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SPOILER WARNING: If you don't watch Torchwood or haven't gotten to Children of Earth but you plan to, be warned there's mention of most of the basic plot and general outcome. A couple of big things. Not all of them but a lot of the main things, anyhow. So yeah.
The couple who found them looked to be in about their forties—a woman with long red hair and her husband, both tall, both intensive. Neither of them were originally American. The man was English and his wife's accent was distinctly Scottish.
They knew him. The Doctor was aware that shouldn't surprise him, the sort of timeless life he lived. But it knocked him off-guard nonetheless. The way they looked at him…
"We have our car," the woman said. "Just a block or two back. If you want to get out of here. We can take you back to the Tardis."
The Doctor exchanged a glance with Rose, and though she seemed a little confused just as he was she was taking it in stride. "We should go," she said quietly. "We do need to get you back."
She wasn't wrong. His chest still ached something awful. He'd overdone it today. The idea in coming to New York hadn't been to find trouble, but maybe they should have waited longer to really try to go anywhere anyhow. Trouble always seemed to find them.
Then again, if they hadn't come here that Drifter would still be on the loose. More lives would have been lost.
"That ahm…that would be appreciated, actually. Thank you," the Doctor said finally. The woman looking at him intently for an answer smiled again. The smile lit her eyes, but they seemed a bit damp.
In the back seat of the car Rose held his hand and let her head rest on his shoulder. She didn't really lean into him more than that, and it was because she was worried about him again. She hadn't said so, but she was. He'd promised her he would be fine and he wasn't lying, but she was worried. The way she squeezed his fingers and her free hand bit into his coat sleeve told him that.
There was no use saying anything now. For his part, he took the opportunity to lean back into the seat and let his own head roll back along the top of it. His eyes closed, but he kept his ears open in the case their gracious hosts had anything in particular to say.
For a long while, though, they were quiet. Then again, if they were part of his future they would know enough not to contaminate the timeline. He supposed there wasn't much any of them could say.
"I'm sorry," the woman said finally, from the passenger's seat.
"Hmm?" The Doctor picked his head up and blinked to clear his vision. Beyond the car's windows the New York congestion was finally beginning to give way. He also felt Rose's head as dead weight on his shoulder now, and realized she was asleep.
The woman in the front shrugged. "Whatever happened back there," she explained. "It didn't look good. I'm sorry."
The Doctor nodded a little. "It doesn't always turn out the way you hope."
"No. It doesn't." She glanced at her husband. "Sometimes…sometimes that's not all bad, though."
The couple pulled into their own driveway, just across the street from the Tardis as they'd said.
"We'd invite you to tea, but I'm not sure how the fabric of time and space would like that," the husband said as they all climbed from the car.
The Doctor shrugged as he helped a groggy Rose from the back seat. "No harm done. Thanks for the lift."
Truth be told, he wanted to leave. The longer he was with them, the more they looked at him like they did, and the ache in his chest wasn't only his healing heart. It was River Song all over again, with his future staring him in the face. When it happened then he was frightened, too, but not so much as now.
He didn't know why.
Rose blinked herself awake and held out a hand to the man who'd driven the car. "Thank you," she echoed as he shook it. "Don't think I could have stayed in that city another minute."
"Why do think we live out here?" the other woman joked.
A screen door banged at the next house over, and a young boy of eight or nine sprinted across the yard to the driveway. "Mom, Dad! Where'd you go?" He stopped in front of them on the concrete and looked up at the Doctor and Rose curiously. "Who are they?"
"Anthony, be polite," his mother said. At the same moment she looked across the yard to the neighbor's house and waved to the woman in the doorway her son had come from. "Thanks, Marcia!" she called. "Sorry about the short notice! Something came up."
The other woman waved in return, smiled and disappeared again.
"Sorry," Anthony was saying. He held out a hand to the Doctor. "Hi. I'm Anthony." While his parents were not American, apparently they had been here long enough that he sounded entirely so.
"Hello, Anthony. A pleasure to meet you! I'm the Doctor."
Rose shook the boy's hand once the Doctor had done so. "I'm Rose."
