- some form of him, anyway. Part of him. The Doctor, human and here with her.

"Doctor," she whispered, realising the sound was coming from him. He was asleep, gasping, not crying but drawing in huge labored breaths, as if he were running. "Doctor, wake up."

He flailed awake with a shout -- earning them a thump on the wall they shared with her mum's room. Rose promised herself a holiday somewhere when they got home where she wouldn't have a bloody chaperone. But then the Doctor was gasping, looking around him wildly, and she pulled him close.

"It's okay," she said, holding his face inches from hers. "It's all right, I'm here."

"He's coming," the Doctor said in a whisper. "He's going to kill me -- "

"Shh, no. Nobody's coming, you're safe."

He drew in another ragged breath and seemed to pull himself together. "Safe?"

"Safe. Look, see?" she said, making sure he focused on her face. "Safe."

He collapsed against her shoulder and she remembered what the Doctor, the other Doctor, had told her -- that this was him as she'd first known him, born in war and blood. But he was human -- and he dreamed.

Night terrors.

"He was coming to get me," he said, sounding broken. She didn't know who he meant; maybe Davros, maybe a Dalek, maybe some monster he'd encountered long after they parted. Or before they met.

"It's all right. It's another world, a new world," she soothed, trying not to panic. Even her Doctor -- but he was her Doctor -- but there was another...even the Doctor she'd first known had never been this vulnerable. Not in front of her.

"Promise," he demanded, his hands clutching hard enough to hurt.

"Promise," she said. "I promise."

After that his breathing slowed, his frantic heart (only one heart) evening out to a steady beat. She was almost certain he'd fallen asleep again when he spoke.

"Don't go," he said.

"I'm not."

"Talk to me?"

She smiled and kissed his hair. "What about?"

"Anything. Tell me about this world," he said softly. "Parallel world. There are parallel people in it. People I might know."

Rose stared at the ceiling, thought about it. "I dunno, it's hard to remember -- sometimes I get them mixed up a bit. Mickey's -- gone, of course. Mum told you about my little brother Tony. You'll love him, he's brilliant."

"He can't possibly be brilliant," the Doctor said. "He's what, not even a year old? He can't even talk yet."

She smacked the back of his head lightly. "Oi, that's my brother you're insulting."

"Well, he can't."

"He doesn't need to. You watch, even you aren't immune to his charms. Bet you anything. Bet you a pound."

"Haven't got a pound," he muttered.

"And there's Dad, you liked him, he's -- turned out brilliant. Sort of sneaky, but brilliant. He reminds me of Jack sometimes."

The Doctor stiffened.

"But there's no Jack," she continued, curious. He sucked in a breath. "Guess you never ran into him. Or he might be around, hopping through time."

"Jack was going to kill me," he said. "In my dream."

"Jack would never do that," Rose replied, sharper than she meant.

"I did -- I did horrible things to him," the Doctor whispered. "He can't die...not ever...and it's my fault because the Master killed him so many times, and I told Jack he was wrong, Rose, I said he was wrong."

Rose kissed his hair again. "And I suppose the way he smiled whenever you looked at him, that was just an act to lull you into complacency, huh?"

"Jack was going to kill me for every time he's died and I tried to tell him he could only kill me once -- "

"Shh. Sh. There's no Jack here."

He was silent for another long stretch, but he slowly relaxed again.

"If there were, we'd be getting way less sleep," she added, and he burst into quiet, hysterical laughter.

***

She felt as though if she left the Doctor alone for a minute, he might disappear; where he would go, she couldn't think, but wasn't that like...that thing with the cat in the lead box or something, where until you looked at it you didn't know if it was really there. And there was always the possibility -- this was the Doctor after all -- that he would simply wander off.

Still, he was quiet over breakfast, quiet in the bus and quiet in the zeppelinport while they waited for their flight. Rose, secure that Mum was watching him, slipped away for a few minutes and called Dad.

"Your mum says you've brought the Doctor back with you," he said.

"Not quite," she replied, hating herself for saying it. "It's complicated, but he's...close to. He's close-to and human, Dad. I dunno what to do."

"Well, feeding and dressing him seems to have worked so far."

"Yeah..." Rose bit her lip. "He's really...he's so sad. And he told me he needed me, but I dunno how to fix him. I thought maybe..."

"What?" her father asked. She could hear in his tone that he wanted to help, wanted to please her; even after all this time, he still seemed to be trying to make up for dying in her world, for never having been a father in this one before. If Dad could take her into his home and his life, surely...

"Can you set him up a lab at Torchwood?" she asked instinctively. "Somewhere for him to tinker? I think he'd like that."

"Nothing easier."

"And he needs somewhere to stay. A bedroom. Um." She bit her lip. "A bedroom for, you know. Us."

"There's that one on the garden -- "

"No," she said, thinking about the night terrors. "Somewhere high up and safe. Not too many windows."

"What's happened to him, Rose?" her father asked.

"I'll explain when we get there," she answered, because she didn't know how to tell him, or even what to tell him.

"Are you happy?"

"Yes," she said. Maybe it was a lie. "I am."

The Doctor brightened when he saw her returning, stood and moved towards her like a puppy, like the world's biggest puppy who'd just been kicked around a little.

"Just calling Dad," she said, waving the phone briefly before tucking it in her pocket. "Ready to go home?"

His face closed up, walled off. After a brief second of consideration on how to repair this, she punched him in the shoulder. He looked offended, but a smile broke through after a second.

"Sure," he said genially. "Lead the way. Allons-y!"

***

"No...why would I have a passport?"

***

The Doctor

So many bits of paper, human beings needed. A certificate to show that you were born, a card to tell you where you went to school, a card to tell you that you could drive a car, paper slips of money to tell you (and everyone else) that you had power, a card to say you could borrow the library's books, a photo in a pouch to tell you where you worked, a passport to tell you where you came from or were going.

Well, he hadn't been born, hadn't gone to school on earth, didn't have a car (or a name), was entirely powerless, had almost been eaten in a library once, had no job, and didn't come from anywhere. Actually, technically, he came from a hand in a jar. Fortunately, Jackie and Rose had money, and Jackie surprisingly knew exactly how to offer a bribe.

"So," he said, gazing out the window of the zeppelin as it floated past Hamburg, on its way overland to the channel crossing -- apparently a straight shot over open water was reserved for express flights. "Torchwood, eh?"

Rose rested her chin on his shoulder, nodding a little. "Been there about a year now. I brought Dad with me -- he's not much on aliens -- "

" -- isn't he going to be pleased to see me," the Doctor murmured.

"He'll be all right. You're family now. Like Mum and me."

He smiled.

"Anyway, he's a dead cert with accounting and he gets the tech, so they made him a VP or something. He controls where the money goes, so if he doesn't like the way something's going..." she made a gentle chopping motion. "No funding. Torchwood hasn't designed or repaired a weapon since we came onboard."

"That's good," he said earnestly. "That's very good."

"I think so. This Torchwood was never after you anyway; dunno where you ended up in this universe, but it wasn't Earth. It's just meant to investigate...you know, strange stuff, and protect humanity. We even moved out of the tower at Canary Wharf. After Dad and Mickey stopped Torchwood's ghost shifts, it lost some of its funding. It's mostly just a research station now."

"Researching what?"

"This and that. Biotechnology, physics, alien tech. This year, before the stars started to go out, we'd actually recovered a Knarf scout ship and helped 'em get it back in the air."

"Knarf? Really?" he asked, turning to her. "Love the Knarf. They talk entirely through nose-whistling."

"So we found out," Rose said dryly. "But one of our guys is a bit of a linguist on the side and he bought a nose flute and we got on all right, in the end."

"Brilliant, you are," the Doctor said. "Look at you. Making a case for Torchwood for me, aren't you?"

"A little bit. I just think...you'll like this Torchwood. I want you to give it a chance."

"For you," he said, and kissed her.

"Enough snogging, tea's on!" Jackie called from across the aisle, indicating a young man pushing a trolley along. In a feat of ego only to be achieved by the human race, the trolley dangled from a miniature zeppelin. The Doctor cocked an eyebrow at it.

"Biscuit, sir?" the man asked nervously.

***

The journey was uneventful, but floating along overland on a zeppelin took a lot longer than going direct, or even than an airplane would on the same route; by the time they touched down he was exhausted and a bit dizzy from so long in the gently swaying passenger carriage.

Fortunately they were met by a car outside the zeppelinport and it wasn't long before they were pulling up the gravel drive to the Tyler mansion. Rose's father met them at the door and herded them inside, never ceasing talking, but asking no questions and really not saying anything at all.

The Doctor was grateful, and then a little ashamed of his gratitude, that all he had to do was listen with half an ear and follow when he was led to a bedroom. He dropped onto the bed with a groan, hardly noticing that Rose was in the room, and fell asleep with his shoes still on.

He woke briefly when he felt hands on his body, but he smelled Rose -- soap and some cheap perfume she fancied -- and only moved to twist his head to the side, settling his shoulders. He felt her slide the shoes off his feet and then undo his trousers -- "Lift up a minute" -- and he did, and then something was warm on top of him and against his side.

Unconsciously, somewhere, he'd realised what he'd done had scared Rose, waking in the night. That evening, though the Daleks and Jack and Martha and the Master all raged in his head, he managed not to move or moan or shout in his sleep. Davros cut into him with those bladed fingertips he had, one cut for every Dalek dead, and with his other hand one gouge against his skin for every Time Lord. There was no pain, but he counted as he cut until the Doctor was sure he'd run mad.

One hundred and five. One hundred and six. One hundred and seven.

The second time he woke he was shaking, but he hadn't made a sound; Rose, curled against his shoulder, was still asleep. He lay and pulled in deep, slow breaths until the shaking subsided.

He dozed only, in the early hours, dropping off to the sound of Rose breathing, always half-waking just as dreams threatened, even dreams that looked sort of nice, really. The third time he woke completely was from a dream where he was standing on the beach in Norway with Rose, or rather he was in the TARDIS and she was standing on the beach, but there was a thin lens, almost a sheen of oil in the air, and he stepped through it to end his days with her.

And then he woke up and it was true, like the way genies in old stories twisted wishes to turn them into curses.

Also, he had an erection.

Traitorous human body. Unreliable, unpredictable, unreasoning; there was no earthly inspiration for --

"Morning," Rose mumbled, blinking sleep from her eyes as she pushed up on one elbow. He shifted under the blanket, turning to study her. "Sleep well?"

"Like the dead," he said cheerfully.

"Can I kiss you?" she asked.

"You don't have to ask," he answered. She smiled and leaned over him, kissed him gently, slid her hand down his chest and laughed when he twisted, half-bucking into her touch, half wanting to turn away.

"Don't," she whispered. "It's all right."

"I don't -- " he tried to think of a way he could say it; the feeling of loss, loss of his world, loss of his race, loss of control. It was worth it, but...

So instead he said, "Let me," and pushed her down and kissed her, holding onto her hands, losing himself, oh, losing himself for a brief minute -- something he hadn't known was possible in any incarnation -- thinking of nothing but here and now with Rose.

No wonder Jack, damaged and unhappy Jack, had spent most of his mortal life seeking this. One or two moments of oblivion, given up to someone worthy of love, someone who thought you were.

***

They gave him a lab.

By their standards it was state of the art, and he had to admit that you wouldn't think someone who had formerly made fizzy drinks for a living would be able to put something like this together. On the other hand, this was Torchwood -- something that had made Rose anxious for him, but the low isolated building was so far removed from his memories of the other London's Torchwood ("It's law offices now," Pete explained) that if it weren't for the big "T" on the lobby wall he'd never have known. Rose's hand was evident in much of the design, which only made sense -- his clever Rose, building a machine to find him through the solid walls of reality, of course she'd dominate the place.

The lab itself wasn't that impressive in comparison to what he was used to, just a large room with a lot of flat space, two computers, a rack of primitive human tools that were little better than interestingly shaped sticks. But the point wasn't what was in it, at least not to him. He was certain, though he no longer had the advantage of background telepathy to know, that they thought he was in awe of the lab. Rose's father hesitantly showed him the tools, the top-level computers, the desk at the front of the lab complex, staffed by a very nice woman named Mary Ellen, and seemed pleased when he studied everything intensely.

He ran a hand over one of the smooth, empty counter-tops. No, as workshops went it wasn't something to put a former Time Lord in awe. The awe was -- as always -- for humanity; they could be brutal and horrible and cruel, but there were such people in the world who would give him the best of theirs, for no real reason. Well, he supposed Pete was doing it out of love for his child, and Rose herself out of love for him, but when you came down to it they didn't have to. Rose must know there was no need to buy him.

He felt her arm around his waist, her cheek pressed against his shoulder.

"If I go away for a few hours, you promise not to disappear?" she asked softly. "Promise to stay here?"

He almost asked Where would I go? but some human instinct stopped him. A year ago he would have, even six months ago. No thought to what it meant to her, even with Rose.

"Nowhere I'd rather be," he said instead. "I'll stay here."

"Good." She kissed his cheek from behind. "I have work in the hangar; you can find me there if you need me. I'll bring you lunch, how's that?"

"Yes..." he twisted to smile at her. Her father coughed.

"If there's anything you need that you can't find here, just ask Mary Ellen. Pick up the phone and hit five, it'll dial directly to her desk," he said, gesturing at the pristine white telephone mounted on the wall.

"She's got my mobile number," Rose added.

"I'm fine," he said. "I'll just...tinker a bit."

And then he was alone in the huge white workspace with the funny-shaped sticks.

Someone had left a packing carton near the door and he annexed it first-thing, filling it slowly with tools he was certain he would never need, composing a mental list of things he ought to ask for. Some of the tools were so archaic he wasn't even certain what they were for at first, though a few minutes' thought sorted most of them. He kept the shiny spanner set, though he wasn't sure when he'd use it; the very first time he'd ever come to Earth and encountered a spanner he'd thought it was some kind of good-luck charm. Couldn't hurt.

After an hour of shifting things around he had several piles of tools spread out on the benches and one box full-to-overflowing with useless things. He crossed his arms over his chest and studied them critically.

And then he simply...stopped.

His work hadn't really accomplished anything other than rearranging piles. It would take too long and too much energy to build anything. He couldn't trust his human hands not to muck things up, at least not yet. And the walls and the telephone were all still so white, and the metal on everything was shiny and silver, and the computer and cords and countertops were matte black, the computers humming softly. He didn't know what he was doing here.

He sank down onto the (white) chair provided, hands clasping the armrests lightly, and stopped thinking entirely. It was surprisingly easy. He simply sat down and stopped. Because what was the point? Why build himself a sonic screwdriver anyway? He was supposed to be landbound, the other him had practically told him he was imprisoned here, throwing Rose to him like an afterthought. Too dangerous; born in blood and revenge; no different from the man Rose had first known, even after the years he'd spent becoming better, becoming more. He didn't deserve the stars. He might destroy them.

When Rose returned she banged the door open cheerfully, which gave him enough time to start up and look like he'd been doing something very important with a ratchet and a metal flange.

"You've made progress," she said, gesturing at the piles of tools everywhere. "They say genius is messy. Sandwich?"

That afternoon she took him on a tour of the building complex. Rose worked in a huge high-ceilinged hangar off the lab building; roughly half was walled off with big sheets of plastic, and the remaining half was split again. In this part, near the door, technology in various states of progress and repair grew and changed under the hands of technicians and scientists; some of it seemed pure human ingenuity, but other portions were obviously scavenged alien tech. Beyond, doctors moved about and conferred in small groups, washed their hands at a stainless steel sink or gave soft orders to nurses in blue scrubs.

He peered beyond the plastic curtain into the other half of the hangar and found, incongruously, a half-built biplane. Rose joined him at the slit in the curtains.

"Nobody ever thought of airplanes," she said, and he turned an incredulous look on her. "S'true. Zeppelins for the rich, trains and ships for the rest."

"Kind of...small for a passenger plane."

"Well, it's a prototype, innit? It's not like I could tell them how to build a plane. It's no end frustrating, actually, everyone hates the fact that nobody knows why it flies. We'll get there, though," she added confidently.

He could tell she wanted him to be impressed, and in a way he was; they were making leaps and bounds, and they weren't cheating. They were doing it naturally, with their own brains, striving against the universe to harness it. There were physicists experimenting with time and space, engineers exploring technology, doctors grappling with the human condition...all well and good. Even if it was...Torchwood.

But, in all, his opinion was a distant, disaffected analysis more than anything. He had to put on a face to prove to her that he had faith in her, that he did think they were doing great things.

Then he heard a laugh and a cheer from where the doctors were working and Rose took his hand, threading her fingers through his and announcing, "It's Lisa. Come see."

***

Ianto Jones

Lisa loved visiting the labs, and he knew that because she was always happier after a visit, but some days it was all Ianto could do to force her out of bed and into the car. The thing was that she loved it once she was there, but all she seemed to remember later was the pain, of which there was no insignificant amount. It didn't make for easy work, and it caused a lot of fights and flung crockery, but he'd just learned to buy the cheap stuff and, after all, variety was the spice of life. Every week they had a different pattern of plates. You had to take your joy where you could find it.

Officially he didn't work for Torchwood anymore, but when Lisa was in with the doctors or the technicians he mostly mooched around, poking at things, listening to people talk. Nobody ever stopped him from going anywhere; the few that remembered him from the tower at Canary Wharf even answered his questions. He was a researcher, after all, and his mental notes were tidy enough that he was beginning to understand the grand arc and scheme of what was happening at Torchwood now that it had been pared down to a collection of geeky geniuses. Wandering had proved educational.

Today, though, he was by Lisa's side. The interface installed in her body was complete and all that was really left was to plug in the prosthetic and, in the words of one of the techs, see if the wetware recognised the hardware.

"This shouldn't hurt," Dr. Harper said, carrying the prosthetic carefully, like a baby. It looked -- not real, it was all plastic and metal, but they'd dyed the plastic to match her skin tone and the metal was a dull burnished copper colour, hardly catching the light. Lisa watched it with huge dark eyes, this folded arm in Dr. Harper's hands.

"Right, gorgeous, let's see about this hand job, shall we?" Dr. Harper continued, and Lisa managed a grin for the weak joke. She reached up with her right hand and pulled the shirt back across her left shoulder, where the copper of the interface implant gleamed. When she moved it twitched slightly; the joint rolled smoothly around in the socket, though there wasn't anything for it to move yet.

"Just hold still."

Lisa bit her lip and her hand clenched painfully around Ianto's as Dr. Harper eased the joint of the arm into the socket. He shifted it, aligning all the plugs and chips, and then pressed gently.

"Brace her," he said, and Ianto leaned against her right shoulder and put a reassuring hand on her arm. "And..."

There was a soft click and a whirr, and Lisa looked down in shock.

The fingers of the prosthetic hand flexed into a fist.

"That's it?" she said, still staring.

"That's it," Dr. Harper grinned.

"It's my hand," she whispered. "Ianto, look -- I can feel it! It's my hand!"

She stood up and stretched her arm out straight, her breathing shallow and quick.

"Don't push it!" Dr. Harper snapped. "You don't know -- "

"It's my hand!"

"Lisa, you're going to do yourself -- " and Dr. Harper's mouth snapped shut as she turned and giggled and threw the backhand-V sign at him.

Ianto burst out laughing and the techs working nearby looked up and Lisa waved at all of them, which was when the cheering started.

"Oh my god, it works!" she shouted, and Ianto pulled her close and felt the prosthetic wrap around his neck. Over her shoulder he could see people running from all directions, coming to see what the fuss was about. Even Rose Tyler was there, pushing through the crowd with a dark-haired man behind her.

"Lisa!" Ms. Tyler called. Lisa let go of him and turned.

"Rose, look!" she said, and spread her arms. Ms. Tyler hugged her too, then stepped back and pulled the cybernetic hand close to study it.

"Long lifeline," she said, grinning. "How does it feel?"

"I can feel -- I can feel you touching it. It's amazing," Lisa said, and Ianto bit his lip because he hadn't cried yet and starting now would be stupid.

"Well," the man behind Ms. Tyler observed. "That's a hand and a half. Can't have too many hands, in my opinion."

The blonde woman elbowed him gently, grinning, and then made a startled face. "Oh! Lisa, this is the Doctor. Doctor, this is Lisa Hallett. Lisa's playing guinea pig for us, she's been helping us test a new -- "

"Neural-interface bionic-cybernetic prototype prosthetic, I see," he said. Ms. Tyler glanced at him; Ianto stepped forward and wrapped a protective arm around Lisa's waist.

"And this is Ianto, her bodyguard," Dr. Harper added.

"He means boyfriend," Lisa said, smiling up at him. "Very, very forbearing boyfriend."

The Doctor's gaze fell on him, a look of faint recognition passing over his face. Ms. Tyler smiled at the man and nodded, then turned back to Ianto.

"Dr. Harper needs to do some tests," she said. "And I've got to herd this one back to his lab. Come with us, Ianto?"

"Yes, Ms. Tyler," he replied. He gave Lisa a parting hug, glanced in her face to be certain she was okay with him leaving, and shot Dr. Harper his usual warning look. Harper had a bad habit of flirting with his patients.

"I've been meaning to talk to you," Ms. Tyler said, as they walked down the long corridor that ran from the central research facility to the office and labs complex. "There just hasn't been time."

"I imagine the stars going out generally takes precedence," he said, smiling.

"Somewhat, but there's no point in saving the Earth if you ignore everyone on it, eh?" she replied. "You can call me Rose, by the way," she added kindly. She led them out through the front foyer and into the grassy parkland across the road, down a footpath he took Lisa walking on after their appointments sometimes. "I'd like you to tell us a bit about Lisa's accident. As a favour."

"Strange favour," he said.

"The Doctor would like to know."

He glanced over her head at the man, who was staring at her, and shrugged.

"Not much to tell. When the Cybermen attacked -- "

"You've been with Torchwood for some time," the Doctor interrupted.

"Yes, sir. I was, anyway. Junior researcher."

"Doctor," she said warningly. He shot her an odd, apologetic look.

That's you told, Ianto thought.

"Go on," she prompted.

"You know Torchwood wasn't affected. We -- they -- didn't use the Cybus network. Too much classified information on the channels. So they mobilised. They..." He took a deep breath. "They said I was essential staff, that I had to stay behind to man the tower with some others. They sent Lisa out with the rest. To fight. She was lucky," he said, trying to summon a smile. Some days it was hard. "During the fight they only clipped her. Left arm. The nerves were dead, the cells were dying and there were too many injured..."

"So they amputated," the Doctor said softly.

"There wasn't any choice at the time. Dr. Harper said they would have had to even if it hadn't been an emergency. After that...when the Ghost Shift started -- "

" -- it was here, too," Rose said to the Doctor, which was strange. "Parallel Torchwood."

"Right," the Doctor nodded.

"I lost my taste for Torchwood. I got out. Anyway, Lisa needed me."

"Good idea," the Doctor put in.

"As it turns out."

He glanced at Rose, who was making the same sympathetic face he usually got; he half-hated it, but her sympathy was the reason Lisa was here, getting a new arm. A new arm. God.

"But you," he said to her. "After Mr. Tyler put a stop to the ghost shift, you came and found us. You said we could give her a new arm. And Dr. Harper said -- and today," he finished, feeling utterly incoherent. She rubbed his arm. The Doctor didn't look sympathetic, which was a surprise. He looked devastated -- as if their grief was his, too.

"Where do you work now?" she asked.

"Temping, mainly. Can't hold down a regular job with -- not that I mind," he added hurriedly. "But you must know how often she's here, and she couldn't drive herself."

The Doctor wasn't looking at her; he didn't even seem to be looking at Ianto, but rather past him, or maybe through him to some other place and time.

"Jack swore by him," he said -- and then he did look at Ianto, dead in the eye, and not only did he see Ianto but he saw all of him. Which was even more terrifying.

"Ianto," Rose said carefully, "How would you like to come back to Torchwood?"

Chapter Text

The Doctor

When they went back inside, Rose pulled him gently into a little conference room off the medical section, where Dr. Harper and a team of technicians were going over the specs for Lisa Hallett's new arm. The Doctor shared a pot of tea with Harper while Rose sat down with the technicians and began asking questions.

"Good day's work," the Doctor ventured, and Harper gave him a tired smile.

"Yeah, s'all right," he said, fingers turning his tea mug around and around. "It'll go easier on her now, at least. She's been aching for a new arm. Fifteen surgeries. Wouldn't put myself through it for less, tell you that for free."

"How'd you come across her? Ianto Jones said Rose found her."

"Rose finds all of us," Harper replied. "I think she saw a news story about her or something. Anyway, Lisa's still got a bit of a road ahead of her. Specially since it's hard to hide a metal hand."

"Why would she hide it?"

Harper frowned at him. "It's a prosthetic."

"So? Plenty of people with prosthetics. Go about one-armed, I assume you get used to a bit of staring," the Doctor observed.

"They'll do more than stare if she flashes it about." Harper's frown deepened. "Where've you been living then?"

"I...travel a lot," the Doctor said. "Used to, anyway."

"But you heard about London. The Cybermen. The factories? All over the world?"

"Yeah, I was -- here for that. Sort of. I took off pretty quickly after."

"Lots of people did. Since then, anyway, there's been a backlash." Harper tapped his ear. "Against earsets and such. Some nutters won't even use mobiles anymore."

"And prosthetics," the Doctor guessed.

"Big hate for prosthetics, especially the robotics end. Torchwood's the only one who'll go near the stuff. S'why I came here. People don't like it. Reminds them of the Cybermen, I guess."

"And you?"

Harper glanced away. "Lost my wife Katie to the Cybermen, so they haven't got much room to talk with me. But I don't see how a bunch of sociopaths in metal suits means we can't make peoples' lives better."

"Sorry," the Doctor murmured. Harper shrugged.

"I'm not the only one. Couldn't go near the arm myself at first, but it gets easier. And it doesn't mean we should stop, y'know. Just...tread carefully."

"Wise man."

"Ta." Harper sipped his tea. "Rose says you're a doctor, I think? Medical?"

"Do a bit of it, but it's not really my specialty. I'm more...all-round," the Doctor admitted.

"Tech?"

"Yeah, some of that."

"Well, you must be all right if Rose brought you in," he said.

"You trust her that far?"

"Don't you?" Harper asked. "The Peoples' Republic might control Torchwood from the outside but that woman runs this show, and you'd do well to remember it. Isn't a soul in this building from the cleaning woman to the toppest-top-secret biotechnologist that wasn't vetted by Rose Tyler before they came on. Not a few of 'em'd go to the moon for her. Me included."

The Doctor nodded. "Rose has that effect."

"Doctor?" Rose said, breaking away from the technicians. "Dinner?"

"Yup," the Doctor said. "Good to meet you, Dr. Harper."

"See you round," Harper said, and carried his mug over to where the technicians were babbling excitedly over a series of readouts.

***

When Rose offered Ianto a job as the Doctor's lab assistant, the Doctor had watched his face, glad the young man wasn't overly grateful or enthusiastic. He'd accepted the offer with a sort of wary determination that said he knew he could survive without them and didn't have to place all his faith or trust in either of them just yet.

The Doctor wondered where Lisa Hallett was, in the universe he'd come from. Dead, probably.

He knew what Rose was doing, even if Ianto didn't: she was giving him a puppy to look after, someone other than her to care about. Someone from this world, someone whose experience of the alien and strange was less than hers. Sort of a Companion, he thought, because whatever Rose was she wasn't that anymore. If anything he was hers.

Ianto seemed clever enough in any universe. Last time Jack was on board the TARDIS, as they'd been preparing to drop him off in Cardiff, the Captain had provided an enthusiastic and quite overinformative resume of Ianto's skills and attributes. Rose was probably right (she usually was) and he needed another person about. Ianto Jones seemed to fit as well as anyone would.

The next morning, on the other hand, he woke with a sort of dread in his stomach. If there was someone else in his lab all day, that meant he'd have to at least pretend to do something. And while he was fully confident in his ability to build a sonic screwdriver from component parts, he also felt...

Numb. Like there was something cutting him off -- the silence where he used to hear the universe was bad enough, but now it felt like he wasn't actually touching anything either. He felt clumsy and tired, and his fingers slipped on the cutlery at breakfast, dropping it a couple of times. Rose didn't notice; she was talking to her father about phase regulation. Funny old world.

Jackie just winked at him, like it was amusing, and kept on with feeding Tony. It occurred to him that she probably thought Rose was keeping him up all night, and that he should be horrified or at least amused by this.

Rose left him at his lab with a kiss on the cheek and an extracted promise that he'd come out to lunch with her. Mary Ellen smiled at him. Ianto was already in his lab, fingers drifting over everything, as if he were memorising their positions by touch.

"I've made coffee," he said, and the Doctor took it and drank it. It wasn't really worth the effort to tell the young man he preferred tea. They looked at each other over the rim of the coffee cup for a few seconds.

"If you've work for me, I have a login and all the access I need," Ianto said, tilting his head at one of the computers. "Otherwise Mary Ellen would like some help with the filing."

"Go on with you then," he said, and gave him a smile for good measure. As long as he kept the boy occupied, he was fulfilling his end of the bargain.

He studied the tools he'd left lying around the previous day, then slowly and methodically began to rearrange them. It took about half an hour and, when it was finished, he set an alarm for noon so he'd know when to meet Rose for lunch, and sat down again.

***

Once in a while, over the course of the next three days, he'd set Ianto a research task simply to keep him busy, always of the kind that required visiting other parts of the building or outside libraries. Ianto's carefully prepared packets of information were a reliable barometer of local human knowledge, and they did help him to discern where exactly this 21st century Britain stood.

At night, while Rose watched the television or worked on a computer, he'd sit and read the packets, marveling at what humanity knew and didn't know. Once in a while, if he managed to pull himself out of the nightmares without waking Rose, he'd curl up away from her and page through them, mostly for something to do with his hands until they stopped shaking. Daleks, Cybermen, Jack, his own self, didn't matter what he dreamed of. What mattered was that he forget the dreams as soon as he possibly could, and stop shaking so that Rose wouldn't wake.

Three thousand one hundred and forty-two, Davros counted in his dreams. Three thousand one hundred and forty-three...

A few times he put Ianto on the thread of something really difficult, just to annoy him, but he suspected someone who could naturally tolerate Jack Harkness was not someone who grew annoyed easily.

After two days Ianto began bringing him tea in the mornings. Perceptive -- or perhaps Rose had tipped him off.

That Friday he thought Ianto had gone early, and was just putting his head out the door to see if Mary Ellen was about and whether tea and a bun were on offer, when he saw Ianto and Rose in the foyer, talking. Well, really Ianto was doing most of the talking; Rose's face was growing darker and more worried by the moment, and he couldn't imagine what Ianto was telling her to upset her. He hadn't sent him to find out anything dangerous, and it wasn't like the pair of them knew many other people in common...

Unless Ianto was giving his Rose some kind of lip, in which case there was a simple way to solve the problem. Well, a simple way involving distraction and interrogation, and then of course the slightly more difficult way, which involved shoving Ianto through a wall.

"Hallo," he called, grinning and stepping out of the lab, catching the door with the heel of his foot so that it wouldn't slam. He shoved his hands in his pockets and ambled down the hall. Rose wasn't fooled by the grin for a minute, but Ianto didn't know him well enough yet to be suspicious. "This looks friendly. You're early," he added, nudging Rose with his shoulder and presenting his cheek to be kissed. Odd habit humans had. Kissing wasn't something Time Lords did, generally.

But, of course, who was a Time Lord in this little soiree? Nobody.

"Ianto telling you all about my mad science?" he asked, an edge to his voice, and something very sad flickered in Rose's face. "Or just office gossip?"

"If you don't need me for anything else, sir," Ianto said, looking faintly anxious.

"He doesn't," Rose said firmly. "Go home, tell Lisa hi from us."

Ianto made his exit with pretty unseemly haste. The Doctor didn't want to say that he'd run him off precisely, but he wouldn't be bothered if you called it that.

"Mary Ellen, will you make sure his door's locked? The Doctor's done for the day," Rose said.

Uh oh. He'd been a human male for about seven days, but even a new player to the game recognised that particular tone.

"Whatever it is, I didn't do it," he said, as they stepped out of the building.

"Yeah, I know," Rose answered. She unlocked her car and gestured him inside.

They drove in silence for a while, until it became evident she wasn't driving them home; she was taking the fast route into downtown London, the sky slowly clouding up with zeppelins as they drew closer. He knew he should be filling the car with chatter, that was basically what he did, but he was tired and he couldn't really think of anything to say that wouldn't make the problem worse, whatever the problem was.

She pulled up in front of a bank of downtown shops and carelessly passed her keys to a valet. The Doctor waited, hands hooked in his pockets, until she took his left wrist and pulled his hand to her, turning it over, palm-up. She ran her fingers across his, as if she were searching for something.

