Previous Chapter: Twenty
Characters: Rose Tyler/Jack Harkness/The Ninth Doctor
Summary: A cold and beautiful world, a market, a bolt of silk, and three people walking through the doors of their memories into their future.
Edited by: the always-patient buckaroobob /dr_whuh, and read by the excellent a_phoenixdragon
Author's Note: In which two people who think they shouldn't love the Doctor are connected by one who knows they must. Two chapters in as many days is unusual for me, to put it very mildly. But I'm glad to be able to do so.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They belong solely to the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin. I do, however, love them and thank the BBC for letting me play in its sandbox.
Jack wasn’t sure where he was, but it was definitely somewhere in the TARDIS. He could feel the ship thrumming in his blood, and felt safer for it. But what was this place? Had he sleepwalked? Sometimes, rarely, he did that. He hated it, because he couldn’t control it, but perhaps it was his subconscious trying to search for his lost two years. At least he hadn’t awakened on a building ledge.
On the other hand, wherever “here” was ….
He looked around, and was immediately on his guard. The blue and silver light seemed to move of its own accord, creating shadows, then illuminating the space around him with a cool radiance. When he realized he couldn’t see walls, or the floor he felt underneath him, he understood that he had to be in one of those areas in the living ship that the Doctor had warned him against venturing into. There’s deep places in here, the Doctor had said, places even I don’t go, and no human is safe there. You see the walls start to disappear, you turn right around and head for safer ground, he’d told Rose and him one night. You too, Captain, he’d said. Your Time Agency training would actually make you more vulnerable to some of the things you’d find in there, not less. Jack hadn’t believed him then, only days after London. He’d just figured the Doctor didn’t want an Agency reject poking about sensitive areas of his ship. That made sense. He’d nodded and filed it away for later consideration.
So that had to be where he was, because it didn’t feel like any dream he’d ever had, nor did it feel like any of the many kinds of psy attack the Agency had prepared him for.
Now, though … the room, if that was what it was, shifted around him, although not in a way he could pinpoint with any of his six senses. That’s what convinced him. He’d managed to sleepwalk himself into real danger. He turned on his heel —
— she was there, and she was crying out.
“Rose!” He moved toward her, arms instinctively opening —
— No, wait, she wasn’t there.
He stepped back, unnerved by the realization that he’d almost walked through some sort of holographic image of Rose Tyler. It was shimmering like the not-walls around him, but she glowed in a different way, somehow golden. Equally hard to watch, though; it made his head ache to look at her face, although he continued to do so, because she seemed to be looking right at him, her brown eyes wide and surprised.
Her lips kept moving, but his name was all he heard, distorted and almost unintelligible, before an immense blast of … of what … static? It had no sound but something resonated painfully through his skull and down his spine. It affected the Rose image, too. He thought she grimaced, he saw her clap her hands to her ears. She raised her eyes to his — oh lord, surely this was no image, this was her, he could see her fear even as he sensed her ferocious determination to ignore it and figure things out. He loved her (No!) for that. He ached in sympathy; wherever she was, she was experiencing what he was, and was trying to figure it out, just as he was. She began to speak again.
It came to him as if through a rushing river, a waterfall of sound that seemed like hundreds of voices, all trying to keep him from hearing hers.
“ — you see me? ‘m I dreamin’ … now … maybe the silk … where are —” Another attack of the not-static.
He kept his voice soft, hoping to keep the susurrant interference to minimum, if it was some sort of feedback. “Where are you, Rose?”
She looked around herself, then back at him. “Where are you?”
He wasn’t sure if she was repeating what he had said or not. She kept her eyes on him now, and started — what, was she walking around him? The static rose, and he thought he heard wailing, panicked crying, threaded through by some … song?