"Is that your last name, ma'am? I'm supposed to call you by your last name. You're a grown-up."
"Oh, I'm sorry. No, my last name is Tyler."
"Nice to meet ya, Ms. Tyler."
"Anyway," the boy's mother said. "Thank you, Anthony. Go on inside now, okay?"
"Are they coming in?"
"I'm afraid they can't; they've got to go now," his father answered.
"Aw, okay. Bye!" The boy waved and disappeared inside.
"Pleasant chap," the Doctor commented.
"You should see him when he doesn't want to take a bath," the redheaded woman smiled fondly.
She and her husband followed them across the street to the corner where the Tardis sat. The Doctor unlocked the door, tossed his coat across the railing just inside, and asked Rose to give them a minute. Rose nodded in understanding and closed the door behind him. The Doctor was left on the sidewalk with the man and woman who somehow knew him—who cared enough to come looking after the Tardis had been left on their street for days.
He didn't even know their names. What they might or might not represent scared him, but he still wished he could thank them more personally.
"Thank you. I'm uhm…I'm not sure what else I can say, really."
"We know," the woman told him. "Hooray for timelines."
"Spoilers are bad, can't have any paradoxes, aaand the list goes on," her husband added. "Been there, done all of it."
"You really do know me, don't you?" The Doctor tried to laugh. "Spoilers…" River Song said that.
"It isn't this me you know, is it?" he asked finally. "Not this face." He shouldn't ask, but he did. Then it didn't matter, because they didn't answer. They wouldn't quite look at him now, and suddenly it was difficult to breathe, too, beyond the ache in his chest.
He will knock four times.
What did it mean? Did it even matter anymore? He'd thought, perhaps, because Rose had come back…
But if these people knew him—if his future went on long enough to include them, and to include River Song...if the prophecy still mattered it couldn't mean the end. His last regeneration, then, but…
He didn't want that either. Not anytime soon. What about Rose?
"Rose," he said then. "Do you know anything? Is she all right? I know I shouldn't—"
"We don't know," the woman told him. "I'm sorry. I don't know anything."
"I don't know," she repeated. "I'm sure you mentioned her—the name sounds familiar, I think, but that's all. I can't tell you anythin' else. We shouldn't be talking about any of this, Doctor. You know that."
He let out a breath. "I know. I know. I'm sorry."
"You should go," she said quietly. "Though god knows, it's not because we want you to." All of them were quiet for a moment, until she took a tentative half step forward. "Would you mind…?"
That he understood, and it was something they could do without endangering any timelines.
He shook his head, and she hugged him. Her arms squeezed his neck, and he returned the embrace because he needed that right now. The Doctor held on tight because for some reason, while he did, he was suddenly sure that later he would be glad he had.
When he began to let go she renewed her hold on him. "Nope. Not yet."
The Doctor blinked, confounded, but he held on as she'd all but ordered. When he glanced up at the woman's husband he was smirking a bit. "You'll get used to that," he said. His wife looked back just long enough to tell him to shut up.
"Who are you?" The Doctor found himself asking one more time, just in case he got any sort of answer.
"I really was going to leave," she said instead, into his shoulder. "I promise I was. We were. We found you and whatever had happened was over and you weren't in danger anymore and we knew we should just leave—we really did. Then it looked like you were hurt, and I just—"
The Doctor swallowed and stopped her. "It's all right."
Everything was quiet for a moment after that.
"God, you're still so skinny," she said as she finally let go of him. She dropped back onto her heels. "And maybe a tiny bit taller."
"Donna used to say you'd get a paper cut, hugging me. She had red hair, too. Seem to be the most smart-elic, you gingers."
"And don't you forget it," she agreed, using a raised finger for emphasis.
"Lose a little height next time, do I?"
"Be quiet. Maybe you just get really old and lose an inch or two."
"I don't age."
"Not technically true; you just do it a lot slower than the rest of us."
The temporary return of the light mood slipped away, as any idea the Doctor held onto that these people might be only a small part of his future faded. It really was the Library all over again, wasn't it?
Why was this future so insistent in asserting itself on him now?
The redheaded woman smiled at him one last time. "Take care of yourself," she said. "When you remember who we are, remember we love you."
