Third in the dystopian!verse series.
Some Radical Notion
Her tiny apartment is two sizes too big, and he breaks her in little ways. They are both familiar strangers.
When: Pre-Ground Zero
The bed is empty. She doesn’t have to look at the cold spot next to her to know this. His absence is tangible and something she can almost taste.
She hates it.
He isn’t in the house. She wanders around her tiny under-heated apartment in nothing but her robe, and tries to ignore the crushing disappointment that settles at the back of her throat. She pulls several eggs out from the fridge, ignoring the fact that those are all the eggs left in her weekly rations, and it is only Wednesday. She deserves this, she thinks. She deserves to indulge herself, because he won’t.
There is a burning at the back of her eyes, and she tries to ignore it, she really does. The heels of her hands press hard against her eyes, and she wonders why she allows herself down this road every single time. She is a fool, she agrees on most days, except for the days when he comes to her and she thinks it’s worth it. That he’s worth it. Her nails bite little crescent moons into her palm.
Her eggs fry fast, coming out funny-smelling and slightly unappetizing after their sizzle in the sub-grade cooking oil they all get. She carries the plate to the sofa, and turns on the telly. The house is too quiet, and it suffocates her. They are airing yet another propaganda programme, and the smiling faces of children and too-happy soldiers beam back at her. Another victory for Britannia! The words flash across the screen, and the footage of the Union flag being waved in front of the Eiffel tower comes on. She flicks the telly off.
Her eggs are cold.
She returns to her bedroom, staring out of the tiny trellis windows at the deserted street three floors below. Hail Britannia! A frayed poster triumphantly declares. Glorious Britannia! Another proclaims. They flutter desolately in the wind.
The bed is unmade, covers piled haphazardly about as though someone had fished them off the floor and dumped them there as an afterthought. She realizes that it must have been his handiwork, scooping up their discarded and rumpled sheets before he left. How thoughtful, she finds herself thinking, and she cannot help the slight tinge of bitterness that colours the thought. He had been particularly rough last night, biting and forceful and possessive, and she is still sore in several places. She thinks that it has something to do with his current assignment, but she will not ask, and he will not answer anyway.
It is the way they operate. She will complete her assignments, and he will complete his, and they will talk of nothing that matters. He will come to her when he wants to, and she will – she will be here, waiting. She unlocks her bedside drawer and gingerly picks up her communications device, checking for new contracts. She has none today, and she supposes she should be grateful. Her previous assignment had been a long and grueling one, a stealth contract from a rebel group. She still bears the scars from that, long puckered lines that run deep on her torso.
But that was another time, and she is here now. She is tidying the bed, tucking the sheets into neat hospital corners when she finds it. His tie lies half-hidden under her bed, hastily discarded during their passionate frenzy last night. The silk is butter-soft under her fingers, one of his few luxuries, and she lightly strokes it several times before stopping herself. The tie crumples easily in her balled fist.
She will have to return this to him, she knows, and she is sure that he will be upset at having forgotten it, but it is here with her now, and she deserves this tiny, tiny piece of him. He is always so careful to leave nothing behind. In the mornings after he visits, it is only the lingering scent of him and the faint indent on the pillow next to her that convinces her that he was here at all.
It will not be hard to find out what he is doing. One call to the Agency will give her his location, and she is sure that Jack will be willing to fill her in on his assignment details. But that is a dark and firm line she has drawn, and she will not cross it. She tucks the tie into the drawer of her table.
The apartment is tiny but two sizes too big, and the quiet is oppressive. She needs to do something. She was not made to be still.
It is two minutes after fourteen, and Rose Tyler heads to the Agency for an assignment.
The Agency is a vast underground complex, hidden under a façade of pretty suburban houses. The Government knows nothing of them, but there are always whispers, and they all have prices on their heads. She relishes this life.
Security is airtight, despite her having worked here for four years. Her Beretta is stripped and scanned before she is allowed to reassemble it, and her thumbprint and retina scans are taken. She heads down three floors to find Jack.
“Hey, bubba!” His greeting is exuberant when she sees him, bent over tactical charts and maps at his desk. She endures his enthusiastic kisses to her cheek with a long-suffering smile, and loops her arm around his as she tugs him to the cafeteria. “So, Jack,” she begins, and he raises an amused eyebrow as her meandering greeting. She pokes him for this. “I want a new assignment.”
He laughs, a deep-chested rumble, as if it is the most amusing thing he has ever heard. “Are you kidding?” He begins, before taking in her glare and backpedaling. “Okay, not kidding. But really, Rose, you know that’s a no-go.”