"Been working in the lab for a week now," she said, studying his palm.

"Yes..." he said.

"Not a scratch or a callus," she added. "No burns, no cuts."

"I'm a careful worker."

"Oh, are you?"

"Rose, what did I do?"

She shook her head. "Ianto's smarter than you think and he knows how to work with people who've lost themselves. You didn't even bother to tell him you like tea. You've been rearranging your tools but you haven't done anything with them, have you?"

"Is that what he told you?"

"Doctor."

He pulled his hand gently away. "Oi, look. I thought I blew them up," he remarked, tipping his head at Henrik's Department Store.

"New universe, mate," she replied.

"Not for you," he said, still watching people stream in and out of the shop. "You fit here."

"I didn't at first. Don't think this was easy for me. You left me here."

He left you here, he thought. Because Rose would never really have said that to him if she thought he...were him.

"I came back."

"No you didn't. I came for you. And then you...left yourself here. And you're sad, I get that. Doctor," she insisted, tipping his chin around so that he had to look at her face. "You're different. I get it. I just don't think you do."

"I'm still me."

"No," she said sadly. "You aren't."

The unpleasant sensation of the world falling out from under his feet wasn't new, per se, but he hadn't ever thought Rose would be cruel enough to cause it. She sighed.

"You don't understand. Come on."

She pulled him across the street and into the mass of late-afternoon shoppers, through the doors of Henrik's. Once upon a time in a universe far away (or something like that) he'd pulled her through the corridors of Henrik's basement, running gleefully, a bomb in his pocket and, basically, explosion on his mind. He wouldn't mind a big explosion now; then he'd have something to run away from.

She stopped abruptly in the middle of the store and slid her fingers from wrist to palm, holding his hand tightly.

"There," she said.

"Where?"

"Here."

"I thought you said there," he replied, and she smiled at him. Which was really what made all this worth it. Whatever all this was.

"This is a shop," she said, as if explaining to a very small child. "You can't go round in that one blue suit and Mickey's left-behinds forever. You don't know what kind of man you are yet; that's fine. Find out," she said, and shoved him into a rack of t-shirts.

Oh.

Oh.

He drew in a deep lungful of breath and looked around him wildly. This wasn't the TARDIS, things wouldn't just appear as he needed them, he didn't know where anything was. Lord, this one-heart business was complicated. His head spun.

"It'll be good for you," Rose assured him, taking his hand again and squeezing it.

"Do you need help, miss?" someone asked, concern evident in their voice.

"We're fine thanks," Rose answered.

The Doctor looked sidelong to see the man's skeptical face. He put on a reassuring smile.

"Right as rain," he managed, straightening. Rose rubbed a hand between his shoulderblades. The man frowned but faded into the racks of suits and trousers.

"It's just the same as the TARDIS," Rose murmured soothingly. "Except it's like...someone else's TARDIS, innit? Just look around a bit. Find what you like."

It would be easiest to go for the suits. He was sure they stocked a brown pinstripe. Except he couldn't even look in that direction, and as much as it might make Rose -- what, love him? See him as himself? -- he didn't want to be a clown in a costume.

The t-shirt on the rack in front of him said "EST 1973".

Well, only off by a few centuries, he thought giddily.

He realised suddenly that Rose was gone; after another flat moment of panic he spotted her in the distance, examining a display of leather handbags. Hideous things -- he could tell she was mocking them in her head and he was tempted to go over and give her a reason to mock out loud. If he tried hard enough surely he could distract her and then they could get some ice cream or some chips and he wouldn't have to think about things like this.

You don't know what kind of man you are yet; that's fine.

He did know. He just wished he didn't. But he wouldn't be a coward, whatever the cost.

He scanned past the t-shirts, past the jumpers and the jackets and the trousers....

His lips quirked a little. There was always a kilt, if he really wanted to startle Rose. Jack would have been amused, anyway.

Jack would know what to buy, or Mickey or even Pete, he was a sharp dresser. Ianto could have fitted him out in a suit in double-time. They could have said exactly what looked nice on him, and then he'd be done with this. Martha would have stuck at his side the whole time if she'd been here. And...

Oh, how Ace or Jo or the Brigadier would laugh to see him now. Or...or Susan. Susan wouldn't laugh, but she wouldn't abandon him, and Donna wouldn't have either --

No, Donna probably would have done. Donna was a mate and she said what she thought and did what she felt best and she didn't deserve what his other self was going to do (had done, by now) to her. But then, so few people did, out of those who'd touched the stars. So few of his old companions had got fair play from the universe. And whose fault was that?

He wasn't really aware that he was moving or that darkness was swirling through his vision until his head caught the edge of a shirt-rack as he fell.

***

"Doctor? Doctor!"

***

Martha Jones

Martha knew for a fact that it had been a slow day at A&E -- it usually was on Fridays, right up until around ten at night when the bars really got going and the drunk-drivers started getting on the roads. There was no reason that they'd need her at half past five. Nobody else had been paged.

"Don't look at me," the duty nurse said, as he handed Martha a clipboard. "You were requested specially."

"By who?"

"Friend of yours? Dunno. Blonde girl, came in with a skinny bloke with head trauma."

Martha shrugged and made her way to the curtained-off bed. The blonde girl, Rose Tyler to judge from the admit paperwork, was indeed in evidence, sitting and holding the hand of a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. His eyes were closed and a wild thatch of rooster-comb hair had been brushed back to reveal a nasty shallow gash right up on his hairline. One of the interns was already stitching it shut.

"I'm Dr. Jones," she said, and the blonde girl looked up, her face lighting in recognition. "Ms...Tyler?"

"Yeah, I -- sorry," the blonde girl said. "Call me Rose. This is the -- this is Mr. Smith."

"Well, from the look of things on intake, he's doing all right. No major damage done, though we'd like to do a few tests to find out why he collapsed. Can you tell me a bit about what he was doing when he fell?"

"Clothes shopping," she said ruefully.

"She abandoned me," came a hoarse voice from the bed, and Rose thwacked the hand she was holding with her other palm.

"I didn't abandon him, I told him to find himself some clothes. He hyperventilated and passed out," she said scoldingly. Martha raised an eyebrow. Mr. Smith opened one eye.

"Martha Jones," he said, suddenly beaming, and the intern working on his head had to press him back down. "Rose, look."

"Yeah, I know," Rose said.

"I'm sorry, have we met?" Martha asked. "It's just I don't remember you."

"What's happened to my head?" Mr. Smith inquired.

"Six stitches where a clothes-hanger tried to catch you," the intern informed him.

"Mr. Smith," Martha said, trying to re-track the conversation as she began going through the process of checking for concussion, "do you have a history of fainting?"

"No," he said, frowning. His eyes were tracking all right.

"Any respiratory issues? Neurological problems?"

"No. Is that what happened? It's a bit hazy."

"The shop attendant said she saw him breathing heavily and then he fell down. You don't get out of clothes shopping that easily," Rose added, with what Martha thought was a rather callous attitude.

"Wasn't trying to. Still, all life's an adventure. This is new," he added, pointing to where the intern was finishing with the stitches. "Never had that done before. Is my seam showing?"

It looked to Martha like Rose Tyler was smiling in spite of herself -- like she wanted to be angry with him but couldn't. Easy to understand, she supposed. Mr. Smith was pretty good-looking, and very charming.

"I'm going to get us some tea," Rose said, lifting his hand and kissing the back. Ah; no wonder. Bit old for her, but Martha had seen weirder. "You talk to Martha for a bit."

"You asked for me specially," Martha said, when Rose was gone. "Well, she did. But I don't know you."

"No, but we know you," he said.

"How d'you mean?"

"It's...complicated, lots of...complex...ness...in my life lately," he said. "But I trust you, Martha Jones. Does the rest matter?"

She sighed. "As long as your friend Rose isn't here, can I ask you some personal questions?"

"You could ask 'em while she was here, if you wanted."

"Maybe she didn't feel the same."

He gave her a strange look, confused and hurt, but he gestured for her to take the seat the intern had vacated.

"Do you have any history of stroke or neurological disease in your family?" she asked. "Epilepsy?"

"No, don't think so."

"Have you experienced any emotional traumas recently? Loss of a loved one? Personal assault?"

Ah, and there it was: that closed, walled-off look people got in their eyes when the wounds were too fresh to talk about.

"May have done," he murmured, then glanced at her warily. "Why?"

"Well, from what I've heard it sounds like you had a panic attack. It's nothing to be ashamed of," she added quickly.

"Generally what they say when they're trying to make you think everyone else believes that," he answered, but there was a dry half-smile on his face.

"Were you thinking of anything upsetting before you collapsed?"

"My granddaughter," he said.

"Your what?" she asked, startled.

"I mean -- my...children," he said. Martha looked down at her hands.

"The loss of a child -- "

"They're not lost," he retorted sharply. She snapped her mouth shut, startled. "They're just...far off. It's complicated."

"Maybe you should talk to someone about it," she said. "We have therapists on staff."

"I've got Rose," he said.

"Do you talk to her about it?"

"No," he admitted. "But -- she's -- she does enough. And anyway the things I've done, things I've seen...it's just too much sometimes, that's all. It'll get better," he insisted. "It has to."

"Well, I'm going to recommend a few tests, just to make sure it's not physical," she said. "And I can call for a psychiatric consult if you want. They can prescribe you something in case you have another one."

"I won't have another one."

"But if you do -- "

"I won't."

"All right. Let's get you up to radiology."

***

It had been ten minutes since Mr. Smith's tests had come back, and Mr. Smith and Rose were probably eager to leave, but Martha couldn't bring herself to get up from the desk where she was going over his results. This shouldn't even be possible, but the tech said he'd run him three times and got the same each time. The machine wasn't broken, either -- he'd tested it on another patient and gotten totally normal results.

Mr. Smith's brain was lit up like a Christmas tree, or more accurately like a nuclear testing site. There was activity everywhere, all of it at higher than the normal rate. The man should be either extremely manic or showing signs of heavy stimulant abuse, but she'd had the nurse check on him a few minutes ago and he said Mr. Smith was asleep. With brain activity like this, sleeping shouldn't even be an option.

She closed the display with a sigh and stood, trying to figure out what questions she should even ask. No point in putting it off any longer.

Mr. Smith was asleep, sprawled on one side on a hospital bed, Rose sitting with him and absently stroking his hair. She glanced up when Martha appeared in the doorway.

"Find anything?" Rose asked, though she didn't quite succeed in her efforts to sound light-hearted and unconcerned.

"Nothing that would have caused this," Martha said. "But I have to admit he's well outside normal."

"Not news to me," Rose sighed. "What is it?"

"His neural activity's off the charts. I've never seen anything like it. What we're seeing from his scans shouldn't even be possible. He definitely shouldn't be sleeping."

"He's a hard thinker," Rose said affectionately, then turned her face back up to Martha. "But that's not what made him collapse?"

"God knows what it should do. It doesn't seem like it's actually doing anything." Martha shrugged. "You've got an odd duck, Rose."

"Didn't need telling that either." Rose settled one last lock of his hair and stood up, rubbing her palms on her thighs nervously. "Can I ask you a favour?"

"I can't make any guarantees, but you can ask."

"I know doctors sometimes see...weird things," Rose said slowly. "Freak accidents, things science can't explain. Seen a few myself in my time. The last thing he needs right now is to feel more of a freak than he does. I need to ask you to make those scans go away."

"I can't destroy medical records."

"Well, yeah, you can," Rose replied confidently. "And it's in his best interest to do that. Trust me."

"Who is he, really?" Martha asked. Rose leaned her hip on the bed, crossing her arms.

"He's a lost boy," she said finally. "And he's just trying to get home again."

Martha nodded. It was true that there were things she'd seen that she couldn't explain. Most doctors, she'd found, could say the same. Things they didn't talk about, things that were the hospital's secrets. And she liked Mr. Smith and his overprotective young girlfriend.

"I want to see him again in a week," she said. "He'll need the stitches out. And I want you to strongly suggest he get a psychiatric consult."

"He won't, though. It's not in him."

"Then you should try to make him talk to you."

Rose gave her a knowing smile that was incredibly frustrating.

"I can give him something for the attacks -- "

"Martha," Rose said. "He's got to do this his way. It's not the fastest way or the best way, but he's stubborn like that. He trusts you, and that's grand, but I'm the one who's got to see him alive at the end of it all."

"Well, you might try and get him in touch with his kids, at least," Martha replied.

"Kids?"

"He said he hadn't seen his kids in ages. Well. He said they were far off." A horrified thought stole over her. "He does have children, doesn't he? If not I'm really going to have to call for a consult -- "

"Yeah, he does. I'll...think about that," Rose said. "Thank you, Martha."

"One week, remember," she said. Rose nodded and bent over Mr. Smith.

"Time to go," she whispered, and Martha left her alone to wake him up. She had three separate scans to remove from the database, after all.

***

"I hope you don't think of me as one of your kids. Ew."

***

Rose

After everything -- after all she'd seen with the Doctor, and all she'd worked for and suffered for, all the joy they'd had together, Rose rather felt she was at least a little entitled to know his past. If he had been...the other Doctor, the ageless and endless Doctor, she might not have asked, but he was human, and in a new universe, and there wasn't any need for him to keep his secrets so tightly.

Still, Rose had learned subtlety (from him) and a frontal assault after the day they'd had wouldn't exactly be sensible. Instead she called her mum and said they'd be home on Saturday morning. He shouldn't have to face Jackie's interrogation techniques while still mostly high on painkillers.

"Can we get some chips?" he asked, as they left the hospital. His suit had been restored to him but it was spattered with blood on the collar, and she sighed inwardly.

"Course we can," she said, tangling her fingers in his. "I thought we'd find somewhere nearby to stay the night. You're not in any shape for a long car ride."

He smiled wistfully. "Time was you'd trust me to pilot the TARDIS half-conscious. Now I'm not to ride in cars after falling over."

"Yah, well, time was we crashed the TARDIS," Rose teased.

"One hard landing and she never forgives."

"Not true." She leaned her cheek against his arm as they walked. "There's been way more than one, and I always forgive."

His hand tightened in hers.

"I shouldn't have left you alone today," she added. "But you'll have to, sooner or later. You have to know what kind of man you are, Doctor."

"Maybe," he answered. "Maybe I'm not any kind yet."

"You still need new clothes."

"Yup," he said grimly, but he reached up with his free hand and rubbed the back of his head, fingers digging into the indentation just below his skull, and for a second her heart lifted. She knew that gesture; it meant he was thinking, trying to bring up some old bit of trivia or knowledge that he needed. "Seems like...sounds like a book."

"What book?"

"Dunno. I've...read a lot of books," he said carefully. "A lot of books. Blimey, I should take you to -- "

He stopped sharply.

"I mean," he said, "I should have taken you to The Library."

"I dunno that I'd have liked that. I'm not a big book person, me."

His smile told her it was the right thing to say. "No, s'true, you'd've been bored. Also when I went there last time I almost got eaten. Never very fun."

"Talking of eating," she reminded him, and gently steered him in the direction of food.

***

The painkillers made him sleepy and the day's events had made him oddly clingy; she couldn't remember a time they'd touched as much, not while they were traveling together. Now it seemed like he was never happy unless he had a hand in hers or on her shoulder, unless they were sitting close together, thigh-to-thigh, or he was standing near enough for her to feel his body heat. It wasn't unpleasant, but sometimes she worried.

He slept naked, as a human, but she suspected he hadn't quite worked out the body-heat balance for a human yet. He tended to pile blankets high on the bed and then kick them off in the middle of the night before tugging them back over again. She didn't think she'd had an uninterrupted night's sleep in days, though that hardly mattered. She'd wake up to hear him breathing hard or silently choking or saying some name -- often Jack or Martha, though also Susan, and others: Sarah Jane, Adric, Romana, Jamie, Turlough. Once she woke to find him insistently tapping his fingers against her hip, the way he'd typed out commands on the Dalek ship, and she caught his wrist in time to stop him from completing the nightmare. He didn't even wake, that time.

Tonight was an easy night, at least so far. He wasn't even asleep, just drifting, occasionally adjusting his hold on her, arm flung over her hip, the uninjured side of his face resting easily on the pillow. She ruffled his hair and he opened one eye.

"Touch and go for a bit at hospital," Rose said. "I thought they weren't going to treat you till we'd given them some ID. I had to think fast."

"You usually do," he mumbled.

"I don't want to pester, but it'd be good to make a decision -- have you thought at all about a name?" she asked softly.

"Not especially. Have you?" he asked curiously.

"A bit. Even if it's only a temporary one. Just so you can get your licence and passport. Can't imagine you being unable to travel."

"What kinds of names did you think of?"

"I dunno. Something...English. Something historic, like."

"Something ordinary," he said. "Is...is that what you want me to be?"

"Does it matter what I want you to be?"

"Yes," he said simply. She frowned.

"Why?"

"I..." he bit his lip. "So. What kinds of names?"

Best not to push. "Well, I thought, maybe, William. Like William the Conqueror."

"No, I don't want to be a conqueror."

"William Shakespeare?"

"Met him. Seems like tempting fate."

"Charles?"

"He lost his head, didn't he?"

"One of them did. James?"

"I don't think much of James."

"Harold."

"No, thank you."

"Arthur."

He looked at her sharply. "And that makes you Guenevere?"

Rose frowned. "Okay. No. Augustus? Julius? Alexander?"

"He was not that great. I should know."

"Ethelred," she teased. "Canute."

He closed his eyes, silent for a long minute. "I don't want to be named for a king," he said finally.

"Shame," she replied. "All the really good English names are kings and queens. What sort of person do you want to be named for?"

He rolled onto his back, studying the ceiling. "It'll come when it's time, I guess."

"Can I still try them on you?"

"If you like."

"Wooster."

"Now you're just -- aha!" he said, and sat up in the bed. He pointed a finger at her. "Dorothy Sayers!"

She blinked. "Dorothy Sayers?"

"Yes!"

"You don't think that's going to confuse people?"

"What?"

"You calling yourself Dorothy. I mean, do what you want, it's the twenty-first century, but I feel like I have to tell you that Mum and Dad would never stop laughing at you."

He gave her a confused look for a second. "No! No no no. Sorry, mind somewhere else. Dorothy Sayers, that's the book I was thinking of. Books. Author, actually. But she wrote the books. She was like Agatha Christie only with emotion. Human, very human books she wrote."

"About murder?" Rose asked, now entirely at sea.

"Yes! That was going to bother me all night until I remembered. Rose," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder as she rolled over and tugged the blankets up. "Can we go to a bookshop tomorrow? I want to buy some books."

"Course we can," she said. "Long as you can pick out what books you want without breaking a limb or something."

He slid down and pulled her close, apparently going for as much physical contact as possible. "A second-hand bookshop?"

"If you want."

"A really old and weird one? I love those."

"Imagine my surprise."

"Thank you," he said, nuzzling against her neck.

"But if anyone asks me who you are tomorrow I'm introducing you as Ethelred," she mumbled as she drifted off.

***

Rose had expected that, when faced with a bookstore and the realisation that he owned no books, the Doctor would pile up everything in sight. She'd been prepared for that.

Instead, he worked his way carefully through the various second-hand bookshops they encountered, strange little places with peculiar-shaped rooms, tiny closetsful of old books, and eccentric owners. He led her up narrow stairs to upper storeys packed with shelves, made friends with a million bookshop cats, and bought...

Four books.

Really she should have known better. Trust the Doctor to be as deliberate in his reading material as he was haphazard in, oh, everything else.

He bought a biography of Marie Curie and two Dorothy Sayers novels from a terrible-tempered Irishman, then picked up a first-edition Agatha Christie from a cherub-faced blond man with a rather eerie collection of bibles. As they left the shop he looked down at them and got that satisfied smirk he always got when he'd done something brilliant.

"I've seen the way you read. That'll last you till tea, maybe," she remarked, as they walked back towards the hotel.

"I'll savour them," he promised.

"Can I ask...Marie Curie? I know you like science, but it's a bit like me reading a book about addition, isn't it?"

"Of course Marie Curie," he said. "I mean. She gave her life to expand humanity's horizons. You're so fragile, humans -- "

"We," she said gently. He stopped dead, fingers tightening on the books.

"We," he said. "Right. We're so fragile, these bodies, there's millions of dangerous things out there. But did she care? She just plowed on, because the science was important."

"Well, don't you go doing the same," she said. "I didn't think she knew what she was doing. I mean, in terms of dying for science."

"But she still did it. That's some kind of...something. I dunno," he added, looking upwards, studying the outlines of the buildings against the sky. "She died for something that meant something. I've done that, but I knew I could come back. And...well, it was never really intentional."

"You all right?"

"It's just -- why was I wasting so much time out there?" he said, still staring up at the sky. Passers-by were beginning to lift their heads and look, too. "What was I doing, really? Banging around in a galactic camper-van. Couldn't do anything for my people, my people were gone, and before that it wasn't like I ever thought much of them to be honest. I should have...picked something to do. Something that'd make me useful."

"You did," Rose said, taking the books out of his hands before he let them slip and fall. "You picked us."

He started and looked down at her, eyes wide and strangely young. Then he looked up, over her shoulder. She turned.

"Oh, lord," she muttered as he brushed past her, heading for a dingy Oxfam storefront. She shoved the books under her arm and followed.

By the time she stepped inside he was already halfway to the back of the shop, moving through the racks of musty clothing and odds-and-ends the same way he used to walk through alien marketplaces or the assembly halls of kings -- striding, head up, all senses on alert. A little voice in her head that sounded annoyingly like her mum pointed out that another fifty years of the Doctor's chaotic mood swings could be a bit exhausting, but a much louder voice was making very pertinent observations about how this movement, this purpose -- those things were the Doctor to the core.

Also, very sexy. She smirked. That's him. He's with me. That's right, the hot smart mad one.

He suddenly stopped short and turned, disappearing behind another rack, and she left the books at the front counter and hurried after him.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, when she finally caught up.

"Shopping," he replied, turning to her with a manic grin.

"I see that!"

"Then why'd you ask? Hold this," he said, and shoved a deep red shirt into her hands. "It's all right here, d'you see. Smell that?"

"Dust?" she asked.

"Humanity," he said, and then he sneezed, which she'd never seen him do before and maybe he'd never even done before because he looked comically surprised. "Little bits of dirt and dead bugs and human skin cells."

"Great," she drawled.

"It IS great! Nothing looks like anything else, it's all different, and it all smells like things, not like commercial carpet cleaner and dry-cleaning. Doesn't this remind you of anywhere?" he asked, and gestured around him. She followed his movement, taking in the high racks of shirts, the shoes in bins at the ends of the aisles. There was a hat hung on the end of the rack-pole.

"The wardrobe room in the TARDIS," she heard herself say. He passed her another shirt, this one deep blue like his suit.

"Exactly. It's all right here, d'you see?"

"You do realise lots of this stuff probably belonged to dead people."

"Recycling. Love it."

The shop attendant was staring at them, and they probably looked a sight: the Doctor with a huge bandage on his head, Rose beginning to stagger a little under the weight of the clothes he was piling on her arms.

"Can I help you?" the attendant asked, as the Doctor bolted for the belts.

"I don't think there's any helping him," Rose sighed, adjusting the shirts in her arms. Two belts and three pairs of black denim trousers were placed on top of them, and then she found the whole bundle being lifted out of her arms.

"Sorry about that," he said contritely. "My stuff, I'll lug it. We want these," he added to the woman, who eyed him warily.

"All of them, sir?"

"Yeah," he said, and strode off again, up to the register. Rose shrugged at the woman and followed.

The Doctor set the clothing on the counter, a massive mess of black and deep red and blue, and then his head jerked up.

"Ouuh," he said covetously. Rose couldn't help grinning.

A mannequin near the window had a coat on it, dark charcoal-grey, not as long as the one he usually wore (no, that was the other him; this one here hadn't any coat at all) but still well below hip-length. There were little strips of cloth like epaulettes on the shoulders, pockets at chest and hip, and a hood hanging down the back; it was like the unholy alliance of a blazer, a duffel coat, and a hoodie.

"That one, too," she said, pointing to the jacket.

"It's priced up," the woman said apologetically. "Last year's designer-wear. Armani."

"Trust you," Rose elbowed the Doctor, who smiled foolishly at her, and for just a moment he really was her Doctor, the one who'd grabbed her in a department store and shoved sticks through the cat-flap in her old flat and been slapped by her mum and showed her the universe. "We'll take it."

***

Ianto

The Doctor came in to work on Monday wearing new clothes; black jeans and a slightly threadbare red shirt and a nice coat, which he hung on a hook on the wall before emptying handfuls of small metal and plastic parts out of the pockets.

Ianto, standing near the hob for the kettle, watched with caution. He was fully aware he was likely to be sacked for narking to Rose. On the other hand...the Doctor might be his boss, but his loyalty was to Lisa, and through Lisa to Rose. Besides, there were other jobs. He'd done it before.

"Tea, Doctor?" he asked, because the niceties had to be observed after all.

"Yes, thanks," the Doctor said absently, combing his fingers through all the bits he'd dumped on the worktable. Ianto prepared the tea conscientiously, added a spoonful of honey, and offered it to the Doctor. He took it with a muttered "ta" and sipped it before returning to work -- he hadn't looked away from the parts the entire time.

Ianto waited, because it seemed polite to let the man have his tea before he spoke.

"If you're going to sack me, I'd rather be told sooner," he said evenly, when the tea was done and the parts under the Doctor's hands were beginning to coalesce into something. The Doctor still didn't look up.

"Sorry, just two minutes, this is a fiddly -- " then he hesitated. Ianto watched as he froze, seemed to consider something, and then apparently decided to keep working. Ianto timed it by the clock nearby. Two minutes and four seconds later, the Doctor lifted his hands from whatever he was making and looked at Ianto.

"You thought I was going to fire you?" he asked, honestly curious.

"It crossed my mind," Ianto said. "But I think you should know all that happened is she asked how you were and I told her."

"I know what happened," the Doctor said. One of his hands was twiddling with a little metal sphere.

"Well, then," Ianto prompted, but prompting fell a bit flat in the face of the Doctor.

"Next time, if you're as worried as that, tell me, not her," the Doctor said, and Ianto bit down on a spark of anger.

"If you want to know, ask," he said instead. "She did."

This got him a slow blink and a nod. "Fine then. How are you at electrical engineering?"

Ianto frowned. "Don't know the first thing. I learn fast though."

"Good. Come here."

They worked on whatever-it-was -- the Doctor didn't name it and Ianto didn't ask -- until both of them had sore, reddened fingers from soldering and the little collection of parts had grown from a palm-sized box to a chunk of technology the length of Ianto's forearm. The Doctor made fiddly little adjustments apparently based on some feedback that only he could receive, twiddling dials this way and that, and finally pronounced it good.

"You know," Ianto said, holding a small flange in place while the Doctor worked, "I go running in the mornings. Down by the river, there's a nice flat trail."

"Mm?" the Doctor grunted, trying to angle a six millimetre soldering iron tip into a space only about four millimetres wide.

"Lisa doesn't. She's more of a...gym sort of person."

"Wiggle that little switch. No, the other way -- there."

"Anyway," Ianto forged on, "I could use a running partner if you wanted."

The Doctor stopped again, but this time it was a little smoother; hardly a blip between movements.

"Sometimes it's nice," Ianto said. "Clears the mind."

The Doctor laid down the iron and Ianto took his hands away. A makeshift bent-metal casing was fitted over the whole.

"We wouldn't have to talk, would we?" the Doctor asked.

"God, no," Ianto blurted. "The point is not to talk."

"I'm good at running," the Doctor said, almost to himself. Then he did look at Ianto. "Running, with you?"

"That's the idea."

"Oh." He patted the casing absently. "Yeah, all right."

Ianto found himself oddly gratified by the Doctor's wide grin. He'd only asked really because Lisa's doctors had done as much for him -- not the running bit, but the...caring bit -- on the harder days with Lisa. Just offering someone to be quiet with for a while. Still, something deep down in him was surprisingly pleased with the Doctor's response. It was...easy, to give up a little bit of your soul to the Doctor, when he smiled that way.

"What are we working on?" Ianto asked, emboldened by the Doctor's acceptance.

"Particle-wave sonic energy transducer," the Doctor replied. Ianto blinked. "Sort of a battery charger."

"A sonic battery-charger."

"That's it. Now we've got to build something to build the modulator with. Specialised tools." The Doctor rubbed his hands. "I don't suppose you've done much reading on particle physics?"

"Erm. No. I built a model rocket once," Ianto offered.

"Well, needs must. Come on, let's go flirt with Mary Ellen," he said, and jogged down the hall. Ianto followed quick-step and caught up with him as he beamed charmingly at the front-door receptionist.

"You are the supplier of all that is good in the world," he said to her, and she laughed.

"You're a troublemaker," she replied. "What impossible thing do you want now? Hiya, Ianto."

"I would like a banana, a turkey sandwich, a chunk about yea big of titanium, and three pounds of good clay, please," he said. Mary Ellen looked at him skeptically.

"Condiments?" she asked.

"Mustard. Oh! And some surgical microtools. A full set. Ianto, find out what they use in hospital, that's the kind of thing I want."

And he was off again. Ianto and Mary Ellen looked at each other.

"He's not going to take over the world or anything, is he?" she asked.

"I shouldn't worry. He's easily distracted."

"I'll just prepare an emergency mad-scientist kit then, shall I? Crossword puzzles, Sudoku book, that kind of thing?"

"Word search," he suggested. She laughed.

"He's easy to like though, our Doctor, eh?"

"Yeah. He is."

***

"Li-saa!" Ianto tossed his coat on the table near the door and his keys in the bowl.

"Welsh-man," Lisa answered from the other room, laughing. Lisa was laughing. "How's your mad doctor, were you sacked?"

"No," he replied, stepping into their little narrow hallway of a kitchen and wrapping an arm around her waist. "Dinner ready?"

"I've told you, this isn't 1948," she replied.

"And a shame it is," he replied gravely. "Don't you want to cook my dinners and be a kept woman?"

"Do you want to keep both your eyes?" she asked.

"I'm attached to them."

She groaned. "You're horrible."

"Yup." He kissed her cheek and let her go. "Right then. I'll do the chopping, you boil the water. How was today?"

"Fine," she said, and he watched her lift the pot with her right hand, turning on the tap with her left. Two arms, two hands. To be perfectly honest, seeing Lisa whole...he'd die for the Tylers if they asked. It was worth it. "Looked for work. Bo-ring."

He glanced at her. "Boring, eh?"

She didn't quite meet his eyes. "It always goes all right till they see the hand."

"Rose said -- "

"I can't work for Torchwood again, Ianto. I know, I owe them this, but I just -- "

"It's fine, it's okay," he said. "You'll find something."

"Yeah. Course. Besides, I've got my hand back. I feel -- whole again."

He carefully took her left hand in his and kissed the metal fingertips. "I never cared, you know."

"I know you didn't. I did. But! You!" She flicked water at him. "You have to tell me all about not getting sacked. Was he mad?"

"He was fine. Bit annoyed, that's all. I like him. Asked him to go running with me. He's lonely."

She smiled. "Ianto Jones. Never happy unless he's looking after some miserable ungrateful -- "

"Hey, now." He took the pan from her and put it on the stove. "He's not ungrateful -- "

"Oi!" she shrieked, throwing a mushroom at him. He caught it and placidly started to chop.

"See? Totally ungrateful, you are."

"S'not true." She kissed him again. "And you're changing the subject."

He rested his forehead against hers. "Well, I -- it's stupid, isn't it, I mean I know all about how to help people who -- lose things, I think I did a decent job with you, didn't I? Broken plates aside?"

"You've been brilliant and you know it."

"Well, then. All that experience is going to waste, if I don't put it to use."

"What's his story then?"

"Don't know." He popped a slice of mushroom in his mouth. "Something bad. Ms. Tyler's taken him in like a pet. Anything he wants, instantly given. S'usually a sign he can't be given what he really wants."

"He still have you digging around in the dark corners of the internet?"

"No," Ianto said, and smiled a little. "We're building things now."

Lisa matched his smile and leaned her chin on his shoulder until the pot boiled and she had to add the noodles.

***

"Come on, Jones! Keep up! Pretend you're running for your life, it helps!"

Chapter Text

The Doctor

The first time she saw him with the bandage on his head Jackie made a noise somewhere between a shriek of indignation and a gasp of shock. Secretly he thought it made him look a bit rakish, but he'd forgotten -- if he ever really knew -- that people often felt you owed it to them to tell them when you were hurt. Or maybe it was a Jackie thing. He supposed it'd require further testing at some point.