When the Doctor came back into the Tardis he leaned against the inside of the doors. Dazed was really the only clear word to describe the look on his face.
"Are you all right?" Rose asked.
She was waiting, leaning against the center console. When he didn't answer her she took a step, planning to go to him. She hadn't made it any farther than that when he moved. It wasn't quickly, but he came to her instead and wrapped his arms around her.
"Who were they?"
"I don't know. Thing is, I don't know whether that's supposed to make me happy, or sad, or scare me," he murmured.
Rose didn't know what to say that, so she didn't. "We should get to the med bay. We could both do with a scan, I think—just to be sure."
"Then sleep," he added against her shoulder. He wasn't usually the first to suggest it, and she squeezed him tighter just for a moment.
"Yeah. Then sleep, as long as you're ok."
"I am. Really. It was just too soon for that must activity, apparently."
"You were fine the other night," she chuckled in his ear.
The Doctor released her, rolled his eyes, and snorted once. "Well that didn't take all day, did it?" The light in the Tardis was a bit dim at the moment, but it was enough to see the heat in his cheeks.
Rose kissed one of them and let him go. "Come on, then."
He nodded and went for the console. "Soon as we're out of here. Time to go."
Amy and Rory Williams stood in the street as the Tardis disappeared. They waved, the familiar sound faded, and that should have been that.
Then the groaning sound of the Tardis began again.
"What…?" Rory asked.
The box didn't begin to appear quite from where it had left. In fact, it wasn't appearing smoothly at all. The image swung and shuddered, and wind whipped the trees along the street and stirred up leaves and rocks and dirt.
Neither was it the same box that had left seconds before. The blue was much brighter.
"Oh my god; he figured it out!" Amy gasped. She nearly had to shout to be heard over the noise. "He's trying to come back."
"He'll never be able to land…"
But Rory was right. The Tardis never settled—never fully appeared. They waved and they called, but of course that did nothing to help.
"Doctor, we're all right!" Amy shouted. "We're fine! We love you!"
Then the box was gone again, and this time they knew it was for good.
"We know he tried," Rory said quietly. His arm slipped around her shoulders, and they just stood for a while.
"What on earth are you looking at?"
The voice came from behind them. Amy turned, expecting to find a curious neighbor to have to explain something away to.
Halfway through turning about she recognized the voice.
"River!" Rory's voice rang in her ear, because he'd turned, too.
A knowing smile. "Two Tardises either landing or trying to land in the same place at the same time? Easy trail to follow. Enough for a vortex manipulator to punch through."
Their daughter stood in the street behind them—a little older than the last time they saw her, a little more tired, maybe, but grinning at them anyway.
"And you didn't bring him with you?" Amy had to ask.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't. I was with him, when he tried to land the Tardis here. If he'd been able to do it, it would have meant maybe the moment in the graveyard wasn't as fixed as we'd feared. But he couldn't. It was." She sighed once. "If I'd brought him we'd have caused another paradox. I was barely able to punch through on my own as it is; I'd never have made it with a passenger." It was explanation enough; they couldn't blame her for any of it.
Amy ran to her, and Rory wasn't far behind. Soon enough it was a group hug.
"Can you stay a while?" Amy asked. She was sniffing again. Good grief.
"I hope so, seeing as I can't come back again," River assured them. "If you'll have me."
"Of course we will, shut up." When she'd finally let go, Amy had to ask one more question. "How is he?"
"It's hard to say. He's…holding on. Sometimes I wonder if he's only doing it for me. But he'll be all right; it's just going to take some time."
"You're sure?" Rory questioned quietly.
"Oh, I'm sure. Sometimes it takes a while, but he comes back." Her gaze drifted over their shoulders, to where the Tardis sat just minutes ago. "It's not the first time I've seen him through."
"When are we?" Rose asked as they disembarked.
They'd come back to Earth, back to Cardiff. They were practically at Mickey Smith's doorstep, and the Doctor had done that on purpose. After what they'd been through, he thought Rose might appreciate some peace and quiet and the company of a friend she was still in the same universe with.
