Seventeenth in the dystopian!verse series. Christmas special!
The Ghosts of Christmas
It is a time of beginnings and ends and starts and stops, and he will always remember that the world was white.
When she exits the Agency compound at twenty o’clock, he is waiting for her. He is leaning against the pretty wooden fence that borders the adjacent suburban housing lot, backed by flowers and errant leaves that poke through the slats. She does not see him, not immediately, and he watches her from his shadowed perch.
She sighs, and he watches the way her breath forms and curls around her, white tendrils that snake and smoke through the chilly night air. She has had a long day, a grueling debrief following the end of a painstakingly lengthy mission that had concluded the day before. She is exhausted, and the world around her looks drearier and sadder because of it. The night is so very grey.
He does not know why he is here, not really. Join me for dinner? He doesn’t quite know how to phrase it. Fancy getting a bite? The words stick in his throat, and he, who talks-so-much-but-says-nothing, acknowledges the irony. He has seen her around the Agency, darting down corridors and springing up hallways, young and fresh and beautiful, always ready with a smile and a laugh. He sees her, and sees all these things, but he does not miss the way her smile fades too fast, and the way her laugh is entirely brittle. She fascinates him.
The assignment that she has just completed had been a massive one, a complex operation that had spanned weeks and involved dozens of Operatives and Watchers. He had been on the mission, and she had been his Watcher. He observes people, and likes to think he is able to tell the difference between the fake-smiles she gives everyone and the genuine laughter that had pealed over his headset when they had talked and joked and bantered in the lulls between danger and running.
She makes him feel hopeful and optimistic and alive again, and he misses all of those things. He makes her feel needed and intelligent and crucial and important and all those things Watchers are so often overlooked as, and she savours the way his low baritone chuckle warms her inside, and the way they can talk for hours about nothing and everything.
She wears a swinging pink babydoll dress, and he thinks she looks like a princess-from-tales-forgotten, or like a girl-who-deserves-more-than-him. He is in his standard pinstriped suit, tall and lean and jaunty-sombre, and she believes him to be a veritable hero who hardly thinks he is one. They fit together like two broken halves of a mirror.
They make each other feel, and it terrifies them both, because their world is chaos and fire and destruction, and this is no place for the softness and emotions of lovers.
He goes up to her anyway, creeping up behind and startling her with a tiny boo to her ear. She jumps a little, and her hand slips beneath her coat to grasp the handle of her Beretta, and he places a reassuring hand on hers. He does not want to get shot tonight, not if he can help it. She berates him for his juvenile behaviour, and he sends her a boyish, charming grin that he knows turns the ladies to mush all-too-well.
She rolls her eyes at him, and stalks off into the night. He blinks, stunned for several seconds, before following her. He has yet to learn that whatever he has come to expect from others, he should never expect from Rose Tyler. He has yet to realize how vital and how important she will come to be to him. He has yet to realize that he will love her.
He has yet to realize all of those things, but he dashes after her anyway, because he knows that she is special. He will tell her things he has never told anyone, things like how he hates pears and thinks he is too skinny, and it may not be the most important things to tell a person, but they make him who he is, and he wants (needs) her to know.
It starts to snow, tiny white flecks raining down on them, turning their bleak world into a winter wonderland of white, even if only for a while. It is not until he catches up to her that he realizes that it is Christmas.
The world outside the lab is black. The night is inky and the purest obsidian, an eternal swathe of black that coats the streets below in darkness. Mickey has left for the night, and will return in the morning. He is here, sitting next to her, watching the rise, fall, rise, fall motions of her breath.
The picture is becoming clearer now, a horrific tableau that is slowly coming together. Words like Little Red and wipe and the Master dance along the fringes of his thought, and they paint a picture of pain and fear and torture. They ring in his mind, like dire warnings, or broken reminders.
He loves her, and the thought of it terrifies him, almost makes him jump up and run as fast as he can, away from her and away from everything that she still makes him feel. He doesn’t, though. He sits next to her, a solitary figure in the otherwise empty lab, keeping silent vigil next to the prone, sleeping body of the woman he loves.
