There was a silence on the other end, a silence as black and empty as the sky overhead. She glanced at her phone to see if she'd lost signal -- felt immediately stupid for doing it. Glanced up at the Earth again as she held the phone back to her ear. Mickey said to her, quietly, a million miles away: "Your life is in danger, Rose."
Rose laughed. No, she didn't. She wanted to, but she couldn't make the sound. " . . . Pull the other one, then."
"Rose, please, just this once take me seriously, all right? If you won't believe me, there's somebody here you will believe."
"Who, my mum?"
"No, it's -- listen, get away from him, all right? I can't tell you any more, he might be listening."
He looked up at her then, bright brown eyes and cheeky smile, ears pricking up at the sound of his name like a cat.
"Just get away from him and call me back from a land-line as soon as you can, all right? Not your mobile. I'll tell you where we are when its safe."
And then he hung up.
She looked helplessly over at the Doctor. He had his eye down on the ball again, and he swung the club almost faster than her eyes could follow.
The golf ball went poof as it hit the edge of the TARDIS force field, and a puff of air followed it out, instantly freezing into a sparkling haze of vapor crystals. The ball kept going up and up in a wide swinging arc.
The Doctor grinned and bounced over to her, his trainers and the cuffs of his pinstripe slacks covered in moon dust. "Did you see how far that one went?" he beamed. "This course does offer certain advantages."
"Yeah. I mean, sure. It does." Rose wasn't really listening. She was looking up at the Earth, hanging fragile like a soap bubble on a summer breeze.
"Rose Tyler," he said, staring at her, suddenly serious. He could do that. "I don't think you appreciate the gravity of our situation."
Your life is in danger, Rose.
And then he flashed that brilliant smile again, that X-ray intense stare gone in a flash.
"Oh? Oh -- gravity! Gravity, right."
"Something wrong?" he asked, trying to set up another tee in the dust. "Hand me a nine-iron, will you?"
She took the club he handed her and stared at it. "I thought you said this was a nine-iron."
"Did I?" He stared at it, and was suddenly at her side, examining it closely as if it were some piece of alien technology. Which to him it was, she supposed. "You know," he said confidentially, "I'm starting to think golf is not my game." He took a felt pen out of his pocket and carefully wrote "nine-iron" on the shaft. Then, as an afterthought, added, "(?)"
"So what is wrong?" he asked. "Who was that on the phone?"
"Mi -- " Her voice caught. "Me mum." Lying to the Doctor left a hollow space inside her, and her stomach closed tight around it.
"Ahhh, the irrepressible Jackie Tyler. She all right?" He said it casually, too carefully casual.
"I -- think so."
He stared at her again, his face dead calm. "Do you need to go home?"
" . . . I think I do, yeah. By myself," she added, a little too quickly.
He looked a bit startled, and smiled to cover it. "Suit yourself."
"It's not like that -- " Rose said, not sure what it was like. "It's just, it's . . . a mother-daughter thing. You know."
"No, I don't. Never having been either." He shoved the possible nine-iron back into the golf bag and hefted it over his shoulder. He swung the doors of the TARDIS open wide and breezed inside without so much as a backward glance.
She ran in after him. "Used to be, you'd have done anything to get out of spending any time with my mum," she was saying, trying to make a joke out of it.
"Rose, it's all right, honestly it is. We're not attached at the hip, you know."
"Yeah," she said. "It's just, my mom hasn't been feeling well, and she just wants me home. For a day or so."
The Doctor was spinning dials and pulling levers, usual Doctorish things. "Improving your lie," he said.
" -- What?"
"Hmm? Oh -- improving your lie in the rough. It's a three-stroke penalty. I think. A golf thing. You know. Just remembering out loud."
His smile was bright and wide and she couldn't read it at all.
* * * *
By the time Mickey led her to their destination, her mood was completely black. The two and a half hours on the train had been exhausting -- having to travel like ordinary people seemed like too much to take -- and Mickey's tight-lipped jumpiness, the whole cloak-and-dagger routine, was starting to wear a little thin.
She stared up at the old Victorian building. "A hotel." She let the word fall from between her lips.
"Yeah." Mickey looked at her face. He might as well have read her mind. "This isn't what it looks like."
"No?" She glared at him. "This had better not be a joke, Mickey. Or some kind of, of, keeping score kind of thing, all right? I call you up and ask you to come to Cardiff, so now you call me up and have me come to Cardiff, just to see if I'll do it? That's not it, is it?"
"Rose, no, come on -- "
"No? Second chance, then? You never got me back to your hotel room the last time we were here, so -- "
"Rose, would you just shut up for a minute?"
She shut. She stared. She hadn't really seen him like this before -- not frustrated, not defensive, just -- angry at not being listened to, not being trusted.
"Sorry," Rose said, and her voice felt small and useless.
"Just come on. He's waiting."
"He said you wouldn't believe me unless you saw for yourself, all right? You'll see in a minute."
He led her through the lobby, under the huge crystal chandalier, up the grand staircase. Down the hall. All of it a bit posh for Mickey's tastes, she thought.
As he took the key out of his pocket, Rose was suddenly trembling. Suddenly sure that she did not want to see whatever was on the other side of this door.
She held her breath. The door opened.
He was sitting in a chair by the window, drumming his fingers impatiently along the windowsill.
He looked up when she came in, and that impossible grin lit his face. Those ice-blue eyes of his froze her in place.
That voice. The same voice, the one she heard sometimes in dreams still. Saying her name the way no one else had ever said it -- claiming her, owning her with a word.
The Doctor. Her Doctor.
He crossed the room in three great strides and folded her up in his leather-clad arms and lifted her off her feet.
"You're all right!" he said.
She glanced over at Mickey. He was standing with his arms folded, his back against the wall, looking uncomfortable and self-satisfied all at once.
He put her down, and she was just looking up at him, too stunned to even smile. Eyes wide and unblinking and not wanting to miss a single moment. "You shouldn't even be here," she breathed.
"No? Where should I be, then?"
"You -- you died, I saw it, you shouldn't -- you're not supposed to cross your own timestream, you told me -- You're not supposed to be here!"
"Rose, listen to me. I'm here. I'm real. This is me. I haven't crossed my time stream."
"But -- I just left you in London -- "
"No, you didn't."
She took a step back, sat down on the edge of the bed. "I -- you lost me."
"You're right. I did lose you. On the Game Station, remember?"
"You -- sent me away -- "
"No. They took you."
" . . . They?"
"Enemies, Rose. Enemies from the Time War, even older than the Daleks. They wanted my TARDIS." The Doctor glanced over at Mickey. "And now they have it. They've had it for months."
"They -- " His words didn't make any sense. And then suddenly, sickeningly, they did. "No."
"Go on, Rose," the Doctor said. "Figure it out." He said it gently.
"That's -- but he's -- he's you. I saw you change."
He shook his head. "Transmat beam. They pulled me right out of my own TARDIS. It's taken me all this time to escape, to find my way back to you."
The Doctor came over to where she was sitting and took both of her hands in his. Stared deep into her eyes. "That's not me you've been travelling with, Rose. It's not. Do you believe me?"
She could hardly hear him. She couldn't concentrate. Her head was swimming, with images and memories and emotions. Every moment she'd ever spent with this man, like her life flashing in front of her eyes.
