He woke up—lips-fingers-soft hair-softer skin—he knew he was awake because of the burning-aching-tearing feeling clawing through his throat on the end of a scream. Always the same. Always her name. He hadn’t wanted to wake. Not when his dreams always started the same, with her hands on him, her mouth on his, her body surrounding him. He could still smell her, them, in the room on his sheets, and he wondered if She did that to help him through this aching grief that froze both his hearts and emptied his soul.
But then he woke on the scream and knew he'd woken because that tearing-aching-burning grief did claw through his lungs and out his throat and he did scream her name as she disappeared behind a wall so white he never wanted to see that color again. Both he and She had done their best to erase white from the TARDIS because the reminder stabbed his heart. Because she was on the other side of that damn wall, and it’d taken him ages, eons, lifetimes to accept that wall wasn’t going to open up for him and reveal the universe where she was trapped. Where he could rescue her.
No more white and blue kitchen with its window that overlooked the silver and red fields of Gallifrey. No more open-embracing-loving kitchen with its white accents and TARDIS blue tile and her scent permeating every inch of their home. Darker colors now, bronze and greens and rich cherry wood that hid his pain and showed a modernism he knew wasn’t really him but he didn’t care because now it was only a place to eat, drink tea, and forget existed.
Stretching, the Doctor scrubbed a hand over his face as if he could scrub the heartrending loneliness away as easily. He didn’t bother with a light, embraced the pitch blackness of his (their) bedroom and climbed out of bed (alone) and into the shower (don’t you want to join me?) and prepared for the day.
Sleep tempted him with one last touch from her, one last kiss, an embrace of memory but he pushed them away. If he gave into temptation, if he embraced that past, he’d…never leave. Would fall into the memory of her and them and would never force himself to wake. The trick, he’d learned, was to keep breathing.
Well, that and program the TARDIS to continually scan for weaknesses between the universes. He’d have more than enough time to check the scans before Martha woke. Better than spending all his time out of his mind. Probably.
Tugging the burgundy swirl tie (This one’s my favorite, she’d said, because it was the one you wore our first Christmas together.) he debated the wisdom of wearing it, but then breathed in deeply and smelled her and them and refused to break down. The silk slipped between his fingers and he tried, oh he tried, to push the past just a little to the side so he could meet Martha in the console room and pretend nothing was wrong.
He’d promised Martha they’d see New York. After the fiasco of New New York he owed her that, at least; the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Broadway, all of it.
(Technically, it’s New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New, New York he’d said and she’d laughed and shot him that grin and he’d rolled over on his jacket and with the scent of apple grass and fresh starts and her around them, he captured her lips with his. It’d surprised her, that sudden contact with his new mouth and new lips and new hands, and he’d pulled back though he didn’t want to and saw she hadn’t wanted him to, either, not really, and promised her they’d take things slowly.)
A quick breakfast of tea (I’ll put the kettle on, yeah?) and a banana sausage roll that was one of the few things that set well in his stomach anymore, and he was in the console room (watching him with that smile on her soft lips and that wicked look in her brandy colored eyes as she stretched over the seat and he forgot where they were headed as he crossed to her).
Waiting for Martha.
“Why a doctor?” she asked.
“Hmm?” The Doctor said, that faraway look in his eye as he gazed over the side of the ferry.
She didn’t let that deter her, however. Martha had loads (too much) experience with people overlooking her and knew when to push and when not to. The Doctor gave off all the right impressions—don’t touch, don’t look, don’t ask—but she wanted to know. Or was it more than that? Wanted-needed-desired (even) to know more about the enigmatic man who’d swept her off her feet and promised her the stars.
“Is that your name?” she asked. He finally turned to her and offered that half smile-half frown-half bemused look. Hmm, too many halves there. And she still didn’t have a whole.
“The Doctor, is that your name?” she asked again, leaning on the railing and watching him as if he were an experiment in her lab she desperately needed to understand.
“Or is that like your tribe or clan name? Do you come from a long line of Doctors? Or is it your name translated into English?” She grinned and added, “Is your real name highly untranslatable?”
