Authors: goldy_dollar & _thirty2flavors
Rating: PG-13 for angst and (eventual, off-screen) violence
Genre: Drama, angst. No seriously, angst.
Characters/Pairings: Ten2/Rose, Jackie, Pete, an assortment of others
Warnings: Character death
Summary: Years after settling in on Pete's World, the Doctor must face something he thought he could escape.
Excerpt: “But Rose always said—she said when she made that thing that she couldn’t go mucking about in time. She said that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could destroy everything.”
Author's notes: Apologies if at any point we sound blindingly Canadian.
Previously: Part One
He wasn’t surprised when Jackie came calling the next morning.
He was in the kitchen when the knock came, frying up a pan of bacon and eggs. He flipped the eggs, turned off the stove, and then dodged a pile of doodads and wires in the front hall.
“Jackie,” he said, smiling as he opened the door. “Nice to see you.”
She most definitely did not smile back. Instead, her eyes crinkled and then softened, and she reached up, stroking her hand along his cheek. “Oh good, you’re all right. We’ve been worrying about you, sweetheart. After yesterday, well—I thought you might try and off yourself or something. I was up half the night. Pete said I was talking crazy, but I had to come by and see for myself. How are you, though, really?”
“I’m all right, Jackie.” said the Doctor, leaning backwards. He really wished Jackie would stop touching his cheek.
Apparently taking his answer to mean “come in and make yourself at home,” Jackie stepped into the flat and closed the door behind her. “Look at this place—it’s a right mess in here.” She blinked at the jumble of cables in the front hall, blocking the path to the kitchen. “What is that?”
“Oh, just… bits of Rose’s dimension cannon,” he said, waving an arm vaguely. Something in the kitchen dinged and the Doctor perked up. “Breakfast!”
Without waiting for a response, he jumped over the cables and dashed back into the kitchen. He stuck his head out of the door to talk to Jackie. “Eggs and bacon? There’s plenty.”
“You made breakfast?” Jackie said.
“Yup!” He sniffed the air. “Ah. Looks like it’s going to be a lovely day. Do you know, I don’t think we’ve had a full day of sunshine in months. That’s London for you, I suppose.”
He ladled some bacon, eggs, and toast on a plate and then turned around, prepared to offer it to Jackie, when a hand smacked against his cheek.
“Ow! Blimey!” he yelped, hurriedly setting the plate back on the counter. He cradled his cheek protectively, glaring at Jackie. How did she get into the kitchen so quickly? “What did you do that for?!”
“You—you’re making breakfast,” she said, between deep breaths of air. She suddenly looked far from the image of motherly concern that had greeted him at the front door. “And talking about the weather! Like it didn’t matter… like Rose isn’t even gone. How could you?”
She looked like she might hit him again, but then she broke down, crying into her hands. The Doctor hesitated a moment and then approached her, resting his hands on her shoulders.
“No, Jackie, no—it’s not that. Don’t think that. Not even for a moment.”
“Then why?” Jackie sobbed, lowering her arms back to her sides.
“Jackie, listen,” he said, meeting her gaze. “I know how to bring Rose back.”
Jackie’s mouth fell open, mute for one, blessed moment. “How?” she finally wailed. “They pulled her body out of the Thames—you were there!”
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said, voice rising. He steered her over to the table, pushing her non-too-gently into the chair. “But I’ve got a plan.”
He returned to countertop and picked up their breakfast plates—likely cold by now, he thought, with an irritable frown—and then sat down at the table. He nudged a plate in Jackie’s direction, raising his eyebrows.
Jackie eyed the food and then grabbed a fork, digging in. He followed suit, stomach rumbling. He was suddenly starving. Neither of them had been eating much since… since…
Rose disappeared, he thought firmly. It was better that way. Death was too final… too unchangeable.
“So out with it, then,” Jackie finally said, still working her way through the eggs. “You can bring her back? Rose?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, around a mouthful of toast. He chewed and swallowed. “I’ve had a go at her old dimension cannon—a few tugs there, a complete overwrite of its main drive, and presto! I’ll be able to travel to the nearest alternate universe any time I want—not just when Davros is trying to destroy all of reality.” He paused and nibbled on a piece of bacon. “From there, I track my other self down, convince him to lend me the TARDIS—and then I come back here, go back in time and rescue Rose.” He smiled winningly at Jackie. “No problemo. At least, not for a Time Lord.”