"Uhm…2009, I think. Late summer. Early fall, maybe. Few months after you saw him last, which is consistent with our own timeline anyway."
This time, though, it seemed Martha was already there. She was the first one out the front door, and Rose drew back to the Doctor's side to ask a quieter question. "Are they married yet? Are they going to be asking why I wasn't there?"
"Not yet. I think they're engaged, but the wedding's not until next summer. Have to warn them not to say anything to me sometime beforehand, but no need to worry about it now."
"Good call. Not in the mood for any questions."
"You and me both," the Doctor sighed. He stepped away to greet Martha and leave Rose for Mickey, but the brief exchange with Rose had distracted them both.
When he opened his arms for Martha she was already upon him, and she didn't hug him.
She slapped him.
"Where were you three weeks ago!"
"Martha!" Mickey warned from beyond her.
The Doctor heard Rose questioning, behind him, but Martha wasn't listening to any of them.
"The worst week in human history, and where were you?"
"What are you talking about? What happened!"
"The 456! Or I don't know who they really are. They tried to take a tenth of the world's children, and you were nowhere! Nowhere! I tried to call you! I called a thousand times, and nothing. World goes crazy for days—the governments were going to do it! What choice did they have? Mickey and I were hiding half the kids in our neighborhoods in our cellars, and you were nowhere!"
Mickey took her shoulders from behind and tried to calm her. "Martha! Martha, it's not his fault. He can't be everywhere at once, right?"
She pulled away from him. "I called!"
The Doctor did not answer. He could not answer.
Rose was beside him now, trying to understand. "Tried," she said. "You said 'tried.' That means they didn't, right? They didn't take anyone."
Martha was still seething. "Torchwood stopped it. Jack stopped it. But the Torchwood Hub is gone, blown to bits. Everyone inside Thames House died, Ianto Jones is dead, and now Jack's missing. I haven't any idea what happened beyond that. Gwen Cooper and her husband are fine, as far as I know, but she won't talk to me and I don't blame her."
"We didn't know," Rose said softly. "Two or three weeks ago…we were fighting for our own lives. The calls could have come then. W-we weren't on the Tardis; we didn't have the phone."
"What happened to you two?" Mickey asked at that. "Are you okay?"
"Isn't everything?" He tried to reach for Martha again and she shifted out of his reach. "Hey. It's not the Doctor's fault."
Martha crossed her arms and shivered. "I know," she said finally. "I know, I just—I'm sorry. I can't…"
The Doctor couldn't, either. Martha walked away, and he went the opposite direction.
The Doctor had long since shut down. When Martha fled back into the house Rose wasn't surprised that he made his own escape. He didn't say a word; he just started walking, off down the street toward the center of town.
"Aren't you going after him?" Mickey asked.
"Not yet. He needs some time. He'll be blaming himself and I'll have to snap him out of it, but better to give him a few minutes—make sure he's ready to listen."
"Martha, too. She'll come 'round. She didn't mean it like that."
"I know." Rose held out her arms and Mickey came to hug her. "Missed you," she mumbled truthfully.
"Things get crazy pretty quick out there, yeah?"
"You have no idea," she groaned.
"Come on, now; this is me you're talkin' to." He pulled back to look at her. "What? What happened?"
Rose was shaking her head, because she didn't know how to explain all of it. She thought, considering it was yesterday, that she should be more upset about the deaths of Deborah Cole and her husband. But she couldn't keep her mind out of the Kadhar ship.
"Something's wrong, Rose. I know that look."
Her head was still shaking, but it came out anyway. One small sob came first, and the rest followed. "They tortured 'im, Mickey."
"What? Who, the Doctor, you mean? Who?"
"S-someone—aliens, another race from the Time War. Just…blaming him, blamed the Time Lords for what happened to their planet. He didn't deserve it, Mickey. But they—they took us, and they tortured him, and I couldn't do anythin'…"
Mickey let her go on about it, and cry, and that was when Rose realized it wasn't about what had happened. It was, and she never wanted to see that again, but it also wasn't about that at all. Neither was what had happened to the Coles.