The look of her, though! Hologram or not … the look of her! Not the beauty, he thought, both hidden and amplified by her horrible, wonderful makeup. She’d always be beautiful to him, but that wasn’t it. It was the look in her eyes, screaming fear and bloody-mindedness both. She was in trouble, of course she was, and she had no intention of giving up or giving in to whatever endangered her. He tried to see past her to wherever she was, but the damned sound-that-wasn’t-sound kept scrambling his thoughts — no, scrambling his senses. Still, it was worth it to see her, to know (what? To know what, boy? How can you know anything in this place?)
The reverberations of whatever was moving the walls and sending light and shadows chasing around him and through Rose’s image grew stronger. Pain lanced through his head, from the backs of his eyeballs through to the base of his neck.
The pain almost prevented him from moving his head but he knew that voice, the single syllable of his own name rough with surprise and tension. He had to turn around.
He hadn’t thought to feel afraid during the last few minutes, not even as he’d suspected, then realized, that this wasn’t happening in real time or space; that something was sending or calling him somewhere for some reason. But now he saw the Doctor.
If Rose was shimmering gold, the Doctor was incandescence so unforgiving that Jack fell back before it, throwing his hands up to his face, shutting his eyes against the harsh, brassy light. He thought he heard Rose cry out, but he had no chance to check on her because —
“Jack, go. Go, I’m sorry, but you’ve got to get ... I didn’t mean to bring you—”
The Doctor’s voice again. Jack thought, grimacing, while the afterimage of the Time Lord’s body burned into his retinas. The soundless chaos had risen whenever Rose tried to speak, but it became a howling agony as the Doctor spoke.
“Don’t say another word.” (Oh, that’s charming, Harkness, this is the man you’re trying to find.) He didn’t know what hurt more, the silent shriek that threatened to knock him to his knees, or what had been said. “Sorry … I meant that I can’t hear you. There’s too much static.” Better to pretend that he hadn’t been dismissed, because after all, that wasn’t the point of his efforts. The point of his efforts—
Jack went blank for a moment.
(He wants me gone and I can’t stand the thought of being away from him.) The thought came to him fully formed and completely, ineluctably and intractably true, shutting out every other thought. He couldn’t hide from it anymore, not in this place with no shadows. It wasn’t gratitude, it wasn’t sexual attraction, it wasn’t wonder, or admiration, or anything else. It was all those things and everything else, and he hadn’t felt that way about anyone, not for a long, long time, and it hurt, god did it hurt, and that’s why he’d fled every single thing that threatened to turn into a relationship, because he could not stand the pain—
That was Rose, and now, yes, she was moving — no, here she was beside him, he realized, (stay here, please, stay), facing the Doctor with him.
“How can we … we’ll save—” And now she was looking at him!
The relief on her face at seeing him … if someone had handed him a ewer of cool water after days of thirst, that might have been as welcome. He was tied to her, now, too. Dear lord, he’d known it for too long. Little uneducated primitive, all social anxiety, full of emotional uncertainty, fierce rages and equally incandescent joys, her delitescent intelligence catching him by delighted surprise (more patronizing fool, you) again and again.
“Jack? You’re OK? Thank god; we’ll save him together, yeah?”
Hope, wild and painful, caught his breath, held it in his lungs until he let it go, breathless and not sure whether to laugh or weep. “We will, sweetheart. We will.”
Where was the music coming from? Rose opened her eyes, then tensed. She was standing up, which was weird to begin with, and she was standing somewhere that she couldn’t immediately identify. which was probably dangerous.
The music resolved into a voice — at least she thought it was a voice. Or a bell, clear and crystalline, like —
(Look for him)
This was a dream, then, she decided, with the calm clarity of unreality. But it was a very important dream to pay attention to.
“Look for who?”
There was nothing for a moment, and then—
“Jack and the Doctor.” That seemed clear, she thought. “But Luisa—”
The bell-voice spiraled into jangling, dissonant discomfort. Rose winced, but kept her eyes open. “I can’t leave her.”