He blinked at her and for a heartbeat she wondered if he understood her. But no, he’d said he knew all the languages and if there did happen to be one he didn’t know (which is highly unlikely Martha Jones!) then the TARDIS translated it for him. The look on his face, however, made her wonder if she’d suddenly spoken one of those highly unlikely languages he didn’t know.
Then again, it hadn’t taken Martha long to understand speaking in the appropriate language and understanding the language were two totally different concepts when it came to the man—alien—beside her.
She wanted to know him, wanted to hold his hand and comfort him when that look crossed his face and made his brown eyes so dark and bleak. And, because she was faithfully honest, to herself at least if no one else, she wanted to know what his hands felt like on her cheek, cupping her breasts, stroking her legs.
Alas. He looked through her more often than he looked at her.
“I chose it,” he said softly as the ferry docked.
The soft words were enough to jolt her out of her wayward thoughts and bring her back to the matter at hand.
Chose it? Why? How? To help? To heal? Did it have the same meaning in his language as in hers? Did the word doctor even exist in his language or was it something he picked up just cause? A hundred questions bubbled on the tip of her tongue and she tried to figure out which to ask first, but the ferry bumped the quay and his face lit up and she knew she lost her chance.
“So, disappearances!” He said enthusiastically as they disembarked.
She allowed the change of subject. Well, Martha thought wryly, maybe allow was too strong a word. Accepted. Yes. She accepted the change of subject. What choice did she have? Martha followed his long, quick strides off the ferry and toward Central Park’s Hooverville and whatever mystery the Doctor landed them in the middle of.
Because he knew that sound, the wheezing-groaning-embracing sound that called to him even after all these years. He knew that sound and ran toward it, hoping it was the right one.
Hoping it was the right him. Hoping it was just right, oh please let it just be right. Just this once (and wow, did that sound really carry or what! He’d never noticed it before, always on the inside of the doors—except that once. That once. That one time the sound had carried over death and destruction and corridors of Dalek dust.)
Please let it be right.
Jack Harkness ran and ran, paced the ferry’s deck impatiently as it trudged slowly toward the island (and was only a little surprised that a ferry still ran at this time of night and yes, normally he would look that gift horse in the mouth but not tonight, not now, not when he was close, oh so close) then hopped over the railing and sprinted onto the island.
Sixty-one years. He gulped in great breaths of air as he rounded the base of Lady Liberty at a full out sprint, terrified it was the wrong Doctor, the wrong time, the wrong everything. (She’d told him another 100 years and he’d believed her because that’s when Rose was alive but what if that little prophetess was wrong? What if it was now, now, now?)
If he still had time before Cardiff and the Doctor, like that girl had predicted, he’d figured he’d stay in New York and try to forget. (Angelo Colasanto, Torchwood, death, death, life. Most especially life.)
Sixty-nine years to go. Could she have been wrong? He hadn’t found that to be true, not in all the time since her prophecy. But then this was the Doctor and that was enough to confound anyone. Everyone. And oh, the anticipation in seeing them again made him giddy.
Jack skidded to a halt.
“Oh, beautiful,” he breathed.
Chest heaving, legs aching, heart pounding, he slowly approached the beautiful blue ship with a reverence usually reserved for holy items. The icy autumn wind whipped around him, carrying the scents of New York, water, humanity, and hope with it. Yes.
His fingers grazed the doors and he seriously debated hugging the beautiful Old Girl. She hummed in response and he could feel Her again, after decades of that golden absence from his mind, he could finally feel Her welcoming him back to Her.
“I’ve missed you,” he whispered. And did give in and did hug Her and yes, that was a tear on his cheek, not the freezing November wind. And no. He didn’t care.
He was home.
Digging out the key from the chain he kept it on around his neck, carefully tucked away beneath layers of clothing, Jack looked at the door then at the key and took a deep breath, his body finally calming from his impatience, his run, his giddy nervousness. The Doctor had given him the key after their first trip to Cardiff with Rose beaming at him from where she sat on the seat, legs curled beneath her, fingers tangled in her hair, her laugh echoing around the console room like a breeze.
The Doctor had looked at her with a smile, the annoyed huff at Jack’s comments (is this the key to your bedroom? Aww, Doc, you shouldn’t have!) couldn’t disguise and held out his hand to her. Rose had immediately taken it, curling against his side as if she belonged there. Which, Jack supposed, she did. The Doctor had brushed his lips over the top of her head, still possessive but no longer the big bold keep away gesture it had once been.