Later in the afternoon she found the Doctor by the bay. Parts of the plaza were still roped off with police tape, and the water tower was gone. The blast area was clear—cleaned up, for the most part, but clear. She was sure the decorative tower would be rebuilt, but there would be no Torchwood under it now.
It wasn't her universe anymore—it wasn't her Torchwood. But knowing it was gone was bad enough, and knowing Jack was missing was worse. She hadn't even seen him yet, since she'd come back here.
The Doctor was on a bench near the water. It took a bit after she sat down beside him for him to say anything.
"Was there a Torchwood location in Cardiff in the other universe, or just London?" he asked eventually.
"The Cardiff base was there, but it hadn't been used in decades. About a year after you left John and I sort of adopted it—a team came over with us. We still reported to London, technically, but they sort of let us do what we would. John didn't always agree with the main office, you know, so…that was why we were out here, anyway. It worked out."
Apparently he hadn't quite expected that answer, and the Doctor broke from his stupor and turned to her incredulously. "This was where you worked? The two of you ran your version of this branch? Really?"
"Of course we did. Like you said, he started off as you. Would you have worked for the London Torchwood here if you could help it? They were a bit better there, but still…"
"No. You're right, I just…" He shook his head. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Well it didn't really matter, did it?"
The Doctor scrubbed at his face, before staring out at the water. "I should have asked, maybe. Can't seem to do anything right these days."
"Don't say that."
"Well it's true, isn't it? Couldn't save George, or Deborah; I couldn't get through to the Kadhar, change them…or get you out of there—you did that. Now this. I should have been here, and I wasn't. That's not all, of course, me being me, but anyhow…"
Rose sat back and crossed her arms. "That's not you talking. You're the Doctor—the man with the plan. The man who's good at pretending he's got one, at least."
"Sure, but look where being cocky's gotten me."
"You're not cocky; you're justifiably confident." He laughed at that, and she considered her intervention at least a temporary success.
Then the laughter faded, and she took his hand. "You know, I think I've figured it out." He watched their hands and the water, and let her talk. "Maybe we shouldn't have said we'd be okay…cause that's not what we really mean, is it? We don't know what's going to happen; we don't know if we'll be okay. The point is, it doesn't matter. Maybe we should just be sayin' it doesn't matter what happens, cause we've got each other in whatever way we've got each other. We're not alone."
The Doctor sat up and blinked, as he looked her in the eyes. "Of course you're not alone…"
"I know that. That's not what I meant, really. I mean…helpless. We're not helpless. Things like this, like New York, they make us feel that way because just for a minute, we are. We can't control everythin.' Sometimes bad things just happen and we can't stop it. But it's all right, because we try. We do our best."
Rose swiped at her eyes and let out a breath. "Sorry. I'm not making any sense, am I?"
"Not a lot, no, but I'm following," he offered gently.
She shrugged once. "It's just I'm not used to feeling helpless. Not anymore. Maybe in the beginning, when I first started travelin' with you and I thought I was just…a stupid girl. Stupid girl from a shop."
"Rose, you were never that," the Doctor insisted.
"Thanks," she sighed. "Doesn't matter, though. If I was ever that I'm not anymore. Three or four years running my own task force at Torchwood in London, heading research trying to get back here…five years or so running the Cardiff base with John. Defending the earth all the while. I don't like feeling helpless anymore, Doctor, but I think since he died that's all I've felt."
They were both quiet for a while after that.
"You're not," he said finally.
"And neither are you," she answered quickly. "No more undue blame for things we can't control…"
The Doctor made as if contemplating. "Weeeell….you're right, but that doesn't mean I won't feel it sometimes. It's a flaw of mine."
"Yeah. Mine, too."
"Saving the world a lot'll do that," the Doctor deadpanned.
This time they both laughed. It wasn't much—more of a shared giggle than anything—but it helped.
"Wait, three or four years in London? Before I saw you, even? It should only have been two or—"
"Time running faster there relative to here, remember? I'll be thirty before the baby's born; thanks for reminding me," Rose said.
She smacked his arm, and the Doctor held up his hands in surrender. "Oi! Okay, so I was off a year or two. Doesn't matter to me; I'm nine hundred and four."
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