He'd forgotten to tell Rose about going running with Ianto, too, and came back from his first run to find her furiously waiting for him on the doorstep. The other him -- with another body, two hearts and a telepathic brain -- would have known immediately that she was terrified he'd done a bunk or fallen in a well or something equally improbable, but it didn't sink in until she clenched her fists in his coat lapels and shook him like a rag doll before burying her face in his chest.

This whole caring-about-the-emotions-of-others thing was complicated. He'd cared before, of course, but in a sort of absentminded way, the same way you'd care if your cat was annoyed with you. Now he...was...the cat. Or something.

"Honestly," he said for the fourth or fifth time, during breakfast. "I don't want to run off. Why would I? I like it here."

"I could put a house-arrest bracelet on him," Pete said to Rose, who was sulkily glaring daggers at him over her cereal.

"What?" the Doctor demanded.

"He's joking," Jackie said. "Much easier just to tie you to the radiator."

"Chain would be harder to escape," Pete said.

"I went running!"

"Without your mobile and you didn't leave a note," Rose pointed out.

"We could glue the mobile to his face," Pete mused.

"Stop trying to attach things to me!" the Doctor blurted. Everyone fell silent for a moment.

"Uh," Rose said. "You know they're making fun of me and not you, right?"

"What?"

"Too soon for sarcasm, maybe," Pete said. "We're on your side, Doctor. Well, I am. Jackie's still got her eye on you."

He would have caught on much sooner as -- as himself, he knew it. He would have been able to be clever about this when he knew what they were feeling, but then he supposed this was how others had felt when he had the upper hand. Humility, it appeared, was the lesson of the week. Perhaps not undeserved.

He smiled at Pete, because it seemed like the thing to do, and Rose was smiling as well -- a bit more indulgent than affectionate, perhaps, but he'd take what he could get -- and Jackie went back to feeding Tony strained carrots. Tony wasn't cooperating particularly well, but then who ate carrots for breakfast? Really.

Mornings on Gallifrey had been time for private contemplation. Romana used to joke that Time Lords weren't a morning race. There were days as a child where he'd be up before dawn to see the sun rise but wouldn't see another soul until the mid-afternoon meal. You could ramble through the streets of any Gallifreyan city and be utterly alone at a time like that. If anyone else was awake, they were reading or meditating on life or doing the small errands and chores that couldn't be done in the normal course of a day.

But the mid-afternoon meal, you did come together for that. He'd never been one to cherish home life, far too busy exploring and learning, making (as he saw now) a run-up for his break from Gallifrey and his wild leap into the universe. Still, he had two sons and a daughter, all three of them unbearably beautiful in his eyes, their mother no less so. Perhaps that meal was the only time in the day they'd see each other, but he didn't think he was such a bad dad. It wasn't like their mother saw them much more often. She had half a world to oversee, after all, and had to keep the utterly mad father of her children from making a spectacle of himself in public besides.

The red Gallifreyan light slanted in through the high windows, catching the pale wood of the meal-table and turning his eldest's hair a deep shining bronze-brown. His youngest, not yet on solids, was fiddling with a gyroscope his mother had given him, chubby infant hands flailing with glee as it spun and clattered on the table. He glanced across to his daughter, middle-child, flagrantly ginger-haired through some errant gene on her mother's side. Her mother, smoothing down the eldest's fuzzy cowlick, caught his eye and winked at him.

The food wasn't particularly fancy, plain South Gallifreyan fare, and he could see his eldest formulating a complaint not just about the food but about his mother's ministrations and his father's possibly-forgotten promise to take him up the mountains for the next lunar convergence. His youngest wailed as the gyroscope skittered across the table, right into his daughter's plate, spattering food everywhere.

She stared at the gyroscope for a moment, shocked, and then his eldest burst out laughing and his daughter followed, and his youngest looked gleeful. He laughed too, reaching over to wipe a smear of sauce off his daughter's forehead, remembering one of the wild Northern oracles who had said his youngest would give him a prize beyond measure (as it turned out, his granddaughter Susan, the only one who had her grandfather's dark eyes and restless nature, the only one who had been bold enough to follow him off Gallifrey forever).

Then their mother turned to him and smiled and said, "Doctor?"

He frowned.

"Doctor?"

The bright red light faded to the cold grey of an English morning, and when he turned his head it was Rose leaning towards him, Jackie and Tony beyond her, Pete across the table.

"Mh?" he asked, reeling from the momentary displacement.

"What's funny?" she asked, and she was smiling. He realised he'd been laughing out loud, not in the confines of his own mind.

"Nothing," he said, and changed the topic to Ianto's complete inability to keep up in a theoretical aliens-are-chasing-us-with-guns situation.

***

"This particular responsibility you were speaking of still rests upon you?"

"Yes, it does."

"You have not yet completed the course of action on which you have decided?"

"Not yet."

"You feel bound to carry it through?"

"Oh, yes -- I can't back out of it now."

"No. You are expecting further strain?"

"A certain amount."

***

"Reading again?" Rose asked, shrugging out of her jumper and running both hands through her hair, ruffling it loose. He looked up from his book and smiled.

"A bit, yeah," he replied, watching her undress. It wasn't particularly -- anything, really. Rose wasn't modest, and she wasn't trying to inspire a reaction. It was just changing for bed. A bed with him in it. Reasonably happy thought.

"No more of Ianto's reports?" She smiled back at him and pulled on the ridiculous viking-helmet shirt, too big for her, crawling across the blankets to curl up with her head on his arm. "He hasn't been writing as many, right?"

"Found him a better job," the Doctor said, turning the page.

"Running coach."

"He'll learn to keep up sooner or later."

"So," she said, and lifted the book out of his hands. "Murder mysteries instead."

"Well, they keep the mind active," he answered, resting his chin on top of her head as she browsed through the page disinterestedly.

"Bet you always know who did it," she replied.

"Yeah, well, great big brain, I can't help it. With Christie anyway."

"This isn't Christie, this is Sayers." She tilted her head up slightly, so that he was obliged to look down at her. He grinned, a real grin; it was good like this, and the shadows faded away when Rose was close.

"You don't read Sayers to solve the mystery, it's hardly the point. Christie's like...clockwork, you just have to know where to stick the lever to solve the puzzle. Sayers isn't -- well, not most of the time. You read because you like Lord Peter, and you want to know what he thinks of it all."

"Who's he, the hero?"

"Mmh. Arrogant, well-read, clever, high-strung. Still, he generally gets his man in the end, and it usually costs him more than it costs them. Depends on your definition of hero, I suppose."

She was quiet for a while, not reading but thinking; he wished he knew what about.

"Well, that's what I'd call a hero," she said finally, and gave him back the book. "Finish your chapter and then come pay attention to me."

"I know how it ends," he pointed out. He set it flat and open on the side-table, text-down, to mark his place.

***

Lord Peter obediently rolled up his sleeve. Sir Julian Freke selected a portion of his forearm and anointed it with iodine.

"What's that you're goin' to stick into me, drugs?"

The surgeon laughed.

"Not exactly," he said. He pinched up a portion of flesh between his finger and thumb. "You've had this kind of thing before, I expect."

"Oh, yes," said Lord Peter. He watched the cool fingers, fascinated, and the steady approach of the needle. "Yes -- I've had it before -- and, d'you know -- I don't care frightfully about it."

He had brought up his right hand, and it closed over the surgeon's wrist like a vise.

***

"How's the head?" Martha asked, when they went down to the hospital to have his stitches removed.

"Still attached," he replied, smiling. Martha made him happy in a very simple way -- she was perhaps the first person who had. He loved Rose desperately and was fond of Ianto and the Tylers and found Mary Ellen and his fellow lab-rats charming, but Martha was just simply pleasing. He would never see her again, probably, and that was satisfying too. She would go on and be happy.

The pain was supposed to be worth it, for all the wonderful things one could see living a rambling life in the TARDIS, but this was why he'd slaughtered the Daleks, after all: so that ordinary people could be ordinary.

"Mmh. You'll have a sexy scar if you don't look after it," she said, laying the last of the snipped-away stitches in the tray next to him. "Vitamin E oil, keep it out of the sun, and preserve that boyish complexion of yours."

"Maybe I want a sexy scar."

"Well, you wouldn't be the first," she said, and glanced sidelong at the waiting room nearby, where Rose was reading Vogue. "No more panic attacks?"

He shrugged. "Got my new clothes."

"So I see. And that doesn't answer my question."

"No. No more panic attacks." Nightmares, flashbacks, and one rather frightening loss-of-temper at Ianto when he'd accidentally destabilised the Flux Regulator -- a broken coffee-mug and an hour of subtextual apology -- but no panic attacks.

Martha tilted her head. "Psychiatry's still on offer, you know."

"I'm fine. I will be fine."

"You have to pick one or the other of those statements." She set her scissors down and crossed her arms. "But, you're as healed as you're going to be on the outside."

"Ta. I appreciate it -- I really do," he said.

"Can I ask...since you appreciate my work so much," she said with a smile, "what about your kids?"

"My ki -- my kids," he repeated, groping for a second until he realised what she was talking about. "I...well. You know how it is. They're far off."

"You should still try to see them, if it would make you happy."

I do see them. In my dreams, and sometimes at the bloody breakfast-table. Blood children and adopted companions both.

"It's complicated. A-ny-way, am I healed? Go thou and faint no more?"

"On with you then. Tell that girl of yours to look after you, okay? Doctor's orders."

"Right." He hopped off the bed and took her offered hand, shaking it firmly. "Thank you, Doctor Martha Jones."

***

Rose

Mary Ellen and Ianto together made a reasonably good team of spies.

It wasn't that Rose wanted the Doctor watched at all times, it was just that she knew if they spent all their time together they'd annoy each other. And yet she still wanted to be sure he was all right, that he wasn't sitting in a chair doing nothing, brooding on what a terrible and tragic figure he was. She had plenty of patience for his misery, but very little for his self-indulgence. She suspected this was the only reason her -- the only reason the other -- Doctor had allowed her to stick around long enough for him to get to know her. After that, she credited her natural charisma for her continued tenure on the TARDIS.

"He threw a coffee mug," she said, as Ianto sat in the little canteen and calmly ate a sandwich.

"Not at me," he pointed out. "At the wall."

"Yeah, but still. He threw a coffee mug." She hesitated, then went ahead and asked, because really when your boyfriend was nine hundred years old and you were living in a different universe than the one you were born in, social convention was overrated. "Did it explode?"

"Fairly brilliantly. I was impressed. He's got excellent form."

"Why'd he do it?"

He gave her a dry look. "Are you certain you want to know?"

"Well, it wasn't 'cause he got a papercut," she said, sipping her tea.

"I'm only saying, sometimes it's better to assume it was something worth throwing things over. I end up meeting a lot of people who throw things," he added, his face thoughtful.

"Ianto."

"Yeah. I don't know what we're building, but I broke it," he said ruefully.

"He threw a coffee mug because you broke his toy?"

"Well, for all I know it could have ripped a hole in time and space."

"It's a flux regulator, it's not ripping a hole in anything. It's a fancy high-tech roll of duct tape."

"You know a lot about his work," he said, picking a slice of tomato out of his sandwich. "You must have worked together before."

"Yeah, well, once. I mean. Once, for a while," she said.

"How'd you meet?"

"In a department store," she said, smiling. "What about you, how's your Lisa?"

She watched a slow, shy grin spread across his face. "She's brilliant. She's herself again."

Rose nodded, ignoring the stab of jealousy in her guts. He was probably exaggerating -- Lisa might have a new arm but she'd still lost her real one and the horrors of what they'd been through together didn't fade so easily. Still, she wanted to be able to say that, she wanted the Doctor to be happy again. Really she wanted to know that he even could.

"Your Doctor," he said quietly, almost speaking into his coffee as he lifted it to his lips. "He'll get there."

***

Martha had warned the Doctor to stay out of the sun until he healed, but he wasn't someone who could stay in one place for too long. He rarely spent an entire day in the labs, and if he did he often disappeared somewhere at lunchtime or went wandering after dinner. Sometimes Rose abducted him from his work -- usually over his protests that he was at a very delicate part of the important-whatsit-building process -- and they went downtown to disappear into the crowds, or off to the greenbelt outside the city.

"D'you know," he said, as they roamed along a backstreet in London, passing shops and walk-ups to ground-storey flats, "one of the strangest things is getting used to talking in future tense. I mean," he added, squinting up at someone watering their plants on a balcony, "I can't just say there are fifteen New New Yorks but only three New Londons anymore, because there aren't, here and now. There will be, but they're not somewhere I can go."

"You could build a spaceship if you really put your brain to it," Rose said, watching him. He still rarely missed a thing, even as a human; his eyes took in the whole street at once but also all the small details, and he often looked up. Most people she knew never looked up.

"I suppose, but I'd worry. I knew what I was doing, before. Now it's a bit like being blinded. That whole sense -- of the rightness of time, the propriety of the universe -- " he twitched his fingers at his head, shrugging. "S'gone."

"Do you miss it?" she asked.

"Well. No. I mean -- you put a blind man in a dark room and there's nothing to see anyway, right? But building a timeship seems like asking for trouble."

"Humans must be able to, though, somehow," she persisted. "The Time Agency sent people all over time, didn't they? Jack never told me much about it, but that's the impression I got."

"I'm not sure we should use Jack as a reliable base measure," he observed, but he smiled a little as he said it. "It's...maybe. One day. If I remember -- "

He broke off sharply and cocked his head as if listening for something, or possibly catching a scent.

"Doctor?" she asked. "What is it?"

He pivoted, staring at the high brick edifice that flanked them -- an elderly wall, muffling the noise of children at play in a park beyond it. Someone was kicking a football against the other side, and distant youthful shrieking spoke of some team sport or other.

He hooked his hands on the top of the wall and propped his toes against the mortar-gaps, hoisting himself up, legs flailing ridiculously once he'd gotten purchase on the top. Rose looked at him, sighed, and pushed open the wrought-iron gate a few feet away.

A small girl was standing on the other side of the wall, football under one arm, staring up at the Doctor where he was leaning, chest propped on top of the wall.

"Hallo," the Doctor said. "Nice football."

"Are you really tall?" she asked.

"Well -- yes, actually," the Doctor said, glancing at Rose for confirmation. He eased himself fully over the wall, landing on his feet and wincing. "Oouh, these shoes don't cushion much."

"If you'd use doors like ordinary people..."

"I like a wall," the Doctor answered with a grin. The girl dropped her ball and began kicking it again. The Doctor shrugged and took off walking across the yard, heedless of the chaos around him.

"Fancy a swingset?" she asked, catching up and dodging a handful of children playing some brutal form of tag while their parents looked on indulgently or chatted with each other. He stopped and rocked on his feet, beaming.

"Look there," he said, nodding ahead of him. A pothole-ridden grassy field stretched out beyond them, reasonably flat, marked out with a cricket pitch.

"Yeah?" she said.

He beamed. "I love cricket. One of the few games in the universe you have to take meal breaks for. I used to play, once."

"You never did," Rose laughed.

"I did! Mind you, this was -- well, just about a hundred years ago now. Longer for me, though," he added, lips thinning into a tight line. She watched him watch the children playing, waited for him to speak again. When he did, however...

"Oi!" he shouted, and both makeshift teams stopped play to look at him. "That's no good, you'll never get past a good batsman with a bowl like that."

"Says you," the boy bowling for the field team retorted.

"Well, they haven't got a good batsman up, have they?" the Doctor said, with a sweeping gesture at the other team. There were several cries of outrage. "Oh, go on," he answered scornfully, stepping onto the pitch. "If you've got someone put him up and I'll show you how the thing's done."

"Doctor!" Rose said, but he was already taking his place next to the bowler, leaning over to show him how to grip the ball and the proper angle at which to throw. She watched, half-amused and half-worried, as he stepped back and bowled. The batsman missed it completely, and one of the bails went flying.

"Not fair," the batsman -- actually a girl, probably about ten -- protested. "You're a grown-up! And!" she added, growing in indignance, "Now you've taught him all kinds of grown-up tricks!"

The bowler looked smug.

"All right, all right," the Doctor said, crossing to her. He picked up the bail and offered it to her to replace. "Here. When he bowls like that, you go high and fast like this, right? Watch me."

The boy, confident in his newfound knowledge, bowled like David at Goliath.

Rose watched as the Doctor instructed each child in turn on stance and stroke, breaking away every once in a while to step into the field and show them there how the thing was done. He could have been a teacher or some hired coach, and she wasn't at all surprised that the children listened. By the time someone finally noticed a stranger was vastly improving the gameplay of ten-year-old cricketers, he'd been absorbed into the game as perpetual floating slip and Rose had settled on the edge of the field with a handful of young spectators and a communal bag of crisps.

"Scuse me," a man called, passing Rose and wading into the middle of the game, stopping all play. "You there. In the coat. Yes, you."

The Doctor straightened up and smiled. "Hallo! If you'd like to join in they could use an umpire. Communal decree is rubbish for referee'ing sport."

"I'd like to know your name," the man said pompously. "And you can step right away from my boy."

The Doctor looked down at one of the infield players, frowning. "Why? If I step any further away there's not much point in me playing the position at all."

"You're not a regular around here."

"Very irregular," the Doctor agreed.

"One'a these kids yours?"

"No..." the Doctor glanced around. "Nope, just met them. They've been pretty polite though, you've got nothing to be ashamed of."

"So why're you playing cricket with a bunch of kids? What kind of bloke are you?"

The Doctor blinked. Rose decided to intervene.

"He used to coach," she said, rising and taking the Doctor's arm, tugging gently. "He's mad for the game. Plays anywhere he can."

"Oh, the game, is it?" the man asked. "Go on, now, and I don't want to see you back around here again."

"Daaaad," his son whined.

"And I'll have no lip from you, God knows where these people come from..."

The man's voice trailed off as Rose pulled the Doctor across the playground, dodging children and the occasional glower from a parent.

"What was he on about?" the Doctor demanded. "I was only showing them how it's done properly."

"He thinks you had an unhealthy interest in his kid," she muttered, shoving him through the gate.

"He thinks I what?"

"Well, most people don't join in a game like that unless they're a parent or something," she replied, giving him a shove as he turned to crane his head through the gate for one last look at the paranoid father. "You can't be too careful."

"Yes, you can," he protested. "That batsman's going to get humiliated completely in a real game if she doesn't fix her stance. Do we have a cricket team?"

"We the country, or We the Tylers?" she asked, amused at his sudden gearshift. "Torchwood hasn't got a cricket team. Sort of defeats the whole secret-laboratory theme."

"Well, you know. Who do we cheer on?"

"England, I suppose."

"Rah," he said sardonically. She smiled and walked on.

That night she sat up while he slept, watching for nightmares. A handful of times he tensed up and his fingers twitched, or he moaned softly, but he never woke.

When they left Norway he would hardly talk, sometimes. He was healing, but she knew better than to think an afternoon at cricket would fix the weight he carried, the destruction of two races and his exile to life as a human.

But at least if she wasn't actually fixing him, she was keeping him from going any further off the deep end.

***

"I don't suppose you remember who wins the next Ashes, do you?"

***

The Doctor

Slowly, the weeks passed.

He wasn't really used to timekeeping, at least not this sort of timekeeping. Oh, yes, you had to pay attention to the hours in a day so that you would know when it was dinner-time or night-time or too early to offer someone a drink. And of course he was exceptionally good at temporal calculation, always had been, even in school. Knowing when you were and how far away temporally from any other given "when" was important. Especially calculating between platforms; sometimes you had to go from Galactic Standard to Gallifreyan Universal to Human Variable in the blink of an eye. Humans were insane when it came to temporal measurement -- 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, god knew how many weeks in a month, twelve months in a year, and a year itself based on the movement of a planet around a star? What?

Still, he wasn't bad at that kind of timekeeping either.

What he wasn't used to was marking the passages of days and weeks in linear time, knowing that it had been X number of days since he'd arrived and he could look forward to Y number of weeks until Rose's birthday and N number of months until Christmas. D number of years until he died. D-day. Hah. He could measure in terms of his own mental health, too -- he could feel time passing in the way he had more good days than bad now, how quickly he could suppress the flares of anger when they threatened, how many times a night he would wake shaking or gasping from some unremembered dream.

Sometimes, though not as often anymore, he could count the passage of time by the nightmare Davros, still slicing cuts into his skin in his dreams. Five hundred and twenty-nine thousand, seven hundred sixty nine. Five hundred and twenty-nine thousand, seven hundred seventy...

But the dreams didn't come as often anymore, and he could look towards a day they wouldn't come at all. The day after his first night without a single nightmare, at least that he could remember, the Doctor saw Rose off at the door and went walking.

He still hadn't bothered re-learning to drive. He liked walking, and in an emergency he was certain he could still manage a car. He'd done it before, and he'd flown a six-man ship single-handedly for longer than he cared to think about, after all. So he walked; down the mansion's drive and along the road into town, Dorothy Sayers and a sandwich in a bag over his shoulder. The screwdriver -- or rather, the material with which to build a screwdriver -- was coming along nicely, and Ianto had it well in hand for the day. There wasn't much more they could do for now except monitor power fluctuations and adjust the stabiliser grid accordingly.

The calendar in his head didn't fail him, and even if he had to put some thought into counting the days he could arrive pretty quickly at a number as he walked. Five weeks and three days since they put down at Dårlig ulv Stranden. Three weeks and six days since he'd started work on the screwdriver. Two weeks and four days since they'd gone to get the stitches out of his head.

Five weeks and three days with Rose, sleeping next to her at night, being kissed goodbye on the cheek every morning as she ran off to play with the universe, eating dinner with her and her parents and baby brother nearly every evening.

Sometimes he walked all day, re-learning a London that he'd watched change over the course of centuries, studying the high-rises and the gothic crenellations on buildings that were a little like old friends by now. He met all sorts of interesting people, tourists and office-workers, street buskers, cabdrivers. He stood around in alleys with cooks catching smoke breaks from five-star kitchens and walked beats with London's Finest.

Today, however, he was bound for a cafe on the river, where he could sit and pretend to read. It was unusually sunny out, and London was humming with activity -- plenty of people would be outside for lunch, and he could watch and catalogue them all. If he was tied to this one planet and this one time then he was going to explore in a different sort of way, and he had lots of catching-up to do. Humans were still no end of interesting, even if he was one of them now.

"Excuse me, sir," someone said, grabbing his arm as he turned a corner down the quiet alley that led to the cafe. "Do you have the time?"

He looked up into a friendly face framed by brown hair, regular features, a small gingery goatee. Ordinary and very human.

"Less than I used to," he said ruefully, reaching for his pocketwatch with the hand the man wasn't holding. It was a gift from Pete, after the first three or four times he'd missed dinner. He popped it open and studied it. "Coming on half-ten."

A second hand grabbed his other arm; another man, this one with pale hair and narrower features.

"Thanks," the brown-haired man said, and there was a nasty glint in his eye.

"Blimey, am I being mugged?" he asked, beaming. "This is new. You can have the couple of quid in my back pocket, but I'd like to keep the sandwich if that's all right -- "

"We'd like you to come with us," the pale-haired man said. He held up a pair of handcuffs. "Do I have to use these?"

He suddenly had a very bad feeling about this.

He tried to jerk his arm out of the brown-haired man's grip and, when that didn't work, jabbed his elbow backwards. The man dodged out of the way and his elbow connected with brick, sending sparks of pain up his arm.

"Guess so," said the blond man, opening the handcuffs, and he gave the Doctor a sober, dangerous look...

...right before he slammed into the wall, groaning.

"I don't think he wants to go with you," said an oddly familiar voice. The Doctor half-turned and found himself looking along the barrel of a sonic blaster, aimed just past his head at the man still clinging to his arm. "I believe the twenty-first century slang for this is fuck off."

The brown-haired man released his arm and Captain Jack Harkness grabbed it, pulling the Doctor behind him. The blond man staggered upright and both bolted off down the alley, disappearing quickly.

"Let 'em go," Jack said, edging them both out into a wider street and holstering the blaster. "Are you okay? Looked like you dinged that arm pretty well."

He was still holding onto him, but he shifted his grip, deftly sliding the coat off the Doctor's shoulder and lifting the arm to study it. His hands were warm through the shirt -- Jack's hands were always warm.

It had to be Jack. The blaster was out of its proper time and the voice was too familiar to be anyone else. But as the Doctor watched Jack bow his head to be sure there were no broken bones, he noticed streaks of silver at his temple, grey hairs in the brown. When Jack lifted his face there were laugh-lines around his eyes -- and around his mouth, as he smiled.

Jack was mortal. Jack was aging.

"No harm done," he said, face very close to the Doctor's. "They rough you up anywhere else?"

"Jack," he breathed, head spinning. Oh good lord, Harkness was getting to him, too. Of course he was; after all, he was only human now.

"Have we met?" Jack asked, not moving.

"Far off from here," the Doctor said. Jack frowned slightly, eyes turning cold, and stepped back.

"Time Agency?" he asked roughly. He tapped a few commands into his wrist strap and blue light briefly flickered around the Doctor -- a scan. "Residual artron radiation...fully human...no Agency transducer..." his brow crinkled. "Cellular decay rates indicate an age of approximately six weeks." He looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Well. Aren't you just a puzzle waiting to be solved. I'm Captain Jack Harkness, but then apparently you knew that," he said, offering his hand.

The Doctor felt he should be doing something, but all he could manage was gaping and staring. The Jack who'd haunted his nightmares was a smooth-faced man with pain in his eyes, not this mischievously-grinning middle-aged charmer. Genetic tinkering and good medical care meant a fifty-first century human could expect to live to perhaps two hundred; Jack could be anywhere between forty and a hundred and ten, from the look of it. He wasn't wearing the uniform the Doctor had become used to, either, though he was still in uniform: contemporary RAF, with a Group Captain's rank badges and braid.

"We should get out of here. They might want to try their luck again," Jack said, and took his arm, leading him along the street. "My ship's not far. Come on, Rubik's Cube."

It was a different make from the tiny two-man recon-class vessel he'd had the first time they met, and it wasn't docked over Big Ben. It was submerged below the Tower Bridge, just off St. Katharine's Pier, only a forcebridge gangplank and the entry hatch above water. Jack led the way down into it, tossing his holster and blaster on a table near the stairs. The Doctor hesitated halfway down.

"I'm not going from the frying pan to the fire, am I?" he asked, ready to bolt if Jack hesitated. Instead, the man laughed.

"Your virtue and person are safe, Rubik," he assured him. "Leave the hatch open if you want."

The Doctor frowned and took it as a personal challenge, pulling the door shut after him and descending to the entry room.

"Let's see, too early for cocktails, too late for coffee," Jack said, rubbing his hands and wandering off through a doorway. "Can I get you some juice?"

"I'm fine thanks," the Doctor replied, peering into one of the other rooms. The cockpit, bristling with plasma blasters to judge from the console. "Nice place."

"It suits me," Jack answered, emerging with a tumbler of orange juice and sipping it. "Make yourself at home. You need to call anyone?"

"Not just yet," he said, still exploring. This was luxury-class at least, much nicer than the old model. There were six doorways leading off the central entry room: kitchen, cockpit, engine room, some kind of meeting room filled to brimming with books and trinkets, observation platform, and bedroom -- dark, hung with draperies, smelling faintly of sandalwood.

"Give you the grand tour, if you want," Jack said in his ear, a sudden warm presence against his back. The Doctor trod on his foot, seemingly by accident; Jack took the hint and backed away. "So -- you're not with the Agency, but you're definitely not contemporary, and you're carrying enough artron radiation to indicate recent time travel. And you're human, but I'm not getting any tech off you more advanced than a contemporary mobile. If you're stranded I can give you a lift, but I don't come cheap."

"That's not what I hear," the Doctor murmured, and Jack laughed. "What are you doing in the twenty-first century?"

"I ask myself that constantly," Jack said, taking another sip of orange juice. "I work salvage, sometimes recovery."

"Con-jobs," the Doctor replied. Jack frowned. "Don't worry, I'm not going to tell on you to the Shadow Proclamation," he added, stepping into the observation room. The murky water of the Thames surrounded him on three sides.

"O...kay. Anyway, I got a report of some activity in the area, thought I'd see what I could scrounge. Apparently it's you."

"Me?"

"Well, the readings aren't exact, but I was following them when I found you and something pinged strong." Jack shrugged. "So what's your story, Rubik?"

"I'm the Doctor," he answered.

"Sorry, Doctor Rubik. Should I have heard of you?"

The Doctor sighed. "No, I don't suppose there's any reason you should have."

Jack studied him, then held up a finger and disappeared into the other room for a moment. When he returned, he was carrying a glossy magazine -- last week's Heat.

"Knew I'd seen you somewhere," he said, holding it out half-folded. There was a picture of Rose carrying Tony, captioned Heirs Apparent. He was nothing more than a face over her shoulder.

"Hard-working debutante Rose Tyler, heir to the Tyler fortune and rising Torchwood star, takes a break from science and industry to babysit brother Tony," Jack read. "She's in all the tech blogs right now. Blogs -- so quaintly twenty-first century. I'm guessing you're a pal of hers."

"Something like that," the Doctor said. He rested a hand against the wall of the ship. It was warm, and it occurred to him that there was no actual reason he'd have to build a ship, if he could buy one. "You could go anywhere in a ship like this."

"Yeah, and if you have Tyler backing, so could you. Where do you wanna go?"

God, how many times had he made that offer, casually plucking up a human out of their time and place and showing them the universe. But he'd been out in the great wide darkness of space, and he knew better than -- well, than most of the men and women who'd trusted him throughout the centuries.

"Nowhere," he said with a smile. "I'd better leave."

"But -- listen," Jack insisted, all but dancing around him as he made his way to the stairs. "You've got access to the Torchwood labs, right? So you could get me a tour. It'd be like touring Galileo's observatory. And anyway, you're only six weeks old, what's up with that? Don't leave me hanging here."

"I'm sorry, Jack, I really am," he said, climbing the stairs and pushing the hatch open. He hesitated at the top. "Can I ask...are you happy? Alone in this big ship?"

Jack frowned, perplexed. "Sure."

"But you haven't got anyone else."

"That could change," Jack said with a leer.

"Captain."

A shrug. "I've got a girl in every port. Or a guy. Or a something. A something in every port," he said, grinning.

"That's good, I suppose," the Doctor said. "It seems good. But it's better for you if you stay away from me. It always was."

Jack stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking confused and a little lost as the Doctor shoved the door open and hoisted himself out.

"Be seeing you, Doctor Rubik," he called, right before the door closed.

"Not if I can help it," the Doctor said under his breath, as he leapt easily from ship to shore and went to find a cab. Suddenly, walking had lost its appeal.

***

"We can't leave it to Captain Fentiman, he's in no fit state to be worried, poor fellow. You'll have to have a look at him, doctor, when you've finished here. An attack of the old trouble -- nerves, you know."

"All right. Ah! is the room ready, Culyer? Then we'll move him. Will somebody take his shoulders -- no, not you, Culyer" (for the Secretary had only one sound arm), "Lord Peter, yes, thank you -- lift carefully."

Wimsey put his long, strong hands under the stiff arms; the doctor gathered up the legs; they moved away.

***

"Hi-ya," Rose said, emerging from underneath a large, black-cowled machine and dusting off her jeans. "Which murder today?"

"Bellona Club," the Doctor answered, tucking the flap of the dust jacket over the page he was reading and closing it.

"Should have told me you were here."

"I didn't want to bother you -- looked like you were doing something fiddly," he said, jerking his chin at the machine.

"Oh, well, yeah," she replied, looking a trifle shy. "Dense-matter wireless."

"Radio waves without satellites?" he said. "Straight through the Earth? That hasn't been done, you know."

"Maybe it will be soon, then," she answered, tossing her hair back. He felt a small swell of pride; he'd taught her some of what she knew about machines, but obviously she was a quick learner on her own as well. "It's gone lunchtime -- come along," she said, stripping off the gloves she was wearing and heading for the little eating-corner in the hangar. "I thought you were rambling today."

"I was," he replied. "I rambled right into Captain Jack Harkness."

She stopped and turned around. "Our Capta -- oh. Not ours?"

"Depends on your definition of the word, I reckon," he said. "This universe's. Not the other."

"Oh," she said again, sitting down. "So he didn't know you."

"No."

"How'd he look?"

"Older," he said. "But he's got a nicer ship -- he's moving up in the world."

"He showed you his ship?"

"Well," he said. "Yeah."

"What on earth happened?"

"He showed me his ship, came on to me, asked for a tour of the labs, and then I left."

"Yes but why were you in his ship to start with?"

"He saved me from a mugging."

Rose dropped her head to her arms.

"Start at the beginning, 'stead of the end," she said, her voice slightly muffled. "And bring me a sandwich."