Instead of looking ecstatic, the colour drained from Jackie’s face. She pushed her half-eaten plate away from her, hand going to her stomach like she might be sick. “You can’t do that.”
His smile didn’t falter. “What? Of course I can. I used to do it all the time.”
“But Rose always said—she said when she made that thing that she couldn’t go mucking about in time. She said that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could destroy everything.”
“Jackie, I think I know a thing or two about time travel.”
"Oh, don't give me that," Jackie said, waving a fork in his direction. "I'm not completely stupid. You can't go changing life and death, Doctor. Everyone knows that."
He heard a faint buzzing in his ears and an empty feeling pressed against his chest. He thought about the forty or fifty years stretching out in front of him without Rose. He felt a burning feeling in his eyes and he pushed it back. He had a plan. He would rescue Rose. He would get Rose back. He just had to focus on that.
“I’ve got to try.”
Jackie’s eyes flashed and she stood up, hands going to her hips. “Rose told me about Pete, you know. Not this Pete, but the Pete back home—my Pete. She told me about what happened when she tried to save him.”
He looked away. “Jackie, don’t—”
“Is that what will happen here? If you save Rose, will you destroy the rest of us?”
He pressed his fists to his eyes and said, “I don’t know, Jackie. I just… I don’t know.” He dropped his hands back down onto his lap. “Time Lords can feel timelines, Jackie. I’ll know whether or not I can bring her back. I’ll see all the possible outcomes.”
“And if you’re wrong?” Jackie said. “What happens then, Doctor? Tell me.”
“Then… I’ll destroy everything.”
Jackie sat back down, suddenly looking pale and worn out. He looked away, blurred vision resting on the spare parts of the dimension cannon. He slowly felt the last bit of his hope drain away.
“And the other you,” Jackie whispered, “what about him? Would he just hand over the TARDIS?”
He waited a moment before answering. “No. I imagine not.”
“So you're planning on stealing it from him? Oh, that’ll work.”
“Stop it,” he said, turning back to the table. He rubbed his eyes, trying to hold back his tears. “Just… stop it.”
“I’m not stopping anything,” Jackie said, getting worked up again. “I’ll not have you going around and blowing up the same universe Rose worked so hard to protect.”
His shoulders slumped and he felt like he was collapsing. He was completely helpless and he hated it.
“I can’t do this without her,” he whispered.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Jackie murmured. “I know you feel that way now, but…” she trailed off. “You can’t use that thing. A part of you knew that all along, didn’t it?”
He forced himself to nod even though he resented her treating him like a child, like all he needed was a pat on the head and a biscuit.
“Well,” she said, pulling herself together. “No reason why we should tell Pete about this then, eh?”
He stared blankly in front of him, a gnawing panicky feeling rising in his chest. “I’d like to be alone,” he said abruptly, standing up.
Jackie hesitated. “You could come back to the mansion, Doctor. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea for you to be on your own.”
“I need to be alone,” he repeated. “Please, Jackie.”
She studied him for a few seconds and then nodded. “Thank you for the breakfast,” she said. “Why don’t I see myself out?”
She looked like she might hug him and he hastily backed out of the way. Jackie sighed and then moved around him, stepping gingerly over the dimension cannon wreckage before disappearing down the hall. He heard the door close a moment later.
He sighed in relief, bracing his weight against the wall with one hand. The panicked, empty feeling clogged at his throat and he turned away, stumbling back towards the bedroom. He sat down heavily on the bed, blinking around the familiar room like he’d never seen it before.
The dimension cannon had given him something to do. It had been a purpose and a reason to keep going. Now he had nothing.
For the next week he kept mainly to the flat. His sole venture into the public for groceries brought him face-to-face with a tabloid reporter eager for a statement. After that reporter’s camera met a rather sticky end, the Doctor thought it might be best for everyone if he stayed home. He slept little and ate less, answered just enough phone calls to keep Jackie at bay, and spent most of his time curled up on the bed or the sofa, lost in thought.