Around her, the white and silver light began to coruscate, sparks of silver bursting into umber first, then red-gold, then the gold at the heart of the sun, and Rose knew she was standing in the middle of flames without being burned. The bell’s chime had become a clangour that deepened into the sonorous menace of some old church bell tolling a warning. Rose heard the alarum and cried out, “I’m listening!”
The bell continued to peal but softer now. As its multiple tones quieted, though, the flames grew, licking at her fruitlessly, but still frightening. Rose swallowed. ”You said … you said, ‘He burns.’ Jack?”
She let out a breath, then swallowed again. “The Doctor.”
Nothing answered, but the bell tolled discordantly and eerily high chimes joined it in a cacophonous descant. Dread uncoiled in the pit of her stomach.
“What do you mean, he’s burning?”
With that, the noise of the bell became multiple klaxons and keening pipes, mad wailing that sounded like mothers calling for their children. It knifed into her head, white and red agony blossoming behind her eyes and in her ears. Rose cried out, and clapped her hands to her head, staggering in pain. “God—”
It was like a cool hand to her head, that voice, a momentary break in the pain. She straightened and looked around her until she saw him.
Seeing him made her heart leap. But oh, how tired he looked! Those beautiful eyes of his were circled, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen him look so haggard. He was dressed in the same old RAF greatcoat he’d worn when they met him, and the rest of his clothing looked rumpled.
The light skewed. Jack’s figure split and scissored like the image on an old television screen. She thought she saw the greatcoat blink off him, then back on. Then it melted away in a streak and smudge of blue-grey, and the image of Jack — almost rolling in front of her — slowed, steadied and cleared. He was as he had been before, but now he had a cut on his face.
For the first time, Rose felt frightened. It wasn’t that it was a dream; when everything had been clear and sharp, she was happy to be inside of whatever it was. But when Jack started melting and skewing, the memory of what she’d experienced since coming to Lizhbau kicked in. She remembered the silk and for a horrid while, she thought she was somehow still in its clutches. It had been hours and hours, but perhaps it lasted a long time. There were drugs like that, she thought, and maybe silk was still coursing through her veins. Maybe it was all a lie—
But it had been clear and sharp, she persisted, with increasing certainty. (Go with your gut, Tyler) This wasn’t some drug. And it was Jack (Oh Jack!) She shook her head to clear it and focused on the man in front of her. “Can you see me? I thought it was the silk, but I don’t think so now … where are you?”
He looked so young, she thought, and so surprised to see her. That’s how she knew it was something other than a drug hallucination. But could he hear her?
“Where are you?”
She wasn’t sure if he was repeating what she said, or if he’d actually heard her, but she answered anyway. “The Doctor an’ I were drugged and taken to a prison. I got out, but he’s still there. We’ve got to save him, Jack!”
She walked toward him, then flinched as she realized she had just walked through his image. He flinched at almost the same moment, and she thought she’d hurt him somehow.
She turned slowly, certain that she wouldn’t see him, but there he was. The space around her shivered and hummed with whispers, and the music circled and circled, with a banshee howl snaking over the bells and chimes, and the beauty of the song. It cut into her head and she wanted it to stop, but feared it stopping.
He looked like death. Like real death, she thought distractedly, not questioning how she knew death’s look, and now the fear was back, darker and more sick because if this was real, then he was real, and he looked like he was dying and that was worse than some stupid drug in her bloodstream. There was a darkness around him, and his skin was sallow, bereft of light—
(Yet he burns)
“Doctor.” She wanted his image to fade and skew, like Jack’s, because maybe that would make the way he looked be just her imagination. But it wasn’t her imagination, and whoever was speaking to her needed her to listen, to save him somehow—
“Rose, you’ve got to go.”
He continued on, ignoring her, like he did so often.