He opened the fridge and hunted around in it for a second until he located her sandwich, unwrapping it and taking half for himself before placing the other half in her hand. She looked up, caught him chewing on his half, and shook her head, smiling.

Turkey and bacon! How was a man supposed to resist?

"I didn't do anything," he said, as a preface. "I was walking and some bloke stopped me and wanted me to come along with him. They were just going to put me in handcuffs -- "

"They?" she asked.

"Oh, a second one showed up. I got a bad feeling, but Jack ran them off. He thought we shouldn't hang about, I thought the same, so he took me to his ship. Seems like he was looking for me. Same old scavenger Jack," he added. "He thought I was salvage for a minute."

Rose gave him a dry look that very clearly said she didn't entirely differ with Jack on that count.

"So he made a pass, then when I stepped on his foot he went and found that magazine snap of you with Tony. He said he wanted to see the labs, but I told him he should stay away from us."

Rose tilted her head and finished swallowing before she spoke again. "You did?"

"Well," he said uncomfortably, suddenly aware that there was no actual rational reason to keep Jack at arm's length. He was an ordinary man -- they were both ordinary men now -- and it wasn't like Rose was going to immortalify Jack Harkness twice. It still gave him a twitchy, anxious feeling to think of the other Jack, though, and this Jack had seemed...

Happy. Lonely, but happy. Pleased with his place in the universe. Why upset that balance?

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot," he said. "Mark Twain said that. Now there was a man who could talk. He'd rival Oscar Wilde for always having to be centre of attention."

"You think we can't be any good for him."

"I think Jack Harkness has been looking out for himself for a good many years. He doesn't need us, Rose. Maybe he never did. He always said he was a better coward."

Rose's look made him certain he'd just said the wrong thing, something the other him wouldn't say. Sometimes she looked that way -- not often, but enough that he knew he was still being measured against a Time Lord and found wanting. And it wasn't fair, because he was only human, but then again it wasn't fair that Rose had been made his keeper when he wasn't the one she wanted.

But most of the time it didn't seem to matter, and the rest of the time he could distract her pretty quickly. He was going to hold onto Rose as long as he could.

"Did you call the police about the mugging?" she asked.

"They didn't get anything off me."

"They were going to handcuff you, Doctor, that's kind of serious," she insisted.

"We never called the police before."

"Before was...different, that's all. What if they're after you, like Jack was? I need to call Mum," she said, digging out her mobile. He sat and contemplated the police and ate the bacon out of his sandwich as she asked Jackie to make sure the security on the mansion was extra-tight.

Most of what had happened to him had fallen outside of the purview of law enforcement on a thousand different worlds. Even when he'd been stranded on Earth, decades ago, he'd worked with UNIT and not the police. Why would he? He could look after himself. If he couldn't protect himself or the people around him, the police sure weren't going to be any use.

But he was mortal now, and could die.

Rose must have mistaken his expression for dismay; she closed the phone and put her hands around his, fingertips rubbing his wrists just below the base of the thumb.

"We don't have to make a report," she said. "You're right, they were probably just punks."

"Probably," he said, smiling. "I should check on Ianto."

They found Ianto sitting in a chair by the window in the Doctor's lab, a small alarm clock on the sill, totally engrossed in one of the books from the slowly-growing collection on the lab shelf: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. When he saw them he started upright and tugged on his sleeves nervously.

"Doctor," he said. "I thought you were -- "

"Ooer, that one's my favourite," the Doctor said, plucking it out of his hands. "Have you read it before?"

"Er," Ianto said, glancing at Rose.

"He doesn't want to admit it," she grinned.

"Have you got to the bit where they hug like brothers?"

Ianto snorted. "Sure, like brothers."

The Doctor laughed and handed it back to him, leaning over the readout on the stabiliser grid.

"It looks good," Ianto offered.

"It does," the Doctor said, patting the machine affectionately.

"You know," Rose remarked, "You could have asked Jack to bring you a screwdriver if you really wanted one."

"Who's Jack?" Ianto asked.

"Friend of mine," the Doctor murmured. "He'd have charged for it, though. And it's sort of nice, building one of my own."

"Like a Jedi," Rose said, ruffling his hair. He glanced at her; so much affection still sometimes made him uncomfortable, especially in front of impartial witnesses like Ianto or Mary Ellen.

"A Judoon?" he asked, perplexed. "They don't build their own blasters."

"No, a Jedi," she repeated.

"Building your own lightsabre," Ianto put in.

"What are you two on about?" the Doctor asked, baffled.

"Have you never seen Star Wars?" Ianto said.

"The films?" Rose supplied helpfully.

"There's films of stars having wars?" the Doctor asked. "They're not even sentient. Well, most of them aren't. And the ones that are definitely have better things to do than war. Was it some kind of reality show?"

Ianto gave Rose a despairing look.

"Right then, I know what we're doing this afternoon," she said, and led him away from the lab.

"Buy book four if we haven't got it!" he called over his shoulder to Ianto, who saluted with the third book and went back to his reading.

***

"This is the most ridiculously unbelievable science fiction film ever."

Chapter Text

Ianto

A few weeks after the day the Doctor abandoned him for Star Wars, Ianto woke to the sound of his mobile ringing insistently on the bookcase where it was charging. He fumbled his way out of bed, ignoring Lisa's sleepy complaints, and looked blearily at the number. Rose.

"Yuh?" he managed, opening it.

"Ianto Jones?" said a male voice on the other end of the line.

"Yes..."

"This is Pete, Rose's father."

Ianto blinked, suddenly wide awake. "Mr. Tyler, sir. Is Rose all right?"

"She's fine, but there's been an incident at the mansion. I need you to go to Torchwood. The Doctor's about out of his -- "

In the background he could hear a muffled "Give me that!" followed by a rustling noise. Then, of course, the Doctor's clear tones.

"Ianto, check the hangar first and then the labs. Lock everything behind you as you go."

"What's going on?" Ianto asked, attempting to one-handedly pull on his trousers. He looked down and realised it might work better if he took off his pyjamas first.

"Someone tried to get into Rose's room," the Doctor replied. "They had technology they should not have and if they realise what we've got at Torchwood -- "

"Right, right," Ianto said, rummaging madly for a belt. Lisa was sitting up in bed now, staring at him. "I'll call Mary Ellen, have her meet me there, she's the one with all the keys."

"Call Rose's phone when you're there. Erm," the Doctor said, then added hastily, "And the police, if -- if you think you need to."

"Expect a call in twenty," Ianto said, and hung up long enough to pull a jumper over his head before dialing Mary Ellen. She didn't pick up on the first try, and he managed to get his shoes on while he waited through a second and third try. On the fourth try, she answered swearing.

"Doctor's orders," he said apologetically. "Break in at the mansion, he wants us to check the labs. You've got the keys."

"You're joking."

"I'll meet you there," he said, and hung up.

"I hope you're getting overtime," Lisa complained, hauling him down by the arm for a kiss as he grabbed his keys off the nightstand. After a second's thought, he went to the closet and took down the lockbox with his sidearm in it; Torchwood had issued it to him years ago, back when it was a towering presence on Canary Wharf, and never asked for it back. Lisa had made him disassemble hers and throw it in the river. He cleaned his every week -- but never when she was in the flat.

"You remember how it is," he murmured, kissing her a second time. "We work to the job."

"Don't get killed," she ordered. He smiled and ran for the car.

He considered calling the police on the drive over; he hadn't fired a gun in a year or two, hadn't ever fired it off a training range, and if they were armed he didn't stand a chance of doing much more than intimidating them. On the other hand, the idea of strange policemen in the labs, where there were delicate and dangerous and classified materials on every worktable, appealed even less.

Mary Ellen hadn't yet arrived when he pulled the car up in front of the lobby doors and jumped out. There was a night security-guard in a little kiosk outside the hangar, but that was all; parking wasn't even secured, the idea being that anyone smart enough to understand what they were doing here and get in for a look at it was probably working for them anyway.

"Mr. Tyler sent me," he told the woman. "Seen anything suspicious?"

"God, I wish," she replied. "Dead boring. Did a round of the building fifteen minutes ago."

"What kind of keys do you have?"

"Just the hangar key and the lobby. Scientists don't like me having their lab keys," she snorted.

"Right. Okay." He rang through to Rose's mobile, but nobody answered; he left a message just as Mary Ellen's car appeared. She was wearing a pyjama shirt and a pair of business slacks. He glanced down at the jumper he was wearing and realised the v-neck of the collar probably showed off his own pyjamas underneath.

"Someone tried to break into the Tyler mansion," he said.

"I thought that's what you said," Mary Ellen replied, lips thinning in disapproval.

"So the Doctor thought we should make sure nobody's messed with the labs."

"More trouble than the rest of them rolled up together," she said, but she smiled a little as she spoke. "Come on th -- what are you doing?"

"I have a permit," Ianto said defensively, tucking the gun's holster back in his pocket and checking the clip.

"Put that thing away," she ordered. "You'll shoot something and blow us all up."

"Ye of little faith," he said, and gestured for her to open the door.

***

They found nothing in the hangar and no suspicious shadows in the labs, though Ianto did almost shoot a computer when his phone went off, startling him.

"Doctor?" he asked.

"Sorry to disappoint," said Rose's voice.

"Not at all. Are you all right?"

"Fine, now that everyone in the world has stopped hovering over me," she said, and Ianto decided the tone of voice was more for someone in her immediate area than for his own benefit. "I can't believe he got you out of bed in the middle of the night."

"All part of the service, miss," he said, and she laughed a little, which was nice to hear.

"Yeah, well, don't indulge his hang-ups -- yes, I'm talking about you," she said, her voice muffled by (presumably) a hand over the receiver.

"Can I ask what happened, now that it seems to have...stopped happening?"

"There was a break-in at the mansion. I think someone's out to get us," Rose replied.

"Same people who roughed up the Doctor?"

"No, this was a woman -- ginger, big scar on her forehead. Didn't even bother with a mask, she shouldn't be hard to spot."

"She got away, then?"

"Smoke bomb."

"High tech," Ianto observed.

"They're not that hard to make."

"Mm." Ianto tried to stifle a yawn. "Police?"

"This time? Yeah," she said, and there was a dark edge to her voice that he'd never encountered before. "Crawlin' all over the house." Another muffled conversation -- "Christ, what do you mean Mary Ellen's there too?"

"Is that the Doctor?" Mary Ellen asked, as if summoned. Ianto put a finger to his lips.

"He's gone completely insane," Rose said. "Nobody's hurt and now they've tipped their hand. You, send Mary Ellen home and go back to bed and don't come in until noon, no matter how many times he calls you."

"Oi!" in the background. "Pete agreed with me!"

"Men," Rose said, her tone oddly venomous. "Ianto?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ianto replied. "Bed it is."

Mary Ellen looked pleased, anyway.

***

Rose

Rose was a light sleeper, most of the time, but even if she hadn't been she knew that the redheaded woman who'd tried to break into the mansion wouldn't have got within ten feet of her. For one thing, she didn't really spend much time in her old ground-floor room anymore; she'd shifted most of her stuff into the large but dim bedroom they'd given the Doctor, two floors up. She viewed it as a sort of experiment, not that she would have told him that; it was all very well to be passionately in love while adventuring round the universe, but god knew if they'd be able to stand each other when she spent all day tinkering with physics and he alternated between moping and frantic bursts of creative energy.

They had got on well. Stupidly well. He wasn't easy, but nobody had ever promised her easy and at least most of the time he treated her with respect and let her solve her own problems. Except for right now, when he was being a complete moron along with everyone else in her entire circle of acquaintance.

"Listen, I told you, I'm fine," she said for the hundredth time. The Doctor just tightened his arm around her shoulders where they sat on the couch; her mum paced back and forth, agitatedly rocking Tony in her arms. "Oh for God's -- give him to me," she ordered, as Tony began to wail at his rough treatment. "Honestly."

The Doctor was quiet for the moment, had been except to make a few telephone calls (mad ones; sending Ianto out to the lab in the middle of the night, making Mary Ellen go with him!) and demand reassurance that she was fine. It was just all so stupid, because the woman had broken into her bedroom and got as far as the door before the alarms sounded and hadn't even been on the same floor as Rose. The Doctor knew she hadn't got near Rose, because the Doctor had been sleeping next to her when shouting below woke them both.

Her mum placed Tony in her arms and he quieted, shoving his chubby face into her shoulder. A few inches lower, the Doctor's fingers tapped out a gentle -- but compulsive -- staccato beat, never quite uniform. He shifted sideways slightly, reaching across with his other arm to ruffle Tony's hair.

"D'you know, we can't possibly let your mum educate him," he said, in a low voice meant to amuse her.

"Oi! She did all right with me," Rose retorted.

"As soon as he can talk, straight on basic maths and physics. You can't catch a human too young," he continued, as if he hadn't heard her. "Well. Maybe maths and literature. Got to be well-rounded."

"You sound like a dad," she said, and he looked at her, horrified.

"I've gone native," he said. "Worse, I've gone domestic. I'm making plans for the future upbringing of a human child. Not even my human child -- wait..."

He got that faintly unfocused look he always got when he was thinking especially hard.

"I can breed, can't I?" he asked, and the horror had been replaced with a distant, disconnected tone that meant he was well past ordinary emotion. His fingers on her arm stopped tapping. "And we've had a lot of sex."

"Keep it down," she said, nodding her head at her mum, who was still pacing, and her dad, who was talking with the police.

"But we have. A lot. I mean. Not that it's not nice..."

"Oh, ta, very much."

"You could be pregnant. Right now," he said.

"Yeah, but I'm not."

"But you could be!"

"But I'm not," she said. "Also, can we freak out over only one thing at a time please?"

"It's more efficient this way. Are you sure? How do you know you're not?"

She rolled her eyes. "We do have such a thing as birth control in this century."

"Oh," he said.

For a genius, he did have one or two very broad blind spots.

"Besides, you said you were a dad once. You'd probably be a good dad," she added, and he pressed his face into her hair.

"I don't know that I was," he said. "Not by human standards. You don't -- do you want -- ?"

"Oh my god no," she said. "Not right now anyway."

"Good. Thank you. Right." And he leaned back. "So. We should -- did you want to sleep? We could get out of the house."

"I don't think they'll be back tonight, do you?"

"Reckon not. Still. Traumatic and all."

"No, seriously, I wasn't even on the same floor." She stood up and passed Tony back to Jackie, kissing her cheek. "I'm going back to bed. You should too."

"I couldn't sleep a wink after all this," her mum said. "And the police are doing balls-all. What do we pay taxes for, I ask you!"

Rose caught the eye of the nearest policeman, who looked as though he would rather be anywhere else right now. She winked at him, and he touched the brim of his hat to her.

"Well, at least put Tony down or he'll be cranky tomorrow," she said, and grabbed the Doctor's hand. "G'night, mum."

She led the way up the stairs and back to his -- their -- room, shedding the housecoat she'd haphazardly thrown on over her pyjamas and smoothing out the blankets. As she straightened she felt the Doctor wrap an arm around her waist from behind, pulling her back against his body.

"I don't mean to be an embarrassment," he said. "But if I lost you -- "

"You'd go on. It's what you do," she said.

"I don't know. Then...I never let myself have this. Well. Some part of me wanted it but...it was easier to resist. Now that I've had this, all of it, if I had to lose it, I don't think I could survive."

"Well, you won't lose it, so there's no point fretting."

"I can't help it," he said, and she realised he was shaking, holding onto her to keep from flying to pieces. And at the same time kissing her, desperately, at the nape of her neck and lower on her throat and across her shoulder. She turned in his arms, startling him. Sometimes he was still such a stray cat, all nerves and wariness and hunger.

"I'm here," she said. "It's all right."

It made a certain amount of sense; after all, everyone knew that after a fright or a funeral people turned to another f-word to remind them they were alive. So she kissed him and tucked her fingers in the hem of the t-shirt he'd thrown on over a pair of Mickey's old trousers after realising he couldn't run out naked to see what the commotion was. Now it was all in the way, and he made a desperate needy whimper as she pulled the shirt off.

"See?" she said, running her hands up the front of his torso from waist to shoulder. She'd had time to try and figure out what he liked, what this human body of his responded to; at first any touch seemed about equal, and she wondered how long he'd gone without anything more than a casual shoulder-brush or the occasional hug. Once he'd had his fill of touch, though, she'd begun noticing slight variations. As with everything, he was all broad gestures or small details, with very little in-between. He liked this, her palms sliding across his skin in wide strokes, but he also liked a single fingertip rubbing the base of his neck, a light kiss, the simple press and thrust of two bodies together. He wasn't adventurous, per se, but she was willing to give him time -- and more than willing to give him this.

He turned them both, pivoting gracefully enough, dropping back on the bed with her on top of him, making her laugh. He had such serious eyes sometimes that she laughed to get him to laugh, because he was -- at least now -- one of those people who couldn't help but laugh when others did. As if he found the whole human race funny and was just waiting for an excuse. Or, if he didn't laugh, at least he wasn't quite so grave.

She straddled his thighs and managed to get the flies on the trousers undone, rising up briefly to help him wriggle out of them. Rule number one in a situation such as this was that you couldn't give the Doctor time to think, because he'd just think himself up in knots. So she kissed him as soon as he was naked and grasped one of his wrists, lifting his hand to her hip. He liked this, too, and that was a surprise. As much as she loved him, she knew he was arrogant and thought he always knew best. It was startling that he would give up control of anything so easily, let alone something as important (to humans, anyway) as sex.

She was reflecting on this, and meditating on the tender skin just below his clavicle, when he grunted and held onto her arms tightly and rolled, startling her, pressing her into the blankets. He looked -- desperate, and painfully human. And something else, unidentifiable until he bent his head and gently latched his teeth on the side of her throat before whispering something incoherent against her skin.

Possessive.

His intensity was frightening, but nothing she'd not seen before, and then it wasn't him proving to himself that they were alive, it was him protecting people or defending himself or, further and further back to when he wore another face, screaming defiant rage to a universe that didn't care.

Yeah, she remembered this.

He caught her up in it before her thoughts could go any further, which was maybe just as well, and all she could hope was that somewhere in the tangled mess of gasps and bodies and fear and reassurance and demand and orgasm he'd find an anchor-point.

If she couldn't anchor him, then he'd just drift away, and he'd break her heart for a second time.

"I'm here. I'll always be here."

***

Captain Jack Harkness

I don't do third-person.

Even before I cut loose from the Agency I've never really done hanging-around either, especially with no profit in sight. But there was a hot skinny guy who needed a hand and who knew Rose Tyler, the Rose Tyler of Torchwood. He was all kinds of wrong for twenty-first-century Earth, too, and as much as I really hate the twenty-first century (the food alone is a turn-off) I liked a puzzle. Doctor Rubik. Name stuck.

I had nowhere to be and nothing particularly urgent to sell, and nobody was on my ass (nobody else likes that stupid century either) so I stalked him. Just a little bit. Harmlessly. The night of the break-in I was actually nowhere nearby, because there was also this girl I met in a bar. Hey, I'm only human.

The computer caught it on the police-band, though, and when I got back and kicked off my boots there was a full report waiting -- a break-in at the Tyler mansion, nothing stolen, thief run off by security alarms. The extra money for the AI autohacker was completely worth it.

It was weird to be worried about someone's well-being, but to be honest I kind of took a shine to Doctor Rubik and obviously a guy like him wasn't exactly a fighter. More of a runner. And there was still the chance that if I could play the white knight I'd get something out of it -- attention, lauds, cash, whatever.

So I thought I'd stop in and pay a visit, the following day, make sure Doctor Rubik was okay and take him some grapes if he wasn't. And I really really wanted to get into his -- labs.

It made sense to up their security after someone tried to bump off Rose Tyler, but that's what psychic paper is for. And the uniform. You wouldn't believe the places a contemporary military uniform can get me into.

"Hiya," I said to the woman working at the front desk of the main lab building. I waved the psychic paper at her. "Captain Jack Harkness. Security consultant. Can you point me to Rose Tyler?"

She lifted an eyebrow.

"I love a skeptic," I added, and gave her one of my really charming smiles. She picked up the telephone and dialed. You know what I miss? Rotary telephones. I should have one installed on the ship.

"Ianto," she said. Apparently they'd been briefed about Captain Jack. I knew I should have tipped him some retcon. "Captain Harkness is asking to speak to Ms. Tyler."

I tried leaning over the desk and listening in, but she actually put her finger on my forehead and pushed me back. Rrow.

"Yes, of course," she continued, and hung up the telephone. "Someone will be with you shortly."

"Someone named Ianto? Is he a doctor by any chance?"

She gave me a grin. "A doctor's assistant."

"Did his doctor say anything about me?"

"Yes," she said, and went back to her work.

"Like what you heard?" I asked.

"You can't have my phone number."

"E-mail?"

"No, Captain Harkness. Also, the Doctor told me specifically to tell you that Ianto Jones is engaged to someone and polyamory has yet to gain a foothold in this century."

I love it when they talk dirty. "So this Jones guy is hands-off, huh? And you're breaking my heart. I suppose the Doctor's monogamous?"

Her smile softened, the way peoples' do when they're happy their friends are happy. It's one of the prettiest sights in the universe. Which is about when it hit me like a ton of bricks, the reason Doctor Rubik would be hovering over Rose Tyler in newspaper snaps, but I only had about two seconds in which to be staggeringly envious of both of them before Ianto Jones showed up.

Yeah, so that's why the Doctor warned me off him.

I've seen a lot of things across the universe that people think are hot: nudity on half-a-dozen tropical planets (and one arctic one, but they have fur too), gauzy dresses on women and men, skintight neolatex, braces to keep your head held straight, tattoos, piercings where I personally am not certain piercings should go...but give me someone in a traditional twentieth-century suit, with those collars and buttons and neckties -- talk about your handy bondage gear -- and I can keep both of us amused for hours.

"New shopping list," he said to Mary Ellen, apparently too polite to acknowledge my immediate smolder. It's a shame, I'm good at smoldering.

"What now?" she sighed.

"Are you ready? Five solid glass rods, flat-ended, fifteen centimetres long by five millimetres in diameter. Access to a jeweler's metalworking studio, one pair of night-vision goggles for parts, two protective face shields, three blue LED lights, and a large tin of peanuts."

"Peanuts?" she asked.

"They're good protein," Ianto Jones said. He passed her the list and then turned to me. "Captain Harkness?"

"Call me Jack," I said, offering my hand.

"Jack," he said, and engaged or not he was completely into me. A man knows these things. I waited for another dose of his pretty accent -- what was that, Irish? -- and it got dumped on my head like a bucket of cold water. "You're going to have to empty your pockets and leave your coat here."

"For you? I'd go naked," I said, and shucked the coat. I think that's a pretty fair comeback, myself.

"I'd say you're lucky I'm not going to search you, but you'd probably disagree," he said, and I turned my pockets inside-out to show I wasn't carrying anything. And maybe pulled my trousers tight just a little. "And your wrist-strap, sir."

"Nuh-uh. Strap stays on," I replied.

"Then you stay here," he said.

"Look, I'm not going to rob you, I wanted to see how he was, that's all," I wheedled, trying for earnestness.

"Which is of course why you asked for Ms. Tyler," he said, but now we were flirting and it's usually only a few inches from flirting to me getting what I want.

"He didn't give me his name," I said.

"He hasn't got one."

I was torn. The strap never comes off; it's the first rule with the Agency, and it's a smart one. On the other hand, here was a good-looking man ready and willing to take me to the Doctor, and apparently I'd made enough of an impression on him for him to warn all these people about me.

"Strap comes off, but I keep it in my pocket," I said. He tilted his head slightly.

"Fair enough," he said, and I stripped it off. My skin felt naked without it, and there was a definite tan-line.

I followed him down a hallway, mostly open doors filled with lab equipment and people doing their funny little twenty-first century experiments, until I could hear Doctor Rubik's voice. He sounded annoyed.

"Himself is in a state," Ianto murmured, opening the door. "Doctor, your guest."

This lab was cleaner than the others, with a bookshelf on one side and a long worktable on the other. A lot of the standard equipment for a lab was missing, and in its place a row of small machines were sitting side-by-side on the table. There were two chairs and a smaller round table near the high, wide window. The Doctor was bent over a machine, talking to himself as he worked, mostly annoyed phrases -- "what are you good for?" "why did I build it this way?" "What was I thinking?" and, worryingly, "Now, are you going to catch fire again?"

"Doctor Rubik," I said, as Ianto cleared his throat. The man straightened, turning towards me.

"Captain Jack Harkness," the Doctor said, crossing his arms and looking like I was one more pain in his ass. "I should have known you wouldn't listen."

"I love a puzzle, Rubik," I replied.

He waved the name off with a hand. "Don't call me that."

"Why not?"

"It's not my name."

"You think Jack is mine?" I asked.

"Why'd you come, Jack?"

I looked down and then up at him through the Eyelashes. Yeah, that's right, they rate a capital letter.

"I wanted to see if you were okay," I said.

"What do you know about it?" Ianto asked behind me. I wondered if he carried a gun.

"Police scanner," I said. The Doctor watched me closely.

"I asked you to stay away for your own sake," he said.

"Which only made me want to know more," I said. "Smart."

He covered his face with one hand, then ran it through his hair, making it stand on end.

"Well, obviously, here I am," he said finally. "Ianto?"

The kid laid a hand on my arm, but I wasn't going to give up the advantage of having gotten past the receptionist of my dreams.

"I think you promised me a tour, Doctor," I said, and smiled sidelong at Ianto for good measure.

"Jack, you know perfectly well I didn't -- "

"Is that a flux regulator?" I interrupted, pointing at the flux regulator. "Where'd you find it?"

"I built it, you infuriating huma -- you -- Jack!" he called, but I was already crouching by the counter and legitimately falling in love with his energy transducer. Oh, baby. He'd hooked the transducer into a cel grid stabilised by the flux regulator, a setup I'd only seen in a museum before. I looked up at him and saw something dark in his eyes. Loss and loneliness and yearning.

God, it would have been too easy.

"If you wanted one, you only had to say," I said. "Don't tell me you have blaster envy, Doctor."

His smile was tight and hard. "How's the banana plantation?"

"Thriving," I said, before I thought about it, and then realised what his tone had implied. My blaster was one of the last the company made; shortly thereafter they shut down, which was weird because business was booming, and a banana plantation opened on the site. But all that was centuries into the future.

Ianto coughed quietly behind us.

"I'll get some tea, shall I?" he said, and disappeared out the door.

"How about you tell me," I said, slowly and carefully, because we weren't armed and he looked like he had anger on his side if it came to blows, "just who exactly you are, Doctor?"

"I'll tell you if I ever find it out," he replied.

I stood up and got into his personal space (I like boundaries. They're so much fun to cross). "I'm good at helping people find what they're looking for."

It was nice to stand in front of someone and be level eye-to-eye. I could feel his breath as he exhaled, warm on my lips.

"Sonic screwdriver," he said.

"Is...is that a metaphor of some kind?" I asked, confused.

"It's what I'm building."

Baffling, adorable puzzle. "Why?"

"Very useful things, screwdrivers," he told me, still not moving. Most people, when they want to kiss someone, don't fight it like that. He had more stillness in him than anyone I'd ever met -- either that or it just seemed like it, in comparison to the manic movement that could break out at any time.

"Yeah, but who looks at a screwdriver and says -- "

" -- this could be a little more sonic?" he asked, interrupting my thought and tilting his head slightly.

I swear to you in forty-seven years of life I've never been more turned on.

"I do," he finished, and with a sudden sharp movement jerked his head sideways to look over my shoulder.

"Jack Harkness," said a new, female voice. "Jesus, can't you keep it in your pants for two minutes at a time?"

The voice wasn't familiar, though the sentiment wasn't entirely unknown to me. I turned around.

Rose Tyler was standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, glaring at me. I looked back at good old Rubik, whose smile was currently bright enough to provide solar power for a small planet.

"Cap'n Jack Harkness," I said, turning again and coming forward to offer my hand. "Although everyone around here already seems to know that." I considered the fact that these were twenty-first century people with twenty-first century jealousy issues. "This isn't what it looks like."

She gave me a withering look. "I know that. D'you think I believe he'd jump you just because you smell good?"

I crossed my arms, grinning. "I smell good, huh?"

"Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler," the Doctor said, waving his hand in resignation. Rose was looking me up and down like she was comparing me to the stories (everyone's heard the stories). Her eyes lingered here and there -- hands, ears, hair, face. And they outlined the cut of my uniform, though she seemed to disapprove of it.

When you really looked at her, there was a hardness about her that you don't see in many women of the era, that you don't see in many women of any era, or many men. She looked like the ordinary blind humanity of her had been scorched off, leaving something stronger in its wake. She wasn't cruel or bitter or angry; she was just determined, with the strength of youth on her side, and no obstacle was going to stand in her way for long.

She was glorious.

Stupid monogamous civilisation. Caught between glowingly strong Rose Tyler and my mysterious dark Doctor, all I could think about was --

"You're drooling," the Doctor said in my ear. Behind her, in the hallway, Ianto hovered uncertainly.

"If you've come to sell us anything, we're not buying," she said.

"How about my soul?" I asked.

"I think we both know you signed that one away a long time ago."

"Got two kidneys left," I offered. She blinked at me. "For a tour of Torchwood."

The upshot was, after a lot of cajoling, I got my tour and to keep both kidneys.

The equipment was all interesting, like a working example of what you see in the museums. But I was more interested in watching the people, real people doing everyday tasks like making coffee and eating biscuits while at the same time taking little steps forward into the universe. They fascinated me, their obvious office romances and quirky friendships and petty rivalries.

And, of course, at the centre of it all was Rose -- a bright hard slip of a woman who wasn't even aware of the adulation of the scientists and engineers, who was effortlessly likeable. She'd have fit in where I come from without any trouble at all. Hell, I liked her too. And her Doctor obviously worshipped her, always watching like she was the only thing in his world that mattered. It was reasonably obvious they were in love -- not the idiotic necking-in-the-hallways-and-pretending love but real love, the kind that doesn't need to show itself off. He even shied away from her once or twice, hanging back, as if he didn't think he deserved a public display.

Real love messes you up. That's why I stick to sex.

***

It was a little bit like those films they make where everything's overcivilised and you sit down to have a drink with your enemy a few hours before one of you, I don't know, steals the other's top-secret government files or something. Bond film -- it was like a Bond film. Or something with Humphrey Bogart in it. I love Humphrey Bogart films. I've never met him; I think it would ruin the monochrome mystique.

Rose seemed to actually like me, but I got the feeling that the Doctor and Ianto were heeling and playing nice for her sake. She finished with the grand tour right around the time a pretty young woman appeared to spirit our eye-candy lab assistant away. Lisa Hallett-soon-to-be-Jones; she was worth the monogamy, I decided, even if she did have one fake arm she was trying to hide. You notice these things in my line of work.

"So," Rose said, as Ianto and his lovely Lisa disappeared into the car park. "How do we measure up to the fifty-first century, Jack?"

Which she couldn't possibly have known unless the Doctor told her, and how could he have known?

"He gets nervous about it," she said, probably because she saw the look on my face. "But I was always human, and I've walked across space and time to get what I want. So I tend not to keep secrets."

"Rose," the Doctor warned. She just gave him a sunny smile.

"It's good," I said, because I wasn't sure how else to put it.

"Like Galileo's observatory, I think you said."

I cast a look at the Doctor. He shrugged.

"Come to dinner," Rose said finally. She took my hand, which ordinarily would be permission for misbehaviour, but which in reality made me feel like I was three years old, being led along by my mother. "We'll buy you a meal and I'll tell you who we are, Jack."

***

"Wait, so I traveled around with you for months and never got to sleep with either of you?"

***

Rose

The Doctor had been quiet over dinner, but not sulky, and not by all appearances unhappy. He'd smiled at her several times as she recounted the adventures they'd had, one or two in vivid and, she thought, hilarious detail. He'd even smiled at Jack once or twice, and shaken his hand without rancor when they'd left him near the river and gone walking towards home.

Now she was brushing her hair and he was reading, the picture of domesticity; his remarks about going domestic had worried her, but he was still here, warm and human. He wasn't miserable just because he was human. At least, she hoped.

"Which gristly queen of crime is it tonight?" she asked, settling on her stomach on the bed and studying him, chin propped on her hands.

"Sayers still," he replied. "I told you I was reading slowly."

"What happened to Agatha Christie? I thought you liked her better."

"I thought so too," he answered, turning the page.

"But...?"

A year ago and more, when he was something else, he might have just looked at her and smiled or quipped or changed the subject, because that was his way -- secretive and unwilling to open to a human, even to her. Now he tipped his head back, thoughtfully.

