“Are they aliens?” Rose asked in her breathless, delighted way, and the Doctor held back a grin. She’d forgone their usual hand hold in order to wrap her arms around the crook of his elbow; it made walking awkward, but he wasn’t going to complain. (Well, much. Probably. To her, anyway.)
“They wouldn’t say so, but yes. Most of them are indigenous to Earth, or arrived here millennia ago. They’re a small portion of the population now, but they’re incredibly important—in your myths and legends, to your history. A whole other world, hidden in the shadows. Typical of you, not to notice them. Not extraterrestrial, but actually supernatural—in the most basic, academic terms. In a word,—”
“—demons,” Jack finished, grinning as he opened the suspiciously unremarkable door in the back alley the Doctor had led them to.
A short flight of stairs later, and Rose was laughing her head off. “We’re in a demon bar?”
“A demon karaoke bar,” Jack corrected, and winked at a green-skinned, red-horned demon wearing a zebra-print suit that happened to be a rather unfortunate shade of orange.
“I’m the Host,” said the being with a friendly smile. “Welcome to Caritas.”
A few drinks later (“You must try the Sea Breezes,” the Host had enthused, “they’re divine”) and Rose and Jack had reached that lovely point of intoxication that was right after “buzzed” but just before “tipsy”—the point at which getting up on stage and singing stopped sounding mortifying and instead started sounding like a really good idea.
Their rendition of Yellow Submarine may have been slightly sub-par, but the Doctor hummed along anyway.
“So,” said the Host conversationally, leaning over the back of the Doctor’s booth, “haven’t seen you in a few faces.” The Doctor stopped humming immediately. “What happened to the luxurious blond locks and celery stalk? There’s not a lot of people who can pull that off, but kudos to you, babycakes, somehow you made it work. Like a walking, talking Bloody Mary.”
“That’s cheating, Lorne. You’re supposed to be paying attention to them,” muttered the Doctor, waving vaguely at the stage.
“Oh, I never play fair if I can help it. And is it my fault if yours is the most interesting aura in the room?”
The Doctor harrumphed. “How did you know it was me?”
“Like I said, snugglebottom. Most interesting aura in the room. Guy’d have to have two hearts to have feelings as deep and complicated as yours. What happened? Not that the leather isn’t working for you—it is—(and I have a friend I could introduce you to who feels exactly the same way)—but I kind of miss the cricket stuff. Why so blue? And I mean that literally. You’re blue.”
“Says the green man,” the Doctor pointed out, as the Host slid into the seat next to him. Only Lorne could verbally convey parentheses.
“Answer the question.”
“There was a War,” the Doctor said bluntly, taking a sip of his beer.
“And now the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is you’re the only one?”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “You have a remarkable talent for boiling down complex concepts into pure inanity.”
“Not inanity, my friend. Pop culture references. There’s a difference. That’s on the house, by the way,” he said, pointing at the drink. “Last of your kind or not, though, you’re still you. Where’s your gaggle of adoring companions?”
With a long-suffering sigh and fond roll of the eyes, he jerked his chin at the stage.
Lorne seemed tickled pink. “Oh, I should have known.”
“The second- and third-most interesting destinies I’ve seen in weeks. The first being yours, of course. Obviously they’re traveling with you.”
That got the Doctor’s attention. “What do you see?”
“That’s for their ears only,” Lorne said, suddenly serious. “You know that.”
“Shouldn’t you be the one telling me not to meddle in people’s timelines? Not that I was a fan of the lecture, but…”
The Doctor gave Lorne a hard look.
“Right, fine. Vague. They’re like the sun and moon, these two. He’s… hard to look at, to be honest. Well. As hard as someone that easy on the eyes can be, anyway. Something’s wrong with him. Has been wrong with him. Will be wrong with him. But her…”
“Yes?” goaded the Doctor, trying not to sound too interested.
“Well, I could stare at her all day. Look at her; she glows. All pink and yellow like that. I mean, talk about The Powers That Be. That’s a power that will be; right there. Undeniable. Unstoppable. Like the howling of a wolf. Where did you pick her up, Doctor?”
“A department store.”
“…really? Or was that just a really sad attempt at humor?”
Lorne laughed. “Oh, that’s just—that’s rich. Hold onto her, as long as you can. Loyalty like hers… well. You know how rare it is.”
“Everybody, join in!” shouted Jack from the stage, leading the entire bar—including Lorne, enthusiastically, and the Doctor, reluctantly—in the final chorus of “yellow submarines.”
In the applause that came after, Lorne learned over. “She loves you.”
The Doctor said nothing.
“You love her.”
The Doctor said nothing.
Abandoning his lost cause for the time being, Lorne bounded back up to the stage and grabbed the mic. “And how fabulous were they? Let’s give ‘em another hand—”
“We’re leaving,” the Doctor informed his companions, collecting them from the side of the stage. They were still giggling. “Now.”
Rose looked put out. “But you said the Host would read our auras. That he was amma—ana—”
“Anagogic,” supplied the Doctor.