“You have to go. I’m sorry, so sorry I brought you …” She couldn’t hear the next few words, but she knew he was talking, because his lips were moving. His voice came back, tinny, like an old radio. “Get back to Jack. Save him and yourself. Go home. I didn’t mean to—”
The static roared, and she cried, in pain and in angry denial of what he’d said. (Not after all this, you beautiful bastard!)
Even as she started to recoil mentally from the anger that that made her lash out at him that way, she felt soundless agreement from the inchoate awareness that surrounded her.
(No/He is/He is ours)
There was the still, crystal clarity of dream time again.
“Yours, too?” She didn’t have any idea who she was talking to, but it was important to keep talking.
As if she had any intention of doing something else.
Rose looked about herself in the not-world, and felt the loving dismissal of the Doctor’s half-heard words. She felt old, far older than she was; far older than anyone ever seemed to think she could be. Rose, you’re too young, they’d all said to her; first her Mum, then her friends, Jimmy and Mickey, then the Doctor. In words or suggestions, or the look in their eyes, or the things they never said to her, or the decisions they made for her, it was always Rose, you’re too young. You can’t. Leave be. Let others.
Not this time.
She had to rescue him, for his sake and hers. His half-heard directive didn’t matter. In fact, the more she thought about it, the angrier she became.
Leaving him just because he wanted her to, that was a non-starter right there, wasn’t it? What the hell kind of friend did he think she was, to go off and leave him defenseless? Sure she was a stupid little human — but she’d proved over and over with him that she wouldn’t run away. She didn’t run from something she didn’t understand. Hadn’t he taught her to try to understand? He’d told her to learn, and that’s what she did these days, wasn’t it? Wasn’t that how they got through the tight spots, the dangers? They’d figure things out, they’d ask questions, they’d get answers. They did it together, and they’d handled it that way so far, hadn’t they?
She wouldn’t leave him, not again and not ever. And if he was burning (oh god no) then he needed her even more. She’d save him and she would, too young and too human be damned, tell him that she loved him.
“I’m no child.” That was important to say.
A feeling all around her, some vague regret or pulling back, as if something understood, just a little.
(Old enough/You will be/It will hurt)
“Can’t hurt worse than not tellin’ him, yeah?”
(It will hurt worse than you imagine)
“I know that,” she said. “I know.” It was frightening and exhilarating, and she wanted to run away, oh how she wanted to do that, but she didn’t. She thought she might never run away from anything again. The dread sliding and coiling in her stomach also felt like something … something better.
Jack! Her eyes widened. How could she have forgotten?
Rose turned slightly, and saw Jack, standing just beyond the Doctor, facing the two of them with that lost look she’d seen him hide before. Then he saw her looking at him, and the look of relief in his eyes elated her, jolting loose the other truth she’d refused while waking.
She needed him, too, didn’t she? Not the only man who’d ever played her, not by a long shot. Just the only one who’d apologized. The only one who listened to her whenever she talked. Who looked her in the eye and talked with her, the real her, not a little girl. Who was as ( I can’t be, I’m just fine aren’t I?) lonely as she was, as lost as she used to be. Who understood, and who needed someone to understand him.
It was a good thing this was a dream, Rose thought desperately. In dreams you can love two men, right? The sliding and coiling in her stomach grew warm and moved places she thought should make her feel bad for feeling them. Instead, it felt right, like places that had been short-circuited inside her suddenly had connections; her heart, her brain, her body—
(It will hurt/You are strong/Wise/Face it now/I/We/Need/all of us/you/him/Him/you/it will hurt/Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful/Save us)
It was pleading with her, whatever it was.
And was that so wrong a thing to ask for? She examined the thought, the feelings in her body; she thought about Jack’s eyes, and the Doctor’s, about their hearts and what she needed to do to protect them.
The dream had to stop being a dream, didn’t it? It had to be real.
Almost an exhalation around her, one of relief.
Something had breathed out, and Rose breathed it in. She held it in her lungs and felt fire like gold spread through her body. Then she, too, breathed out.