Jack hadn’t cared.
It was then he’d accepted his new family. And he had swallowed emotional tears that day, and he had offered a gruff thanks that couldn’t disguise the depth of trust and longing and intimacy he’d felt (not like that, though if they asked, he wouldn’t have said no).
The wind buffeted his coat around him, its icy fingers reminding him of the present not the past (future). He swallowed, desperate hope warring with fear. Who would he find inside? His fingers clenched the key, which finally, finally glowed warmly in is hand.
The flash of white light startled him.
The Doctor looked up and saw the faintest of faint echoes of white light. Frowning, he tried to place the itch in the back of his brain, in his hearts, in his very soul. But then Diagoras was there and he really wanted to know what this mystery was about (he didn’t have a good feeling about it at all) and then he was volunteering and then Martha was threatening him (which she admittedly had every right to do considering) and that was that.
He pushed the itch skin and stabbing that threatened to puncture through his brain to the side. A warning-caution-threat. He really did have a bad feeling about this.
She heard her name and looked up, blinking in surprise. For a heartbeat she couldn’t see anything but white (a color she never thought she’d detest as much as she did) and heard nothing (the blood rushing in her ears, the sound of the Void pulling her in, the sound of her name as he screamed for her, as he begged her not to leave him).
Blinking, heart slowing from the jump, she looked around and tried to place where she’d landed.
Before she had a chance to recover, strong arms wrapped around her in a familiar embrace, the whispered words of wonder-love-surprise soothing her even before she knew what they were or who said them or where she even was.
“Jack?” she whispered. “Jack!”
And then it was hugs and tears and hurried questions and explanations and what the hell had happened? What are you doing here and where is here and when is here and where is…?
Her TARDIS key clutched in one hand, Jack’s warm hand wrapped comfortably around her other, Rose opened Her door with trembling fingers and a heart that refused to steady and a stomach that threatened to rebel with all the expectation-hope-eagerness she’d felt for so long now, and stepped inside.
Warmth enveloped her, welcomed her, and she did break then. “I’m home,” she whispered.
Jack’s fingers twitched against hers. “Home, Rose,” he repeated and she wondered what had happened to him and where he’d been and how the hell he’d gone from two-hundred thousand years in the future to here, now.
They crossed the grating to the console (same sight, scent, sound, taste) and the dam holding her emotions broke. Rose sucked in a breath and She wrapped her welcoming golden warmth around her and Jack pulled her close and for the first time in far, far too long, she was home. Jack’s chest rumbled with his own emotion (tears, laughter, whispers of home, echoes of family).
“Tea,” she whispered against his chest. “Let’s go to the kitchen. I need a cuppa. Then you can tell me what we’re doing at the base of the Statue of Liberty and when we are and why we’re in America.”
She pulled back, looked up at Jack, managed a smile, and wiped her face. Jack swiped the backs of his hands over his own cheeks and pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her first. He folded the soppy mess wordlessly back into his pocket and held out his had to her once again then led the familiar way down the familiar passages with the familiar hum of Her singing softly in the back of her head.
Rose hadn’t realized it was there or how she’d missed it until She’d been gone. It never occurred to her this wasn’t the right TARDIS.
Rather, it hadn’t occurred to her that this was the right TARDIS but the wrong time and potentially the wrong Doctor (and oh, please don’t let it be the wrong everything) until she entered the kitchen.
She sucked in her breath on a gasping sob of uncertainty.
Gone was the white and blue kitchen, with its wide windows overlooking the red fields of Gallifrey (Tell me about your planet, she’d asked after they’d eaten chips and returned to the TARDIS).
And its curtains fluttering in the wind and grey clouds dancing over the orange sky with a hint of a hot, dry earthy-scented breeze. Gone was the snowcapped Mount Cadon (a hermit used to sit up there, Rose, and told the most amazing stories, he’d said after they’d met the last of the Daleks and she’d comforted him the only way she knew how, with her love and her body and her silence as he finally broke down and spoke of the past) in the distance with the Cadonflood River of Southern Gallifrey.