He wondered how things were on the other side of the Void – how long the other Doctor had kept to his inevitable resolution to travel alone, if Martha Jones was now Martha Milligan, how Donna was doing after having the very best parts of her life stripped away. Then he thought about Jackie, feeling for the second time the horrible sting of losing a child.
He tried to think of ways he could spend the next few decades that would make them bearable. He'd told Martha once that there was always something to live for, but laying on his back, staring at the ceiling of an empty flat, he found it difficult to imagine what that something might be.
Mostly he thought about Rose.
He kept her things exactly where she’d left them. The mug on the coffee table, the necklace on the dresser, the sock just barely peeking out from underneath the bed, the post-it on the fridge reminding them to buy more milk – all of them he left untouched. He existed around them, went out of his way to leave them undisturbed. He liked it, at first, the way these things made it feel like he wasn’t living alone. For a few naïve days, he lived in a daze, half-convinced that if he pretended long enough he might be able to will her back to life.
By the end of the week he ran out of that brand of deluded optimism, so he found two large boxes to fill with Rose’s things.
Back when he’d lost Rose the first time, on the TARDIS, getting rid of her things had consisted of sweeping them all into her room and vowing never to step foot in there again. At the time, it had seemed incredible to him that Rose could have so many belongings all over the TARDIS, particularly when, in theory, she had still been living at home. Finding and rounding up every little telltale scrap of Rose had seemed like an impossible task.
It was even more difficult this time around.
He started with her clothes. He stared at them for a long moment, neat and tidy on their hangers, before he worked up the nerve to reach out and pull something down. It was a simple shirt, red and soft cotton, and it was one he’d always admired for the way it hugged her. She’d worn it the first time she’d taken him to the little Indian place down the block, and she’d been wearing it the day they sort of accidentally stumbled into an engagement. He stroked his thumb over the fabric and noticed how cold it felt without the warmth of her body beneath it. He blinked at it, feeling a strange and jarring sense of disassociation.
And then, quite suddenly, he was angry, furious at the universe and everything in it. He threw Rose’s shirt into a box and ripped the rest of her hangers from the shelf, tossing them in the box as well. He combed through the rest of the flat like that in under an hour, grabbing things and shoving them out of sight, seething the entire time.
He was furious with Torchwood for getting her killed. He was furious with the aliens that killed her. He was furious with Rose for leaving him behind. He was furious with himself for not seeing this coming. He should never have left the TARDIS. He should have known the universe wouldn’t let him be so happy for long.
It wasn’t worth it, he thought, sealing up the boxes of her things with shaking hands. The brief glimpses of happiness the universe sometimes afforded him – they weren’t worth it. They made everything else hurt so much more.
He stored the boxes in the closet in the spare room, taped up and tucked neatly out of sight. The flat looked barren with everything gone, but the Doctor found he liked it. It wasn't a home, not without Rose, and there was no need for it to look like one. Satisfied but emotionally drained, the Doctor stood in the shower with his back against the wall, running the hot water until it turned cold.
Only two overt traces of Rose did he leave in place, sitting beneath the lamp on the nightstand. The first was a photo he’d taken of her at their wedding reception, grinning at the camera with her tongue between her teeth; the second was her wedding ring, hanging on its chain from the corner of the photo frame.
The next day, the Doctor went to Torchwood’s London headquarters.
“Pete Tyler,” said the Doctor, leaning against the doorway to the man’s office. “Hard at work as always.”
Pete looked up from his desk, surprised but evidently none too pleased. “Doctor,” said Pete, nodding in greeting. “Haven’t seen you in a few days. Jacks said you wouldn’t answer the phone yesterday, she was getting worried. How are you?”
The Doctor ignored the question, striding into the room with his hands in his pockets. “I’ve got a favour to ask you, Pete Tyler.” He came to a stop just in front of Pete’s desk. From his angle, he could just make out the picture of the four Tylers that stood on the desk, next to the mug of pencils. The Doctor swallowed hard and turned his eyes to Pete.
Pete, too, was quiet a moment, staring at the photograph on his desk. Then he shook himself and looked at the Doctor. “Oh? What’s that?”
“I want a job,” said the Doctor.