"I like Lord Peter," he said. "He's as messed in the head as I am."

"Mmh," she said, because she never knew how to answer when he said things like that. He didn't really seem to need an answer at all, anyway. "So. Does the bad guy get what's coming to 'im?"

"I'm not sure," he answered.

"Not sure?"

"He shoots himself."

"Sounds pretty good to me."

"Does it?" he asked, eyes flicking up to study her. "Lord Peter talks him into it."

"Urgh."

He flicked back a page and ran his finger down the paper, thoughtfully.

"What do you want me to do?" he said at last.

"Write a clear account of what actually happened," said Wimsey. "Make a clean job of it for these other people."

"And then?"

"Then do as you like. In your place I know what I should do."

Rose listened to him read, not conscious at first of what he was reading, only of his voice, low and calm, rising or falling with the inflection of the words.

"Now that the paper is in Lord Peter Wimsey's hands, you understand that he can only take the course of communicating with the police. But as that would cause a great deal of unpleasantness to yourself and to other people, you may wish to take another way out of the situation. You will perhaps prefer to make your own arrangements. If not -- "

He drew out from his jacket-pocket the thing which he had fetched.

"If not, I happen to have brought this with me from my private locker. I am placing it here, in the table-drawer, preparatory to taking it down into the country to-morrow. It is loaded."

The villain wasn't supposed to be heroic, but even Rose could see that he was going to shoot himself to protect a girl.

Their shadows moved, lengthened, shortened, doubled and crossed as they passed the seven lights in the seven bays of the library. The door shut after them.

"How about a drink, Colonel?" said Wimsey.

He closed the book and set it aside, looking up at the ceiling again. Rose rubbed her cheek against the crook of his leg where it was bent. After a while, he inhaled to speak.

"If Jack asked you to go with him, would you go?" he asked.

"No," she answered, without thinking.

"Why not? He could offer you what I offered you. Show you the stars. Take you through time. He could be what I was to you."

"No, he couldn't," she said, hearing the angry flat tone in her own voice and disliking it. "He isn't you."

"I'm hardly me these days," he answered, but he slid his body down until his head rested on the pillows, and she inched up until she was lying next to him, propped on one elbow now, watching emotions move across his face. Whatever else he wasn't, he was at least more easy to read now. He turned his head, meeting her gaze.

"I'll never be normal," he said. "But I'll never be ordinary enough for Earth, either."

"That makes two of us," she said drowsily. "Go to sleep. You're talking loads of bollocks."

***

The Doctor

He woke the next morning from a nightmare. Not a terror -- those sent him into sweats and shakes, but they were fewer and further between now. Just a nightmare, and how sad that he was relieved at this. Not even a nightmare from his past, the one where he watched himself slaughter the Daleks or the one where Davros was still slicing his flesh open -- one million two hundred and fifty-seven thousand one hundred and one, one million two hundred and fifty seven thousand one hundred and two -- but a dream about Gallifrey, seeing Rose standing in the red light of his home and screaming at her to run, knowing it wouldn't do any good as the firestorm engulfed the planet.

The cool English light streamed through the windows, grey and reassuring. He glanced at the clock. Five in the morning; too early to be up, but too late to go back to sleep.

He slid out of the bed, drawing a snort and a sigh from Rose, and went to the shower to wash. He couldn't technically see himself aging, not so soon anyway, but sometimes when he looked in the mirror he could feel that he was older, weeks older, growing towards age and death. Time Lords didn't think much about death, their final death, until well into their lives, and generally by then they'd grown either so philosophical or so worn into their ways that they didn't worry about it. He certainly never had.

He dressed quietly and turned the doorknob with special care, shutting the door behind him softly and padding barefoot through the hall. In a place like this, one could almost imagine one was in the TARDIS, with its never-ending corridors, but there was no steady thrum of life here. Just the soft noises of animals outside, the occasional brush of a tree branch against a window, and --

Soft snuffling, from the half-open nursery door. He stopped and peered inside.

Tony was sitting up in his crib, playing with a much-gnawed-upon plush toy, a dodecahedron adorned with bright animal faces. The child had good taste. When he saw the Doctor in the doorway he held both arms up plaintively. The Doctor rubbed his forehead.

"In for a penny," he sighed, wondering when this had become his life and how his other self, somewhere off in some other universe, would laugh to see him picking the boy up, balancing him on his hip. He'd laugh even harder at the idea that holding Tony Tyler, a silly human infant, made his heart tighten in his chest. For centuries he'd protected Earth because he liked it, out of a whim really, enjoying the feeling of being someone or something's guardian. It wasn't because of children or puppies or anything ridiculous like that.

But look at his reward. Tony, clinging to his arm, a little furnace of life in his hands.

Domestic...might work. It might.

He carried Tony into the hallway and down the stairs, making for the kitchen. It was empty and dark, but he flicked the lights on and hooked a leg around Tony's high-chair, pulling it up to the counter and settling the child in it. Tony burbled damply and slammed his hands on the tray in front of him.

"Demanding little spawn," the Doctor said affectionately, and reached into the cupboard for a bowl while his other hand found the Weetabix. Tony continued to beat out an irregular rhythm as the Doctor dumped two cakes into the bowl, added milk, and located a banana, slicing it into discs over the cereal. After some consideration, he sliced a few into his hand and set them on Tony's tray. The child at once began to mash them all over his face, gleefully. The Doctor sighed as he leaned on the counter and watched. It was a pretty decent experiment in osmosis, but he was reasonably certain human infants couldn't absorb banana through their skin.

"Just like my oldest," he said to Tony, who ignored him. "Couldn't resist making a mess. D'you know, I don't even think he got that from me? Not that I'm not inclined to make a mess, but it's always a useful mess."

He chewed thoughtfully on his cereal. "For instance, here I am, talking to someone whose higher motor control is still obviously dubious, Rose would call that me being a mess myself. Still, stimulating all those little human neurons, aren't I? If nothing else it's bound to make you a good listener. That's a skill, you know."

He expounded as he ate, Tony engrossed in the smashed banana slices, only occasionally looking up at him.

"I don't prefer being a good listener, but I can be if I want to be. I like conversation. Back and forth. You learn all kinds of interesting things about people that way. Now, on my home planet, casual conversation wasn't considered polite unless you'd been formally introduced, you couldn't just strike up a discussion with someone the next seat over at the cafe tables. Not that we had cafe tables, but the point is, you can guess how well I got on there. I liked talking. I like talking. The trouble I got into. But I thought, you know, here we are, masters of time and space, and what do we do? We run round being snobby about it and never going offworld. You might get offworld in your lifetime," he added, gesturing at Tony with the spoon. "Specially the way your Rose is going. If you get the chance you should be off like a shot. I would be. Well. Maybe. Anyway, when you get on a bit in years and all the kids are out of the house, you start to think, what am I going to do with the next few millennia?"

Tony blew a spit bubble.

"That's exactly right," the Doctor said, and blew a raspberry back at him. Tony giggled. "So I up and went, didn't I? Took my granddaughter along because she had the most spine of any of them, and we saw...so many things. It was brilliant. I never wanted to stop. Never did stop, never had anything worth stopping for. You can't spend your whole life fretting about your children and...their mother...well, she got on better without me," he said, a trifle sadly. "And then -- they were all gone. Because of me. So even if I'd had something to settle down for I had to keep running."

He paused, drifting. "Just running and running and running. Till I picked up your sister and dragged her along, which was never fair, but -- I think the glory seen is worth admission paid. And I lost Jack and I ran and then I lost Rose and I ran and I lost Martha and...him, and Donna, everyone. I lose everyone," he said. "And I still kept running until I ran straight back to her and fell down and ended up here. Wings clipped, half-blind."

He stirred the soggy remains of his cereal, thoughtfully.

"Still...she's here. Someday she'll forgive me for not being him, right?"

"Bah," Tony said. The Doctor smiled and unthinkingly put his hand on Tony's head, broad palm and long fingers spreading out, tracing over all the little trigger-points a Time Lord might use to make contact. His sons and daughter had loved it when he'd touched their minds, their sunny, confused little heads growing calm and affectionate as his thoughts brushed against theirs.

But of course he couldn't touch Tony's mind, not as a human, and Tony wasn't in the least telepathic. Still, the child beamed up at him and shook his head playfully, dislodging his fingers. His other self could have seen echoes of the man Tony would become, could have seen all the glittering threads of possible lives for the child, but that didn't matter. He could still see the years unfurling, all the untapped potential, the joy and talent and intellect waiting to be molded, waiting to grow.

"Aren't you the most beautiful thing in all creation," the Doctor said softly. He'd seen frozen oceans and triple-sunrises and a planet made of diamonds, animals of breathtaking grace, aliens in every hue imaginable -- but in that moment he knew he meant it completely.

***

The days after the second break-in and Jack's tour of the labs were quiet ones. It seemed as if life was knitting itself together from fragments, at least for him: he'd seen Jack happy and mortal, the pieces of the sonic screwdriver were coalescing, and there was an odd peace that settled over him and Rose, soothing a mind that would go a mile a minute if he let it. Jack had either left the planet or was keeping away; Ianto, well-settled in his role, worked quietly and efficiently. The Doctor finished The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Ianto, borrowing from Lisa's extensive collection, sidetracked him into Rex Stout with Fer de Lance and The League of Frightened Gentlemen.

They took a field-trip to the metalsmith's where the casing for the screwdriver was being made; the Doctor had looked forward to it, remembering other times when his body had soaked up heat-radiation and the tingly feeling of it dissipating. This time as he stood near the furnace where the ore was melting he found himself sweating, just as Ianto was on the other side, an unpleasant gritty sensation and a reminder of who he was now. What he was.

He backslid that night, sitting at the window of the bedroom he shared with Rose, feet propped on the low windowsill, staring out -- London was close enough that he couldn't see many stars, and he wondered if he could even put names to all of them anymore. He flicked through starmaps in his mind, three-dimensional modeling them, sometimes six-dimensioning the ones he was most familiar with, but his head started to ache and he ended up just...sitting.

There were things to be done, whole lists to compose, five or six steps left on the Screwdriver and a tricky calibration process after that. There was a list of books to read, and he'd been meaning to look up when Top Gear would be on because Mary Ellen said she thought he'd enjoy it. He wanted to find a shop in London that had been there in 1982 and he hoped still sold this one toy he thought Tony would like...

But instead he was sitting, staring out at the overcast sky, not paying attention to anyone or anything around him until Rose put a hand on his shoulder and leaned down to speak into his ear.

"I've packed," she said. He blinked and looked up at her.

"Packed what?" he asked.

"Everything," she replied. "Come on. If you try to have any fun in town this weekend you'll get lost on the Tube or do yourself some harm walking into traffic."

"I'm not a child," he said, stung.

"No." And she looked so sad that he wondered what was wrong. "You're not." She stroked his hair, gently. "I miss it."

Which didn't make any sense, but he glanced over his shoulder and saw two large luggage cases on the bed.

"How long have you been here?" he asked, alarmed.

"Two hours," Rose smiled at him. "You were out there somewhere."

"And you...packed?"

"We're going off for the week-end. I'd take you to France or Greece or somewhere, but you haven't got a passport still. You'll have to make do with Southend. Come on, shift."

She pushed him gently and he stood, turned around.

"There's a car waiting at the garden gate," she said. "We're sneaking off. I've told Mum and Dad. We can catch the next train no problem."

They were quiet in the car, but once they'd bought their tickets Rose chattered cheerfully, leading him through the station to the platform, talking about how brilliantly awful the seaside was and how she expected he'd like the arcades. If he listened he could hear himself in her -- all the times he'd extolled the virtues of this or that planet, glossing over their flaws, eager to show her something new and wonderful. He let himself drop down into it, smiling when she looked at him, until they had settled themselves on the train and were moving. Darkness pressed in through the windows, but the carriage was lit well enough, and he didn't falter until Rose curled up against him with her headphones over her ears, cycling through the songs on her little music-player. An announcement came over the loudspeakers. The conductor began his swaying, splay-footed walk down the aisle.

Suddenly he couldn't breathe. It was Midnight all over again; he'd been on countless Tube trains since -- since then, but this was different, this was outside London and a different kind of train, and Rose was here and if he couldn't protect her from it, from It, the Thing, he couldn't even protect himself from the Thing and the stupid, stupid humans had started to turn on each --

"Easy," Rose's voice cut through the thought as he gasped for breath, mind spinning, fear choking him, cold bile-tasting fear and he couldn't move. "Easy. I'm here."

He could feel her hand on his chest, could feel his chest heave. He was trying to get air, but his vision was greying out and the shuttle was creeping in, oh gods of a dozen worlds, he was going to be alone on the shuttle with the Thing. But Rose's hand was warm, and her voice yanked him back; she called him -- "Doctor. Doctor!" -- and he inhaled, a great lungful of air that turned into a coughing fit. But he could move again, and he could feel tears from the coughing running down his cheeks, wiped away by Rose's fingers.

"You're okay," she said. He clung to the arm she'd slung across his chest, breathing deeply. "S'all right."

Some distant voice asked if she needed help, and a water bottle was pressed to his lips. It took him a second to coordinate breathing and sipping and swallowing, but he got a mouthful down without coughing again.

"Better this time, yeah?" she asked, as he leaned back and shut his eyes, wiping the last of the tears away with his thumb. "Didn't fall down and hit your head. Martha'd start thinking I was beating you."

He barked a laugh, raked a hand through his hair.

"Sorry," he managed.

"Maybe leaving London wasn't -- "

"It wasn't that," because it seemed important that she know that, because he could only cope with so many things at once and her upset wasn't one of them. "I -- memories, that's all."

Rose rubbed a thumb across the back of his hand, offered him another sip of water. He swallowed.

"You'll be all right," she said uncertainly.

"I will," he agreed, breathing deeply. "The last time I went...holidaying it just...wasn't so good."

"You should have said."

"I didn't think of it," he answered truthfully.

"It's all right, then, neither of our faults," she smiled at him. "D'you -- I mean you don't have to, but if you want to tell me about it...?"

He opened his mouth for the automatic denial, the quip or misdirection that would mean he could keep it locked down safely, but he realised he did. He wanted her to know. Rose could keep it for him, Rose would know and understand and then maybe it wouldn't push against his ribs like it was trying to smother him.

And he could feel the train walls moving in with every second that he tried to fit it back into place.

"Yeah," he said, and pulled her head down to his shoulder, whispering in her ear.

He told the story without any particular flair, but he didn't flinch from any of it. And she didn't pull back or say anything, not even when he lied to the other people on the transport, not even when he talked about the fear -- for himself yes, but also for Donna, abandoned without him on a planet like that. Not even when other people died. He didn't realise he'd left Midnight behind and gone on to another story, about brave -- annoying, but brave -- Adric crashing a freighter into Earth, and then a funny one about him and Martha meeting Shakespeare, and a funnier one still about Susan trying to understand the intricacies of mid-twentieth-century British currency.

At some point he fell asleep still talking. He could hear his voice die down into a mumble, but he didn't dream, and when he woke it was to Rose shaking him and telling him they'd arrived.

***

That Saturday Rose bought him a pair of swim-trunks and made him wear them, then made fun of his freckly skin and the way his nose sunburned when he forgot to put sunscreen on it (another novelty). They walked on the beach, mostly avoiding the crowds of people and the children splashing around in the water; he did like the arcades and he was brilliant at the games, but after a while the noise was overwhelming and they retreated to a quiet restaurant for lunch, fresh fish and cold beer. In the afternoon he managed to find the next Sayers mystery in a bookshop -- the shops rarely seemed to sell what he wanted to read -- and he sat in a beach chair, well-coated in sunscreen this time, and read while Rose listened to her music. It was all very human.

"Can I read you something?" he asked, as the sun began to settle behind them and Rose took her earbuds out.

"Course," she replied. "More murder?"

"Naturally. Here."

"Such a Victorian attitude, too, for a man with advanced ideas. He for God only, she for God in him, and so on. Well, I'm glad you feel like that about it."

"Are you? It's not going to be exactly helpful in the present crisis."

"What I mean to say is, when all this is over, I want to marry you, if you can put up with me and all that."

Harriet Vane, who had been smiling at him, frowned, and an indefinable expression of distaste came into her eyes.

"Oh, are you another of them? That makes forty-seven."

"Forty-seven what?" asked Wimsey, much taken aback.

"Proposals. They come in by every post. I suppose there are a lot of imbeciles who want to marry anybody who’s at all notorious."

She looked at him, head tilted. "Are you asking me to marry you?"

He blinked. "Why, do you want me to?"

"Well, that's a line of questioning that could go on all night," she sighed. "Let's pretend those last two sentences didn't happen, and also that I'm bad with metaphor, all right?"

He shrugged. "I just wonder. You saved me. Twice now. And I mean that. But -- you'd tell me if you were with me, if you were keeping me, out of some kind of duty. Wouldn't you?"

She skritched her fingernails across his scalp affectionately, and then smacked him hard in the back of the head.

"You're such an arse sometimes," she said, and stood up. "Come on, let's get dinner. I feel like a steak."

"You look like a girl," he replied, because that was the kind of thing she expected. She took his hand and pulled him along, hitching up her ragged cutoffs and tugging the bikini top she was wearing to straighten it. He noticed a man watching her, down the beach, and glared at him.

"You know, in the old days aliens would have invaded by now and we'd be in some cage somewhere plotting revenge," she remarked, all pretty blonde hair and warm skin and sandy smell. It was an opportunity too good to miss, especially in light of the man still staring at his Rose; he beamed and lunged forward, grabbing her around the waist.

"We have," he cried, his momentum carrying them forward a few steps before he crashed down into the sand, on his back, still holding on. She shrieked and squirmed, batting at his hands, while he kissed her shoulder and tried to tangle up her kicking legs. She subsided into laughter, and he pressed his sunburned nose into her neck.

"Give up, human," he growled, which made her laugh harder.

"I surrender!" she gasped, falling limp against him. He inhaled. Yes -- sand, sweat, sunscreen. Earthy smells.

"I love you," he murmured, tightening his grip around her waist.

"I know," she replied. She turned her head. "Love you too."

***

"My god, how did I get sand there?"

Chapter Text

Rose

"You know I like England, really I do, but your concept of breakfast is beyond me sometimes," the Doctor said, but he said it even as he was tucking into a battered blood sausage with remarkable enthusiasm. Rose sat back and watched in amusement as he broke off a piece, added some fried bread, dipped it in runny egg, and fitted it all into his mouth, licking his fingertips. He caught her watching and shifted the food to one side of his mouth so he could say, "What?"

"We don't normally batter-fry them," she said, feeling smug and satisfied with the world. He shrugged and kept eating. Around them, other mid-morning Sunday diners on the outdoor terrace were talking or sipping tea or, it had to be said, watching him eat with something approaching morbid fascination.

Bringing him here had been smart. He'd been so still and so quiet Friday evening that when she came into their room she'd almost thought he was dead. In that split second she'd actually wondered if it was suicide, and that told her that on some level she was worried about him. She didn't ever want Ianto to have to tell her that the Doctor was troubled again. She should see it before it got to that point.

She never knew if reminding him that he was human would hurt or help him, but in this case -- well, look at him. That was her brilliant, mad Doctor, that was. As miserable and confused as he could sometimes be, he was still hers.

"What are we doing today?" he asked, having washed the whole mess down with orange juice.

"Dunno," she said, resting her chin in her hands. "We don't have to be at the train until four."

"Technically," he said, mock-thoughtful, "we don't have to be at the train at all."

"Do you want to stay?"

"No," he laughed. "But it's nice to know we could. Set up residence, become Citizens of Southend..."

"Live in a hut, set up a sausage cart on the beach," she suggested.

"Busk outside the arcades."

"Do you play the guitar?" she asked, grinning.

"I play the piano all right. Bit hard to haul around though."

"Nice big compartment for keeping change in, on the other hand."

"We could sell sausages out of it too," he said, and they both broke down into laughter.

"So, anything we want until four," she prompted. He chewed on some egg and considered matters.

"Cinema?" he said hesitantly, as if he wasn't sure she'd approve. She hated when he did that, especially when the next words out of his mouth would be -- "What do you want to see?"

"You pick," she said firmly. He looked up from his food, head still half-bowed, eyes curious under his brows.

"All right," he said, reaching into his pocket for his mobile. He had impeccable telephone manners, at least by modern standards; he never made calls in company unless he had to, and even then he stepped away. He never answered his phone in company, either, but in place of his sonic screwdriver he had...well, bonded with it a bit.

He worked the alphanumeric keyboard deftly with one hand, forking another bite of bread-and-sausage into his mouth with the other. She watched, amused.

"Couple of blocks north," he said. "They've got an action film, one science fiction show -- I'm not having with any of that, not after Star Wars -- two animated-do's and some period thing about the War of the Roses. Been there, done that," he added, and looked up at her expectantly.

She half-suspected this would descend into a row, but then that was part of a seaside holiday, wasn't it?

"You pick," she repeated. He opened his mouth to protest, and she sighed. "Doctor. You're going to have to stop being afraid that every time you have an opinion I'm going to dump you over it."

"I don't think that," he protested.

"Well, then pick a bloody film, already."

He looked stung. "Just for that I might inflict that science-fiction one on you."

"Oh, how I will suffer." She rolled her eyes. "Pick one you want to see."

He looked down at the phone, thoughtful.

"Oi," she said softly. He looked up. "Remember the end of the world?"

"What?" he asked.

"The end of the world. The observation platform? You said the TARDIS got in my head and I got all stroppy about it, and then we nearly died for the -- what was it, fourth time?"

"Third," he said.

"And then what happened?"

He gave her a blank look. "The world ended?"

"Personally."

"Erm. Rose, I don't really know where you're -- "

"I stayed with you," she said. "I said, show me the universe, and you did. We took turns choosing what we'd see, remember? I stayed with you. Even when you died and you weren't the Doctor I'd known anymore. I stayed. Which I think shows great fortitude on my part, 'cause it's not like you were a dream to be around for a few days after that, Mr. Let's-Crash-Land-The-TARDIS."

"Oh," he said. She watched the understanding wash over him.

"So," she continued. "Pick a film."

"One of the animated ones is about cats," he said, after staring at her for a few seconds. "Cats that talk, apparently. I'm partial to talking cats. And there may be..." he glanced back down at the phone again. "Hilarious mishaps."

She gave him a warm smile and he smiled back, delighted. "Cats it is then."

***

The next morning, back home in London, all hell broke loose over breakfast.

It started with four simultaneous telephone calls. Mary Ellen and Ianto both phoned the Doctor's mobile almost at the same time, and he was just excusing himself to call them back and see if something had blown up -- which was the only reason he could think of for both of them phoning -- when Pete's publicity manager rang his mobile and Jackie's began to go off as well.

"It's my mate, Kathryn," she said, answering it, just as Pete said, "They what?"

"Oh my god, you're in the Sun," Jackie said to Rose. Rose wasn't certain that the amount of glee in her mother's voice was really justified.

"That happened to me once," the Doctor said. "Well, nearly. We were stuck in the gravitational -- "

"For what?" Rose demanded, over top of him. "Not that sun," she added to the Doctor.

"Beach frolics?" her father said, raising his eyebrows. "Sweetheart, you're on the front page of the paper. Were you naked at all this weekend?"

"Not in public!" she said, annoyed. He returned to the phone call. Her mobile began to ring; apparently, not having got hold of the Doctor, Ianto was trying her number as well. "The world's gone mad," she whispered to the Doctor, and answered the call. "Ianto?"

"Seen a news-stand this morning?" Ianto asked, cheerfully.

"No, but apparently everyone else in the world has. How bad is it?"

"Well, you aren't naked."

"Why are all the men in my life so concerned with my nudity?" she asked. The breakfast table fell silent for a moment. Her parents glanced at the Doctor. He busied himself cleaning some peaches off of Tony's face.

"Well, if you're not bothered, I'm not," Ianto continued. His accent had thickened, as it did when he was annoyed or amused. "It's just a few photos of you and him. But they're making some implications, and I thought you should know."

"They're always making implications," she said, watching her father hurry into the hall to check the computer in his home-office. "Hang on, Dad's on the move."

"Lisa thinks he looks quite good in swim-trunks," Ianto said.

"Got it up now -- call you back," she said, and hung up as she leaned over her dad's shoulder where he was bent at the keyboard. The Doctor leaned over his other side, looking happy to be in the thick of it, and her mum, holding Tony in one hand and her mobile in the other, tried to elbow her out of the way.

"Why shouldn't she show off if she's got it?" she said into the mobile, and Rose rolled her eyes.

"My goodness," Pete said.

"That's quite flattering for you," the Doctor added.

"Lisa likes you shirtless," Rose told him.

"You're not in the habit of tackling my daughter, I hope," Pete remarked.

"Only when the situation warrants."

"You could get a modeling gig out of this," Jackie observed.

"Mum!"

"I'm only saying."

The banner on the Sun's front page just showed thumbnails -- one of Rose in her bikini top and another of her and the Doctor in mid-tumble after he'd pulled her down on the beach on Saturday evening. She was surprised the photographer hadn't bothered to get any closer; perhaps he wanted an exclusive without tipping them off. Pete clicked it and waited for the page to load.

Romping English Rose, the headline read. Rose giggled.

"Is that the best they could come up with?" she asked.

"I was hoping for Tyler'd up in knots," her father said, grinning wickedly. "Or maybe Torchwood Tumble."

"This is serious, you," Jackie swatted him.

"Don't tell me. She's a grown woman."

"Oi," the Doctor said. "Who are they calling a beaky geek?"

"What?" Rose asked, squinting at the text. Rose Tyler has found love at last, if this weekend's antics are any indication. The heir to Pete Tyler's health-drink fortune has been seen about town with a man identified as an employee of the Torchwood Institute where Tyler rules the roost, a beaky geek whose name the company is keeping under wraps for obvious reasons. Newspapers can't ignore the tech-savvy twosome any longer, though many ask what the leggy blonde Tyler sees in her companion. Maybe he has a really big...brain?

"Well, a beaky geek with a big brain," Jackie ventured.

"I do have that," the Doctor said smugly.

"They don't actually mean brain," Rose whispered.

"Oh," he answered, and looked thoughtful.

Our cameras captured the couple rough-housing in the sand at Southend this weekend, where Tyler was also seen dining in style with her mysterious employee and sharing a hotel room. Sources say Tyler paid for everything. Is shy Rose finally discovering the lighter side of life? An older man's the one to show her, we suppose.

"Well," the Doctor leaned back. "I don't come off at all well in that, do I?"

"Nobody ever comes off well in the Sun, that's the point," Rose sighed. "I'm a slut and you're a lecher. Are you much fussed?"

"What, at being painted as an aging social inept with a big nose that you're too good for?" he asked, then seemed to consider it. "Not particularly."

"Slow news day, I suppose," Pete said.

"Do the lot of you live in the same world as me?" Jackie asked suddenly. Everyone looked at her. She shrugged. "It's a good story, innit. They've been after you to be the next big tabloid star for months. They think it's sweet, the shy geek princess and all that rubbish. You finally go out with a boy, they're going to cover it. Next you know they'll be saying you dumped 'im," she jerked a thumb at the Doctor, "for some telly star. Remember when they tried to say that Tony was yours and I was covering for you?"

"Oh lord..." Rose dropped into the desk chair, covering her face and laughing wryly.

"It does pose a real problem," her father said, and he was more serious now. "People are going to pester the staff. Rumours are going to get about. And they won't be happy till they have a name for the Doctor. And some less flattering snaps."

"Less flattering than 'beaky geek'?" the Doctor asked. He didn't seem overly fretful, but she could tell the crack about his nose (currently beginning to peel from the sunburn) had smarted a little.

"You'd be amazed," Pete remarked. "It's going to cause no end of trouble for the labs."

"Well, I can fix that," the Doctor said. He glanced at Rose with a beam that split his face. "Budge over, let me have at the computer for twenty minutes."

"What are you going to do?"

"Just mess them about a bit. Want to go down to the Sun offices this morning?"

She grinned and got out of the chair. "Sounds like fun."

***

The Doctor

The office of the Sun newspaper had two security guards and a receptionist in the front lobby, which made sense considering the number of irate people who probably harassed them. The Doctor ignored the guards and walked up to the receptionist, a young man in a suit who reminded him strongly, in demeanour, of Mary Ellen.

"Hello," he said, with his best bright smile. He could feel Rose trying not to laugh, next to him. "I'm here to see the editor."

"News, sports, advertising, gossip -- "

"Front Page?" he interrupted.

"Do you have an appointment?"

He picked up one of the Monday newspapers sitting in a stack on the reception desk and held it up to his face. The young man looked up, blinked, and reached unsubtly for a panic button under his desk.

"Oh, for -- I'm not armed," the Doctor said. "I'm not going to pitch a fuss. I'd just like to see whoever approved the story, that's all."

"Name?" the young man asked slyly.

"I'm the Doctor, this is Rose Tyler," he said, giving Rose's hand a tug. She'd been halfway to wandering off, studying some of the framed photos in the lobby.

"Doctor who?"

The Doctor leaned an elbow on the counter. "What's your name?"

"Edward."

"Nice name," Rose said meaningfully. The Doctor shot a sidelong look at her. She'd been doing that a lot lately, pointing out names.

"Edward, I need you to do me a favour," he said. "A really big favour. It'll be doing your company a favour too."

"Sir?"

"I know you probably aren't supposed to, but I'd like you to call up whoever approved the article and tell him or her that the beaky geek and his shy girlfriend are here and would like a word. Let your boss make the decision on this one, all right?"

Edward the Receptionist looked uncertain. "All right, Doctor."

"Ta," the Doctor said, and waited while Edward picked up the phone. A brief conversation followed, which he eavesdropped on shamelessly, and then the phone was replaced in its cradle.

"I'll show you in," Edward said. "Sign, please."

He pushed a binder at them and Rose picked up a pen, signing her name. The Doctor thought for a minute and then wrote a rude word in D'Bral, which wouldn't be a language for another hundred million years, give or take. It looked faintly like a string of Kanji. Edward examined it, frowned, and gestured them on with a tip of his head.

They were led down a corridor and into an elevator, then out into a third-floor lobby and through a pair of wide wooden doors. On the other side, a young woman smiled at Edward and gestured them through.

"Go on in," Edward said. "Mr. Jackson's waiting for you."

The Doctor tipped a wink at Rose and pushed the door open.

It was a well-appointed office in shades of white and blond wood, very upscale mix-and-match -- someone with no taste pretending they had. There was a desk piled high with papers, and amid the drifts was a flat-screen computer monitor pushed to one side. A man stood next to it, a fake smile plastered on his face. He was middle-aged, not the sort who could really get away with cracks about other peoples' noses, in an expensive suit with a garish black-and-white plaid tie.

"Ms. Tyler," he said, offering his hand. "Bertram Jackson, supervising editor. I see you read the Sun."

"My mum enjoys it," Rose replied, offering him a likewise insincere smile. She ignored the hand.

"Won't you both be seated?"

"Ta," the Doctor said, and settled himself into an uncomfortable chair on the near side of the desk. Jackson sat on the other side. Rose sat too and leaned back, crossing her legs casually.

"Can I offer you something to drink? Ms. Tyler, Mr...?"

"Doctor, actually," the Doctor said. "I'm fine, thanks. Rose?"

"I'm all right," she said, eyes tracking Jackson.

"Doctor," Jackson said. "Mechanical engineering or physics or something, I suppose. Oxbridge?"

"Kethsai," the Doctor replied. Jackson frowned.

"I don't think I know Kethsai University. Welsh?"

"It's very exclusive. Not Welsh, though."

"Foreign?"

"Oh yes," the Doctor agreed. "Extremely."

Jackson folded his hands. He looked uncomfortable, and like he was trying to hide it. "I don't suppose you've come to offer the Sun an exclusive interview."

"Not exactly."

"Serving papers?"

Rose snickered.

"I reckon you get a lot of that," the Doctor said. "But, no. As a matter of fact we just wanted to have a chat. Well. Really to make a request. Myself more than Rose, but also as a favour to her father."

Jackson raised his eyebrows.

"It's just that it's going to be a bit of an annoyance for us, having to deal with your reporters and photographers and all the other papers competing with them, down at the lab," the Doctor continued. "We do very interesting work there, lots of advancement-of-the-human-intellect sort of thing and you could really cause some interference in that. In fact, I suppose you could say we're asking on behalf of humanity as a whole, considering what we're getting up to and how disruptive a bunch of cameras could be. So, in essence, and to be brief, we want you to knock off stalking us for the sake of humanity's future."

The silence drew out for a few seconds, then a few more, until finally Jackson burst into laughter.

"I will give you points for being original, Doctor," he said, chuckling. "I've rarely been given human progress as a reason not to report the news."