Time to go to work.
“Right, then. I’ll be the fire brigade,” Rose said. “But not all by myself. Jack … listen to me,” she said. “Where are you? I’ll come to you, yeah?”
She thought she saw the Doctor grimace in denial. She threw her hand up, not even noticing that as she did so, his image blurred slightly and receded. The Doctor was burning, and Jack was lost, and she had to save both of them.
Just as she thought she had things under control, everything around her shifted and torqued. The klaxons and wailing sirens swelled again. So did the static, like knives in her ears. A deep bell tolled in the distance.
“Jack!” She screamed it. “Where?”
Bless him, he understood! He nodded and said something. She couldn’t hear him, and he obviously realized that. The alarm was clear on his face. He shouted something again, and she strained to hear him.
(No/listen inside/see what he says/inside) Whatever or whoever it was sounded, felt, as alarmed as she did, as Jack was. Rose closed her eyes and whispered, “Jack, just think. The place we’ll meet. Think it, what’s it look like, Jack?”
He stopped shouting. She saw his eyes dash right and left, then back to her. He blinked rapidly, then nodded and shut his eyes, long lashes against those dark circles.
The words came into her head as if she’d thought them herself, but she knew they were Jack’s. She closed her eyes to get closer to understanding. Glimpses of a seedy bar and a dark, rickety house, like Pau’s, only worse. She felt jolts to her muscles, and quick sightings of dark streets and she felt as if she were walking — no running — from one image to another. Safe house. She saw faces. Faces she didn’t know.
No! One she recognized—
“Safe house,” she whispered again.
“Yes.” His voice was back, and in her ear, warm and triumphant. “That face, look for that face—”
Jack woke up, with a shout of delight. “Safe house!”
The others came running.
“We have to go back to the safe house!”
Rose opened her eyes. She looked up at the ceiling, then turned on her side on the old cot, and found Filomena gazing at her with poorly disguised suspicion.
“You said, ‘safe house,’” she said without preamble. “And you called out two names.”
“Jack,” Rose offered. Filomena nodded.
The other woman shook her head. “You said ‘Salvha.’ That’s her man, the one she keeps calling ‘Vella. Why did you call his name?”
“ I don’t—” she began, wondering how to explain what she didn’t understand herself. Rose wasn’t willing to think too hard about it. (Just push through, Tyler.) “I don’t know how or why I know. But we have to find him. And a safe house.” She scrambled up past Filomena, stumbling to find the light in the little back room. “Maps. I need to find maps …”
Renhald Inverno wanted to be irritated with his technician’s panic, but he felt the tiniest brush of unease himself. Was this … creature … going to explode? He couldn’t bear the thought of the lab being damaged.
Nor, however, could he bear the thought of losing the alien. It was admittedly unnerving. But equally fascinating … he checked the temperature gauges. No real increase in temperature in the room. He risked stepping over and touching its skin. Indeed, there was no heat to speak of around the alien's body, and yet the skin was hot and dry and — moving? Infinitesimal movements one could almost mistake for shivering, but … not quite.
Inverno thought quickly.
“Move the gurney to the morgue,” he said as calmly as possible.
“Is it dead?” The technician hadn’t moved from the far side of the laboratory.
“No, but it might be soon, if we don’t do something to slow its metabolism,” he said, restraining his irritation. This tech was normally intelligent. He wouldn’t want to have to replace him.
The man nodded, shakily to be sure. “I’ll get — “
“No one. We’ll do it,” Inverno said, moving to help. “Put on your gloves; you don’t want to touch the silk.” Now it was the tech’s turn to look irritated. No one in Inverno’s employ was ignorant of silk protocols. Inverno didn’t notice, and continued, “Once we’ve slabbed it, I want you to drop the internal temperature in that drawer to twice the normal holding temperature.”
The two of them moved to take the xenomorph’s body somewhere colder and safer.
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