Pete stared at him, surprised, and then finally nodded. “Right. A job, right.” He sat forward in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Have you got a field in mind? We’ll need to get you a CV, some references…”
The Doctor raised one eyebrow. “I wasn’t under the impression Torchwood would need to see my CV.”
Pete stopped ticking off things on his fingers and stared at the Doctor again, dumbfounded. The Doctor suspected that he’d have found the expression quite humourous, if he were in a better mood.
“You want to work for Torchwood,” said Pete slowly, as though he could barely comprehend the idea.
“You want to work for Torchwood now,” Pete clarified.
The Doctor rocked on his heels. “Soon as possible, really, it’s quite dull at home, so if there’s some form I need to sign, perhaps we could…” He waved one hand, gesturing to speed up the process.
But Pete didn’t move. He stayed in his chair, still regarding the Doctor with a skeptical look of distrust. “Are you sure this isn’t…” He paused, and the Doctor could see him struggling to formulate the least offensive sentence possible. “…a rash decision?”
“A ‘rash decision’? Am I trying to get a job or a tattoo?” The Doctor raised both eyebrows. “Are you honestly hesitating? You’ve wanted me to work for Torchwood for years.”
“And you’ve been refusing for years.” Pete sat back in his chair, an apologetic look on his face that infuriated the Doctor. “You’ve got to admit it’s strange. You’re qualified, I’m not denying that—”
“Qualified?” The Doctor leaned forward, both hands on Pete’s desk, his voice low. “I’ve got more experience than any employee you’ve ever had or will have. I’m the single best person for the job on this entire wretched planet. You need me.”
“We’ve done just fine without you for years."
There was a moment of silence, and then the Doctor shoved himself upright, stuffed his hands in his pockets and took two steps back. He held Pete’s gaze silently, his mouth in a thin, straight line.
There was another stretch of silence, and then Pete faltered, sighed, and leaned forward.
“It’s not that I don’t want you working for Torchwood,” he explained. “You’re right – you’ve got more experience than anyone else, and you’re a genius. You’d be a fantastic asset.” He frowned. “But I only want you working for us because you want to, and you’ve always hated Torchwood. I can’t see why that should change now.” He paused again, and somehow the Doctor knew precisely what Pete was going to say just before he said it. “Rose was killed working for Torchwood.”
“I know that,” the Doctor snapped, “I—”
“If you think working here will somehow make it easier I can guarantee you it will do the opposite.” Pete gestured towards the photograph on his desk. “Everyone in this building worked with Rose. Everyone in this building lost a friend on that team. The entire building is grieving, Doctor. If you think you can hide from it here, that Torchwood will help you forget – I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.” He folded his hands on his desk and looked at the Doctor with the sort of concern Jackie had been wearing for days, the sort of concern that drove the Doctor mad. “Wouldn’t you rather work somewhere else? Somewhere less… overwhelming?”
“There’s nothing I could do that would help me forget Rose,” said the Doctor, firm but quiet. “I want to work for Torchwood.”
Still, Pete looked uncomfortable. “I really think—”
“I need a reason to make myself get out of bed every morning,” the Doctor admitted finally, though he kept his voice cold and closed off. “Defending the Earth is a good one, and one Rose would be proud of. I want to work for Torchwood.”
For a long moment Pete was silent, his eyes locked on the Doctor’s. Then, at last, he nodded. “Welcome to the team, Doctor.”
The Doctor threw himself into working at Torchwood with a focus that he’d never quite shown before. Memories of Rose were everywhere—from the worn seat of her office chair, to the dent in the floor from the time they shagged on her desk, to her leftover lunch still sitting in the fridge—but he learned to ignore it. He focused mostly on alien technology, salvaging what he could for Torchwood and secretly making off with anything he thought would be too dangerous in their hands.
Weeks passed. Life settled itself into a routine. He came home late, slept restlessly, woke up early and returned to the office.
He wondered if he was finally learning what it meant to be human.
Most other employees avoided him. He could hear snatches of whispers in the hall and elevators as he passed. He was Rose’s mysterious widower, the one who knew exactly how and when to destroy the aliens who killed her. They were nervous about talking to him directly, but seemed fascinated by the depth of his knowledge and his history with Rose.
