Despite the fact that the very thought of what might be happening nearly broke him, he forced himself to get a grip. He couldn’t afford to break down right now, and he needed to be thinking clearly and rationally. He had to compartmentalize, shutting away his tempestuous emotions and allowing his rage to hone his intellect and abilities. He was of no use to anyone if he allowed his emotions to get the better of him, and so he forced himself to stay calm.
It was difficult. So, so difficult. He kept seeing Rose’s face, bloodied and bruised. The pain in her face as the soldier had wrenched her arm, the desperation in her eyes as she’d cried out to him. And the last glimpse he’d seen of her, the soldier striking her over the head.
Had they killed her, for what she’d said to him? He had to believe that they hadn’t, that she was of no use to them dead, but the thought of how frightened and in pain she must be nearly undid him. But he forced his emotions into submission, calming down to the point where he was back in control.
They kept going all through the night. The Doctor couldn’t stop, had to keep moving, now more than ever, and Mishell didn’t object. Stopping only occasionally to recover their breath, they kept moving, using the light of the sonic as a torch when it grew too dark to see.
And as they made their way through the woods, the Doctor told Mishell everything. Who he was, what he did, what the TARDIS was, all the background necessary to make her grasp the gravity of the situation. Usually more than he would ever tell an acquaintance of only a few days, but she needed to understand, and quickly. To her credit, she took it all in stride, listening wide-eyed to his descriptions of time travel, only asking the occasional question. She didn’t doubt him, which he was grateful for. It saved time.
And he explained what Rose’s message had meant. What she was referring to. He didn’t reveal all the details, for those were events that even he wasn’t willing to relive right now. Thinking too much about it would undo what control he had on his emotions…thinking about what might be happening to Rose…no, he couldn’t think about the specifics. But he explained enough so that she could comprehend the severity of what had happened, and the new urgency which filled him. Once again, she caught on quickly.
“But what do the soldiers from Calyx have to do with that?” she asked, as they paused. She leaned against a tree, breathing heavily, and the Doctor winced, realizing they should have stopped sooner.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
It didn’t make sense. Calyx and Frax had nothing to do with the planet he’d been captured on. They were in different solar systems. The time period was about the same, but other than that, he could see no connection. As far as he knew, the planets had no contact with each other.
“And how did they find you?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted helplessly. He truly hated knowing so little.
The wristcomp beeped again, and the Doctor gritted his teeth, resisting the temptation to smash or otherwise disable the thing. But they might need it later. Instead, he silenced it, turning off the sound as the message began to once again reply, as it had done every ten minutes ever since the broadcast. But with one key difference: Rose’s last warning was edited out. If he hadn’t caught the original broadcast, he’d have never known what they were walking towards.
“Are they going to kill you?” Mishell asked grimly, as he shoved the wristcomp back in his pocket, unwilling to look once again at the images of Rose injured and at gunpoint.
“I doubt it will be that quick,” the Doctor kept his voice even. It hadn’t been last time, and if these people had anything to do with those events, it wouldn’t be this time. “Which is why we’re going to try and avoid handing me over to them.”
They started moving again. The Doctor had taken over directing them. Now that Mishell knew about the TARDIS, and his connection with her, he was more comfortable relying on the TARDIS’s directions to get them the rest of the way to the base, though he still conferred with Mishell frequently. As they got closer, he explained, the directions grew a little clearer, and since it was harder for Mishell to navigate in the darkness, he took the lead.
Rationally, their current goal was no different than it had been before that broadcast. Get to the base as quickly and silently as possible. Logically, that broadcast didn’t change anything about what they were doing right now. Get to the base…that was what he had to concentrate on. Get to the base, and find a way to get Rose and the TARDIS out. That was going to be the tricky part…and he honestly wasn’t sure what to do. He was even less sure about it now that he knew this was bigger than just a group of invading soldiers.
He was struggling to keep calm. Every minute that passed was one minute longer that Rose was at the mercy of those people. Those people who had some connection with his torture. He didn’t know what that connection was, exactly. They couldn’t be the actual torturers. Those men had been taken into custody by the Shadow Proclamation, and the Doctor had been assured that they would receive the just penalty for their numerous crimes. Not just their crimes against him, but about the scores of others that had come before him. What had been done to the Doctor had been those men’s business…and the Doctor still shuddered when he remembered what he saw in their records, once he’d obtained them. Don’t think about that now!