“Why?” She asks, huffing impatiently. She hates inactivity, and she needs work to displace ghosts and specters from her mind. She is tired, too tired, of her thoughts constantly revolving around wants and can’t-haves. She needs change.
“Why?” He parrots her incredulously, and his eyebrows shoot up almost comically. “Jesus, Rose, do you even have to ask me that?” He runs a hand through his perfectly-coiffed hair, and she knows that he is genuinely distressed. She cannot bring herself to feel guilty for being the cause.
“You nearly died in the previous mission. You were butchered, Rose. Butchered. You didn’t have to see the state you were in when he – ” It is her turn for surprise. “Who?” She butts in. An anonymous savior had brought her in, and they had refused to reveal who it was when she had regained consciousness. Jack ignores her. “ – when you were dragged in. You were nearly cleaved into two. You’re damn lucky we have the technology to patch you back up at all, and now you want to run off and get yourself killed again?”
He pauses to take a breath, and she is reeling at the revelation. She had known that she had been badly wounded, but no one had ever revealed the true extent of her injury to her. Her eyes are wide and shocked, and Jack realizes his error too late.
“Oh, hell. Rose – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to find out that way. I’m such an idiot. Look, it’s okay,” he gathers her into his arms, ignoring the stares of the other Agency employees around them in the hallway. “It’s over now. Shhh.” He rocks her in his arms, and she takes several shuddering breaths. She grips the lapels of his leather jacket hard, like they are anchors in a storm. Her breathing is shallow and labored, and she knows she will slip into a panic attack if she keeps this up. She needs to breathe, needs to reestablish the calm in, out, in, out rhythm of inhale and exhale. Jack’s hands are soothing on her back, and she tries to concentrate on that, but his words echo in her mind like broken records. Cleaved into two.
The scar on her torso that extends to her back burns against her shirt, and she wants so badly for it to stop. She thinks of the number of lives she has taken, and thinks of window panes under her fingers. She thinks of ties and cold sheets, and relationships that aren’t. They are standing in the corridor, and it occurs to her that she is standing here, where many dead soldiers have treaded before, and there isn’t much difference between them and her.
She wants to fall apart. She wants to let herself fall apart. She wants all these things, but Rose Tyler is one of the Agency’s best, and she always gets the job done. She will hold herself together, because she has to.
“What’s going on?” Comes a voice behind her, and her resolve almost breaks. It is him, and that is his voice, its cadence and timbre and lilt familiar to her like the back of her hand. She tries to pull away from Jack, but his arms are firm. “We’re fine,” he responds, “Rose just had a bad shock, that’s all. It’s alright, you can go.”
“I wasn’t talking to you, I was asking Rose.” His voice borders on scornful, and she knows that there is no love lost between the two most important men in her life. She tugs away from Jack a little, just enough so that she will be audible. “Doctor, I’m fine. Really. Just – just overwhelmed, but I’ll be alright.”
She turns her head a little, and gives him a tremulous smile. “I’m always all right.” His eyes are searching on her face, and it is a long moment before he nods. He turns and leaves.
Most days, she finds herself wishing that people would take her words less literally.
She whiles away her day at the Agency doing her paperwork, the side effect of doing what they do. There are endless forms to fill for bounties to be claimed, names to be removed from hit lists, and contracts for organisations to be accepted. When she leaves the complex at a quarter past eighteen, she is the last to depart.
Her flat is dark when she lets herself in, and she leans against the door, exhausted. Her sigh is loud in the expanse of her apartment, world-weary and infinitely tired. Her exhale is visible around her in the frigid night, and she raises a hand in a vain attempt to catch it.
“You took your time getting here.” She startles at the voice, and curses herself for lowering her guard. Her Beretta out in an instant, safety flicked off, aimed at the languidly reclining shadow on her sofa. She throws the light switch on, and relaxes and lowers her gun when she sees that it is him.
“Don’t do that,” she chides, replacing her gun into its holster. She strips off her coat and toes off her shoes, dropping them haphazardly to the floor on her way to the kitchen.
“Hmm?” His answer is almost languorous, and that is enough warning for her. She turns to look at him, takes in his deliberately insouciant posture, reclining on the sofa with an arm propped up on the side. His eyes are black, icy and cold, and she almost recoils. He is furious.
“What was that all about, earlier?” His voice is nonchalant, all steel wrapped in cloth, and for a moment, she is terrified of him. They have never fought, and she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do or say. The Oncoming Storm, she has heard the gossip mill whisper about him, and has never truly understood what they had meant. Now she does.