After his first month on the job, he returned home late in the evening to find Jackie sitting at his kitchen table and rifling through a stack of mostly unopened mail.
“Jackie,” he said in greeting. He tossed his keys on the counter and then raised his eyebrows in her direction.
She jumped, looking momentarily guilty. “I’ve got a key,” she said, sounding defensive. She stood up. “Rose gave it to me.”
He felt a sharp pang at Rose’s name, but tried not to let it show. “Right,” he said, rocking back on his heels. “Um… what exactly are you doing here?”
“I’m checking up on you,” Jackie said like it was obvious. Then, without further explanation, she closed the distance between them and wrapped him in a hug. “Hardly seen you, these last few weeks. Ever since you started that job.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor, hugging her back and feeling unexpectedly choked up. “I’ve been keeping busy.”
Jackie squeezed him one more time and then released him. “I’m worried about you,” she said. “Can’t be good for you, working for the same place that got Rose killed.”
“This sort of thing is what I’m best at.”
“She left you money,” Jackie said. She pointed to the table where an opened stack of cheques sat in an untouched pile. Her gaze met his, eyes softening. “You look exhausted, sweetheart. She wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself.”
“Jackie,” he said, and he sounded tired—so old and so tired. “I’m coping the only way I know how.”
He glanced at the cheques, feeling this strange tightening in his stomach. How could he explain how wrong it felt that he should profit off Rose’s death? It disgusted to think that her dying meant he was now rich.
Jackie came up behind him. “She’d want to know you were being looked after.”
“She’d want to be here.”
Jackie’s sigh was impatient and frustrated. “Oh, sit down. I’ll make us a cuppa.”
Something in her voice told him not to argue. He hastily sat down, watching as she easily made her way through his kitchen, setting the kettle and pulling out mugs like she knew it as well as her own.
In his time with Rose, the Doctor had come to realize that he didn’t dislike Jackie quite as much as he thought. He’d even come to accept that he was fond of her. But he’d always thought of her as a slightly annoying distraction that they had better hurry up and placate before she made them stay for dinner.
Now, though… he was surprised by how grateful he was for her presence. He almost smiled. Who would have thought there would ever come a time when Jackie Tyler was the only person left that he felt well and truly attached to?
“There you go, dear,” she said, nudging a mug of tea in his direction. She sat down across from him and they descended into silence.
His tea was bitterer than he usually took it, but he decided that it suited him. He found himself enjoying the quiet company and did his best to ignore the cheques sitting on the table between them.
“I remember was it was like, after losing Pete,” Jackie said, breaking the silence. She stared into her tea mug, not looking in his direction. “I had Rose, of course, and our marriage had been rocky from the start, but sometimes I felt like I might never be happy again.”
The Doctor took a swig of tea and didn’t answer.
“It got better, though, over time,” Jackie continued. “All hurts do in the end. I know this isn’t quite the same—and I know Rose is one more face in the long line of people you’ve lost, but one day you might surprise yourself.”
“Right,” he said. People loved telling him to “give it time.” He never bothered to remind them that he had once known a thing or two about time. Time Lords lived long enough to move on, but never long enough to forget.
Jackie looked at him thoughtfully. “You could try seeing a grief counsellor.”
“Friend of mine lost his wife a few years back,” she said. “There they were, celebrating their anniversary, when some drunk idiot sped through a red light and crashed into the passenger side. Killed her in seconds. There was nothing he could do.”
He felt slightly ill. “Jackie—”
“Took him years of therapy to recover,” Jackie said. “But you know what, Doctor? He didn’t just stop. He went on. Even remarried in time. That could be you one day.”
He hurriedly took another sip of tea to avoid answering.
“I can look up the bloke he saw, if you want.” She paused and then, speaking mostly to herself, said, “What was his name? Adam? David? Allistair?”
“Jackie, I don’t need to see someone. I’m fine, honestly. I am. Well, not entirely fine, but… I’m coping.”
“Well, then,” said Jackie. She took a sip of tea, looking oddly smug. “Don’t suppose you’ll mind coming by for dinner tomorrow night, then. That couple from the university will be there. The ones who did that thing with physics?”
“The experiment that disproved the existence of string theory?”