Rose wanted to answer him. But the room was too warm and too far away, and he seemed like he was talking to her from the end of a very long tunnel and all she wanted to do was sleep --
* * * *
This happened, oh, weeks and weeks ago. Or she was dreaming it now. It didn't seem to matter.
She and the Doctor were lying on a hillside. There were bright yellow flowers everywhere. Dandelions or something like them, some everyday miracle.
He was holding -- a ball of string? A spindle. A kite-string. Way above, at the end of the string, was a box-kite. The Doctor had made it himself and it seemed to take far more paper and paste and string and little wooden dowels than was strictly necessary, and she had asked why they couldn't just buy a kite instead, and he'd sulked and said that wasn't the point.
A box-kite, a blue box-kite, and she couldn't remember if it had been her idea or his to write "Police Box" all along the top, but she did remember that it had taken ages to get it in the air, but now it didn't seem to want to come down. He was just holding the spindle and every now and then making the kite dance with a casual flick of his wrist, as easy to keep it up as it had been hard to get it there.
He looked over at her, smiling shyly. "Do you want to fly it for a while?"
"It won't come crashing down or anything?" she asked.
"No. Well, probably not. Won't know until you try. Here."
She took it. Could feel it jerk and pull under her fingers.
"So are you getting used to this, then?"
"What -- kite flying?"
"No." She looked over at him, all doe-soft brown eyes and windblown hair, and knew what he meant before he could say it. "Me. This new face of mine."
"Oh, that," she said, grinning. She jerked the kite string wide. "Do I like it, do you mean?"
"No. Well, yes, that, too, but -- is it me, do you think?"
She shrugged. "Sure. 'Course it is."
He looked over at her. "Bit different than the old one."
"A bit, yeah. The ears are a definite improvement."
He smiled and stared up at the kite. "Oh, well, now you're just teasing me."
"You really want to know what I think, then?"
"Rose Tyler, I am dying to know what you think."
She looked at his face for a long moment. Then stared back up at the sky.
After another long moment, when the Doctor had seemed to give up on her answering entirely and had just settled back into the grass and relaxed, she said:
"When I was a little girl -- I mean, really little, like four or five -- whenever there was a full moon, my mum would say, look, Rosie, there's the man in the moon. Do you see him? Wave, now." She laughed. "And that's how I always saw it. Every time I looked at it growing up, I'd see the eyes and the mouth and I'd think, there's the man in the moon."
She looked to see if he was listening. He hadn't moved, showed no sign he was paying attention. But his breathing was very still. He was listening to her intently.
She kept watching him. Her kite kept drifting overhead, unseen. "But when I was fourteen? Fifteen? Something like that -- I was out walking with Mickey and there was a full moon in the sky and he asked, did I see the rabbit? And I didn't know what he was talking about, and I asked him, and when he told me I thought it was ridiculous -- there was no rabbit in the moon, it was a man in the moon, everyone knew that. But every time I saw the moon after that, I couldn't help but see the rabbit."
She didn't say anything after that.
The Doctor nodded slowly. "So I'm the rabbit in the moon, am I?" he said finally. "I think I like that." He looked suddenly concerned, and looked over at her. "But, Rose," he said, "the moon didn't really change."
"Well, yeah," said Rose. "That's kinda my point."
* * * *
When Rose woke up, the man in the moon was gone.
She struggled to sit up. Mickey was still there. "Do you want a glass of water or anything?" he asked.
She shook her head, which turned out to be a really bad idea. "Where is he? Where's the Doctor gone?"
"So do you believe him, then?"
"Do I -- yeah. I mean, I think so. It's just -- a little much to take in."
Mickey nodded. "He should be back soon. He just went out for a walk."
"A walk? A walk where?"
Mickey frowned. "How should I know?" he asked.
Rose nodded. " . . . Do you think that's really him?"
Mickey laughed. "Well, yeah. Just look at him."
"I know, but . . . fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice . . . . " She shook her head again, this time to clear it. "I just want to be sure, this time." She looked up at him. "You never liked him, did you?"
He gave a dull laugh. "Which one?"
" -- This one."
"I still don't." He sighed. "But I trust him."
"I'm going to go find him," she said.
"He said to wait for him here."
Rose made a face. "Yeah, I bet. Still, I'm going. You coming or what?"
He sat down. "No, thanks."
"Mickey -- thanks for this. I'm sorry I was being such a . . . . "
"A pain in the arse?"
She laughed. "Something like that."
"Yeah, well, don't mention it." He grinned. It looked like it hurt. "Go on, then, if you're going."
Rose wanted to say something else, but she didn't know what. She bolted out the door and down the stairs, out into the streets she first saw a century ago.
* * * *
When she found him, he was standing perfectly still.
She knew where they were. She could still tell where the cracks in the pavement had been hastily repaired; she remembered the sheer silver monolith, the fountain by the Millenium Centre. He was standing right where the TARDIS had landed when they were last here, a lifetime ago.
His eyes were closed, but he reacted, almost imperceptibly, to her approach. "The TARDIS was here, Rose," he said. "I can still feel it. It's still here, right now. That moment is still going on, stretched across time. I can feel the TARDIS right here, feel the pulse of her engines. Can you?"
"No," she said.
He opened his eyes. "Well. We'll have it back soon enough."
Rose just nodded.
"Go on. Whatever it is, say it," he said.
" . . . Is it really you?"
He sighed. "Of course it's me. Who else would I be? Don't be such a stupid ape. Even Mickey the Idiot figured it out faster than this."
She laughed. She couldn't help it. "I haven't heard him called that in a while."
"Oh? Why? Did he stop being an idiot?"
"You were -- I mean, the other you was, just, nicer to him, is all."
He grinned. "Then you should have known that wasn't me, yeah?" His grin faded. "Look, Rose, don't call him that, all right?"
"Mickey the Idiot?"
"No. The Enemy. Don't call him 'the other me,' all right? There is no other me. Just me."
"Yeah -- it's just -- "
"It's just what?"
"He acts like you. I mean, not exactly, but it's hard to imagine he's your enemy. He still -- "
"Rose, listen. An act is all it is, all right?"
"Sure, you said that, but -- "
"Rose. He killed Jack."
" . . . No, he didn't," she said, when she could speak again.
"Yeah, he did. Jack was a trained Time Agent. He knew he'd see through his lies like that." The Doctor snapped his fingers.
"He told me . . . Jack stayed behind . . . . " She'd known there was something wrong with that story, but she'd never thought about it too closely. Oh, God, why hadn't she?
"He did, yeah? What else did he tell you? How did he convince you he was me?"
"He -- " She frowned, trying to remember, trying to ignore the tears she wouldn't let come. "He told me how we first met. What he -- what you said to me. I mean, how would he know all that, unless -- ?"
"Oh, Rose, come on, think. The Enemy's been watching me for a long time. Watching us. Who knows what they overheard?" He stepped forward, took her hand. "I can do one better. If you still need convincing."
She looked up at him, wiping at her tears with her sleeve. "You can, huh?" she said, a little defensively.
"I know you, Rose Tyler. I know more than what we talked about. I know how you felt."
"When I told you I can feel it. The turning of the Earth. You didn't know what I was talking about and you wanted to, you wanted to feel it, and you thought maybe if you could keep up with me, keep hold of my hand long enough, you'd understand, you'd learn to feel it. Do you still think you could, Rose? Or should I let go -- ?"