Gone was their kitchen, their welcoming kitchen they’d made together after the Daleks and after the Jagrafess and the Editor and when they finally agreed that maybe what they had was more than a shared space. The kitchen with his past and the scents of too many bananas and breads and home they’d made. Rose had loved the reminder of his home, and it had finally helped him speak more about what had happened.
Now that was all gone.
Disappeared in a blaze of muted strangeness.
Now it was all bronze and green and rich cherry wood with a generic Earth field of waving grains and a blue sky with white fluffy clouds and a breeze that smelled like the sea. Better than the original kitchen Rose had first seen, the one that overlooked a vast and uncompromising ocean with a single window and the scent of salt. But still so foreign-remote-wrong.
Rose stopped and stared at this new creation, the first feeling of wrongness pricking her chest and making her skin itch.
“Oh,” Jack said looking around in astonished amazement. His hand still wrapped tightly around hers and he didn’t move far from her side. “You changed the kitchen!” She tore her gaze from the room to him, utterly unable to form words. He frowned and shook his head. “I don’t like it.”
“I,” she started then tried again. “I—I—” Rose shook her head.
Jack’s hand tightened around hers and he looked at her with those shrewd blue eyes darkened with sadness and suspicion and concern and maybe just a little anger.
“What happened, Rose?” His quiet voice shattered every wall she’d rebuilt after Canary Wharf and Torchwood and that Other World and the long, long journey back to here.
“Torchwood,” she managed, saw-felt-sensed him flinch and told her tale.
Jack guided her to the high table, all stone and wrought iron, and made her tea just as she remembered. Her favorite biscuits appeared. All of her favorite biscuits. And a box of the softest tissues, barely scented with lavender.
The Doctor begging her to hold on. Don’t leave me!
Trying to build a life.
Failing and building a universe jumper instead.
“But what happened to you?” Rose demanded, blowing her nose. Damn it, how often had she cried? How many times had she promised herself those were the last tears (they always were, every time)?
“Torchwood,” Jack said and frowned into his cup of tea. He stood, put the kettle back on, kept his back to her, and told her his story.
Punishment for his life before her and the Doctor.
Or penance for being so happy and finally finding a home.
“I guess there really is someone for everyone,” Martha said with a smile as she watched Lazlo and Tallulah (3 l’s and an h) hold hands.
“Maybe,” the Doctor said with that sad-wistful-heartbreaking smile he sometimes wore. The one that told her he wasn’t thinking of her, but of Rose.
Hell, for all Martha knew about him, he could have been thinking about anyone, all the people he’d ever traveled with. She associated that smile with Rose, whatever had happened to her, however he’d lost her, but she knew nothing about him—how many people had he lost?
All of them, she remembered and flinched at that reminder as he told her about his planet and his people and his loss.
“Do you think we’ll ever see Dalek Caan again?” she asked instead and prayed the answer was no. She never, ever wanted to see a Dalek again. They terrified her with their no emotions and their hatred of anything different.
“Oh, yes.” Hard, bitter, hateful. “One day.”
Then he turned and they made their way back to the Statue of Liberty. Not a stroll, despite the weariness tugging at her limbs. The Doctor slowed for no one, far as she could tell, but that was just as well. All Martha wanted was a cup of tea, a hot shower, and bed. Well, maybe and a slice of pizza. Yes. Pizza.
Did they have pizza in 1930 New York? Maybe she could talk the Doctor into stopping at the market again, the one with the really great pizza and that cold fizzy drink she couldn’t pronounce. Where had that been? Valerious, Valerian? No that was a depression med. Thalerious? Something like that. She’d ask after she woke up.
Her brain was shutting down and Martha concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other on their way back to the ferry. Forget pizza and a shower. She’d sleep for a week after today.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
It beat through him like a mantra, a drum, but he didn’t know where it came from and didn’t know how to identify it, and the closer they got to the TARDIS the more it intensified.
Oh. Damn. No, the Doctor knew exactly what it was. And it beat through him and for a heartbeat, (more, double, triple, his hearts pounded in dread-trepidation- horror-fear) he wondered if his beloved ship would even be there or would have fled, but no. The comforting golden hum of Her sang through his mind.
He threw open the doors and his entire world stopped.