“Oh, I dunno, I never listen when they go on about it,” said Jackie, much to the Doctor's horror. She set down her mug of tea. “You always loved talking to them, though, and don’t try and convince me otherwise.” She paused, smiling. “How does seven work for you?”
He sighed. He supposed it was worth the trade off if it meant getting out of going for therapy. “I’ll be there.”
Dinner at Jackie’s went more smoothly than he was expecting. He showed up with a bottle of wine and didn’t flinch when Jackie pulled him in for an enthused hug. He easily slipped into a discussion on physics with Professor Zhang and had Tony in hysterics when he exploded his peas using his semi-functional sonic screwdriver.
It was like slipping into a worn and familiar pair of trousers. And he was exhausted by it.
After the Zhangs bid their farewells and Pete disappeared to put Tony to bed, the Doctor and Jackie migrated to the living room, each of them nursing a glass of wine. Jackie sat on the end of the sofa, leaving her wine glass perched on the edge of the coffee table. The Doctor hung back in the entrance, leaning back against the wall.
Jackie smiled proudly in his direction, reminding him of a mother hen. “Fit right in, didn’t you? Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself.”
He managed a shrug and a half smile. “Watch out for those Zhangs. Those two are smart enough to change the world.”
Jackie took a sip of wine, holding back a smirk. “Pete says you’re too focused on work, that you don’t care about anything else. But that’s not true, is it? I know Rose is gone, but you’ve still got us, Doctor.”
He rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling uncomfortable. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “Thanks.”
Jackie downed a few sips of wine and then pushed herself to her feet. “There’s something I want to show you.” She crossed to the desk, stumbling slightly on her feet. “Rose would murder me if she knew I was doing this, but...” her voice turned softer, “not much she can do about it now, is there? And she’d want you to have these.”
The Doctor felt something in his chest tighten and he instinctively tipped the rest of the wine back. He felt it burn down his throat before settling heavily in his stomach. “If it’s private…” he began.
But Jackie had the top of the desk drawer open and she pulled out a pile of letters, sitting in a cardboard box. She set the box down on the table, teeth worrying at her bottom lip in a gesture that was so reminiscent of Rose that he felt dizzy.
“Rose wrote them to you,” Jackie explained. She reached out and touched the first letter, struggling to hold back her tears. “From when you were separated. She wrote most of them during those first few months—she was such a mess, Doctor. I thought… I didn’t know what to think. Sometimes I hated you.”
Jackie handed him the box of letters and he reached out to grasp it, feeling heavy and uncoordinated. He fumbled with the top letter, finally managing to unfold it. He read it quickly, leaning heavily back against the wall.
It’s been almost a month now and I keep seeing the TARDIS everywhere. I know that she’s gone, but it’s like… every time a plane flies overhead or I turn a corner and see a flash of blue, a part of me hopes it might be her.
It’s not even travelling all of time and space that I miss – that’s too simple. It was being with you, being part of our team of two. I should have told you that, yeah? It never mattered where we were, not at the end. I would have gone with you anywhere.
Sounds almost pathetic writing it out like that, though, doesn’t it? I suppose there were many things we should have told each other.
Pete reckons I should start working for Torchwood – that it might help take my mind off things. Dunno, though. The lot of them carry guns, and after everything that happened at Canary Wharf... I hate thinking you might be disappointed in me.
Not that you’ll ever see this.
He leaned his head back against the wall, eyes falling shut. The letters sat heavily in his hands. He didn’t know whether he wanted to read them one by one and savour this last glimpse of Rose or whether he should hide them away so he wouldn’t have to face the reminder of her loss again and again.
“Seemed to help her,” Jackie said, interrupting his thoughts. “Maybe you could…”
“Right,” he interrupted before she got further along in that line of thought. Clearing his throat, he opened his suit jacket, carefully filing the letters inside one of the inner pockets. Even there, he still felt weighed down by their very presence.
The sound of someone running down the stairs broke the tension in the room. The Doctor and Jackie glanced at each other and then shot out into the hall, nearly running into Pete.
“Going somewhere?” said the Doctor. He forced himself to focus on Pete, but the world around him felt hazy and vague.
“Invasion,” said Pete, chest heaving. “The whole sky above London is lighting up—they’re coming in from all directions.”