He loosened his grip on her hand. Reflexively, she held his tight.
"It really is you, isn't it?"
"Ahh, the light dawns. See, that human brain of yours can be remarkably effective if you'd just use it . . . "
She put her other hand at his waist, without thinking about it, and pulled him closer.
"You won't go away again, will you?"
He squeezed her hand tight. "Not ever," he promised.
* * * *
The other Doctor -- the rabbit in the moon -- had managed to go a little over six hours without Rose before he gave up and tried to call her.
He didn't know quite what to do with an afternoon to himself in London. He had known a lot of people here once, from back when he was stranded on Earth, and he thought about looking some of them up -- until he remembered that that was back in the 70's, or possibly the 80's, he wasn't sure which, and it was a good deal after that now and most of them would have gotten old in the meantime or possibly died and that it all sounded terribly depressing and tedious when you thought about it like that, so then he thought perhaps he wouldn't.
He was riding around on top of a double-decker bus, playing tourist and enjoying the wind in his hair, but otherwise feeling generally out-of-sorts. He'd found an alien masquerading as a human, running a fish-and-chip shop, not half an hour before, and he'd rather hoped it was the vanguard of some alien invasion he could cleverly defeat, but it turned out it was just lost and needed directions. The Doctor had written down coordinates from galactic zero centre on the back of a paper napkin and sent it on its way with a stern warning, just in case it really was considering an invasion, but his hearts weren't really in it. This was no fun by himself.
He considered seeing a play. He wondered briefly if Cats was still running. Then he rather hoped it wasn't. Andrew had never really quite forgiven him for laughing all the way through the premiere of The Phantom of the Opera, anyway. How was he supposed to know it wasn't meant to be a comedy?
He found himself back at the TARDIS, for lack of anywhere better to be. He stood at the console, drumming his fingers along the edge. He could take a short jaunt somewhere more interesting. Be back before you could say -- before you could say something really difficult and complicated to say, with lots of syllables in it. He could go anywhere, really. But he wasn't entirely sure -- if he was being completely honest -- that he could reliably steer the TARDIS back to exactly these coordinates. He might come back to find that fifty years had passed, and Rose had spent her spinsterhood pining away for the freedom of their travels. Or, worse yet, had forgotten about him completely.
He amused himself briefly with the notion of coming back to find her, only to find he'd mistaken Rose's daughter for Rose herself, and taking her away on an adventure, like the ending of Peter Pan. Only then that led him to troubling thoughts of where Rose would have gotten a daughter from, and he decided to think about something else instead.
Finally, he decided he was being quite silly -- that they both were, really -- and that he could at least call and see how she was doing. There was no harm in that. He picked up the phone.
It was taking an awfully long time for her to pick up. And after a moment he realized -- he could hear it ringing. He could hear her phone --
He put the receiver down gently on the console, not hanging up, and followed the ringing. He followed it down the hall, all the way to Rose's room.
He hesitated at the doorway -- he didn't like intruding on his companions' privacy -- but he stepped inside. Found the phone abandoned on her bedside table.
That wasn't like her. She never went out without that phone. He supposed she did want to be really alone with her mother, after all.
Or maybe, he was trying not to think -- maybe there was something really, really, drastically wrong.
No, no, surely not, he told himself. She just forgot it. That's all. This once, she just forgot it.
He picked it up, stopped it ringing. Smiled to himself as he slipped it into his pocket.
I'll just pop around and give it to her, he thought.
* * * *
"So what's the plan?" Mickey asked.
"Haven't got a plan," the Doctor said. He was vigorously cutting through a thick piece of steak. "Never bother much with them. They just get in the way, plans. They stop working halfway through and then you have to think of something else, anyway. Not much point."
Rose just watched him, watching the way he moved, listening to the familiar rhythms of his voice. "We've got to go get the TARDIS back, right?"
"No. We stay put."
"Why not? I like it here. A modern centre of trade and commerce, is Cardiff. No, the point is, we make him come to us. That puts us at a tactical advantge."
"But why would he come here?" Mickey asked.
Rose nodded carefully. "Looking for me," she said.
"That's right," the Doctor said, stabbing a couple of chips with his fork. "If he's still pretending to be me, of course he's gonna come looking for you. And if he's not pretending to be me, if he realizes you suspect him, well -- then he's still gonna come looking for you." He stuffed the chips in his mouth. "To finish you off," he said. He smiled unpleasantly.
Rose looked down at her pie and chips. Suddenly she didn't want it any more.
"Either way, you get to be bait." He cut himself another piece of steak and looked up at her. "That all right?"
"Not with me," Mickey said. "Anyone care what I think?"
The Doctor grinned. "Not particularly."
"He'll keep me safe, Mickey. Don't worry." The words sounded good. But Rose felt suddenly cold inside.
"Not to worry, Rickey," the Doctor said. "I'm sure I'll come up with a plan once the Enemy gets here. Anyone want more wine?" He tried to catch a waiter's eye.
* * * *
"She hasn't been here at all?" the Doctor asked. "She didn't even call you?"
Jackie's frown matched his. "No, luv, she hasn't."
"But she said she was coming here." The Doctor was pacing frantically, staring into corners, hoping perhaps to find Rose lying forgotten behind a sofa. "She said you'd called her. I take it you didn't."
"No." Jackie couldn't stand watching him pace any more. "Do you want a cup of tea, long as you're here?"
"Yes, thanks," the Doctor said absently. He finally flopped down gracelessly in front of the TV and stared at the empty gray screen for a moment. He let out his breath in a long sigh. Then he took a deeper breath so he could do it again.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out Rose's phone and stared at it. Almost idly, he started thumbing through the call history. Mickey. Mickey?
He pressed the TALK button, and waited while Mickey's phone rang. And rang. No help there, either.
"Apparently she and Mickey have run off together," the Doctor called out to the kitchen. "Tell me, how do you feel about grandchildren?"
There was a crash and a tinkle of china. The Doctor ran in to find Jackie had dropped one of the best teacups. "Sorry," he said.
"There are some things," Jackie said, "we don't joke about."
* * * *
One cup of tea later, and with a couple of biscuits tucked in his pockets for good measure, the Doctor was back out on the streets. He glanced over the list of places Jackie had suggested he try looking for her and sighed again, elaborately. He was getting rather good at it.
He quickly sorted the list into two categories -- too unlikely and too bloody obvious -- and stuffed it into his pocket.
How hard could it be to find her? She couldn't have gone far without him, anyway. Well -- not off-planet, at any rate.
He headed back to the TARDIS. One simple thing he could try, if she was close enough -- her TARDIS key emitted a particular kind of vibration in the sub-etheric range. He ought to be able to reconfigure the navigational beacons to tune in on that sympathetic resonance -- essentially, the kind of "scanning for alien tech" that Rose was always on at him to try.
He spent a frustrating half-hour trying to get this to work -- he'd even tried reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, which he hadn't had to resort to in quite some time, thank you very much -- before he finally concluded that she must be out of range. Not in London, then.
That left his search parameters at "outside of London" and "somewhere on the planet." Bit of a large haystack.
* * * *
"Gonna need you to do me a bit of a favor, when we get the TARDIS back," the Doctor was saying. They were walking back along the bay toward the hotel. He'd hardly let go of her hand the whole time.