She is puzzled. “What about earlier?” His eyes go darker, glinting in the room light.
“In the hallway. With Jack.” She leans against the wall that extends into the kitchen, facing him. “In the hall – Oh.” She swallows. “Oh.” She tears her gaze away from his, staring at her scuffed sneakers, and her hands subconsciously come up to wrap around herself. He takes in her defensive, insecure body language, and is up like a shot.
“What did he do?” His hands are firm on her arms, and his scent is everywhere, musk and spice and uniquely him. “What did Jack say?” She shakes her head, still avoiding his eyes. “Nothing I shouldn’t have known,” she replies, and her right hand is cool over the vicious scar on her torso under her shirt.
“Rose,” he begins, and a finger under her chin has her tilting her head upwards to meet his gaze. “Tell me what Jack said.” She takes several steadying breaths, and shakes her head a little. “No.” She raises a hand to his chest to nudge him away, but he is solid and firm under her touch, immoveable and resolute.
“No, I – I can’t.” His hand lifts to rest atop hers on his chest, and his heart is a steady beat beneath her touch. He tugs her hand up to his lips, and presses a soft kiss to the inside of her palm. He holds her palm to his cheek, and turns to nuzzle into it. She nearly breaks at the gesture.
“You can,” he tells her, and his voice is warm and soothing. She wants to trust him, to lean into him, to open herself up to him completely, and it is so, so tempting, but there are lines that have been drawn and must be kept, or she will lose herself in him. He is everything to her, she knows, but to him, she – she is convenient.
“It’s nothing, really,” she tries to reassure. Her free hand ghosts over the puckered line hidden under her shirt, almost as an afterthought. His eyes follow the motion, and when she notices this, she realizes her mistake. He drops her hand, and his eyes are hard.
“He told you.” It is more a statement than it is a question. She swallows. “It isn’t your concern –” He cuts her off with a sharp downward jerk of his hand, and he backs away from her to stand by the sofa. She reiterates her point. “It’s none of your business.”
She is furious with him, livid at his sudden decision to care. He has no right to any more of her, no right to act as if she was wrong for trying to keep this from him, no right to act like he cares enough for her to go to him with her fears and insecurities and problems. She has no place in his life other than his bed, and he has no right to ask any more from her when he gives her nothing in return.
“None of my business? None of my – ” His voice is incredulous, and she feels his anger barely leashed below the surface. His jaw is clenched, and his hands are balled into fists. “It isn’t,” she continues, and strides towards him. She is too far gone to care, too angry to worry about what this will mean for them. “It was my mission, my assignment, my contract. It was my cross to bear. My injuries.” She pauses in her tirade, and is hit by a sharp stab of realization.
“You knew,” she whispers. The betrayal is searing, the scar a brand against her cool skin. Her voice rises. “You knew, and you never told me. How did you find out? Did you read my mission report?” His non-reply twists the knife, and she almost chokes on the next words. “You had no right to read my reports. I may sleep with you, but that does not give you any right over any other area in my life. I respect your boundaries! I toe the lines of your private little life and let you keep your secrets! I wait for you, like your dirty little secret, and you – ”
His hand snakes behind her neck, and she is forcefully tugged towards him when his lips crash into hers. His mouth is white-hot and branding, and he tastes of enigmas and lost hopes and smoke. The kiss is hard, angry and punishing, and she inwardly rails at her susceptibility to him and inability to pull away. His tongue is harsh against hers, battling and dominating, and she can feel the potency of his fury and anger. Her hands fist into his dress shirt.
When he yanks himself away, his profile is harsh and cutting against the light of the room. He removes her hand from his shirt, and she can see him begin to shut her out, like he always does after sex or when he sees her in the Agency.
He picks his coat up from the back of the sofa, turning away to slide into it like armour or second skin. When he faces her again, his expression is shuttered, and this is not her Doctor anymore. This is the Doctor.
Her breathing is loud in her ears, and her heart is breaking. He walks to the front door, and makes to open it before he inclines his head slightly. His hand is on the knob, and his back is kept to her.
“I was the one who brought you in.”
He opens the door, and is bathed in the brighter light of the hallway for a moment, his features starkly defined, and she thinks he looks like an avenging angel, or a broken man.
The door closes behind him, and the sound reminds her of a gunshot.
When she checks her drawer later, his tie is gone.
Part Two - Aftermath; Part Four - Old Souls