"But not enough points to actually stop," the Doctor surmised.

"I'm afraid not. We give people the stories they want to hear; Ms. Tyler, if I may say so, makes an excellent story. As do you -- the mysterious scientist with the top-secret name."

"Mmh, I was afraid you'd say that," the Doctor sighed. "It's a shame too because ordinarily I'm very much for the freedom of the press. And you're certainly welcome to come have a guided tour of the declassified areas. But I really can't be having with you bothering my Rose."

"Your Rose, is she?" Jackson asked. Rose gave him a little wave and smile. "And what do you think of your white knight, Ms. Tyler?"

Rose glanced sidelong at him, enjoying the game. "Well, I like a man with a big brain."

Jackson had apparently not been expecting this. He hesitated.

"Generally," he said slowly, "the next step would be legal action, but I can tell you right now that it's rarely successful. Restraining orders aren't very useful in the face of telephoto lenses."

"That's all right," the Doctor said, and took his mobile out of his pocket. This was going to be fun. "I don't ordinarily bother with the law courts. Now, which button is -- oh, it's this one," he said, and pressed 1.

"Lawyer on speed-dial?" Jackson asked.

"No-oo," the Doctor let the hand holding the phone fall into his lap. "But I'd check your website if I were you."

Jackson frowned and turned slightly to face the plasma-screen, calling up the Sun website. The Doctor could see the screen reflected in the large tinted window behind Jackson's head:

Problem loading page - Unable to connect.

The frown deepened as the editor tried Google. It came up without a problem.

"I'm something of an expert in computers," the Doctor said modestly.

"If you hacked our server -- "

"Hacked isn't really accurate," Rose said. "What would you say, Doctor?"

"Oh, I dunno." The Doctor pursed his lips. "Possibly sacked. It's a good word, sacked, in the old medieval sense. Yes, I believe I've sacked your website. Pillaging, looting, burning, ground sown with salt, et cetera."

"That won't stop us," Jackson retorted.

"Good point; it'll probably just increase your hardcopy circulation. But it'll really annoy your advertisers. Anyway," the Doctor continued, "I wasn't finished yet."

He pushed 2. The computer died with a buzzing noise. The lights went out. Jackson reached for his phone, found it dead, cursed, and dug for his mobile. The Doctor pushed 3. He couldn't see the mobile's reception drop to nil, but he could see Jackson's face when he saw it, which was almost as good. Jackson got up and bolted past them to his door. The Doctor pressed four. The pneumatic hinges at the top of the doors jammed.

"You know it's not as good as my screwdriver," he said to Rose, conversationally, "but in a limited sense it does get the job done."

Rose glanced over her shoulder. Jackson was standing by the door.

"You won't get away with this," he said. "This is false imprisonment."

"Why don't you sit down, Bertram," Rose said, gesturing at the desk. "I don't really think we were finished talking yet. And you don't want someone to come break down those doors and let you out and haul us off before my Doctor restores your power, website, phone reception..."

The Doctor pressed 5. The phone on Jackson's desk began to ring.

"It's only dead for outgoing," the Doctor said with a smile. Jackson picked it up and barked, "What?" into the receiver.

The conversation that followed was pretty hilarious by any standards, as the photographer camped outside of Torchwood's lab building informed Jackson that he hadn't called him, that he had in fact been phoned by Jackson's desk phone. There was a lot of "I don't know" and "Well, solve it!" before Jackson looked up and met the Doctor's eye.

"Right, come on back in," he said wearily into the receiver. "I'll explain it when you get here."

"Tell him to have the others knock off, too," the Doctor suggested.

"Others?"

"Other newspapers, other photographers..."

"They won't go just because he tells them to."

"They will when their mobiles explode."

"You can't -- "

The Doctor pressed 6. Jackson's mobile, sitting on the desk, made a popping noise and began to smoke. Rose politely poured a pitcher of water on it and dropped it in the bin nearby.

Another short conversation; Jackson hung up the phone.

"Who are you?" he asked, standing well back. "What the hell's going on in that lab of yours? This is nine kinds of illegal!"

"Fifteen actually," said the Doctor. "And, well, this isn't the labs. This is just me. So imagine what the labs could do if Pete Tyler was annoyed that his daughter's in the papers."

"You can't suppress the news!"

"Well, technically I can," the Doctor said cheerfully. "But in this case I like to think of Rose as my girlfriend, rather than The News."

"Bertram, you'd better sit down," Rose insisted. He dropped into his seat. She leaned forward. "The Doctor has a mean streak. Just a little one," she said, holding up thumb and forefinger. "The problem is that when the mean streak and the great big brain get together, it gets his creative juices going. Now, I'm not saying we're going to tell you what to print. All I'm saying is, it'd be a great waste of resources to keep on at us, since honestly...we're not that interesting. Just a girl and a boy, who happen to like beaches and really cool technology. You listening?"

"Raptly," Jackson rasped.

"So honestly you're much better served finding someone who wants to be in the spotlight and giving it to them," she continued. "And we think that you should pass this message on to your friends on the other papers, as well."

"The Tylers are off limits," the Doctor said. "Unless you want problems with your printing press as well."

He held up the mobile and shook it gently. Jackson blanched.

"No!" he said.

"Then we're agreed?" Rose suggested.

"You can't just bully -- " he flinched as the Doctor's thumb slid over to 7. "All right. All right, the story's off, I'll -- I'll put in a blackout."

"I knew he'd see reason," Rose said cheerily.

"Seems like a sensible bloke," the Doctor said. He pressed 7.

Jackson visibly braced himself, but all that happened was that the lights came back on and the door pneumatics released. His computer bleeped as it started up.

Rose got up to leave; the Doctor stood too, and leaned on Jackson's desk, bracing his fingers on the wood.

"Remember what I can do," he said softly. "And that I'll do it, to protect my family. That you can publish as loud and as long as you want."

Jackson, pale and blinking, bit his lip.

"Can you tell me one thing?" he asked. "I won't publish, I promise, just -- tell me your name."

The Doctor smiled and leaned a little further in, bending to whisper in his ear.

"I don't have one."

***

Lisa Hallett

"It's all been a bit of a nightmare, really," Rose said, digging in the bottom of the crisp packet. She gave up and dumped the remaining crumbs on her plate, picking through them for the biggest pieces. "I mean, I don't care, not really, but people turn and stare on the street now."

"I know the feeling," Lisa said, flexing the brass-coloured fingers on her arm.

"Guess you would," Rose nodded. "Still, it's all sorted now. You should have seen it, yesterday, when the Doctor sacked the website."

Lisa glanced up from the little outdoor table and waved as Ianto and the Doctor came into view, strolling down the London street. The Doctor was still fiddling with some hand-held device; Ianto was trying to pilot him around the mid-day crowds. She speared a cherry tomato on her fork and chewed it.

"You know," she said, swallowing her food, "I have to say I don't really care what the writers put, I think he's a looker."

Rose gave the two men a fond smile. "He is a bit, yeah. But," she added, "now I've bored you with all this stuff, come on, wedding, I want to know. We're invited, yeah?"

"Course," Lisa said. "Small thing, Ianto's shy. He hasn't any family really, and I've only got mum, anyway. Couple of mates, you and the Doctor, civil ceremony. Mum gave me her old dress, Ianto's altering it. His dad was a tailor."

"Flowers?"

"White, mainly. Dinner at ours, after, nothing fancy."

"Sounds nice."

"I think so. Ianto's nervous. Keeps asking if I like the rings. I told him I'm not going to kill him if everything's not just so, but I don't think he believes me. But," she added, tipping her head at the Doctor, "what about you and him? Thinking about it?"

Rose shrugged. "We're happy as we are."

"I heard," Lisa added, "that there was some handsome American lurking around."

Rose laughed. "Captain Jack. Keep an eye out for him, he was checking out Ianto's bum."

"It's a nice bum," Lisa said, as Ianto succeeded in hauling the Doctor over to the table by the sleeve. Lisa smiled as Rose shoved her remaining crisps across to him and pressed a banana into his hand.

"Eat," Rose commanded.

"What're we talking about then?" the Doctor asked, slicing the top off the banana with a knife and peeling it deftly.

"Ianto's arse," Rose said. Lisa snickered and watched a faint tinge of blush rise on Ianto's cheekbones. The Doctor leaned back and studied Ianto from behind. Ianto pulled his suit jacket down.

"Seems all right," the Doctor said.

"Nice sunburn," Ianto retorted. The Doctor wrinkled his nose self-consciously.

"They started it."

"It can't all be field modulators and dark matter," Rose protested.

"Let's talk about quarks," Ianto suggested.

"Mmh," the Doctor swallowed. "Let's not, dead boring. You want physics, let's talk polarised black holes."

"You can't polarise a black hole," Ianto said, and the debate was on. Lisa was pretty proud that Ianto was beginning to be able to hold his own against the Doctor; he always talked as if he had firsthand knowledge of this stuff, and in the early days of working for him it had occasionally worn down Ianto's wits. Now she watched Ianto block at least two statements in five, and wondered if she could talk him into going to university eventually.

She glanced at Rose, who was watching the Doctor with affectionate eyes, fingers toying with a discarded bit of sandwich wrapper.

"Is this the part where we all live happily ever after?" she asked Rose in an undertone.

"Dunno," Rose said thoughtfully. "I think so."

***

Rose

The morning it all happened, they barely had time for a meal; they'd both overslept and Pete had already left for work by the time Rose ran into the kitchen.

"Breakfaaaast," the Doctor yelled from the hallway before he raced in, carrying her messenger bag. She took the bag, shoved an apple into his hand, caught the packet of breakfast pastry he tossed her, and put her arms into the coat he held for her, turning to straighten the hood on his. He offered her the keys and trailed after her, pulling his shoes on as they went.

"Is there a reason we're hurrying?" she asked in the hallway.

"Mrnflggl," he replied, the apple in his mouth. She took it out and kissed him.

"Glass rods," he said. She put the apple back in his mouth.

"You certainly know how to show a girl a good time."

"The screwdriver," he said urgently, throwing the door open, apple in his other hand now. "Glass rods getting in today. New batch. Might work this time -- " he paused briefly, scuffling with the seatbelt as she leapt into the other side, " -- instead of exploding. Ianto's going to be livid, I've already missed our run date."

"I think he'll forgive you," she said, throwing the car into gear. He plucked the packet of pastry out of her hand and opened it, passing it back. There was a silent moment as they pulled out onto the road, heading for Torchwood. After a second, he inhaled.

"You know, if this scientist thing doesn't work out," he said, "we could always become jugglers."

Rose smiled.

Ianto was standing in the lobby when they arrived; the Doctor skidded to a stop and looked at him like a child expecting a Christmas present. He smiled at the Doctor and held out a small brown package.

"Oh, brilliant," the Doctor said, heading for hallway that led to the individual labs. "Coming?"

"I was only stopping to make sure you got them," Ianto answered. "Mary Ellen's not shown up for work, and no call apparently. I'm going over to make sure she's all right."

"Sure? It's all going to come together today," the Doctor said, digging in his pocket for his key.

"I'll be back soon," Ianto said mildly. "Don't start the parade without me, yeah?"

"Good man. I'll hold off," the Doctor agreed, and disappeared into the corridor. Rose smiled at Ianto and backed the door open for him, then went off to the hangar. It was reports day; all the project heads were meeting to give updates. She was interested to see how things were coming on a number of fronts.

By the time a pair of maintenance workers wheeling a large lockbox emerged from the labs, Rose was knee-deep in a prototype for a mobile sonar mine-detector in the hangar. Nobody even caught them leaving, except for the lone unmanned lobby security camera.

***

Rose's mobile went off in the middle of a presentation on the solid-matter wireless mechanism; she wouldn't have noticed except she was typing in a note to have a word with the assistant on the project about the excessive man-hours they were putting in. It would be years before it was useful if it ever was; they were no good to anyone burnt out and anxious. As she was hitting the 'save' button the phone vibrated. Ianto.

She excused herself and stepped into the hallway.

"So," she said, as an opener, "Did you find Mary Ellen?"

"Rose, thank god," Ianto said, his voice thin and high. "I'm in Mary Ellen's flat, it's -- "

"What?" she asked, a chill trickling down her spine. "What's happened? Is she ill?"

"It's -- everywhere, it doesn't look real," he continued over top of her. "We have to do something, I can't -- it's on my hands -- she's dead."

"Ianto, slow down," she commanded. "What do you mean, she's dead?"

"Mary Ellen," he said, and she could hear his short fast breathing. "She's been -- shot -- a lot -- "

"Ianto, stop talking," she commanded. The silence was absolute. "Breathe deeply. Have you called the police?"

There was a swallowing noise on the other end of the connection. "No."

"Okay. Try not to move too much. I want you to hang up the phone."

"Her keys are gone," he said, randomly. "Her car's gone, but she's here. And dead."

"I know, I know, Ianto, just take deep breaths, okay? We don't need to worry about her car right now."

"No, you don't -- her keys. All her keys."

Rose stopped dead.

"Ianto, I'm going to hang up now," she said. "Call 999. Tell them where you are."

"Rose, don't -- " he said, but she hit end and took off running.

Heads poked out of lab doors as she dashed down the corridor, shoes squeaking on the tile floor, breath rasping in her throat. When she reached the Doctor's lab she slewed around the door and -- into an empty room.

Of course, he was getting a snack, or gossiping with Nelda across the hall, he did that sometimes, or lending Stan a hand with his chemistry...stuff...

Something crunched underfoot. She looked down.

Broken glass. His long-awaited glass rods, in shards on the floor.

She backed carefully away and fumbled blindly for the phone on the wall.

"This is Rose Tyler," she said, holding down the key for security. "Lock every door in the building. Don't let anyone in, don't let anyone out."

"Miss?" the man on the other end of the line said.

"There's been a security breach. The Doctor's missing."

***

The Doctor

He woke to find he was sitting upright.

It wasn't entirely unknown for him to fall asleep in a chair, or sitting up reading; what was unusual was to wake up in a seated position with one's ankles and wrists bound to various parts of the chair in question. Even this was not unheard of in a life like the Doctor's, actually, but it'd been a good few months at least.

"Hello, Doctor," said a voice, and he swung his head to the left. It ached.

"Let me guess," he said. "Bertram Jackson sent you."

"No," said the man, leaning against a wall and looking smugly self-satisfied. A familiar, ordinary face -- one of the two men who'd tried to mug him the day Jack Harkness offered him a ride in his spaceship. "Though I will say you seem to make enemies quickly."

"It's a skill," the Doctor replied. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. "We've met before, I think."

"Once," the man said. A door opened; turning his head to look at it made him dizzy. A woman entered, a ginger-haired woman with a scar.

"Hello, Doctor," she said, taking a seat next to the blond man.

"Listen, I try to make a habit of not offending people I don't even know," he said.

"And yet you fail so brilliantly," she replied.

"You got into my lab," he said. "Oh, bollocks, my glass rods -- "

"If I were you I'd be worried about far more than glass rods," the blond man said.

Cold fear washed over him.

"Rose," he whispered.

"We shot Mary Ellen, poor soul," said the woman. "I imagine your lab boy's finding her right about now. It really is foolish to give one person all your keys. We could have got into any of the rooms -- not to mention that big lab your girlfriend works in."

Fury overtook the fear. Mary Ellen was dead. That death was another on his head, because obviously they were after him, but if they'd gone near Rose -- they would suffer.

He strained against the bindings, icewater running in his veins and a tight pressure in his skull. He clamped down on it hard, but his human heart was hammering in his chest.

"Let's sort this out," he said, through gritted teeth. You have to give people a choice. You always have to give them a choice. "There has to be something you want. Tell me what you want and we'll figure a way out of this."

"We have what we want, for now," the man said. "We have you. You're going to fix all of this, Doctor. Then everything will be okay. One way or another."

"Though maybe not for you," the woman added.

"Okay, okay, what needs fixing?" he asked desperately. "If I can fix it, that's fine, but don't hurt anyone else, all right?"

But they were standing up, dusting off their hands, smiling at him. He pulled on the bindings again. "Tell me what you want me to do!"

The door closed and the room dropped into darkness.

***

"Please. Please!"

***

Captain Jack

So there I was in 4302, which was a good year for Earth. Stable climate, good food, friendly locals. It's a damn shame about the superstorm.

Although it has to be said that the superstorm was why I was there, because I was trying to move a freightload of burned-out electrolit diamonds I'd found on an abandoned freighter. They weren't worth much, but the point was that the superstorm's electromagnetic pulses would make it look like the burnout had happened after I'd sold the diamonds to my mark, but before they'd had time to inspect them. I like a smooth job. Besides, the best con is the con that the mark never even notices.

I wasn't in particular need of the cash just then so, when my phone rang during martinis with the prospective client and Rose Tyler came up on the holoprojected caller ID, I answered it.

"My favourite flower," I said, tapping the minibud in my ear. "How are you, darling Rose?"

"Jack?" she asked, as if she hadn't expected me.

"Aye, ma'am."

"But I didn't...what's your number doing under 'emergency' in my pho...you know what? Never mind."

"Doctor program it in?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter. I'm just glad you're still here," she said, which I wasn't, and I told her so. "But then how...?" she asked. There was a pause. She sounded like she was close to tears. I hate to see a human cry.

"He modded my phone," she said, mostly to herself I think. "When are you?"

"I'm here in the bar, having a drink," I said, hoping she'd get the message.

"Jack, I need your help, don't mess me about."

I glanced at the woman across the table. She was gorgeous and had just a little too much money. I was going to help her with that second part, but I'd take what I could get, even if that was just drinks with a gorgeous woman.

"Fire away, kid," I told her.

"The Doctor's been kidnapped. You know when you scared off the guys before, I think they came back. We saw someone who looked like them on the security footage. I know you can help me find him. Please, Jack."

"I'm working sales," I said. She got the message.

"Oh, Jesus Chr -- fine, okay, I'll make it worth your while," she said. I couldn't say no to her. I never can, which some would say is my problem, but they're bitter they're not as cute as me. "You can name your price."

"Be there soon," I said, and comm'd off.

"Secretary?" my client asked, arching her perfect eyebrows.

I flipped open my cuff and set it to take me back to Rose, auto-timed to go off in ten hours. Just because I said I'd be there didn't mean I needed to leave that minute. I mean, that's what time travel is for. I'm never unintentionally late.

"Business partner," I said. "Ms. Smythwik, I'm really sorry. This is my favourite part of a sales deal, but I've got a limited time now in which to move these diamonds. What do you say I knock off ten percent and we skip the business talk and the haggling and get straight to the part where I do unmentionable things to you in bed and in the morning you wake up to five hundred electrolit gemstones on your metaphorical pillow?"

She considered it. "Sure."

As we left the bar the first reports of a strange weather pattern over the Atlantic ocean started to show up on the infofeeds.

"Looks like it might rain," she said.

Nine hours and forty-five minutes later I was getting dressed in the dark and the promised rain was beginning to fall. I thought about taking the ship, just in case, but sometimes it's easier to travel light. I left it in high orbit, well above the stormhead, and triggered the jump early.

Rose was still on her mobile when I arrived. Damn, I'm good.

"When this is all over I am going to punch you," she said.

"That's not exactly good incentive for me," I said. "Not that I don't enjoy a little violence in the right time and place."

"He might be in danger and you're bargaining!"

"Yeah, that's what I do," I said. "Okay, so tell me how to help."

"Ianto's dealing with the police, he's good at that," she said. "But they can't find the Doctor. There's no way. You can track him, can't you? The artron radiation?"

I shook my head. "I can't pinpoint without a sweep. I mean I can tell you he's here, if he is here, and if he's still alive -- "

"Talk and work," she told me, pointing to the cuff. Which I am fully capable of doing, so I did.

"I can do a general net overland, in terms of the earth as a whole object," I said, working. "But if we want to get closer than five hundred miles or so I've got to switch to short range and that's going to take some time. And -- " I frowned.

Rose Tyler was giving off massive amounts of artron radiation.

"You've traveled," I said.

"That's not important right now!" she replied. She was frustrated, I get it. I recalibrated.

"O-kay, let's ignore you, and..."

I popped a chip out of my strap. A little red light on it was blinking, on and off, on and off. "This says there's someone with high levels other than you and I, in England. Listen, I can't guarantee it's him -- "

"Who else would it be?" she asked, snatching the chip out of my hand.

"As long as the light's blinking, whoever's setting it off is still alive or pretty recently dead. When the cells die the radiation dissipates." I pulled up a map of London and poked my finger into the holo. "We start there, circle outwards. If he's still in London we can find him eventually. It's a standard search, it's how I latch onto my hauls. Keep going in circles until the beeping thing goes beep. Early twenty-first century...still got combustion-engine landcars. What's the old phrase, you fly, I'll buy?"

She cocked an eyebrow at me.

"Fly me, gorgeous, let's find your Doctor," I said.

***

Man, London traffic, I think the contemporary word is: sucks.

***

The Doctor

He wasn't sure how long he waited in the dark for them to return; it felt like hours, but he couldn't track time as well as he'd once been able to. After a bit the brown-haired man, the blond's partner, came in and jabbed him in the throat with a piece of tech that shouldn't exist yet on Earth; he lost consciousness, and when he woke he'd been cut free of the bindings. His wrists were cuffed but they were at least in front of him, which gave him enough mobility to find a filthy bucket they'd left in the corner and see to some personal needs.

This was humiliating. The Doctor didn't take well to humiliation, but he at least recognised the purpose behind it. They wanted him to think they had all the power.

Which technically they did, at the moment, but that could change.

He sat on the concrete floor and felt bricks against his shoulders as he leaned back, propping his aching arms on his knees to try and relieve the cramps in his wrists from being cuffed. He decided to make a list of everything he knew and didn't know.

He started with the immediate situation. They wanted him to fix something and thought he wouldn't do it willingly, which meant it probably wasn't benign. They knew he was the Doctor, though he didn't know if they knew what that meant. He knew he was in real physical danger of death, but not whether they actually intended to kill him once he'd fixed their whateveritwas. They might have Rose, or they might not. If they did they'd almost certainly try to use her against him. He wondered if he could stand by and watch Rose die if it meant saving humanity. He'd...sort of done that before, on various occasions and with various people. His children and grandchildren and their mother and his brothers and sister and father had died in the Time War, at his hands, for the sake of the universe. They clearly had no scruples about murder, if they'd killed Mary Ellen, so it was a real possibility that he'd have to watch them kill Rose. But he'd never been tested as a human, and one of the many things he didn't know was whether he could do that.

Well, that just meant he'd have to find another way.

He drifted, though, without enough data to formulate a plan -- drifted into a more general sense of what he knew and didn't know. He knew the superficial customs and history of a thousand planets and star systems, the inner workings of the TARDIS, that a banana was technically a seed, how to build a sonic screwdriver, how to pick a pocket, who actually owned Picasso's Boy with a Pipe, what the names of his grandchildren had been. He didn't know what the heart of the TARDIS looked like, or what Rose had meant when she brushed off the marriage question, or how to get out of the cuffs, which really hurt. He knew that occasionally he didn't know the answers to the questions on QI, but he knew them way more often than anyone else and also sometimes, though it was painful to admit, Stephen Fry was wrong.

He might be having a breakdown. He was sure this must be what one felt like. A months-long breakdown beginning with the part where he had come into existence as the product of a union between a human woman and a severed hand in a jar.

He rested his forehead on his aching arms and closed his eyes.

The redhead and the blond came for him some time later, he didn't know how long; they hauled him to his feet, smiled in a way that would have been reassuring if they hadn't shown quite so many teeth, and half-marched, half-dragged him out the door.

He'd assumed he was in some kind of warehouse, from the damp cement floor and the brick wall; as they made their way down a drafty corridor he realised he was in some kind of industrial garage, abandoned by the look of it but still reeking, out here, of petrol and grease. Through two open archways, he could see wide empty structures -- a garage attached to a parking structure, perhaps. Or maybe it was an old zeppelinport.

He was shoved roughly into another room, not so large as the structure outside but much bigger than his little cell. They pushed him to his knees and a hand held his head tightly behind the ears, forcing it down.

There was a soft squeaking noise.

The hand on his head released him, and he lifted his chin slowly. There was a figure before him -- or, no, a machine -- no, a figure, moving out of the shadows. A large wheeled metal square, like a mobile door frame, stood in front of him. He drew his eyes up along a round, muscular strip of flesh: a spinal column, he realised, encased in flesh. It twitched slightly.

Further up the horrific tube of muscle terminated in a stumpy ribcage, attached by strings of sinew to two long protuberances. Arms, both hands missing, wrists flopped limply in the air. There were small narrow rods shoved roughly through the skin at wrist, elbow, and shoulder; the end of each rod had a small yellow light, which blinked as the muscles flexed. Cords were attached to them, suspending the arms from the top of the frame.

He looked up finally at the head, sitting on the narrow tower of flesh and bone that had once been the thing's neck.

It smiled at him.

"Hello, Doctor," Davros said.

Something crunched, like a tooth under pressure, only it was in his mind; he felt the thin thread of sanity snap, and he began to laugh. Hysterical giggling laughter, at the sheer ridiculousness of it all: at Davros suspended like a coat on a hanger or a puppet on a hook, at the smell of oil, at the fact that he was a human who was undoubtedly about to die, at the way he'd fought this battle and killed to win it and sacrificed a race he was no longer even a part of and they still survived.

Then he screamed.

***

"Why won't you die?"

Chapter Text

Captain Jack

We went for ten hours, circling London, starting at King's College and working our way outwards. In a ship, searching space, I'd have set the AI to a spherical route from a fixed point and let it run, but we only had two dimensions to work with on-planet and no AI in the world can sort London traffic. People have tried. Green Tomato, the first navigational AI developed on Earth (don't ask about the name), was tested in New York and Los Angeles before they brought her to London and she crashed into a storefront in a record nine minutes. When my partner John showed me London for the first time I felt like a slack-jawed kid from the outer-systems -- which I sort of was. But hell, we didn't even have paved roads on Boe. What did we need them for?

By the time Rose got into her third near-miss, accidentally drifting through a red light, we were both tired and I made her pull over.

"Listen, if we crash and die we're not going to be very useful," I said. "You need rest."

"You can get another driver," she said.

"I need to sleep too, kiddo."

"We can't just stop!" she said, gesturing at the little red light that was still blinking on and off. "They're gonna kill him! How do we know he's even still in London?"

"We clear London first," I insisted. "And then we'll worry about the rest of the country. And we can't clear London until you've had some sleep and something more to eat than a bag of crisps from a street vendor."

"But we can't -- "

"Rose, you're not thinking rationally, and it's not like I blame you, but I didn't get hired to be abused or to lose my head over your Doctor. Just relax for two seconds and let me think, all right?"

She tapped her hands on the wheel impatiently. I did think, deep and hard. Bilocation isn't any laughing matter and if you're going to do it you have to do it right. Human evolution took a big leap in the forty-eighth century and while I'm not, you know, a mythical Time Lord with the power to sense the flow of causality, I get by okay. That's why the Agency took me on.

"Okay," I told her. "I'm going to bilocate us, so we can keep going, but we can't go now. You're going to drive us to the nearest hotel and get us somewhere to stay. We'll get a solid night's sleep and I'll bring us back here to this time, in the morning. But you can't talk to anyone, you can't touch anyth -- "

"I know how bilocation works," she snapped. "Why can't we go back to last night, sleep, and then pick up?"

"Because it's better if the contemporary set is inactive. Hotel. Now," I ordered. Rose looked at me like I was betraying her somehow, but I wasn't hired to be nice, either.

Dealing with the twenty-first-century Earther is tricky. Everything was changing and a lot of people had a hard time catching up. The archaic marriage laws, the ultraprocessed food, the first rush onto the unregulated internet, the breakdown of social mores, it scared people. I let Rose lead, let her find a place for us to sleep and put two rooms on a real live credit card, unlike the dummies I use when I travel in that era. But I followed her to her room.

"How do you expect me to sleep?" she asked plaintively, clutching the little chip with the blinking light. "Jack, what if the light goes out tonight?"

"Then we failed tomorrow," I said, shrugging. "If the light goes out tonight we go back anyway and keep looking. Some things you can't control."

"Even you?" she asked.

"Particularly me." I tipped up her chin. "You have to sleep so tomorrow we'll be fresh. If you don't sleep, the odds of the light going out are just going to go up."

"But I -- "

I put a finger on her lips and reached into my pocket for the pillbox.

When I left the Agency I took a lot with me, not the least of which were the confidential recipes for any number of useful drugs that the Agency controls and dispenses. Amnesia pills, stimulants, painkillers, and a whole arsenal of interrogation tools. I figured, you never know, I might have learned all that during the two years of my life they stole, so in a theoretical sense it was balancing the books. I'm not a bad chemist.

I flicked off the lock and twirled the round brass lid until the open hole was over the section done in yellow lacquer -- Kyoto district of Hakkh, 23rd century, quality workmanship -- and tipped two pills out onto my palm.

"Let me make you a martini," I said, and she looked at the pills fearfully. Another crippling result of the twenty-first century's blind biological rummaging -- pharmophobia. "They're just sedatives. Trust me, Rose."

She looked from the pills to my face.

"That's the bugger," she said. "I do."

***

Rose is pretty when she sleeps. She made me stay with her until the sedatives kicked in, which when washed down with a dry martini improvised from the hotel's minifridge wasn't long. I sat in the chair by the bed for a little while and looked out the window.

Life-saving was a new one on me; I mean, I've swept men and women off their feet with a well-placed tractor beam or a quick flash of the blaster before, but not like this. I hadn't just happened over Rose this time; she'd called me and I'd come running. And here I was, intending to violate intertemporal law and bilocate myself and a contemporary. A contemporary I wasn't even sleeping with.

She and the Doctor told me amazing things, that day we sat and ate and talked. Another me in another dimension had actually risked his (my) life on behalf of humanity, and he (I) had shacked up with the Doctor and Rose and done all kinds of heroic things that didn't sound at all like me (him). And being landbound to one place and time? Immortality sounded all right, eternal youth even better, but being stuck on Earth seemed overkill.

The Doctor was out there somewhere, waiting for us.

As I watched, the car Rose had parked across the street lit up, the interior lights showing Rose's blonde head in the driver's seat. I watched myself climb into the car with her, and wished him silent luck. He wisely didn't turn to look up at our hotel window.

There was something compelling about Rose and her Doctor. They were intense for each other, that was obvious, and it was confusing the hell out of both of them. Well, he was an alien and she was an heiress. These things happen.

Rose had fallen asleep with the chip still clutched in one hand, so once I was sure she was out I took it from her and put it on the nightstand where she'd see it when she woke up. Then I went to my own well-deserved rest.

The next morning, the red light was still blinking, which was an encouraging sign. I brought her food in the room and made sure neither of us saw the newspapers -- you never know what's going to mess you up. Jumping time-and-space at once is a tricky proposition, doubly so when you've got a passenger, so we hustled out the kitchen entrance of the hotel, trying not to be seen by too many people, and found a quiet side-alley we could use. She looked at me expectantly.

"Did I ever jump you?" I asked, grinning at the double-entendre.

"Not with the strap," she replied, but apparently her entendre was unintentional.

"Okay. Keep your eyes closed," I said. "I'm going to hold on tight but eyes-open with this kind of thing can cause vertigo. Here."

I stood her directly in front of me and stepped close; she buried her head in my chest (oh for a less monogamous era!) and put both her arms around my waist. I got my arm around her shoulders and turned my wrist so that I could trigger the jump, then held on. There was the familiar lurch-and-beep; it technically doesn't drain any energy, especially on such a short trip, but we couldn't do this again. It was dangerous as it was.

So now we had about ten hours to find the Doctor, or we really would have to stop for a while.

"Let's go," I said, and carefully didn't look up at the hotel as we hurried to the car.

Once we were on our way she called Engaged Ianto of the Lickable Business Suit and gave him a very abbreviated update on matters. I could just about hear his voice through the phone, telling her that the police were still searching and he'd been temporarily detained before his fiance came down to the station and gave the police an alibi. Rose was outraged, but Ianto told her not to bother; it wasn't as if he was vital to the search.

"You are now," she said, pulling a sharp turn to start a new spiral around London. "We'll be passing the lab soon. Can you meet us there? If we find him we're going to need all the help we can get." She was already forgetting that we'd bilocated, that Ianto hadn't had the same amount of sleep that we had. Still, Ianto could have said no. Or...well, could he?

I couldn't say no to Rose, after all.

And anyway, neither of us did. Ianto just said "Yes ma'am" and half an hour later he was climbing into the back-seat of the car with a reassuring look for Rose and a nod and a "Captain" for me. He also had a gun, which I approved of.