"Yeah? What's that, then?"
He took a deep breath. "I'm gonna need you to open the heart of the TARDIS for me."
She stopped. "That's dangerous, isn't it?"
"It is, yeah. But you've done it once before."
"I had a lorry that time. And chains and -- "
"You didn't need any of that. You just needed to get the TARDIS' attention." The Doctor grinned. "You just had to show it you were serious. Willpower, Rose. That's what really did it."
"Oh, right. Those chains were just for show, and all." Rose's smile was fleeting. A cool wind was coming off the bay and she pulled her hoodie around her a little tighter. "So, what for?"
"Why do you need me to open it?"
His grip on her hand tightened. "The Enemy's had his hands on the TARDIS for a while. I'll need to get rid of his influence. It'll be like bleeding a wound clean. D'you see?"
"Oh. No, not really, but -- "
"But you'll do it, yeah?"
"Can't you open it? I mean, it is your TARDIS, right?"
"Of course it's my -- Rose, can you just stop asking so many questions and do what you're told for once?"
She jerked her hand away and stared at him. "All right. You don't have to raise your voice. I was only asking."
"Sorry," he said, in the perfunctory way he always said it. He frowned. "It is my TARDIS. You still don't believe that. You still don't think I'm me, do you?"
Rose thrust her hands into her pockets. "I don't know what to think. All I know is, the last time I opened the heart of the TARDIS, you changed. I lost you. I don't know what happened -- I thought I knew, I thought you'd explained it."
"What did he tell you?"
"He said it was called regeneration. Something Time Lords can do when they're injured."
"And you believed that? Don't you think I would have mentioned it to you before if I could do something like that?"
She looked at him. "So you can't?"
He reached for her hand again. "Of course not."
* * * *
The Doctor half-heartedly stuffed the wires and components he'd been tinkering with back into the TARDIS console and shut the access panel.
He couldn't call her. Without her phone, she couldn't call him -- it's not like his number was publically listed. Even if it were she could hardly look him up in the phone book without knowing his last name. Or his first. Or his twenty-seventh, come to that.
She'd lied to him and ran off. Or possibly something had happened to her on the way to Jackie's, but the likeliest possibility was that she'd lied to him and ran off.
Which meant that he could wait patiently for her to come back -- not likely -- or he could -- what? Take an ad out in the Times?
That was about all he could think of, short of sending her a telepathic message.
He slapped himself on the forehead. He could be so thick sometimes.
He pulled open the access panel again and rubbed his hands together. Time for some serious jiggery-pokery.
* * * *
"Sitting in the dark?" the Doctor said. He turned on the light switch. "You'll ruin your eyes." "I was just -- thinking," Mickey said.
"You'll ruin your brain, then. Not that it's good for much to start with."
"Oh, yeah?" Mickey said. "Maybe I'm smarter than you give me credit for."
"Left her out by the bay. She wanted to take a minute to sort things out for herself."
"Oh, yeah? You better not leave her alone to think for too long, then. Before she starts putting two and two together."
"Oh?" The Doctor said idly. "How's that, then?"
Mickey shook his head. "It doesn't add up," he said. "Little things. Like, why did you need me to call her? Why couldn't you call her yourself? And why are you here, anyway? Why couldn't you just go meet her in London?"
The Doctor smiled. "Mickey the Idiot. Maybe not such an idiot after all."
"So what's goin' on? What's really going on?"
"Two things." The Doctor held up his fingers. "One. You're right that I needed you to get Rose here. And two. Now that she is here -- I don't really need you here any more, now, do I?"
The Doctor smiled. And spread his arms wide.
* * * *
Rose was lost. Not physically, not really -- she was sure she could find her way back to the hotel. She just wasn't sure she wanted to. But what did she want to do? Get back on the train, go back to London, track down the other Doctor, and ask, are you an alien? Not the alien I thought you were, I mean?
She wanted so badly to believe that this was her Doctor, her proper Doctor, back again, here in Cardiff. She'd gotten so used to the new Doctor, she wouldn't have thought she'd want the old one back, but here he was --
What if it wasn't him? How was she going to know? One of them was lying to her. Both of them were smarter than her, probably, so how could she ever be sure?
She walked down the street with tears filling her eyes. She felt stupid for crying. And the stupider she felt, the more she wanted to cry.
She was hardly paying attention to where she was going -- she almost ran right into an old woman who was coming out of a shop. "Sorry," Rose muttered, not even looking up.
"Y dy popeth yn iawn?" the woman said, looking concerned.
The words reached Rose's ears, and before she could consciously process them, her brain's link to the TARDIS sent the words racing back to its databanks, faster than light, and searched through its millions of languages and dialects, and sent back a translation -- "Is everything all right?"
(Miles away, staring at the screen on the TARDIS console, the Doctor's face lit up in a grin. "Got you!" he said.)
"I'm okay, thanks," Rose thought, and it came out as Y dy, diolch yn fawr, and the old woman nodded and Rose went on her way.
She knew where she was, now. There was the Millenium Centre, the huge slanted wall covered in some inscription --
She stopped. Stared at it. In the middle of all the unreadable Welsh --
Rose -- If you can read this, please strike up a conversation with someone.
Well, that wasn't there before, she thought, and fought down a giggle. Her eyes darted around, like she was looking for the hidden cameras, looking for someone to leap out and say "Surprise!" Wanting to be in on the joke. Maybe, she thought finally, I'm starting to go a little mad. How would I know?
She looked around and stopped someone who looked like he might be a policeman. "Excuse me," she said, pointing to the wall, "can you see that?"
He looked at the wall, and then looked back at her. "Oh, good. You saw my note. I wasn't sure this would work. Hello, Rose."
She blinked again. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"
The man looked confused. "Oh, right, sorry -- it's me. It's the Doctor."
Rose shook her head. She felt a smile she couldn't quite control slide across her lips. "Right, 'course you are," she said. "Everyone's the Doctor today."
"Where are you?"
And now she'd completely lost track of the conversation. "Where am I? Umm, standing right in front of you?"
"No, no, no -- this isn't really me, I'm using the TARDIS telepathic circuits to translate whatever conversation you're really having into this one. Clever, yeah? Only I've never done it before and I'm not sure how much longer I can make this work, so quick, where are you?"
He didn't know. If this was the Doctor -- her other Doctor, the one she'd left in London, it sounded like him, even though it didn't sound like him at all -- (her head was starting to hurt) -- then . . . . this was the Enemy. The one who --
The one who killed Jack.
"I don't know," she said. And she started to back away. Turned and started to run.
She nearly knocked over a small boy, knocked the ball he'd been playing with right out of his hands. "Oh, sorry," she said, retrieving it. She looked back. The policeman wasn't following her. He was just staring, looking as confused as she felt.
The little boy looked quite cross when she handed the ball back. "What do you mean, you don't know?" he said.
Rose just stared at him. He started bouncing the ball again. "That was Welsh you were speaking a minute ago," he said. His words were a little bit sing-song, as if the boy were really playing a counting game. "You're in Wales, then, I'd guess. Not much call for it outside of Wales. Not much call for it in Wales, really, now that I think of it."
"I -- yeah. Wales, yeah."
"But you don't know where, exactly? Well, just keep talking while I pinpoint you."