So they couldn’t be the actual torturers. But were these soldiers the one who’d hired the torturers? Or had these soldiers been hired by the same people who’d hired the torturers? And who was the woman? She hadn’t sounded like a soldier. The Doctor just didn’t know, and that frightened and infuriated him.
“Woah!” Mishell cried, grabbing his arm. “Look out!”
The Doctor glanced down, and, by the light of the sonic, saw that he was about to trip over a large boulder. He’d been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn’t even noticed it.
“Oh.” He shook himself, stepping over it. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Mishell said, moving to his side.
But then she caught hold of his shoulder, turning him so that he was facing her.
“But you’ve got to look out.”
“I know,” he said.
“I don’t just mean now,” she added fiercely. “They wanted you to get emotional. That’s why they showed her. Because when people get emotional, they make mistakes.” She shot a significant glance at the gun holstered at her side. “You can’t think about what’s happening. Just concentrate on what you need to do.”
He knew that. He really did. It wasn’t like Mishell was presenting any great philosophical revelation to him or anything. She wasn’t telling him anything that he hadn’t told himself a hundred times. But he couldn’t deny that hearing it out loud jolted him back to himself a little, and brought him a little more clarity.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know.”
She wasn’t trying to convince him that everything was all right. She wasn’t trying to baby him, or to treat him as though he was made of glass, and he was honestly grateful for it. She knew how serious things were, and wasn’t going to pretend otherwise just to make him feel better. Mishell wasn’t that kind of person, he decided.
They walked in silence for a while, and the Doctor tried to force himself to keep his focus on the task at hand, like she’d said. But he couldn’t help worrying about Rose…and about the people they were going to encounter at the base…and how he was going to get her out…
“Tell me about the TARDIS,” Mishell’s voice suddenly broke through the silence. Her voice was calm, but also compassionate, and he knew that she had once again read him correctly.
Words were his shield, his protection. When he’d been explaining everything to her, about himself, Rose, the TARDIS, and the situation, he’d been able to keep his mind just occupied enough to take the edge off the worst of his emotions. But now they were back in silence, and Mishell seemed to sense that he needed to keep talking.
“Tell me about travelling in time and space.”
So he did. He told her about the wonders of time travel. More than just the facts, like he’d told her earlier. He told her how it felt to step into days long gone by, or onto the surface of the unknown. About the thrill of exploring a new time or place, about seeing the stars up close. He spoke of supernovas, of galaxies, of history unfolding before your eyes. He allowed himself to lose himself in his words, allowing the words to act as a shield, keeping him going.
He described his bond with his ship, and her temperamental nature. How they rarely ended up exactly where they planned to go, and yet somehow always ended up where they were needed. He recounted several old adventures, and despite his ever-present worry, found himself actually smiling as he remembered events he hadn’t thought of in years. Mishell listened silently, allowing him to carry on his monologue without interruption, though she hung onto every word.
And as he talked, he found himself talking about Rose. Memories of her, adventures, mixed in with all of his tales of time and space. He couldn’t help it, she was such a part of his life. And focusing on the past kept him from drowning in the present, the words enabling him to hold himself together. He didn’t reveal everything, of course. Some things were far too personal and private. He didn’t talk about the details of the War, or what he’d endured in his ten days of captivity. He didn’t tell about the words of the Beast, or his stubborn declaration that if there was one thing in the universe he believed in, it was Rose. But her presence still seemed to be felt in so many of his stories about his life.
They’d come through so much, he thought. They would make it through this too. Rose was strong and brave, and so was he. They’d endured so much together. They’d survived Daleks, Cybermen, parallel universes, and Captain Jack’s propositions. They could survive this as well.
Finally, he ran out of words, trailing off awkwardly.
No one spoke for a while.
“My mother died when I was nine,” Mishell blurted out.
He was startled, staring at her.
“You were right about me. About my losing someone before the war. It was my mum.”
“Mishell…” he didn’t know why she was saying this. “You don’t have to…”
“I want to,” she replied fiercely.
“Because it’s my turn to tell my story. You trusted me enough to tell me yours. I think I owe you the same.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” he told her firmly.
“Someone else should know it,” Mishell said.