He doesn’t know why she had joined Little Red, or why she left him so abruptly, and the things he doesn’t know cut tiny holes into his heart. I love you, she had told him the night before she left, and his heart had almost stopped-or-burst-with-joy. It had made him want to say those three little words back, and it had made him want to disentangle himself from her and escape into the night. It hurts, that she had told him she loved him and disappeared the day after.
She is so, so pale against the white of the sheets on the gurney she is lying on. It almost makes her seem like a mirage, or a ghost, corporeal and ephemeral, transient and not-real. He holds her hand, just to reassure himself that she is here. His fingers trace unseeing patterns over the redness of her wrist where her Watcher implant is embedded, and he presses a light kiss to the centre of her palm.
He misses her so much, and all he wants is for her to remember him.
You never know the value of what you have until you lose it, he had read in a book a long time before. He had scoffed at the words, thinking it a fool’s saying; he, who was (is) brilliant, the best Operative by far, would never fall into such an amateur trap. The words had haunted him long after she had left, words that echoed and ghosted around the newfound loneliness of his bachelor’s pad, sinking into the places where she had once been.
Emptiness had been a new feeling for him, because you can never know you were empty until after you know what it’s like to have everything.
He had always known that she was there, waiting and constant, a port-in-a-storm. She had been his cornerstone, something that he could come back to, even with blood dripping from his hands and empty cartridges in his Glock. She hadn’t been everything to him, not when he had lived so long without her, but she had been vital and important and necessary, and when she had gone, it was worse than losing everything, because everything hadn’t mattered.
But she had, and he never told her. She was always there, but he never realized that he was never there for her. She was a touchstone to him, while he was a wisp of smoke that came and left with the wind. He could hold on to her, but she could only ever hold on to the memory of him and his visits. She was necessary to him, a balm to the wound that was (is) his life, and he only ever made her feel used.
He had taken and taken from her until she had nearly nothing left, and when she had wanted something in return, three little words, he couldn’t – wouldn’t – give it to her. His selfishness and fear are demons that eat him from the inside everyday now, wraiths that will haunt him for periods long after she forgives him. There is, she will tell him, nothing to forgive, and he will break a little at her unconditional, amazing capacity to love a man as broken as he is.
He does not deserve her, he knows. She deserves someone who isn’t afraid to give her everything she wants and deserves to have – a beautiful house with a white picket fence, two-point-five kids and a family dog. She deserves more than him.
But he has always been a little selfish, along with his penchant for cowardice and running, so he will keep her for himself a while longer, just to bask in her love and warmth, and to allow himself to be convinced that he is worth saving, even if deep down he knows he is not.
His love and her love are not the same; his is a poor exchange for hers, and he does not deserve someone as inherently good as she is. He is here to watch over her, to keep her safe where he had failed to once before. He is here for answers, to find out why she left, because even if he knows she deserves someone better, he needs to know what it was that could make her say she loved him and leave the day after.
When she is better, and when he has his answers, he will –
He does not want to think about that, not now. It has begun to snow outside, white flakes that bathe their world in white.
It is Christmas.
They are in London again, and everything is different and the same. The smog of the city is arid and harsh, a cutting smell that sears their senses. It is night, and the city is so very alive.
They spot Runners and Sins and Sleepers out of the corners of their eyes, darting and dashing about, glancing this way and that. The Network and the System are abuzz. They have returned. The Watchtower is awake.
His hand is in hers, a solid weight that is thrilling and heady and comforting all at once. They stroll along the crowded pavement just off West End, surrounded by people and life. He stops outside the fogged-up glass display of a chippy, and turns to smile jauntily and rakishly down at her. She beams back.
“Remember our first date?” He gestures towards the chippy, and she playfully rolls her eyes at him. “Come on, I’m starving,” he continues, and it is almost a whine, one that she has never been able to resist or refuse.
She tugs him towards the entrance of the shop.
“Only if you’re paying,” she sends over her shoulder. The smile he shoots back at her is beatific, a grin so warm and large that it could light up the city. They place their orders, and she gets extra-large chips with oodles of salt and sauce, and he gets onion rings, just to buck the trend a little.
Outside, it begins to snow, and in the distance, Big Ben chimes.
It is Christmas, years later, and they are together.
They don’t know what perfection is, but if you had asked them there and then, they would have told you that this was it.
Part Sixteen - Wayward Soldier; Part Eighteen - Devastation and Reform