"No, don't," Rose said, and she ran off again.
Why did I do that? she thought. Luring him here -- that was the Doctor's plan, wasn't it? So why not tell him where she was?
She didn't want to admit it. But even if the man here in Wales was the Doctor, and even if the man she'd been in the TARDIS with since the Game Station was his enemy -- she didn't want him hurt.
She'd forgotten. She'd forgotten how -- how dangerous the old Doctor could be, but she remembered it all now. She remembered staring down the barrel of his gun, talking him down from killing a single Dalek. What would he do, she wondered, to a man who'd stolen his TARDIS?
What was going to happen to the rabbit in the moon?
She stopped running. She leaned against the corner of a building, dizzy, exhausted, sick at heart.
A hand on her shoulder. She jumped.
"Are you sure you're all right?" It was the same old woman she'd talked to before. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, I -- " Rose looked up at her. "Actually, yeah. I think I am, yeah."
"What kind of trouble?"
"There's -- there's these two men, and -- they're telling me different things, and I don't know who I can trust -- "
"Just calm down," the woman said. "I can help you."
Rose's eyes filled with tears again. Her shoulders went slack with relief. "Really? You can?"
"Of course I can." The old woman squeezed her shoulder tighter. Looked deep into Rose's eyes.
"Just tell me where you are," the old woman said.
* * * *
Rose finally found her way to the hotel. She hadn't spoken to anyone else, looked anyone in the eye, read a single sign, barely looked up. She wanted nothing more than a hot shower, and sleep. To curl up under the covers and not think about any of this.
She got to the hotel just as Mickey was walking out.
"Where are you going?" she asked him, and it sounded a little more desperate than she'd meant for it to.
"Back to London." He looked disgusted. He shifted his overnight bag from one shoulder to the other. "The Doctor wants me out from underfoot. He says he wants me somewhere safe, but I know what he meant."
"Mickey -- " She reached for his hand. "You don't have to go, if you don't want -- "
"I don't want to stay, do I? You've got each other back, and that's all that matters to you."
"Please don't be like this. Not right now." She looked at him closely. "This -- it is you, right?"
"What d'you mean?"
"You're you, aren't you?"
He just frowned and nodded.
"Okay," she said, and she laughed a small laugh. "Just making sure. You wouldn't believe the afternoon I've had." She looked at him again, not able to shake the memory -- a year ago? Longer? Sitting in a restaurant with something that just looked like Mickey, a fever-bright sheen to its skin, skin that had turned out to be plastic. Did everyone turn out not to be who she expected them to be, eventually? Life was like that, sometimes. But never like this.
"Probably not." Mickey said. He smiled, a little. "Look, Rose, just -- take care of yourself, all right? I'll see you when you get home. Whenever that is."
"Yeah. You, too," Rose said, a little abstractedly. She stared up at the window of their hotel room, looking at the light spilling out into the cool dark. Then she flashed him a quick smile. "Sure you're all right by yourself?"
"I manage," Mickey said, with a dull smile. "Here. Here's the hotel key." He dropped it into her hand. "I'll see you."
And then he walked off down the street.
Rose watched him go, and he turned back and waved. She waved back and went inside.
As soon as she was out of sight, the smile on Mickey's face went out, light-switch sudden. He kept walking, looked back again to make sure she was gone, and then ducked down an alley.
He swung the overnight bag off his shoulder and threw it into a dumpster, one smooth motion.
He kept walking. When he was deep enough into the alley that he couldn't be seen from the street, he covered his face with his hands. He could feel his features running and changing like melting wax. His skin grew pale in the dark, his hair golden.
He smiled with shifting lips. The Enemy was coming closer. He could feel it.
* * * *
Somewhere not too far away, there was a deep sound, shuddering and grinding, rising and falling. You might think, if you heard it, that it was the sound of ancient engines, powered by forces strange and not subtle and unknown, driven on far past the point of exhaustion, far past the point they should have been put out of service. Or you might think it was the sound of air and wind, of Time, being indelicately torn apart, shoved to one side, to make way for a sudden intrusion.
The sound died, picked up and echoed by startled and scattered gulls along the bay, and something now stood solid that hadn't been there a moment before.
Inside, the Doctor frowned at the controls, at the coordinates he'd set. Cardiff. Again.
Well -- this was where she was. He thought. Somewhere close by, at any rate. He hadn't been able to get her to stay on the line, as it were, long enough to trace the call. As it were. She'd seemed quite rattled by it, actually. Next time maybe he should take an ad out in the Times.
He grabbed his long tan coat off the hatstand and shrugged into it. Not that there was going to be a next time. He wasn't going to let that girl out of his sight from now on.
He let himself out, never quite noticing a single light on the console, pulsing, persistent. A long-unused circuit in the TARDIS systems picking up something -- something like an echo, a reflection.
If he'd seen that light before he went out, he would have known. He would have been prepared.
But instead, he closed the doors, and locked them behind him.
* * * *
Where to start? He wandered the streets. He didn't even know where to start looking, where to go for help. That was all right. That would have been too much like having a plan. He tried not to think too much about the trouble she said she was in. Until he knew what kind of trouble it was, it was best not to panic. Once he understood what was going on, then he could panic.
For now, wandering seemed helpful. Cardiff wasn't that big, was it? Perhaps if he just roamed the streets, they'd just run across each other.
Not the most reasonable course of action, arguably. But, of course, that was exactly what happened.
He turned a corner, and there she was.
He allowed himself one small, sly smile. "Your mother and I have been quite worried about you, young lady," he said, with mock severity.
"Doctor!" Rose's face lit up, and she threw her arms around his neck.
He held her close for a moment.
This was too simple, said the nagging little voice in the back of his head.
"Hello, Rose," he said, letting her go, still smiling. "So what's this about you being in some kind of trouble?"
"No, it's okay. I got away from him. 'Sides, you're here now." She flashed him a brilliant smile. "Let's get out of here, yeah?"
"Well, yes, of course," he said. He reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. "Are you sure you're all right? Who did you get away from?"
He reached out and took her hand.
As soon as he took it, he remembered, quite strongly, the first moment he'd taken her hand, telling her to run. He remembered all of it -- everything that happened since that moment. Perfect clarity, every detail.
He shook his head to clear it. Put his other hand on the brick wall.
"Are you all right?" Rose asked suddenly.
"I think so, yes," the Doctor said. He closed his eyes. "I just suddenly feel like -- like someone's taken the card catalog for my mind and dumped all the drawers out on the floor at once." His eyes snapped open. "Have you ever felt like that?"
She stared at him. "No," she said simply.
"So, which way back to the TARDIS?"
" . . . Not far. Come on," he said.
She was still holding his hand as they walked. He stared down at it. "So what did happen to you?" he said. "You never did show up at Jackie's."
"No," she said. "I was kidnapped."
"That sounds dramatic."
"Don't even joke. It was terrible. There was this bloke who claimed he was you."
"Really? Did he look like me?"
"No -- well, yeah, but he looked like the old you, not you now." She squeezed his hand tighter.
"Really. Are you sure I'm me, then?" A department store basement. Moving mannequins, all around. All of it so fresh in his mind. Her hand in his. Run. "You're sure I'm not made out of plastic?"