That was a long night, made longer by the knowledge that we were breaking the law. Not that I've never done that before, but usually I have more prep time. Any minute in those hours we were bilocated could have resulted in an arrest by the Agency -- how anyone would ever have found out I couldn't say, but it made me uneasy and we traveled mostly in silence. By the time we were doing wide loops around London there weren't many cars on the road, and the more distant unlit streets were hard to navigate.

I didn't know what to tell her. Where there's life there's hope, so they say, but nobody says hope's a hundred percent a good thing. Knowing he was alive wasn't much more than mockery, if we couldn't find him. And we couldn't bilocate again, not for at least a day.

***

Strange how attached to a person you can get in a short amount of time, and not realise it until they're gone.

***

The Doctor

Davros didn't kill him. He didn't even take any further notice of him. They slung him back in his little cell, still laughing in-between heaving sobs of air that would have hurt his ribs, if he were capable of feeling pain anymore.

He lay there on the ground for a long time, or what felt like it anyway. He didn't think, he didn't move, and after a few minutes the laughter tapered off. There was nothing he could do; he was at the end of his tether. He was well used to the idea of the universe's vast unfairness, but this seemed like too much for one human man to stand. Why should he have to carry the Doctor's memories and fight his fights and be as strong as him when he had none of his advantages or tools and a paltry forty or fifty years of life -- if he was lucky? Wasn't responsibility like this supposed to come only when power was given? And he had nothing. He hardly had his wits. Now he had to finish what a better man had started and he wasn't enough. He wasn't even enough for Rose.

After a while he became aware of the smell of cooking grease and meat; there was a white sack sitting nearby, and when he opened it he found a fast-food meal, stone-cold, in the bottom. He ignored it.

He might have slept -- he wasn't sure. The next thing he knew was the understanding that if nothing could be done they might as well get this dance over with. He pushed himself to his feet and kicked the door.

"FINE!" he shouted, hating the mad tinge to his own voice. "TAKE ME BACK TO DAVROS!"

They didn't make him kneel this time; he stood loose-shouldered, flexing his fingers to bring the life back into them after they'd removed his cuffs, and waited for Davros to unveil himself again.

"Feeling better?" Davros asked, a sly grin on what remained of his face. The cybernetic eye in the middle of his forehead blinked spastically.

"You must be keeping me alive for a reason," the Doctor replied tiredly.

"No more room for the romance of discovery in your soul, I see," Davros answered. "Come, Doctor. Here we are, two crippled men, finally ending this cycle of death and rebirth once and for all. You're a human," he added, in mock-surprise. "And I, as you can see, have lost one or two things along the way."

"What do you want, Davros?" he asked, though he couldn't summon any anger to pour into the question.

"Survival. Domination. Extermination," Davros answered. "You ought to understand that well enough. Human."

He turned his head as far as he could, to what the Doctor had taken for a heap of junk in one corner. It turned out to be...a heap of junk, actually, but one with an obvious purpose. Steel panels, computer motherboards, fiberoptic cables, rolls of wire.

"Your little thieves have been busy," he said quietly.

"I learn from my mistakes. I understand now how useful your soldiers were," Davros answered. "So willing to do one's dirty work for one."

The Doctor glanced at the three, huddled on the other side of the room.

"I followed you through the last little rip you tore in the walls between dimensions," Davros continued. "And I found that where I had gone willingly, others had been taken without their consent."

"That's not my fault," the Doctor murmured.

"My three loyal followers -- I'm sure you're familiar with the human myth of the four horsemen," Davros continued.

"The end of the world."

"Yes." Davros craned his neck slightly. "Are you afraid, Doctor? Are you humiliated? Are you angry?"

The Doctor looked back at him, silent.

"But as talented as my three little horsemen are, this sort of project requires...a different kind of skill," Davros continued, apparently uncaring that his prisoner wouldn't answer. "And I would do it myself, but..."

His stumpy wrists flopped haplessly. The Doctor glanced at the pile of metal and circuitry again.

"A Dalek, then," he said. "Davros of Skaro, the final Dalek. Or could you build more, once I build this one for you?"

"I will show you how to build it," Davros said. "A Dalek built by the Doctor's hands. Appropriate, don't you think?"

Yes, of course it was. Why not? He'd been stripped of everything else. But some little stubborn spark inside him moved his lips before he could agree, and he said, "No."

One of the trio of humans -- the blond man -- came forward, holding out a slim silver device. He recognised it, faintly. It was a torture device, one of the most efficient ever, and it didn't belong on this planet in this time...in any universe.

"You didn't come through from this time," he said. "This must be very strange for you."

"We just want to go home," said the blond man.

"You can't," the Doctor said.

"When you fix the machine -- "

"It's not a machine to fix. It has to be built," the Doctor interrupted. "And it's not for you. It's for him."

"Doctor," Davros said warningly. "I thought lying was above you."

"A Dalek isn't a machine," the Doctor continued dully, unwilling to play this game with Davros anymore. "It's a...being. Encased in metal. That's all he wants -- a little metal car. And you'll never get home. The worlds have sealed themselves off."

"Don't listen to him," Davros snarled. The humans looked uncertain.

"Fine; don't," the Doctor agreed. "But the answer is still no."

"Come, Doctor, surely we can reach an agreement," Davros wheedled with the superior tone of someone who knows he has the upper hand.

"No."

"You try my patience, Doctor."

"No."

But Davros would win, because he just couldn't be fucked to care that much, and so when Davros said, "Your woman is not outside of our grasp," the Doctor glanced at the other humans in the room. The blond man still held the little machine.

"We can use this on you," Davros said, "or on her. She can't be so hard to capture. Or you can save yourself the pain, deny me the pleasure of witnessing it, and build me the Dalek."

The Doctor looked at the machinery.

He couldn't save the world. He couldn't even save himself. It wasn't his place to try anymore; let Jack do it, if he could, or Rose, or his other self.

This wasn't really his dimension anyway.

He knelt next to the heap of machinery. Behind him, Davros cooed.

***

It was not, as Davros had said, the skills of a Time Lord that the Dalek shell needed. It wasn't even the mind of a Time Lord. Purely put, it was his body: the little epithelials that rubbed off whenever he touched one of the pieces, the blood that flowed over them when he cut his hands, the parts of him that were loaded with artron radiation.

The other humans, no doubt at the direction of Davros, had done a lot of the legwork, but there was only so much they could do. With each piece the Doctor touched, the dull metal glowed lightly, and he didn't need a spanner or a screwdriver to slot the panels into place or wire up the electronics. It simply came together.

He worked slowly, Davros watching, the other humans occasionally holding a part for him or threatening him with the little device if he made sudden movements. As he worked, he made empty threats, mostly to keep himself from bursting out again into hysterical laughter.

"You'll have to kill me," he said casually, to the brown-haired man. "That'll be a relief, really. After this. I shouldn't want to live once the Dalek is built."

"I don't see a problem with that," the redheaded woman replied.

"And anyway, if you don't kill me hell will seem like a slap in the face, in comparison," he continued.

"You're in no position to threaten anyone, Doctor."

"Try me," he said, then hissed as a spark flew, burning the inside of his wrist where it was shoved between two panels. "I could spread you across the galaxy atom by atom, once. Bury you in the heart of a sun."

"Once," the brown-haired man sneered.

"Is it true you tore a hole in reality just to find a girl?" the redhead asked. "Hope she was worth it."

"She was worth destroying worlds," the Doctor replied. "If I could I would feed you and that monster to the Nightmare Child all over again. If you harmed her I'd open the Medusa Cascade and burn this galaxy to cinders. I'd damn you, if I could."

"But you can't," the blond put in.

"No. I can't. But that's all right; when Davros razes the Earth, you'll suffer with everyone else."

"So will your Rose."

"Her death will be quicker than yours. I'll make certain of that."

The base of the Dalek was completed, and the domed head; he fitted the firing mechanism onto the front, watched it glow and fade briefly. He had built this; he had destroyed his people to destroy the Daleks, and he was going to die having rebuilt the father of them all.

"Disconnect me," Davros said, when the Doctor stepped back and considered his hellish handiwork. The three humans looked as if they'd like to draw straws for who had to touch him, but in the end all three went to him, the men supporting his arms and the woman his horrible neck. Lymph and blood oozed between their fingers and Davros groaned and twitched in pain.

"When he activates the machine, we'll go home," the blond said.

"Keep telling yourself that," the Doctor replied. They held Davros up over the Dalek armor as if he were some kind of saint being taken into heaven --

There was a crash, and a bang so loud it made his ears ring, and the Doctor found to his disinterested surprise that the front of his shirt was suddenly painted in a spray of arterial blood.

***

Ianto

When Captain Jack Harkness's wrist-strap beeped, Rose swerved the car involuntarily. Ianto jerked so hard against his seatbelt he almost winded himself, cracking his elbow on the door.

"We got action," Captain Harkness said.

They were in the very outskirts of London and, not twenty minutes before, Captain Harkness had suggested that perhaps it was time to start following the highways out of town entirely and see where that led them. The little red light was still flashing, but that was cold comfort; with every dark second, Ianto wanted to hold his breath until the light came back on.

"Where?" Rose demanded, bringing the car to a sudden halt and knocking Ianto around again. He gasped for breath.

The early-morning streets, still too dark to even be pre-dawn, were empty, thank Christ. Captain Harkness pressed a few buttons and a hologram appeared, fascinating in its own right, a rotating topographical map of the area. One small section was lit up with a yellow haze.

"Left," Captain Harkness said. Ianto looked left. There was a house there. "At the intersection, Rose," he continued, as if he'd read Ianto's mind.

Rose gunned the car up to the intersection and the wrist-strap beeped again. Ianto cautiously eased himself forward to look over the passenger-side seat at the hologram. Captain Harkness turned his head.

"Like what you see?" he asked.

"Time and a place," Rose snapped, hauling them left. "Jack!"

"Forward about half a mile," Captain Harkness said. They were fast leaving settlement behind, heading down a wide and badly-paved road. "No, almost a mile -- over the bridge," he added, pointing. Rose complied, their teeth rattling as they crunched across the bridge, and then they were well away -- no houses here, just fields and a dark looming hunkered shape in the distance.

"There," Captain Harkness pointed at the shadow. "It's gotta be there."

Ianto noticed that the Captain's breath was coming short and fast, as if he were enjoying himself more than he should. He wondered idly what other hunts the Captain had been on.

Rose cut the headlamps and the engine and coasted to a stop on the road, avoiding the drive at the last minute when she saw that it was gravel-lined. Ianto crept out of the backseat on the heels of Captain Harkness, leaning forward to view the changing hologram emerging from his wrist. Now it was a sketchy three-dimensional rendering of the building, and the yellow glow was tighter but still hazy around the edges.

"I think there's more than one," Captain Harkness said quietly. "So. Here's the plan. I'm going in guns blazing."

"That's your plan?" Rose asked.

"I wasn't done yet," Captain Harkness retorted. "In the chaos, you and Ianto get in, get the Doctor, get out. Ianto can cover you. Assuming you've ever fired that thing," he added, pointing at the gun in Ianto's hand. Ianto bridled a little, but the Captain had a point.

"Enough to keep them safe," he said.

"See that it is," Captain Harkness said seriously. "This is a smash and grab. There's a lot that can go wrong. Much as it pains me to say it, if you can get out without me, leave me behind. I've got the strap," he added, which made no sense to Ianto, but then so little did these days. "Everybody understand the plan?"

"Smash and grab? Yeah, got it, thanks," Rose said. "Come on, let's go!"

Captain Harkness led the way through the scrubby brush at the edge of the gravel drive, bringing them eventually to a rear window. He peered in.

"Zeppelin factory," he said. "I can see spare parts. Heave me up, Jones."

"Heavy lifting a specialty," Ianto replied, which was pre-emptive revenge for Captain Harkness groping him as he got a leg up and tumbled through the open window. Rose followed, and then the Captain leaned out and hauled Ianto up.

"Two rooms down," Captain Harkness whispered, putting his head into the corridor. "This is too easy. People shouldn't be allowed to be this stupid."

"Who's going to go breaking into an old zeppelin factory way out here?" Rose replied. Captain Harkness hushed her and crept along the wall. He pressed his ear to the door, then leaned back and gave them a silent countdown. Three fingers up; two; one; a lightly formed fist, and then the Captain stepped back and planted a boot square against the door, just below the handle. It shattered inwards, wooden doorjamb splintering and flying, and the Captain raised his gun and fired.

There was a...a thing, being held up by three people, a deformed monster or maybe a sacrificial offering, still moving and twitching, and Ianto wanted to think it was some kind of goat but he could see the trapezius muscles, the deltoids and pectorals -- actually see them, as if the thing's skin had been flayed off. No goat looked like that. Even as he took it in the thing overbalanced; one of the people holding it up had fallen, blood gouting from a shot in the throat. Ianto raised his gun over Rose's crouched form and fired two rounds into the rafters, adding to the chaos. Captain Harkness was charging forward, barreling into the other two people holding the...the thing, and it fell with a terrible squelching noise.

Standing off to the left, next to some kind of machine, the Doctor was spattered with blood, but he didn't seem to even notice. His dark eyes were wide and empty.

"Oh," he said calmly. "The cavalry's arrived."

Rose dashed forward but the only other woman in the room was getting to her feet, savagely kicking Captain Harkness aside and lunging for the Doctor. Ianto tried to aim and fire but Rose was in the way. Captain Harkness was rolling on the floor with a blond man, blood from a third -- twitching, dead, bleeding -- man was soaking them both, and the thing they'd dropped...

There was a scuttering noise, and a wet trail of gleaming fluid. Oh god, the thing was alive --

The Doctor didn't even move as the woman lunged at him, and it was pure speed that put Rose in her path; the blond man had thrown Captain Harkness aside and left him clenching his arms around his ribcage, groaning. The Doctor just stood there, and Ianto realised he was just standing there too; he sailed into the battle, elbowing the woman away from Rose. He got a crack on his chin for his trouble, and then the blond man grabbed his arm and twisted. Bones snapped and the gun dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers. Fire raced up his arm and he jerked backwards, the crown of his head colliding with his captor's face. This time the breaking bones weren't his.

He turned, skidding in blood, and rammed his good shoulder into the woman's ribcage, knocking her away from Rose. As if to return the favour, Rose's fist swung wide and caught the blond man in the throat. He went down, gurgling. The woman took off running, and Rose entered pursuit. Captain Harkness was pushing himself upright.

The Doctor hadn't moved.

"Get him out of here!" Rose called over her shoulder, disappearing into the gloom, but a wave of nausea was washing over him, a combination of the metallic smell of blood in the air, the two twitching bodies and the white-hot pain in his arm. He took a step forward and then staggered and fell next to Captain Harkness, who was coughing and moaning.

"Get out," he told the Doctor. Those deep endless eyes turned on him.

"No," the Doctor said.

"We'll be all right. We came to save you," Ianto gasped. "Get out!"

"No," the Doctor said again.

Ianto saw his eyes track downwards, where the gun lay on the floor. Captain Harkness pushed himself up on one elbow.

"What are you going to do?" he wheezed.

The Doctor picked up the gun and turned to him.

"Finish what I started."

***

The Doctor

Rose and the woman had gone off in one direction, but he was beyond caring about that; besides, Rose could take care of herself. She hadn't needed him, not since he'd abandoned her once, not since the second time when they'd both been abandoned. What she needed, if she needed anyone, was the Doctor. And he wasn't that, was he? Not anymore.

He should have let her name him, he thought mirthlessly, as he bent to study the mixture of blood and bodily fluids that smeared its way across the floor. Davros, dragging himself along, in a different direction entirely. In some distant place he heard Jack and Ianto shouting for him to get out, but he couldn't get out yet. One way or another he'd finish this. He could do that, at least.

The gun was a reassuring weight in his hand. He'd never held a gun with the intent of firing it, not even in the darkest days of the war; he'd picked them up occasionally, to get them out of the way or pass them to someone else, but then wasn't that the story of his life. He might as well, just this once, do his own dirty work. It was better that way.

He took off, following the zig-zag trail of slimy blood. Davros could move with deceptive quickness even now, and he picked up the pace, running through a doorway and into one of the wide open spaces he'd seen earlier. He could hear it now, a slithering noise, overlaid with laboured panting, and he followed that instead. Somewhere, behind him, someone shrieked in rage.

Good Rose.

His footsteps echoed softly on the cement as he went, the rubber soles dull thuds in the silence. It wasn't all that long before Davros was in sight, pulling himself along, spine wriggling as he moved forward with surprising speed.

The cock of the safety being removed from the gun was loud and echoing.

"Stop or I shoot," he said, and Davros flipped around.

Aiming wasn't even difficult. He knew that when he pulled the trigger he could put a bullet in that visible beating heart. Maybe one in his swollen head, too, for good measure. And one for each blind eye.

Another shriek, and a crash; voices in the distance.

"You'll shoot anyway," Davros growled, still moving, slowly shoving himself backwards with the stumps of his wrists.

"Probably," he agreed.

"And why not?" Davros asked, sneering. "After all, you can't destroy worlds anymore. But then you don't need to, do you, Doctor?"

"I'm not the Doctor," he said flatly.

"Oh, but you are. You always will be. It's just that now -- once you pull that trigger," Davros gasped and stopped moving, apparently having caught himself on something, "you'll be...how shall I put this? Real?"

"I told you to stop moving."

"That's a new look for you," Davros nodded at the gun. Blood leaked out of a gap between muscles. "Finally claiming your birthright. Go ahead, Doctor, shoot me. Shoot me and change the world. Easier, isn't it?"

"Shut up!" he roared.

"Shoot me!" Davros bellowed back.

He tightened his grip on the gun. It begged to be fired; one little metal projectile could end this forever and maybe he could go back to Rose and things would be okay, life would be okay. And anyway a gun was just applied physics, and what was so wrong with that?

This would end, and he could be with Rose --

A blur of colour and movement, and there was Rose as if his thoughts could conjure her. There were scratchmarks on her neck and shoulders and a bruise on her cheekbone. Oh, Rose.

"We going to play this scene again?" she asked, standing between him and Davros. The monster in the corner hissed.

"Get out of the way," he said.

"We are," she sighed.

"Rose, it can be over," he insisted. "Just get out of the way."

"Doctor, pl -- "

"I'm not him!" he shouted. "I'm a human, don't you get it? There isn't any other way! Now get out of my way and let me finish this!"

Rose went still, but not out of fear; she wasn't afraid of him, and she wasn't afraid of the gun.

"You remember how you said everyone's got a choice?" she said softly. "Well, now you get one, Doctor."

"Don't call me that!"

She began to move, sidelong, stepping out of the firing line and towards him at the same time. "You make your choice. It's already over -- look at him, he's dying. He's helpless. You want me out of the way? Fine, here I am. So you can put the gun down and be the man you were supposed to be, or you can shoot him. And you'll never see me again."

He heaved a deep breath. "Rose, you can't -- "

"Yes, I can."

The gun was shaking; he steadied his hand, resumed his aim on the panting, bleeding creature who was watching the little drama unfold with gleaming eyes.

"How noble," Davros grunted. "Sacrifice your heart to save the world. How about it? Go on -- shoot me. Pull the trigger!" he shouted.

The barrel of the gun was shaking so hard he could barely keep his aim, but he'd always had very good aim. All it would take was the twitch of a muscle...

There was a sound like a firecracker going off, and light surrounded Davros like a halo. His scream of agony was cut short as translucent blue flame enveloped him.

The body slumped back. The thick tail of flesh encasing his spine thrashed and then was still. There was nothing but a ragged stump where Davros's head had been.

He followed Rose's gaze to the left and up. On a walkway, twenty feet off the ground, Captain Jack Harkness was leaning heavily against a rail, one arm around his ribcage, the other loosely holding the sonic blaster. It was still glowing from the discharge.

There was a gun in his own hand as well, still cool and unfired. He dropped it in horror.

"Jesus H. Christ, as the kids say," Jack blurted, chest heaving. "What the hell was that thing?"

"The snake in the garden," he heard himself answer.

Then he turned and staggered for the door, almost making it before he threw up -- bile and water, the only things left in his stomach, dry-heaving once he'd emptied completely. He could feel Rose's arms around his, and he realised she was sobbing; he turned away from the pool of bile and pulled her against him, both of them tumbling down, huddled against the wall. She tucked her face into his shoulder and he held on tightly, cradling her against his body as she wept.

***

Reality began to seep in, after a while; he was cold and damp, blood on his shirt, Rose's tears on the collar, grease and oil on his hands and knees. His palms and fingers ached, pocked with cuts and burn-marks, and his wrists were chafed raw from the handcuffs. He was shaking, hungry and spent. His arms and legs were cramped.

Jack leaned over him, a grim look replacing his usual sunny smile.

"Whatever it is, it's pretty thoroughly dead," he said. "So're the guys in the other room. Ianto's in kind of a bad way too but I think he'll get over it. The redhead..."

"Fell," Rose whispered. "Off the catwalk."

"Fell?" Jack lifted an eyebrow.

"Yes," Rose said, her voice thick with anger. "She fell. I tried to stop her."

"Okay, kiddo, don't put this on me; I'm just the hired help. Just tell me what to do with the bodies."

She turned her head back against the Doctor's shoulder. Jack shrugged.

"Okay with you if I vaporise 'em?" he asked.

"You're certain they're dead?" the Doctor said.

"Pretty damn sure, yeah. You know who they were?"

"Accidents," the Doctor answered. "They slipped through from another world. Maybe he brought them, I don't know. They thought they were going home. They could have asked..."

"Yeah, well, they didn't." Jack straightened. "What about the thing? The machine, I mean?"

"That," the Doctor murmured, "You can vaporise."

Jack tucked his blaster in his belt. "All right then. Just to be clear, I'm going to go destroy the machine, and then dispose of three bodies and a...thing, and then I'm going to help Ianto and come back for you guys."

The Doctor nodded. "Thank you, Jack."

Jack's look softened slightly. "Don't know why I even got mixed up with you people," he mumbled to himself as he walked off. "Monsters and machines, crazy blondes, mad scientists, hot Welshmen, I'm not getting laid at all, my life used to be a lot simpler..."

Rose was breathing easier now, relaxing and slowly pulling away. She dragged her wrist across her nose, wiping it clumsily. He stood and offered her a hand up, sliding his other arm around her waist. Slowly he led her away from the stinking remains of Davros and the room with the two dead men in it, getting them out into the fresh night air as quickly as he could. There were three blue flashes in quick succession, illuminating the dirty windows, and then a fourth after a delay; finally, a fifth, and then a yelp of pain. Jack appeared, his uniform shirt gone, the remains of it tied in a makeshift splint around Ianto's right arm. He eased the younger man into the back seat of the car and handed Rose in after, then looked queryingly at the Doctor.

"I'll drive," the Doctor said. Jack shrugged and got into the passenger's seat.

It was the last thing he said for days.

***

Captain Jack

I've never stuck around for clean-up before.

This time I didn't really have a choice. We all needed medicine of one kind or another. I guess I could have gone back and gotten all Nanited up pretty quickly, but the idea of time-jumping with four bruised ribs held no appeal at all.

We stopped just long enough to pile up the Doctor's bloody shirt and Ianto's gun so I could vaporise them, then kept on going until we found a hospital and pulled into A&E. They strapped my ribs and gave me primitive painkillers for a sprained muscle in my back, while across the way Gorgeous Ianto was getting a cast put on -- two greenstick fractures in the arm and three broken fingers. Rose just had scratches and bruises, but they checked her out pretty thoroughly anyway. I told the nurses we'd been in a bar fight; I could have retconned them but they seemed to swallow it okay.

The Doctor was just...silent. They worried about head trauma, but he seemed to be tracking okay -- he just wouldn't talk.

We were all finished long before he was. Ianto brought us colas from a vending machine and then went off to call his fiance and Rose's parents. By now we were safely out of the bilocation, at least.

"So," I said, just meaning to make conversation while we waited for Ianto to get back and the Doctor to get cut free. "Found your Doctor."

"Yeah," she said, twisting her fingers together. "Thank you, Jack."

"Do you know what that thing was?"

She nodded. "His name was Davros. He came from a planet called Skaro, in the other universe. Remember the Daleks I told you about? He created them."

"That thing I shot was a person?"

She nodded again. "The machine he had the Doctor working on...it looked like a Dalek. He could have taken over the world with just one."

"Creepy."

"He makes monsters. That's what he does. Well, did. If he couldn't make his own monsters, he'd turn other people into monsters."

"The Doctor."

"Yeah."

"But it's over now," I said, not at all certain that it was.

"I hope so," she agreed. She fidgeted again. "Listen, my family's got money. I haven't forgot I said you could name your price."

I felt twitchy. There I was, a bona-fide hero for the first time in my life -- I don't count war, everyone's a hero in war -- and I knew how heroes were supposed to act. Anyway, asking a rich woman for money is boring and sort of...cheap. Emotionally speaking.

"I guess I can't have Ianto," I said, and actually got a little laugh out of her.

"No, he isn't mine to give out," she answered.

"Then there's really only one thing I want."

She glanced at me. "What's that?"

I tapped my lips. She laughed again, which was almost reward enough, and leaned sideways and kissed me. I might have slipped her a little tongue but come on, I'd just saved the day. I should at least get some of the girl.

"I forgot how that feels," she said, when she was finished with me. "Sure you don't want anything else?"

"Nah," I said. "Besides, you've opened whole new avenues of adventure. I was getting tired of the con game. Do you think I'd make a decent space hero?"

She patted my arm. "Just try not to get killed."

"Yes, ma'am."

Right then Pete Tyler, who must have been driving like hell was on his heels to get there so fast, burst into the lobby.

"Rose?" he shouted.

"My cue to leave," I said, because when parents start appearing generally it's better if I'm not around.

"For good?" she asked, grabbing my sleeve as I stood.

"I'll check in on you sometime. Kiss your man for me," I replied, and made a hasty but sexily dignified exit.

***

"Make me a dry martini, two olives. I saved the world tonight."

Chapter Text

The Doctor

He couldn't explain why he'd stopped talking.

He couldn't even think about why he was doing it, except that he was exhausted and words seemed to be too much. He needed time to think things over, even if all that happened was that the thoughts chased each other around in his head until he couldn't sleep, until he felt he would go mad.

He ate at meals, he slept next to Rose at night when he could quiet his mind enough to sleep, he went in to the labs to help Ianto sweep up the broken glass. In the afternoon, two days after Davros died, he let Rose pull him close, kiss him and take him to bed. But it was all distant, and he thought he rather frightened her with his silence in the middle of lovemaking. It was nice -- it was a great comfort -- but he just...couldn't say the words. He was out of words.

Jackie had no shortage of words for him or for Rose, scolding for hours on end about him having the gall to get kidnapped and her going off half-cocked after him. Pete could always talk a blue streak if he thought it would put people at ease, but he talked about nothing so much and for so long that the Doctor often found himself fleeing as soon as he could. Rose tried to be normal, talking to him as if he'd answer and bringing him books and food, and he felt like a self-absorbed ass after realising that these last few months hadn't been easy on her, either, as she tried to fix him and recover from losing the Doctor she really wanted at the same time. But the guilt tied up his tongue as well.

Three days after the fight he was sitting in the garden, a new book tucked in one hand -- Dorothy Sayers still, though it was hard to concentrate on the words -- when Ianto appeared. He wasn't dressed for work: he wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, one sleeve clumsily stretched over his cast, and high-topped trainers like the kind the Doctor himself wore. He looked about sixteen years old. The Doctor had forgotten how young Ianto was.

"Good afternoon," Ianto said. He was carrying two beer bottles in his good hand, and a bottle-opener was tucked in the single finger and thumb that were mobile under the ridge of the fibreglass cast. He settled crosslegged on the grass in front of the Doctor's chair and placed the bottles on the ground.

"Lisa says between us we've two good hands now," he continued. "Ordinarily we'd just about be able to get a jar open together, except -- " he made a gesture with his cast, " -- she's got her bionic arm. I make her do all the heavy lifting these days."

The Doctor watched him, perplexed, and set his book to one side. Ianto pushed one of the beer bottles into his hand and made him hold it still while he pried the cap off.

"Brought you this," he said, tipping his head at the bottle. The Doctor looked down at it uncertainly.

"No taste for it?" Ianto asked. The Doctor shrugged. "Well, it seems a little inappropriate. Then again, in some Earth cultures, pouring libations of alcohol to the dead is the done thing."

He ignored the Doctor's sharp look and clamped the other bottle in the crook of his arm to open it. He took a sip before he looked up at the Doctor from under his brows. "Yeah, I figured out you weren't from Earth. A brilliant scientist and engineer appears out of nowhere one day with no history, with no name -- if you were born on this planet you'd have been a child prodigy. You'd have won the Nobel Prize for something by the time you were twenty-five. But there's no record of you or anyone like you. I'm not just a pretty face; I do research, too."

The Doctor smiled.

"But I guess you're still human, or anyway similar." He took another contemplative sip. The Doctor sipped too; it seemed the companionable thing to do.

"Mary Ellen was buried today," Ianto said finally. "Maybe it is disrespectful, but I've stood here before. A few years ago everyone I knew was suddenly dead, and my girlfriend was in a coma in hospital. It's this or hysterics."

The Doctor cocked an eyebrow. Ianto shrugged.

"Sure. It's a lecture, but you've got plenty of practice listening, lately, haven't you?" he asked. "When they all die, you wonder why it wasn't you; pure stupid luck, or maybe someone else's bad luck. They shot Mary Ellen. They would have shot me if I'd gone to the lab that morning instead of waiting for you. Just...because they could, I guess."

The Doctor swallowed. He didn't want to hear this.

"I know you. I know how much mercy is in you. Rose wouldn't stand for anyone less than you," Ianto continued. "You can think you should have saved them. We can both believe it's our fault. We lived; they died. But it's on them," Ianto continued. "These people, whoever they were, for whatever reason they were there, it's blood on their hands. Not mine. Certainly not yours. They made their choices."

The Doctor set the bottle down and rubbed at his face with his hands. Ianto watched him carefully.

"Does it help?" the Doctor rasped finally, voice rusty from three days of silence.

"Not really. But it can't hurt." Ianto sipped again; he could hear him swallow. "Whether or not it's helpful isn't the point. It's on them. You go on believing it until it's the truth."

"Truth doesn't work that way."

"Who says? Besides, you're being an arsehole, and at least this got you talking."

The Doctor gaped at him.

"I owed Rose Tyler half my life a long time before I owed you the time of day," Ianto said gravely. "You're ripping her up when you could be making her happy. I reckon you're doing it because you don't know what else to do with her. S'all right for a bit; Lisa did it to me once or twice. The point is she only wants to help and you've given her bugger-all in return."

"What would you have done if this didn't work?" the Doctor asked, waving at the young man sitting in the grass, the beer bottles, the island of odd calm in the whole mess he'd made of his life.

"Socked you one," Ianto replied serenely. "She's worth making happy -- "

"I know that!"

"Then do something about it. You can be miserable with her or miserable without her. Least with her you have a chance of being un-miserable one day."

Ianto reached into his pocket and offered up a small brown-paper-wrapped package bearing the return-address of the industrial glassmakers' factory that they'd used when they were buying rods for the screwdriver. The Doctor opened it. Nestled inside were three flawless glass rods.

"Tomorrow?" Ianto asked. The Doctor nodded. "Right, then. I'm off home; I'll give Lisa your love."

The Doctor sat and studied the rods for a while. Then he stood up and walked to the big glass door that let out from the breakfast room into the garden.

"ROSE?" he called. Down the hall, movement; Rose's blonde hair, shifting as she raised her head. He started towards her.

"Doctor?" she called back hesitantly, straightening. She had Tony propped against her chest with one arm.

"Hiya," he said, and kissed her. Tony laughed. "Put down the sprog and come out with me tonight. Dinner. If you're very lucky I'll be persuaded to dance."

"All right," she said, still a little uncertain. "You okay then?"

"Better than I was," he answered. "I have a plan. A secret plan."

Her smile warmed slowly, but it was genuine. "Sounds mysterious and intriguing."

"It might even be enigmatic."

"Take me out, then," she said.

He did have a plan, he realised; an idea was forming in his head, half-mad but sweeping everything else to one side. Miserable with Rose was better than miserable without her, and if he could make her happy then that would be all right. He kept taking wrong turns, but sooner or later he had to be able to make this good again. He'd have his screwdriver soon, and he knew something that could help him give Rose what she wanted -- a taste of the other Doctor, if nothing more.

***

"Well, look who decided to stop sulking," Ianto said the next morning, standing in the lab with his arms crossed. Or, well, as crossed as they could get with the bulky cast.

"I...deserve that, a bit," the Doctor admitted.

"Yes, you do. So -- " Ianto gestured at the machines, humming softly to themselves, and the various bits and pieces strewn around the worktable. "Today?"