The Doctor nodded. Forcing himself to pay attention, he said, “Torchwood?”
“Good plan,” said Pete. “I’ll brief you on the way.” He leaned in, pressing a quick kiss to Jackie’s lips. “The meal was amazing, Jacks. That cook of yours outdid herself.”
“Oi,” said Jackie, smacking him lightly on the shoulder. Then she frowned at each of them, eyes lingering on the Doctor. “You two, you be careful. I mean that.”
“Always am,” said the Doctor mildly, unconsciously patting the part of his jacket where Rose's letters were hidden.
By the time they reached Torchwood, it was already in a state of all-hands-on-deck. People swarmed in and out of the control room, talking amongst themselves in low, urgent tones. A dozen different computer monitors blinked around the room, flashing various graphs and satellite readings. Everyone seemed to have a headset on, and the adrenaline in the air was tangible. Pete strode into the room at once and headed straight to a free computer, but the Doctor lingered by the doorway.
It was the first genuine alien appearance in the Doctor’s time working for Torchwood. The Doctor had witnessed the atmosphere before, but only ever as a third party. Dozens of times Rose had called him in to help with whatever they were dealing with, and he’d stood in this same room, watching with a slight fascination as Torchwood scrambled to deal with the threat. Rose had been a genius at managing the chaos, capable of winning people over in a calm way that he’d never really mastered. He could picture her there easily, weaving through her coworkers and greeting him with that adventurous grin that always matched his.
A cold sensation pooled in his stomach, and the Doctor mentally reprimanded himself, shoving the image of Rose as far back in his mind as he could. She’s dead, he told himself. She’s dead and you’ve got other things to worry about.
“Right.” He strode to the nearest Torchwood employee, standing behind her chair and peering at her computer screen. “What’s going on?”
“We’ve got ten ships planet-bound,” she said – what was her name? Jean? Janice? Janet? She looked up at him, eyes wide. “Ten! Just came out of nowhere, all at once! None have entered the atmosphere yet, they’re just… there.”
The man at the next computer spun around in his chair. Richard, was it? “We can’t contact them,” he told the Doctor. “We’ve tried every signal, every frequency, every method we could think of. Nothing. If we’re getting through, they’re not responding.” Richard looked around at those behind him, and the Doctor very suddenly became aware that everyone in the room was watching him. “We’re, ah, debating how to proceed.”
The Doctor gave a perfunctory nod, his gaze traveling back to Jean-Janice-Janet’s computer screen. “Ten ships?”
“Right.” The Doctor shoved his hands into his pockets. “Shoot them down.”
There was a momentary ripple of silence, and then, from the far corner, the Doctor heard Pete. “What?”
Richard swiveled uncomfortably in his chair. “We… well, we were thinking you might have an idea how to open up a communications channel with them—”
“You don’t need a communications channel,” the Doctor said simply, shaking his head. “They’re invading. Shoot them down.”
Richard and Jean-Janice-Janet exchanged looks but stayed silent, their mouths ajar. Pete, on the other hand, was already halfway across the room.
“Absolutely not,” he said, his voice firm. “We don't know that. We haven’t talked to them, we—”
“If they were interested in talking, they’d be hailing us.” The Doctor raised his eyebrows and held his ground. “You don’t send ten ships to say ‘hello’. It’s an invasion. Shoot them down.”
Pete shook his head, resolute. “We’re not shooting anything until we know why they’re here.”
"I agree," said a woman in the corner named Elizabeth. “We can’t act until we know. We’ve got to give them a chance, they might be harmless.”
The Doctor fought back the urge to roll his eyes. Leave it to Torchwood to suddenly develop a concern for alien welfare in the middle of an invasion. “We do know,” he insisted, “I’m telling you, it’s an invasion, they—”
“They’re getting closer,” Jean-Janice-Janet interrupted, her eyes trained on her computer screen. “They’ll be entering the atmosphere soon – three minutes, at this rate—”
The Doctor directed his attention toward Torchwood's most powerful computer, the one capable of firing the strongest weapons. “Shoot them down."
The man at the computer hesitated. “We’re ready to fire, but—”
“Don’t!” Pete strode across the room, headed for the computer. “Not until we know what they want.”