“—anagogic, right. So shouldn’t we…?”
“No,” he said, and led the two of them out of the bar.
The walk to the TARDIS was a lot longer than the Doctor remembered.
Also, it had a considerably larger number of vampires.
“Rose!” he shouted, flicking helplessly through the settings on his sonic as Jack attempted to decapitate his attacker with a trash can lid, “Do you have anything wood? A pencil; anything!”
“You’ve got a coat with transdimensional pockets, and I’m the one who’s supposed to be carrying around extra pencils?!” she shrieked, kicking at grabbing hands as she clambered up the nearest fire escape.
“Get back!” shouted an unfamiliar, unexpectedly British voice. “We can handle this!”
Two men and a woman rushed in to help, armed to the teeth with medieval weaponry.
“Don’t worry,” said the bulkier of the men as he effortlessly staked Rose’s assailants with a series of martial arts moves. “We’re professionals.”
“Professional whats?” asked the Doctor, in a peevish sort of voice. Rose grinned privately at his grumpiness.
“Oh god,” said the young woman as she caught a glance at the Doctor, looking back and forth from him to the tall, imposing leather-clad figure she arrived with. “There’s more of you?” she asked her friend.
“There’s more of them,” pointed out Jack, as another several vampires entered the alleyway. “Where are they all coming from?”
“They’re a sired family,” explained the bookish-looking one, flouncing about with a sword. “A—a coven, if you will, or a—”
“—they were hunting us, so we started hunting them, but there were more of them hunting us hunting them, and it’s a whole big hunting thing,” said the brunette in one long, dismissive breath. She tossed a crossbow to the other man in leather. “Angel. You’re the big hero guy. Could you maybe do something impressive and end this? Now-ish?”
“Um,” said the Doctor dress-alike, helpfully. The vampire he’d just shot exploded into dust.
“Here’s an idea,” volunteered the Doctor. “Run!”
“Get into that blue box there,” the Doctor commanded after several blocks of intense sprinting. “We’ll be safe.” He buzzed the sonic and the TARDIS door swung open in the distance.
“Are you kidding me? There’s no way we’ll all fit in that little—”
“No questions, just all of you, get! inside! I’m not asking!”
They barely piled in with their pursuers at their heels. Rose turned around just in time to see the two vampires leading the charge get knocked back with astounding force as they tried to cross the threshold—as if they’d hit an invisible barrier.
“She may not be a house, but she is my home,” said the Doctor with a manic, terrifying grin. It faded quickly as he added, “and you’re not invited.” With that, he slammed the door and spun on his heel, clapping his hands together once. “So! What do you think?”
The newcomers goggled.
“…oh, my,” one of the men finally managed, adjusting his glasses.
“Yeah,” grinned Rose, tongue in her teeth. “It’s just slightly bigger on the inside.”
“Well that’s… bizarre,” mumbled the other man.
Jack laughed, raising an eyebrow. “Fighting vampires doesn’t phase you, but this is weird?”
“We don’t usually deal with anything so… science fiction-y,” supplied the brunette, in the tone of voice that implied she thought she was being supremely helpful.
The Doctor was scandalized. “Oi! There is nothing fiction-y about her.”
“Where are we?” the bespeckled one breathed. “What is this place?”
“This is the TARDIS—that’s Time and Relative Dimension in Space. She’s my ship.”
“And who are you?” asked the pale, leather-clad man.
“I’m the Doctor.”
“Just ‘the Doctor,’” Rose and Jack chimed in perfect union with the Time Lord. He frowned at them.
Their new acquaintance seemed ruffled. “Everyone has a—”
The brunette snorted. “Like you’re one to talk, Mr. I-don’t-use-my-human-name-because-it’s-probably-something-embarrassing-and-Irish. Sorry, he’s… poorly socialized. His name’s Angel. I’m Cordelia Chase, and the nerd making bedroom eyes at your control panel is Wesley.”
Wesley jumped back from the console and scampered over to shake their hands. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; how do you do?”
Jack looked at Angel inquisitively. “You’re Irish?”
He gave an endearing sort of grimace—as though he knew in theory how smiles were supposed to work, but was really, really out of practice when it came to actually giving them. “Not for a couple centuries.”
“You’re a vampire,” observed the Doctor.
“Then how’d you get through the door?”
“You told me to,” Angel said with a puppyish, vacant blink. (Rose fought the powerful impulse to give him a hug.)
“Wait, hold on,” she interrupted instead, holding up a hand. “If he’s a vampire, then why’s his face all… pretty?” The Doctor looked annoyed, Angel looked baffled, and Cordelia wrinkled her nose. “I mean, he’s normal,” Rose amended. “And not all…”
“Grr?” Cordelia suggested, making a face and claw-hands.
Rose nodded. “That.”
“We can control that,” Angel said, sounding slightly offended.
“Skip to the good part!” Cordelia chided, whapping him on the arm. “Like, the part where you have a soul and help the hopeless and do good deeds?” She turned to the crew of the TARDIS, beaming. “We have business cards.”