She looked at him, uncertain for a moment, then grinned. She reached up and rapped his forehead with her knuckles. "Nope. Bonehead."
He grinned. "Satisfied?"
"Well, you're not an Auton, at any rate."
He nodded, still smiling.
A few more streets, a few more turns, and they stood in front of the TARDIS. Its windows glowed warmly, like a hearth.
"Well, here we are, then," the Doctor said breezily.
"Here we are," Rose agreed.
"Well, go on, then," the Doctor said. His smile turned suddenly cold. "Open it."
"What do you mean?"
"I gave you a key, didn't I?"
"Well, yeah, of course you did. The first time we came back to my mum's, remember?"
"Oh, quite clearly. So go on. Let us in."
Rose frowned and smiled at the same time. She made a show of patting down her pockets. "Haven't got it," she said. "Must've left it in my room."
"Really. Like you left your phone, I suppose."
He took a step forward. "Would you mind telling me -- if it's not too much trouble, that is -- if the real Rose Tyler is still alive?"
"What?" Rose said, and laughed. Then she saw he was serious. "Come on," she said. "Stop mucking about. This isn't funny."
The Doctor looked around, as if to see if anyone was watching. Then he took her hands, pulled her close, and whispered conspiratorially into her ear:
"I never told you they were called Autons."
"You didn't? I mean -- you must've, yeah? Maybe not right then, but, yeah, you told me -- I mean, how else would I know what they were called?"
"Yes, well, that's rather my point, isn't it?" He tightened his grip on her hands. "Now, then, you helped yourself to my memories -- let's try a couple of yours. Where is Rose Tyler?"
Fleeting impressions -- memories, yes, and they felt like Rose's memories -- they probably were, stolen ones: Mickey, in Cardiff, when they'd been here for the time rift to refuel his TARDIS; Mickey trying to get her to come to a hotel. Rose stepping out of the TARDIS, lit with the fire of the Vortex, burning like an avenging angel --
And more memories, the real ones underneath, alien and cold --
She pulled her hands away. Contact gone. She glared at him.
"Well," she said, "I should've known that wouldn't work."
She put her hands to her face. And started to change. "No point trying to fool you, is there?" The voice deepened, the accent changing.
She stood -- he stood -- taller now, hair cropped and gone, hoodie shifting into a leather jacket. "Be a bit like trying to fool myself."
The Doctor took a step back. For a second, he thought it was like looking into a mirror. Until he remembered he didn't look like that any more.
* * * *
The light was enough to wake her up.
She'd only just drifted off to sleep, light, uneasy, and dreamless. Her eyes drifted back open. A faint light, like candles. Her head turned toward the hotel door, wondering if the Doctor had come back. It was dark and unopened.
She turned toward the light. There it was on the nightstand, among everything from her pockets -- a handful of coins from different times and different worlds, some receipts, her ABBA tickets. Her TARDIS key, glowing.
She picked it up, and it was warm in her hand. She stared at it, not sure she wasn't dreaming. Then she remembered what was happening, and she snapped the rest of the way awake.
The TARDIS was here, somewhere close by. That meant both Doctors were here.
For a split-second, she wanted nothing more than to lie back down. Pull the covers up over her head, like she was keeping out the monsters.
She closed her hand around the key and stood up. She had to be there. Whatever was happening, whatever would happen -- whichever Doctor would be the one to walk away from this -- she had to be there.
She grabbed her jacket and ran for the door.
* * * *
The rabbit in the moon was running.
Not the most dignified retreat, he was thinking. Not like, say, the Dranthanian Withdrawal from the Battle of Draconis. Now, that had been a retreat -- months of planning, formal letters of apology. The Dranthanians had even had it catered.
This, on the other hand, was just running, as fast as his Chucks would carry him.
He had every reason. Well, just one reason -- Rose. This thing knew where she was and he didn't. And he needed to get there first, before any more damage could be done.
He felt bad about leaving the TARDIS behind, but if that thing could get inside without him, it wouldn't have resorted to subterfuge in the first place. The TARDIS was safe enough on its own. He hoped.
He just had those few fleeting telepathic impressions to puzzle out -- pre-verbal symbols, seemingly scattered memories pointing the way to the one memory it had been trying to keep from him. Cardiff, a hotel, Rose looking like an angel --
He almost ran into a policeman, stopped himself, swung around as he passed by and grabbed hold of the man by the shoulders. "Hello! Hello, sorry," the Doctor said, "but can you tell me how if there's an Angel Hotel near here? I mean, there is an Angel Hotel, isn't there? How do I get to it?"
The policeman, who'd already had a slightly confusing evening, told him. The Doctor hugged him and ran off.
He got to the building just as the thing wearing his old face did. The Doctor struggled to catch his breath. He held out his sonic screwdriver. "Leave her alone," he said.
It raised its eyebrows. "That's hardly a weapon," it said. "I should know."
They both turned. This was the worst possible time for Rose to have come out the front door. So of course, she had. She had a gift.
"Rose, stay back," the Doctor said.
"'Rose, stay back,'" the other Doctor mocked in a sing-song voice. He folded his leather-clad arms over his chest. "Oh, very nice. Still trying to convince her you're me, are you?"
"I am you," the Doctor snapped. "Me, I mean. The Doctor."
"Right, 'course you are," the other one said. "Rose, how did you think this was me? I mean, honestly." He shook his head. "He's a bit pretty, isn't he?" He took a step toward her.
"Don't," the Doctor said, raising the sonic screwdriver a little higher.
Rose took a step back. She held up both her hands. "All right -- all right, both of you just stay back a minute, yeah?" She looked on the verge of tears. "We're going to sort this out. We're just -- we're gonna sort it out. You." She pointed at the new Doctor. "Just put that down."
"Rose, he's dangerous. I don't know what he's told you, but -- "
"Put it down!"
He glared at her. He opened his mouth to say something, but he didn't know what. He just did what she asked him -- slowly, reluctantly, lowered the sonic screwdriver. He slid it into his pocket.
"Now," Rose said, her eyes glistening, "we're gonna talk about this. We'll just -- we'll go somewhere, and sit down, and talk about it."
"Oh, won't that be nice," the old Doctor said. "Just the three of us. Look, Rose, what's the point? Use your eyes. He doesn't even look a thing like me."
"Rose, don't listen to him," the new Doctor said desperately.
"'Rose, don't listen to him!' Is that the best you've got? Really? Because you might as well pack it in right now."
"Oh, should I?" the new Doctor said. "So I should, what, here, just -- " He reached into his pocket a fished out his TARDIS key and held it out. "Just hand this over to you and let you take Rose and walk away? Is that it?"
"Something like that, yeah."
His fist closed around the key. "No chance. No one takes Rose away from me. Or my ship. Understood?"
Rose's eyes widened. No one takes Rose away from me. That look in his eyes. It was him. Wasn't it?
The new Doctor turned and looked at her. "Rose. It's me. You know that, however this might look. Use your head, not your eyes. I'm the Doctor, not him."
The other Doctor folded his arms over his chest, looking bored. "Prove it," he said.
He looked frustrated and lost for just a moment. Then the new Doctor brightened. "I've got two hearts," he said. "Have you got two hearts? I bet you haven't."
"Oh, for -- this is stupid. Of course I do."
"Rose?" He gestured at the old Doctor, who raised his arms in mock surrender.