Was she still trying to keep him distracted? Give him something else to think about? Or had all his talk of the past brought her own memories to the surface? Had hearing his story made her realize that her own story should be told too? Did she really feel that she owed him some honesty in return? He would never have dreamed of asking it of her, but he wasn’t about to stop her. He had no right to.
“All right,” he said quietly.
It was beginning to get light out, and according to Mishell, they were about two hours away from the base. Travelling through the night had cut hours off their journey. Once they drew near to the base, they would have to keep quiet, but Mishell seemed determined to speak before they reached that point.
“It was a fever,” Mishell said. “We all got it, Dad, Mum, and me. But Mum had it worst. And she didn’t make it. I was with her when she died.”
Her tone was emotionless, but the Doctor got the impression that that was the only way she could get the words out.
“Dad never got over her death. He started to drink. A lot.” The Doctor’s hearts sank, and instinctively, he reached for Mishell’s hand. She looked startled, but finally grasped it, squeezing his hand in return. “And things got bad.”
“He hit me,” Mishell said bluntly. “Not all the time, but enough. And it got worse as I got older. Obviously, he couldn’t be relied on for money or food, so I had to get it. That’s how I learned to hunt at such a young age.” She kicked a small rock out of her way, still not looking at him. She was talking very fast. “I had to learn to take care of myself. Obviously, we didn’t exactly move in the most affluent circles, and I was just a kid. You learn to read people quickly when it’s a matter of life and death.”
She glanced at him, as though gauging his reaction.
“That’s how I met Dennel.”
He should have known.
“I’d seen him around, but we’d never spoken. But one day he found me. Just stumbled across me. It’d been…a particularly bad day. He saw the bruises, and demanded to know who’d done it.” She shook her head. “He was only a few years older than me, but when he heard about my dad, he didn’t even hesitate. Brought me home, and before Dad could even begin to react to my being late, Dennel knocked him to the floor.” She actually smiled a little at the memory. “Said ‘if you touch her again, I’ll kill you.’ Then he took my hand, and took me out of there.”
The Doctor was stunned, but her story wasn’t over.
“He got me out,” she repeated, her tone almost wondering. “He brought me to his home. His family life wasn’t the greatest, but no one hit anyone there, and they took me in. Dennel didn’t have any siblings close in age, so I think he sort of adopted me as a sister.”
“Your father never came looking for you?”
“He did, eventually. But that was many years later. I stayed with their family for years, helping hunt to catch food, to earn my keep, though they said it wasn’t necessary. Dennel…well, he wasn’t the most huggable person in the world, as you saw,” she smiled sadly, “but he was Dennel. We were a team. Eventually, he and I moved to our own place, so we wouldn’t be a drain on the resources anymore. Just as friends,” she added quickly, and the Doctor didn’t comment. “But that way, we could look after ourselves.”
She took a deep breath.
“One day, there was a knock. It was Dad. I thought Dennel was going to throw him out of the house, but finally, we let him talk. He’d gotten sober, put himself back together, and had come to find me. Not to ask me to come home, but just to be sure if I was all right.”
“What did you do?”
“It took a long time for me to trust him again. Longer for Dennel. I don’t know if Dennel ever fully trusted him again. Dennel didn’t trust many people. But eventually, Dad and I got on speaking terms again. And then the soldiers from Calyx came. Dad signed up to fight, like so many others did.”
“But not Dennel?” the Doctor couldn’t help but ask.
“No. Because before he left…the last time we saw him…Dad asked Dennel to take care of me. ‘Be the man I could never be for her,’ were his exact words. Dennel knew I could take care of myself, but he still took that promise seriously. So he didn’t fight. We stayed together, and then the attacks came…and you know the rest.” She smiled sadly.
“Oh Mishell…” the Doctor whispered. He’d known Mishell and Dennel had been close, had heard Dennel struggle to say those last words…but he hadn’t known they’d been this close. “I am so sorry.” The words sounded as inadequate as ever, but Mishell nodded gratefully.
The Doctor made his decision.
“Before he…before he died,” he said, “he said your name.” Mishell glanced at him. “He wanted me to tell you something. He didn’t finish, but I think…”
Mishell cut him off, nodding sadly.
“I know,” she said softly.
She sighed, her gaze turning to the sky just visible through the trees above. As though seeking something invisible to all others. Some solace she couldn't find anywhere else.
“I knew for a long time.”
Neither of them spoke again until they neared the base.
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