She shoved one into the Doctor’s hands. He frowned at it and turned it upside-down a few times, trying to puzzle out what the cartoon logo it bore was supposed to represent.
“Oh, sorry!” laughed Rose, suddenly. “We got distracted from introductions. I’m Rose; he’s—”
“Captain Jack Harkness,” said Jack, taking one of Cordelia’s hands and kissing it. “Pleasure.”
(“Captain of what?” Angel asked sulkily, but no one paid attention.)
“You say ship,” Wesley murmured, curiously investigating the time rotor, “but with a name like Time and Relative Dimension in Space…”
The Doctor brightened, happy that at least someone appreciated the TARDIS. “Anywhere, anywhen you want to go,” he said cheerfully. “Instantaneous trans-universal, trans-temporal travel.”
“But watch the landings,” Jack muttered in Rose’s ear—she covered her mouth to muffle her distinctly un-ladylike snort.
“It travels in time?” Wesley asked reverently. At the Doctor’s nod, Cordelia scooted visibly from the console.
Rose blinked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just… me and time travel? Not exactly besties.”
Jack seemed fascinated. “Oh?”
“Pshyeah. I mean, god. You go back and change one tiny little detail from your past, and BAM! Bizarro-world.”
“Were there reapers?” Rose asked sympathetically.
“Reapers. Big, purple dragon things. Eat reality.”
“Not so much.” After a moment of slightly awkward silence, she volunteered, “…there were vampires? Like. A lot.”
Rose shrugged. “That’ll do.”
Fifteen minutes later, the TARDIS materialized into the lobby of a large, slightly neglected-feeling hotel. Rose and Cordelia exited first, quizzing each other nonstop about who had the freakier life.
“Fought aliens at 10 Downing Street, and met the future Prime Minister,” Rose challenged.
“Killed the mayor of my hometown—who was a giant demon snake—by blowing up the high school.”
“We blew up 10 Downing Street,” the Doctor said, helpfully; Rose ignored him.
“First time I met ‘im,” she said, jerking a thumb at the Doctor, “we fought off living plastic monsters and my boyfriend got turned into a shop mannequin.”
“The first time I hooked up with a guy in LA, he impregnated me with his demon spawn.”
“Fought ghosts on Christmas with Charles Dickens? Only they weren’t ghosts.”
“Of course they weren’t; ghosts are sweet. …Sometimes. I have a ghost for a roommate. We call him Phantom Dennis.”
Rose and Jack opened their mouths, identical hopeful looks on their faces. “Absolutely not,” said the Doctor, and they deflated immediately.
Angel cleared his throat. “Well, we should probably…”
Angel and the Doctor shook hands, looking serious.
Their friends looked at the twinned dark figures—grave faces, leather jackets and all. Rose caught Cordelia’s eye, and they burst into peals of laughter.
According to Rose, they still had a bit of unfinished business left in LA.
“Please? It won’t take long, I promise.”
“Five minutes,” the Doctor conceded, the set of his shoulders softening. “Five minutes exactly, Rose, or I’m coming in after you.”
She thanked him quickly and ran from the TARDIS.
Caritas was slightly busier this time around, but she had no trouble locating the Host. Even in a room full of demons, he stood out—as anyone wearing a gold lamé smoking jacket was wont to do. He was leaning against the bar, attention rapt on the current singer—a slimy, goopy sort of lump stumbling through ABBA’s “Voulez Vous” as best as it could without a discernible mouth.
She coughed politely; the Host looked surprised to see her, but smiled.
“Well if it isn’t the golden girl herself! What are you doing back here, sweet pea?” He glanced over her shoulder. “And without your usual entourage, I notice.”
“Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t get him to come in. He’s… rude.”
The Host snorted. “The gorgeous ones always are.”
“I only have a minute. I just, um…”
“Yes?” he prompted gently, and she marveled at how someone with so striking an appearance could put her so immediately at ease.
“We had to leave, so you never said… what you saw. When you read me.”
His smile faded slightly. “Oh.”
“It’s okay if you can’t do it anymore; if it only works while I’m actually singing. It’s not a big—”
“There’s a lot of wonderful things coming up for you, sugar plum,” he said, interrupting her. “Terrible stuff, too. It’s a lot to handle. Do you really want to know?”
She shuffled her feet. “Not… really. Not all of it. I jus’ wanna know if I… how long I can…”
He seemed to understand the question she couldn’t bring herself to ask.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Of all the stuff you have coming your way? One thought—one feeling—overpowers them all. And that’s him.”
“Who, the Doctor?” she asked, eyes wide.
He nodded. “When I look at you, I see what you see—nothing but him. The universe is harsh, and it’s unfair, and it will do everything it can to separate you two. He’ll let it scare him. But you? You can be… fearless. You stick to your guns, Rosie Tyler, and you can promise him forever. Don’t let him tell you otherwise.”
Impossibly, she smiled.