"Go ahead, check," he said.
Rose took one nervous step toward him. Then another. She raised both hands and carefully laid them against his chest. Staring helplessly into those bright blue eyes the whole time.
She could feel them. Both hearts beating strong. That look in his eyes that told her that she was wrong, that this was the Doctor, both hearts beating fast just for her --
But there was something else -- some kind of . . . vibration, something electric and dark.
She frowned. "Something's not -- "
A hand at her back, shoving her forward. Another hand snaking past her -- the other Doctor, his TARDIS key held out like a knife stabbing at the other man's chest, and he pushed her forward and
and there was a white light, brighter than anything, and when she could focus again, she was standing somewhere else.
* * * *
"What -- "
The new Doctor was striding confidently forward, but he turned to look back at her. "You all right there?"
" . . . What just happened? Where are we?" She looked around. They were in the TARDIS -- ?
No. It looked wrong. The walls weren't warm and golden, but white -- harsh, ceramic, sterile. Like the inside of an operating theatre. She wrapped her arms around herself.
She looked over at the console. The Doctor was busily snapping switches, throwing levers. It didn't look like his console at all. The lines were sharp and angular. She half-expected to see scalpels and surgical instruments laid out on it.
One of the support arches overhead had collapsed entirely. Another had snapped in half -- the broken edges had grown wild, the coral-like surface bulging and cancerous.
"Is this -- another TARDIS, then?" Rose asked. "That other Doctor had his own TARDIS?"
"No," this Doctor said, shutting down an entire section of blinking lights. "That other Doctor is this TARDIS."
" -- Sorry, what?"
"Oh, come on, Rose," the Doctor said, disappointed. "Changes shape, telepathic -- I would have thought you would have worked that one out for yourself by now."
"Sorry," she mumbled.
She came over to stand next to him. Then she saw it.
Next to the Doctor at the controls -- something burnt to solid ash. Something in the shape of a man.
Rose clamped a hand over her mouth to stop the sound that wanted to come out.
The Doctor looked up at her. Then his eyes darted sideways. "Yes," he said slowly. "Time-Destructor damage, I should think. Dalek weapons. Not very pleasant, is it?"
He tried to reach around the grey, stick-like arms. Tried from a different angle and tried again.
"I need to reach these controls," he said gently. Rose realized he wasn't talking to her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He reached out and took hold of the arms. With no effort at all, he snapped them off. It made a sound like a dry twig underfoot.
The whole thing collapsed, falling to pieces. The sound was terrible. He stared at the arms he was holding, his expression completely unreadable. He dropped the arms onto the pile of ash, and reached for the controls.
Rose crouched down. Forced herself to reach out and touch what used to be a skull. "If this is a TARDIS, then this -- this is one of your people, yeah? A Time Lord. Like you."
"Not like me," he said quietly. "A soldier. From the Time War. This is a top-of-the-line military model, this TARDIS, a Type 970. Infiltrator class, codename Mockingbird. Can go anywhere, anywhen, slip in behind enemy lines unseen. Gain their trust." He shot a glance at her, then back at the console. He flipped open a key-guard, pressed one last switch down hard. "There," he said, "that should do it."
The lights dimmed a little, then brightened again.
"So what did you do?" Rose asked.
"Oh -- shut down his intrusion countermeasures. Made sure he couldn't eject the control room into the vortex. That sort of thing."
Rose nodded, then looked up at him. "His, huh?"
"'Cause you always call your TARDIS 'she' and 'her' and like that."
The Doctor nodded.
"That why he's trying to get into your TARDIS, then? He's looking for a girlfriend?" She laughed. As soon as she'd said it, she was sorry she'd joked, seeing his expression.
His face darkened. "He told you he wants into my TARDIS? What else did he tell you?"
She thought. "He wanted me to open the heart of the TARDIS again. What's he trying to do? Steal all her energy, or what?"
He leaned heavily against the console. "You were closer the first time. Rose, think. This is a TARDIS, there are no more TARDISes, until it found us it thought it was the last of its kind, all alone in the universe. Can you imagine what that's like?"
He turned his eyes toward her, dark and burning, the oncoming storm. He didn't have to imagine it.
"It's not just concerned about its own survival. Oh, no. It's concerned about the survival of its own kind. That's why it wants my TARDIS. That's why it wants to get inside her."
Rose was suddenly, uncomfortably certain she knew what he meant. "You're talking about -- reproduction. Baby TARDISes. Am I right? Is that even possible?"
"It's possible. If a TARDIS is designed for it. Mine wasn't meant to be breeding stock. He might make it work. Or he might kill her. He doesn't care which."
His voice was flat, dead-calm. But she'd never seen such a look of anger and disgust on his face before.
"We have to stop him, then," was all she said.
He looked up at her. His smile was sudden and brilliant. "That's my Rose," he said softly. His smile faltered a little. "Are we okay, then? Do you believe I'm me?"
She just laughed, reached out and pulled him into a hug. Now, finally, she did start crying.
"I'm sorry," she kept telling him.
"Shhh," he said, and stroked her hair. "It told you everything you wanted to hear. And anything to keep you off-balance. That's what it's designed to do. It's not your fault."
She finally stopped, wiped her eyes, and looked up at him. "Don't you leave me," she said seriously.
"Never," he said. He turned toward the console. "Let's see what our friend is up to."
He turned on the viewscreen with a flourish -- then froze.
There was a picture of the TARDIS -- their TARDIS. They were looking out through the Mockingbird's eyes at the Police Box doors as he was pounding his fists against them.
"He can't get in, right?"
"No." The Doctor licked his lips nervously. "I don't think so, at least."
"You don't think so? You told me the hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't break down that door."
"The hordes of Genghis Khan never met a determined combat-model TARDIS."
"Can't we just -- take off? Just set a course for somewhere far away from here, and -- ?"
"And how do we get back? Unless you fancy being stuck with a new TARDIS that wants us dead, that is? 'Sides, he's locked me out of his dematerialization circuits. No, we need to get out of here."
"How? If we go out there -- "
"No, not that way."
She blinked. "Well, I'm not going out the back door . . . . "
"No, no, no, no, no. There'll be an emergency transmat escape pod. Come on." He grabbed her hand and they ran out of the room.
* * * *
"Are you sure about this?" she asked. "All these corridors look alike."
"Of course, I'm sure. It has to be here somewhere." He pointed his sonic screwdriver at one of the hex-shaped wall panels. "He doesn't seem to be changing the internal configuration to lead us in circles. Which is odd, because that's what I'd do. You know, I'm beginning to think this TARDIS is more damaged than I'd thought."
"Yeah? From that Time-Destructor thing?"
"Oh, probably. Or any of a number of hazards it might have encountered since, wandering without a pilot." He shook his head. "None of this is its fault, really. It just doesn't want to be alone any more. I understand that."
There was a strange quality to his voice she wasn't sure she recognized.
"We have to kill it, don't we?"
"Oh, yes," the Doctor said, in a voice scarcely louder than a breath.
Something caught Rose's eye. "Look," she said, reaching to pick it up, "it's a penny! That's weird."
"That's good luck, finding a penny."
"Why would there be a penny in here -- ?"
They looked at each other.
"We're not alone in here," Rose said, and the Doctor said, "Someone's leaving a trail," almost simultaneously.