"Today," the Doctor confirmed, pulling the box of glass rods out of his pocket.

The last batch -- well, the batch before the broken ones -- hadn't been sufficiently high-quality to withstand the demands of the screwdriver, and there had been some explosions. Minor explosions, negligible in the grand scheme of things, but explosions nonetheless. They were well-prepared with goggles and gardening gloves this time.

There was the housing, the circuitry, the ball-regulator (the Doctor loved to say that because Ianto always looked like he was trying very hard not to snigger), the clamps, the resonator, the energy cell, and the glass directional rod. Not to mention the rotational dial and the wireless adaptor. All packed into one small, useful package -- if it didn't explode.

He could feel Ianto holding his breath as they lifted the resonator out of the grid and placed it next to the directional rod inside the housing. He fitted the clamps in, heard the click as the energy cell connected with the touchplates, and ran his thumb briefly across the dial without moving it.

"Right," he said, placing the screwdriver carefully in a thick-walled metal box. He propped a real -- what, analog? non-sonic? -- screwdriver against the dial. "Ready?"

"Ready," Ianto said, inching behind him.

"Fire in the hole," the Doctor muttered, and twisted the analog screwdriver, which in turn adjusted the setting on the sonic screwdriver.

Blue light reflected up the box's sides. There was a soft whine, eeeeeee, and a distinct lack of explosiveness.

"Is that it?" Ianto asked, peering at it. The Doctor reached in and picked up the screwdriver. It was cool to the touch.

He flicked the dial. With human ears he couldn't hear the change in tone but he thought he could sense it through the tool itself.

"That's it," he said, looking down at it. Ianto was looking distinctly unimpressed. "That, Mr. Jones, is a sonic screwdriver."

"What's it do? Apart from the obvious," Ianto replied. "Although it's not...very obvious. I mean it hasn't got a phillips-head poking out or anything."

"What doesn't it do?" the Doctor replied. He took his mobile out of his pocket and aimed the screwdriver at it, flicking the dial around until it felt right. He adjusted the pressure on it slightly. The phone sputtered, beeped, and then lit up brightly. "See that? Five seconds. It took me a week to do that to Rose's mobile this last time."

"What, exactly, did you do?"

"Five bars, anywhere, anywhen, anyhow," the Doctor replied, dialling a number he knew off by heart. It rang two or three times before there was a click and an answer.

"Doc'ed Number. Very clever," said Jack Harkness. "Puns are the lowest form of humour, you know."

"Only people who are bad at them say that."

"Don't tell me you need rescuing again."

"Are you in the rescue business now, Captain Jack?"

When he heard the name, Ianto rolled his eyes so hard his head tilted sideways.

"I do a little heroing now and again," Jack replied. "How's Gorgeous Ianto?"

The Doctor glanced at him. "Still gorgeous."

"And my favourite Doctor?"

"I need a favour," the Doctor said.

***

Rose

Life had, for once, seemed to settle down after the Doctor's recovery. Rose didn't have the faintest hope that it would last, but then that was what had always been wonderful about life with the Doctor. Every day was a new experience, every person met was some new surprise to be uncovered.

She didn't think he even realised he did it, honestly, but it was there all the same. Whether he was trawling through the labs, lending a hand to the other scientists, or wandering around London making conversation with beggars and bicycle couriers, whatever he was doing was a voyage of discovery, fueled by an unending curiosity. She had never wondered what made the Doctor seek out humanity, honestly; even before she could put it into words she knew that it was their boundless inquisitiveness, like calling to like. A friend or a remembered experience brought out a beaming smile and a nostalgic look; new experiences, new people, new toys drove him to investigate until he not only understood everything but had wrung every possible thing out of it.

But still there was a hesitancy licking around the edges of him, a slowness to reach for what he wanted, especially when what he wanted was her. It made her insane, some days. Other days, his smile and the way he touched her of a morning, hand on her bare shoulder, face pressed to the nape of her neck -- that made it all worth it. And yeah, okay, it was a little weird that he slept with the sonic screwdriver on the bedside table, but she'd once dated a bloke who slept with his dead dog's favourite chew toy (ew) so she'd seen worse.

At any rate, she wasn't entirely shocked when he came bolting into the big lab one afternoon, flushed and disarrayed, clutching a folder in one hand.

"Come on," he said. "Got something to show you. Not here," he added, and dragged her away. The others working on the biplane's engine watched her go with amusement; not living with him nor knowing what he was, they could afford to be indulgent of his moods.

"Where are we going?" she laughed, as he pulled her past the new receptionist (Laura or something, she hadn't learned her name yet) and through the front doors, across the car park.

"Somewhere private," he replied, still dashing along. He came up short on the far side of a small copse of trees -- the new Torchwood prided itself on being Green. He turned to face her and held up the folder.

"I asked a favour of Jack," he said. She eyed the folder.

"It's not pornography, is it?"

"Wha -- no! Well. Sort of. For the discerning space mechanic," he mused, then shook himself back into the present. "He's found this. For us. It's ours if we want it. Look."

He opened the folder and thrust it at her. A few glossy digital printouts slid down the side and nearly fell; she caught them, studying them with her head tilted.

"Is it a new flat?" she asked, confused. He took them from her and shuffled them around so that a different sheet was on top. "Oh," she added.

It was a spaceship. Sleek and shiny as sports car -- though if the figure standing nearby was a human, it was much, much bigger. As huge as it was, it looked like it would handle well -- not that you needed that kind of aerodynamics in space, really, but she could appreciate the artistry.

The other photographs were of the insides, she realised, flipping through them. Living quarters, kitchen, what must be a command console.

The Doctor had sent Jack to kick the tyres on a spaceship.

It was just so...

Infurating, actually. Because she didn't really want a spaceship, not anymore, and she definitely didn't want a surrogate for the TARDIS. She liked her life, exploring physics for herself, learning about her little planet. She wanted her work to be one of the reasons that, when people did finally get out to the stars, they'd understand themselves as well as they understood the rest of the galaxy.

"Do you like it?" the Doctor asked, pathetically eager.

"It's brilliant," she said, because objectively it was. "But really -- a spaceship?"

"Yeah! Anywhere you want to go, I'll take you there. Well. The ship will. With me as pilot, yeah? And I can teach you, it's not hard. All we have to do is say the word. We won't even owe anything, I offered barter for it."

"What did you barter?" she asked, sidetracked momentarily.

"That's between me and Jack."

"Oh my god, you didn't sleep with him, did you?"

"Rose! Not the point!" he insisted. "It's a spaceship. Say the word and it's ours. Say two words and we'll be off. Well. Unless you want to go somewhere that's more than two words long. They could be long words, on the other hand -- "

"Do you want the spaceship?" she countered, because by god this had to stop sometime.

"I want you to have it."

"And where would we go first?"

"Dunno," he said, eyes alight. "You want to see Raxacoricofallapatorius? I mean really see it, you know they aren't all bad and there's a lot less farting on their homeworld. Besides, roll it around on your tongue. Big long word..." he dangled it tantalisingly.

"Do you want to?" she asked.

"Sure, if you like."

"Not if I like. Do you want to?"

"Rose..." he looked annoyed. "What's it matter? I call Jack, he delivers the ship, and we're off. Simple as that. Where d'you want to go?"

She crossed her arms, tucking the folder of printouts under one armpit.

"You pick," she said.

He flailed his arms. "That again?"

"I want you to pick," she said.

"But I picked dinner last time we went -- "

"Doctor." Her voice was steel. "You pick."

"You know," he said, obviously trying to distract her, "The Upik are an Eskimo tribe -- "

"Don't try that on me," she replied. "Do you want to go back out?" she asked. "Space, time, the whole thing?"

"Course I do. I mean, maybe. With less...death-defying...death-defiance than formerly, but..." he said, faltering. "Don't you?"

"I was never in it for the time travel," she said. "Okay, maybe a bit at first. But I stuck around 'cause of you. If you're happy on Earth, that's all right then, isn't it? And Tony needs someone like you, y'know. Besides, we don't have forever anymore -- I never did, but you did, and that sort of...felt like I did, on account of it."

"But it can be like it was," he said, breath coming short. "Can't it? Just a little bit?"

"Not exactly like it was, no," she said. "And I don't think you really want a ship so you can go adventuring again."

"I want to make you happy."

"But you haven't asked what makes me happy," she said.

"You think I don't know?" he demanded. He looked angry, something she'd never wanted to cause -- she'd never wanted him to be angry with her, but she couldn't help it. And in a way it was good -- it showed he could get angry.

"I know you haven't asked."

"I can see it, Rose, I'm not blind. Not yet," he added venomously, "though wait fifty years and maybe I will be."

"Jesus, are you afraid of getting old or something?" she asked. "Welcome to the human race!"

"It's not about getting old, it's about you thinking I can't tell what you want. I know what you want."

"Oh do you now!"

"Yes, I do! And I want to make you happy, I want to be him for you, but I can't!"

"You're so stupid sometimes!" she shouted.

"Stupid!" he shouted back. "I was saving myself with my wits alone before you were born. I know the last digit of Pi! The things I could tell you -- "

"I don't care. That's not smart, that's just -- that's just educated! You don't know anything about humans!"

"NO, I DON'T!" he yelled. "And if you want me to go just tell me so -- "

"No you bloodywell won't," she snarled, grabbing his arm as he turned away. "I crossed universes for you, I almost died for you. With you. I would have died, I'd have been happy to die so long as it was with you -- "

"Not with me!" he retorted, and the bitterness in his voice made her want to weep not just for what he'd lost but for the sheer idiocy of it. "With him!"

"I didn't go for him!" she insisted. "It was you! You!"

He stared at her, mouth open.

"Everything I did I did to find you. You're not him, you're better than him because you're not perfect and you're human and you love me. You're so human," she said, voice sinking. "But you won't see that, you stupid -- you stupid human!"

"Rose, I don't know what else to do." He clenched his fists. "I'm trying the best I can!"

"But you're not listening to me," she replied. He dropped over, slumping on his knees. She could almost hear what he was thinking; a Time Lord would never kneel to a human this way, but he wasn't a Time Lord anymore. He scrubbed at his face in frustration, ran his fingers up through his hair and then let them drop to his thighs, bowing his head. After a second, she reached out and stroked his hair, hesitantly.

"Do you want to go out there?" she asked softly.

"Anywhere you want to go," he pleaded. "I'm offering you the stars, Rose."

"And I'm offering you life," she replied. "Here, with me. Why won't you take it?"

He looked up at her. "But don't you want -- "

"I have what I want," she said sharply.

She watched the tension and anger drain from his body, his shoulders slouching, his jaw relaxing. He looked as if he had lost something vital that made his being cohere; like if he breathed too deeply he'd fall apart.

"You don't want the stars," he said. "Not with me. You don't want the stars with me. Or without me. You just want me."

"Finally," she sighed. She cupped the back of his head, pulling him forward, holding him secure against her body. He pressed his face into her stomach, clutched blindly at her wrists.

"Name me," he said. She tensed.

"Doctor, you don't -- "

"Please, Rose. Give me a name. I want a name," he pressed his face against the soft fabric of her shirt. Bizarrely, she flashed back to the shirt Jackie had bought months ago in the little town in Norway near Bad Wolf Bay. I <3 Dikes. She wanted to laugh.

"Names have power, I want you to give me my name," he insisted. "It's the last thing I'll ask you to choose, I swear."

She rubbed her hand against his hair, first against the grain so that it stood up and then down around his crown, settling it in short half-curls.

"Peter," she said softly, after a while. He sucked in a sharp breath. "What do you think of Peter?"

"Like your father?" he asked.

She laughed a little. "Like Peter Wimsey. That arrogant clever bloke in your books."

"Peter," he repeated into her shirt. "What about a last name?"

"You pick," she said, and held her breath. He trembled.

"Hawthorn," he answered. "Good sturdy plants, hawthorns," and he laughed a little. "English. Very...English."

"Plant?" she asked. "Implies...putting down roots."

"Does it?" He leaned back a little. "Fancy that."

"But do you like it?" she asked, and then her tone changed daringly. "Peter?"

"Yes, yes -- " he scrambled up and kissed her like he was trying to prove something, or maybe trying to push all that tense anxiety into her. "Peter -- Peter Hawthorn. I'm -- my name is Peter Hawthorn."

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, laughing.

"Are you sure?" she asked. "It's ordinary. Isn't it -- think -- think about it. You'll just be -- Peter, with a bank card and a driver's licence -- "

" -- and a lab ID," he replied. "But I'm human, Rose. Is that enough?"

"I love you," she said, trying to answer him without knowing quite how.

"I'm not extraordinary," he mumbled. "I wanted to give you more than this."

"You used to think everyone was extraordinary," she answered. "Or are you the special exception?"

He shuddered against her. "It doesn't matter? I'll never be -- "

"It doesn't matter."

"I can have -- life. This life. Here on Earth," he asked, childlike, clinging to her. "I can have it with you. Till we die. As a human. You're amazing, humans."

"We," she said. "We're amazing, humans."

"And I can have a passport? So I can go anywhere?"

"Anywhere you want."

"I want to see everything," he breathed. "The whole world. Barcelona first."

"All right," she laughed. "Barcelona first."

"And -- a library card? How do I get a library card?"

She giggled against his shoulder. "I'll help you get one."

He was silent for a long time, but his breathing had slowed.

"Peter," she murmured. "I love you, Peter Hawthorn."

"I love you, Rose Tyler," he answered.

"Doctor! Are you down here?"

The broke apart as Ianto appeared on the footpath. He stopped, startled. Rose tried not to laugh.

"We heard shouting," he said slowly. "You all right then?"

Rose grabbed the Doct -- grabbed Peter's hand and pulled him forward. "Ianto, I need you to meet someone. This..." she said, grinning at Peter, "Is Dr. Peter Hawthorn."

Peter held out his hand. Ianto, perplexed, stared at it for a second before he shook it.

"I was wondering if you had an actual name," he said.

"It's Peter," Peter beamed.

"Like the saint?" Ianto asked.

"Like the detective. Come on then, work to do," Peter said. "Rose, coming?"

"Coming," she said, and followed the pair of men back towards the lab. "Lots of people to introduce you to, Dr. Hawthorn."

***

"Oh, bugger me. No way am I going to be Rose Hawthorn."

***

Peter Hawthorn

He had a dream, that night, not a terror or even a nightmare, though a few weeks earlier he might have classed it as such. He was standing on Gallifrey, long-lost now, up the side of the mountain where he'd played as a child.

His own children were running and playing, but there were other children as well -- which didn't make sense, because some of them were his children and some of them were his grandchildren, even though none of them looked more than half-grown. Except the woman who was minding them, a pretty blonde girl -- Jenny, quick and smart and quite dead Jenny, but then all of the children playing on the mountainside were dead now. And yet there they were, engaged in some complicated form of tag, backlit by the setting sun. His childrens' mother was there too, looking unusually relaxed.

"It's time to go," Jenny said, rounding up children who had been grown and dead before she was even a gleam in a cloning chamber's whatever-passed-for-an-eye. She led the way up to where he was standing, put her hands on his shoulders and smiled at him. "Bye, Dad."

"Goodbye, Jenny," he said quietly.

"G'bye, dad," said his eldest and youngest in unison. His daughter hugged his leg. "Bye, father."

"Goodbye."

"Bye grandfather," chorused half a dozen others, some pulling him down so they could wrap small arms around his neck in loose kiddie hugs. "Bye, great-granddad," a ginger-haired little boy said.

"Goodbye, loves," he murmured.

Jenny was already shuffling them away; out of the crowd one last girl pushed forward, dark-haired, dark-eyed.

"Susan," he said fondly.

"Bye, grandfather," she said, and he bent down so that she could place a kiss on his forehead. When he looked up she was running after the others.

He straightened and glanced at the woman nearby, who was unaccountably smiling.

"Goodbye, sweetheart," she said, and pressed his hand between hers, an old Gallifreyan love-custom.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"We're not," she smiled and kissed his fingertips. "You are."

"But -- "

"You were always meant to go. And now there's somewhere for you to stay," she added. "Go on, sweetheart. It's okay. Just remember that I loved you. I did love you."

He nodded and let her release his hand, watched as she walked away down the hillside. There was another presence at his side, suddenly, but he didn't turn.

"G'bye," said the Master's voice, soft and even. "Sorry about...you know."

"It's fine," he replied. "I know."

"Look after yourself."

"Right. You too."

And then the Master was swinging away down the path as well. The last glorious rays of Gallifrey's sun shone in Peter's eyes just long enough to prevent him from seeing where they'd gone.

***

"He doesn't like responsibility, you know," said the Duchess, "and the War and one thing and another was bad for people that way. I don't mean he went out of his mind or anything, and he was always perfectly sweet about it, only he was so dreadfully afraid to go to sleep...and he couldn't give an order, not even to the servants, which made it really very miserable for him, poor lamb! I suppose if you've been giving orders for nearly four years to people to go and get blown to pieces it gives you a, what does one call it nowadays? An inhibition or an exhibition, or something, of nerves. If anybody can be said to have pulled Peter round again it was Bunter."

Harriet asked to be told about Bunter.

"Well," said the Duchess, "he was a footman at Sir John Sanderton's before the War and he was in Peter's unit. They were in some jam or other together, and took a fancy to one another...so Peter promised Bunter that, if they both got out of the War alive, Bunter should come to him. In January 1919, I think it was, Bunter turned up here, saying he'd wangled himself out..."

"Bunter never said that, Duchess!"

"No, dear, that's my vulgar way of putting it. He said he had succeeded in obtaining his demobilisation, and had come immediately to take up the situation Peter had promised him. Well, my dear, it happened to be one of Peter's very worst days, when he couldn't do anything but just sit and shiver. I liked the look of the man, so I said, 'Well, you can try, but I don't suppose he'll be able to make up his mind one way or the other.' I took Bunter in, and it was quite dark, because I suppose Peter hadn't the strength of mind to switch the lights on...so he had to ask who it was. Bunter said, 'Sergeant Bunter, my lord, come to enter your lordship's service as arranged.' He turned on the lights and drew the curtains and took charge from that moment. He found that flat and took Peter up to Town and did everything. I remember, it really was rather touching, I'd come up to Town one morning early and looked in at the flat. Bunter was just taking in Peter's breakfast...he used to get up very late in those days, sleeping so badly...and Bunter came out with a plate and said, 'Oh, your Grace! His lordship has told me to take away these damned eggs and bring him a sausage.' He was so much overcome that he put down the hot plate on the sitting-room table and took all the polish off."

***

The next morning he woke early, the room coming into dim focus as he groped towards consciousness. Rose was sleeping with one arm flung over his chest and it took a moment to extract himself; he was awake and halfway to the door, hitching a pair of trousers around his hips for decency's sake, before he remembered he had a name.

He turned and glanced back, but Rose could use the sleep and besides he liked the quiet in the mornings. Peter Hawthorn was the sort of man who rose early, he decided.

Hah! Rose early!

He found the kitchen already lit, Jackie on the telephone to someone, trying to talk and feed a fussy Tony at the same time. When she saw him, she gave him a pre-emptively grateful look and handed him the spoon she'd been using. He looked at it, set it down, and went to get a banana from the fruit bowl.

"Morning," he said to Tony, slicing off the top of the banana and carefully slotting a disc of fruit into Tony's mouth, like feeding a coin sideways into a machine. Tony whapped his open palms on the tray of the high-chair and chewed happily. "Guess what your sister did yesterday."

Tony blinked at him.

"My name," he said, slowly and carefully, "is Peter. Peeeeeteeeeer."

"Bah," Tony said.

Peter sighed. "Close enough for jazz. Anyway. Good solid name, I think. Petros, 'the rock'. Saint Peter, he's a big man in Christianity. Peter Wimsey, bright spark, only fictional character with a portrait on the wall at Balliol. Peter the Tinker, after your time -- after mine, too -- famous mythical space-rambler. Peter Jackson, brilliant films, much better than Star Wars. Peter the Great of Russia, got to respect a bloke called The Great. Peter Parker, moral example for us all. Peter Anderson invented Earth's first hyperwarp drive. Met him, terrible table manners. Oh! Blue Peter! I love that show. It's been around almost as long as I have. You and I," he leaned over and whispered to Tony, "are going to watch a lot of Blue Peter when you're a bit older. Well. Whenever we're near a telly. Which I don't reckon we will be much. I'm going to make Rose show me the world. You can come along if you like. We'll record Blue Peter or something. Anyway, Peter. Good name," he said, straightening.

Tony looked less than enthusiastic.

"Point is," Peter pressed on, "that's what you have to call me from now on, because that's my name. Dr. Peter Hawthorn."

"Finally picked one, have you?" Jackie asked, sweeping around the centre island of the kitchen. "No, sorry, was talking to Rose's boy. What? He didn't. NO. No!" she added, as whoever was on the other end of the line shared some juicy piece of gossip.

"Don't worry," Peter whispered. "She gets better. Well. Easier. Or, anyway, you get used to it. But you've got Rose and me, too, so that's all right."

Tony opened his mouth. Peter offered him another banana-disc.

"Got you on nanny duty again?" Rose asked, appearing tousel-headed in the doorway, still in her pyjamas. "Morning," she added, kissing him on the cheek.

"Tony and I were just establishing friendly diplomatic relations."

"Mmh. He's brilliant, and you owe me a pound. Want breakfast yourself, or are you planning on splitting the banana? Toast? Eggs?"

"Whatever you're -- " he stopped himself. She hesitated too. "Actually, I'd like some Weetabix."

"You're so weird," she said, but she fetched down the box and reached for a bowl. He slid an arm around her waist as she stretched up. "Oi, handsy, baby in the room."

"He'll have to get used to it," he said in her ear, then took the box out of her hands and got the bowl for himself. "Go amuse yourself, Tony likes me best."

"Hmph, see if I save any bacon for you," she retorted.

"It'll go straight to your hips," Jackie called, then returned to the phone. "No, not you, the whole family's up now, it's like a circus. Men wandering round with no shirts, unwashed children covered in fruit -- I know. I know! No, go on with what you were saying."

"Is it true what they say about human women, that they turn into their mothers?" Peter asked speculatively.

"Yeah, that sounds like solid intelligence," Rose sniffed.

"Bah," Tony demanded, and Peter returned to servitude.

"So...it's Saturday," Rose said, as she dumped some bacon in a pan. It sizzled and hissed. "Got any plans?"

"I thought we might go in to town," he suggested. "I have errands to run."

"All right," Rose agreed. "Anywhere in particular?"

Peter smiled at her. "There's a book I need."

***

***

This meeting in time is a show
Bringing together so much we don't know
You're a queen from a land unseen
Behind your amazing mind

In another life
We will be married
Or maybe we were...

-- Pete Morton, In Another Life

Chapter Text

I blame Spider for this. And Jeanquirieplus just a little.

The whole thing started with a review post: Sam's Three Things about Journey's End. While I didn't really address the prime wankpoint of the episode, Donna's mindwipe, I was definitely interested in the secondary wankpoint, the Doctor leaving his human self in Pete's World with Rose. Spider pointed out that the Doctor was still the Doctor and no doubt there would still be grand adventures even if he didn't have his TARDIS or his Screwdriver (trufax: in the original shooting script, 10.5 gives Human!Ten a bit of TARDIS coral to grow his own with). I imagined him building his own screwdriver, and from there perhaps a spaceship.

There used to be a link here to the original discussion thread, but it was lost when my journal was hacked. I announced I didn't have time to write the fic, and then did it anyway. I really didn't have time, but -- well, fandom finds a way, I suppose.

I don't write much Doctor Who fic, mainly because it took me a while to get up to speed on, you know, fifty years of canon. Besides, it's intimidating to try and get into the headspace of a brilliant near-immortal alien. I think one of the reasons I was able to execute this fic at all was that the Doctor was human. His mind may have been intact, but he still had to learn to live as a human in one place and time with the anticipation of death relatively close at hand, compared to where he stood in regards to death as a Time Lord.

This is one of the hardest stories I've ever written, I think, just in terms of trying to get it completed and up to my standards. I don't know if its reads as raw and sharp-edged as it felt while writing it -- probably not -- but it touched several personal nerves for me. Cathartic, yes, but difficult because of that. I do know that I've had an unusual number of people claim that it inspired vivid dreams after reading, which is gratifying in a strange way.

I hadn't actually seen Rise of the Cybermen or Age of Steel (the Pete's World episodes) when I started writing this, and it had been a long time since I'd seen Army of Ghosts or Doomsday. Once I'd finished the fic I went back and reviewed them, which meant I had to rework a lot of the Torchwood backstory. I'd forgotten that the alternate universe had a Torchwood as well, but I needed something similar to Torchwood to provide some of the story's infrastructure. Originally the Torchwood you see in this fic was Tyler Universal Laboratories, and Ianto was the survivor of a different disaster entirely by a Torchwood that had existed and been destroyed. This is the original story Ianto tells the Doctor:

"They scrounged a warhead from a downed ship. We reckon it was a dud; something wrong in the firing mechanism, probably."

"Messing about with things you don't understand," the Doctor said.

"Well, how else are we going to learn anything? We won't understand it ever if we don't mess about," Ianto retorted. The other man looked surprised. "And I think it's pretty inconsiderate of aliens to treat the place like a junk heap and never send any salvage teams."

"What happened, Ianto?" Ms. Tyler asked gently.

"The team opened it up and started studying the wiring. Or they were going to. I don't know if they got that far or not. The warhead went off...shot straight up, practically vaporised part of the basement. We were lucky...we were on the ground floor, and Lisa was safety captain. We started tunnelling..." He stopped, clenched his fists, fought down the tight sensation in his chest. "A ceiling tile fell when we were almost out. Sheared her arm off at the shoulder. I had to drag her out."

Elements of the destruction of Torchwood probably linger in some situations throughout the fic, but I've done my best to work it up to canon compliance.

One of the things I knew I wanted to incorporate was the Doctor's parallel to Peter Wimsey. I spent a long time considering what name he'd take for himself, because I wanted the story to end with him being named, since as a human he would need one, and it would have to be a climactic event. John Smith was too close to his old self, so I discarded it; I went through various kings and historical figures until I realised the Doctor wouldn't want to be a king and most historical figures are historical for being kind of bastardy.

I finally settled on Peter as a good name without too much romance, but not too plain. I was still iffy about it because yeah, it is a little bit hinky to name your boyfriend after your dad, but it also occurred to me that there was a possibility for a parallel with Peter Wimsey, hero of Dorothy Sayers' mystery novels. Wimsey is a clever, witty English aristocrat whose experiences as an officer during WWI left him severely traumatised, and still reverberate for him years later.

The quotes from Sayers books throughout the fic have sometimes been compressed for pithiness; they cover everything from Whose Body, the first chronological novel (and the first novel written, though short stories predate it) to Busman's Honeymoon, the last. Close readers will also note the appearance of Bernard Black, irascible Irish hero of Black Books, and Mr. Fell, the angelic book not-quite-seller of Good Omens, when the Doctor buys his first books.

I think Peter Hawthorn suits the Doctor. I've always wanted to give someone the last name Hawthorn, and as Rose says it does indicate a certain putting-down of roots.

That British Library card, by the way, is a manip of a real one; it's a "reader's card", and I felt that in all it was the most appropriate one to give to Peter as an endnote. He looks happy, don't you think?

***

Missing Scene Fragments

At one point, before I conceived of Davros as the villain in the piece, I wanted the "three horsemen" to simply be violent invaders from another universe who believe the Doctor can get them home. With that in mind they were more set on personal destruction than they became under Davros, and I had to remove a huge chunk of the story. I kept what I didn't cannibalise for the new version, and you can see some of it below, including I think a rather good account of Ianto interacting with a homebrewed Ghost Machine (hearkening back to the utterly forgettable third episode of Torchwood S1).

Ianto was one of the first people the Doctor saw when they pulled up to the lab complex -- he was sitting on the back of an ambulance in the car-park, an oxygen mask strapped to his face, blood spatter on the sleeve of his left arm. Beyond him the labs were burning, flames licking out of the nearest windows, threatening the big hangar where Rose worked. Firemen were running back and forth, shouting orders.

Ianto looked up as they leapt out of the car, and immediately pulled off the oxygen mask, tossing it down carelessly.

"Ms. Tyler's safe," he said, before either man could say anything. "Mrs. Tyler and Tony as well. None of the equipment was stolen. The fire isn't in our lab."

"Where's Rose?" the Doctor demanded. "Are you all right?"

"Dunno where she went, but I saw her get out okay. It's not my blood," Ianto said, nodding at his sleeve.

"What happened here?" Pete asked. The younger man chewed his lip.

"They were looking for you," he said quietly, to the Doctor. "They came in with guns and said they were looking for you, and then they started shooting people."

"Doctor! Dad!"

Pete caught Rose up in a tight hug before he even managed to turn around; when he did she all but leapt from her father's arms to his, holding his body tightly.

"I was so scared," she whispered in his ear. "I thought they'd shot you."

"I told you this morning, I was home today," he answered, skimming his fingers through her hair, down her throat and over her shoulders, looking for injuries. "Are you hurt?"

"I wasn't thinking logically, they had guns! I didn't even see them. I'm all right," she added, when he tipped her head up to check the dilation of her pupils. "Mum and Tony are fine too. They're doing headcounts now. Oh, Ianto," she added, dismayed, catching his left arm and holding it up. "What happened to you?"

"Spatter," Ianto said distantly. "I'm fine."

***

At the final count, that evening, there were seven dead. Mary Ellen had been shot without even a question; two people in the hallway as well. He didn't know the names of the people nearest the entryway as well as he did his immediate neighbours, but he'd seen them coming and going and been faintly amused by their toddler-like rummagings in the world of physics and technology. Now two of them were dead, as well as Nelda and Mary Ellen and Stanley and Stanley's two assistants, Mike and Tracey. They'd taken a wrong turn into Stanley's lab, which was all that had saved Ianto from a bullet to the head. Instead Ianto had fetched up the as-yet uncalibrated sonic modulator and switched it on from their own lab.

Some of the blood on the shirt had to be his, because he'd been bleeding out his ears when it finally failed and died.

***

"Right then. Keep back against the wall," the Doctor ordered, and bent down, pressing a large button on the top of the ghost machine.

Immediately the dim hallway brightened, and Ianto thought for one insane moment that perhaps it was just a superpowered lightbulb. Then he began to hear it -- the low murmuring not of crime-scene officials but of lab techs and machinery. And, strangest of all, he could see himself standing at the far end of the hall, taking a coffee break with Mary Ellen. He glanced sidelong at Rose, who was standing nearby, and the Doctor, who had begun to walk down towards the phantoms.

For that minute, perhaps a little longer, everything was crystal clear, but as soon as the Doctor reached the other end of the hallway and there was a clatter that signified the opening of the front doors, it was as if reality...blipped. It jumped like a bad television cut; he was standing in some dark underground place for a second, and then back in the hallway, and then back in the cave.

Not a cave -- some kind of building, damp, smelling the way Cardiff had on days the wind blew the salt in off the water. He turned around and saw another version of himself, standing over some kind of table. No, a drawer. A morgue locker-drawer. Writing on a clipboard as another man approached -- Captain Harkness, the Doctor's friend.

Distantly, he heard shouting; Rose and the Doctor, something about slippage and pulling him back. But he couldn't move -- this wasn't any memory he'd had and yet at the same time it was intensely familiar. There was a body lying in that drawer, waiting to be tucked away.

"Thanks for doing this," Captain Harkness drawled in his American accent.

"Part of my job, sir," he heard himself say.

"No, I should be doing it, but..." Harnkess sighed. "One day, we're gonna run out of space."

Before he could figure out what the hell was going on, the world jumped and shorted out again and he was back in the hallway, reeling with nausea. Ahead of him, four people in black masks were aiming weapons -- not at him, he realised, but at the lab techs. Nelda, standing in Ianto's doorway, asking to borrow some printer paper -- the spray of blood from her wound spattering his sleeve. He breathed deep through his nose as Rose grabbed his hand and held tight.

"ROSE, NOW!" the Doctor shouted, and she kicked a switch on the ghost machine, turning it off. For a second all three of them were blind in the dim light, until their pupils began to dilate.

"I knew it," the Doctor said vehemently. "You slipped through."

"What?"

"You slipped universes. Something resonated across reality for you -- you nearly broke the machine."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Ianto said defensively.

***

"Time doesn't exist in a line," the Doctor said, sitting in the front seat of the car. "It's more like a big ball of...stuff. Something traumatic, something important, it ripples backwards and forwards. It stays. For a while. Some longer than others."

"Like a pond," Ianto said.

"Precisely not," the Doctor answered, glancing in the rearview mirror at him. "But good try."