“We know what they want,” the Doctor snapped. In a few long strides he was standing across from Pete, the man at his computer sitting awkwardly between them. “I’m telling you,” the Doctor told him, “shoot them down.”
“Two minutes twenty seconds!” chimed Jean-Janice-Janet.
“Ignore him, Mark.” Pete met the Doctor’s eye and squared his shoulders. “You’re not in charge, Doctor.”
The irritation the Doctor was feeling suddenly seemed to increase exponentially. “You honestly want to wait until you’ve let ten ships land around the world before you do anything about it? Oh, that’s a brilliant plan, classic Torchwood, endanger the planet first, then try to contain the mess. Well done.”
Mark shifted awkwardly between them.
“Two minutes,” said Jean-Janice-Janet.
“We’re not responding like it’s an invasion just because you’ve got a hunch,” Pete snapped. “It might be something else—”
“Like what?” The Doctor was distantly aware that his voice had risen several decibels. “A free trade agreement?”
The room fell silent, and the Doctor was suddenly very aware of his own heartbeat. It was incredibly loud, between the pounding in his chest and the rush of blood in his ears. Across from him, Pete looked at him with an expression of infuriating understanding.
“One minute forty seconds,” chimed in Jean-Janice-Janet.
“I know you miss Rose,” began Pete, in a voice so patronizing the Doctor wanted to reach over and throttle him.
As it was, he clenched one hand into a fist and spoke low and deadly. “Rose has nothing to do with this.” He looked at Mark. “Shoot them down.”
“If it was anyone else, you’d say they were over-reacting. Looking for revenge.”
The Doctor grit his teeth. “Shoot them down, Mark.”
“One minute twenty seconds,” said Jean-Janice-Janet.
“You’ve done it before,” Pete went on. “We’ve lost team members before and you’ve lectured us for wanting to punish those responsible. And you were right.”
The Doctor stared hard at Mark’s computer, watching the tiny blips on the screen inch closer and closer. It would be harder, so much harder once they entered the atmosphere, once they landed… “Mark, now.”
“I’m sorry you lost her,” said Pete. “I know how it feels to lose the woman you love—”
“—but killing anything that dares get to close to our planet isn’t going to bring her back.”
The Doctor gripped the back of Mark’s chair and the edge of his desk, leaning in. “Listen to me, Mark, the second those ships enter the atmosphere—”
"You've already killed the people responsible for her death," Pete carried on, raising his voice and making it impossible to ignore. "It ends there."
“—they’re going to be impossible to contain. You let them land and they are invading, then what? War?” He raised his eyebrows. “Think this planet’s ready for that? How many casualties, do you think? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?”
Pete was shouting, now. “You can’t exact revenge on the entire universe, Doctor!”
“Thirty seconds!” called Jean-Janice-Janet.
The Doctor and Pete looked at each other, then looked at Mark expectantly. Between them, Mark looked utterly befuddled.
“I… I don’t…” he looked from the Doctor to Pete, evidently at a loss. He opened and closed his mouth a few more times without making any kind of coherent noise.
The Doctor shook his head, barely biting back a growl of frustration. “Fine,” he said, resolved. “Allow me.” With both hands on Mark’s chair, the Doctor rolled him out of the way and took to the keyboard himself.
“Doctor,” said Pete urgently, “no—”
The Doctor ignored him. Pete moved forward, but the Doctor was faster; with a few quick keystrokes the shots were fired.
A heavy silence descended on the room. The Doctor straightened up and shoved his hands in his pockets, well aware that he was once again the centre of attention and that Pete was sending him a fierce glare. The Doctor found it difficult to care.
“Um… first target eliminated,” said Jean-Janice-Janet quietly. She watched the Doctor with a look he couldn't read. "The rest have scattered. They're leaving."
Pete's voice was a quiet, deadly tone the Doctor recognized as one he often used himself. "How many people on board, do you reckon, Doctor?"
"No idea." The Doctor drew himself to his full height and shook his head. "But since the six point seven billion people on this planet are still safe, so I’d say that's a Torchwood job well done." Then he turned and left the room, thinking of the letters in his breast pocket and marveling at the bizarrely hollow feeling that filled his body.
Continue to part 3