Rose ran on ahead to the next intersection. "Here's something else," she called out. "It's a pen knife -- wait -- Doctor, this is Mickey's!"
He caught up to her, saw her face. He didn't waste any time asking if she was sure -- he just called out, "Mickey!"
Soon they were both calling out his name, following his trail.
Somewhere, echoing ahead, came the answer: "Rose? Doctor?"
"Mickey!" the Doctor shouted again. "Stay right where you are! All right? Stay right there and we'll come to you!" As an afterthought, he shouted, "Where are you, anyway?"
"I'm standing right next to some kind of big, metal sphere!"
The Doctor's face burst into a wide grin.
Rose noticed. "That'll be your transmat capsule, then?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Mickey the Idiot," he said. "Bless him."
* * * *
"I am dangerously close," the Doctor said, "to thinking we need some kind of plan."
The three of them were walking along the waterfront. It was late enough they hadn't been able to find anything open, nowhere to sit down and talk over a nice cup of tea. They had left the transmat capsule behind. Rose and Mickey thought it was a little conspicuous, but the Doctor waved their concerns away -- surely no one would notice it was anything unusual, and if they did, they wouldn't be able to get into it anyway. He was half-right, as it happened -- someone would notice it within the week, and days later it would end up in the hands of an organization known as Torchwood. The Doctor never knew this; he just walked away from it without a second thought, forgotten.
He had too much else to think about. "Let's reconstruct this," he was saying. "So, the Mockingbird lands here. Can't be coincidence -- it must have come here for the same reason I did."
Mickey nodded, pointed his finger at the Doctor. "The time rift," he said. "It needed a recharge, too."
The Doctor beamed. "Exactly right. So then it notices a familiar energy signature. There's been another TARDIS here, and recently, too. So. What does it do next? It taps into the planetary computer network to see if it can find any record of it."
"That's when it finds me," Mickey said.
"Right, but I don't get that part," the Doctor said. "I gave you that virus to wipe all mentions of me off of the Internet, right? Didn't you ever run it?"
"No," Mickey said guiltily.
"And still, why would it find you if it was looking for me?"
Mickey looked even more guilty.
" . . . What is it?"
" . . . I run a website about you."
There was a long moment of silence.
"We'll talk more about that later," the Doctor said slowly. "But anyway. Right. So. He finds your website, tracks down your domain registration, gets your phone number, calls you, says hullo, it's me, come to Cardiff. Right so far?"
"Right," Mickey said.
The Doctor nodded, still pacing ahead. "So, he has you call Rose, because Rose already trusts you. You, he already has under his spell," the Doctor said, pointing at Mickey, "but he can't do the same to Rose until he can touch her."
Mickey frowned. "Whaddayou mean, under his spell?"
"Telepathic influence. The Mockingbird can force you to trust it."
"A TARDIS can do that?" Rose asked. The Doctor nodded.
"Can Time Lords?" Mickey asked casually.
The Doctor stopped and stared at him. "You don't have to trust me if you don't want to, Mickey. You don't have to help with this if you don't want to, either."
Mickey looked at him and slowly started to nod. "No. We're good. I'm in this."
"Good," he said distractedly. "So. What else? What questions am I not asking?"
"Why did it come after me?" Rose asked.
"Good point. I'm assuming it read from Mickey's memories -- "
"Aw, it read my mind, too?" Mickey said. He looked like he had a mouthful of spiders.
"Yes -- you helped Rose open the heart of the TARDIS, so it knew she could do that. And I'm sure it figured you'd be easier to influence than I would be."
"Thanks," Rose said.
"No offence. What else?"
"Why did it have us come here? Why not come to London?" Mickey said.
The Doctor's eyes widened. "That's an excellent point!" he said. He clapped Mickey's shoulders. "Well done! So! Why not?"
Mickey's eyes widened. "Umm. Because he -- can't leave?"
"Still recharging?" Rose suggested.
The Doctor nodded, thinking. "Maybe. Or maybe he's too weak to be able to safely maneuver away from the rift now that he's come this close. Something like that. Either way, if we could make him dematerialize, we could -- " The Doctor's voice dropped an octave. "Oh, now there's a thought."
"What?" they both asked.
He looked at them with a small, fragile smile. "I think I'm dangerously close," he said, "to having some sort of plan."
* * * *
The Mockingbird was still pounding its fists against the TARDIS. Its doors were starting to buckle and warp. One window had cracked, as if it were real glass and not just an outer plasmic shell.
The Mockingbird knew, somewhere deep inside, that this current course of action was dangerously irrational. That its tactics had failed and now it needed to re-evaluate the situation, determine the best approach. But right now, right this moment --
In. In. Let. Me. In!
-- Right this moment, it couldn't make itself think that clearly.
The voice came from behind. It turned to look --
There was the male human. He was leaning casually against a wall, smiling.
"Mickey," the Mockingbird said. "Where'd you come from, then?"
"Oh, you know. The Doctor rescued me. He does that."
"I'm -- the Doctor," the Mockingbird said uncertainly.
"No, you're not. You know what you are? You're just a little wind-up toy. You're nothin'."
The Mockingbird stepped away from the TARDIS. Took a few steps toward him.
"Do you know what you are?" he said. "You're a loose end. Shouldn't have let you live. That was my first mistake."
It put its hands to its face. And started to shift.
"Have to catch me first," Mickey said.
Something -- something wasn't right. It was harder, this time. He'd worn this shape a thousand times, back during the Time War. This should have been the easiest shape of all. His skin was turning to metal, burning gold, arms stiffening out ahead of him, but it was so hard --
Mickey took a few steps back, staring, then turned and ran.
"That's it, run," the Mockingbird said. Still caught in a shape somewhere between Time Lord and machine. "I'm going to -- "
This hurt. It wasn't supposed to hurt. The Doctor. The Doctor had done something to him, sabotaged his systems --
He stared out at the world from a single eye, took a single lurching step forward. "I'm going to . . . you . . . you will --"
He screamed at Mickey's departing back. "You -- will -- BE -- EXTERMINATED!"
* * * *
Mickey Smith ran for his life.
"Your part of the plan is simple," the Doctor had said. "The first thing we need to do is get the Mockingbird away from my TARDIS. I just need you to distract it, lure it away, get it to chase you, offer to buy it an ice cream, anything. Just get it away from there and then you hide. Somewhere safe. Are you totally clear on that?"
"If I'm somewhere safe," Mickey had said, not liking this plan so far, "where's Rose gonna be?"
The Doctor had sighed. "Somewhere not safe," he said.
* * * *
The shape wasn't holding. The Mockingbird couldn't hang on to it. Its skin ran and flowed, trying to hold on to some form that was more combat-ready -- a Cyberman, or an Ice Warrior, or a Sontaran.
He was having trouble keeping one foot moving forward in front of the other. Mickey was almost a block ahead of him, still running.
It was dark, and the streets were nearly empty. That was good. Directives were screaming in its brain not to break cover during a mission, but he wanted this human dead, dead, DEAD --
"Doctor!" cried a voice. "Doctor, help me!"
"Rose," he whispered, and with that one word from his lips, his face snapped back into place, his limbs and his body solidified. He was the Doctor again.
"Rose, hang on! I'm coming!" he called out.
He took one last look at Mickey's departing form, reluctantly stood down. Claiming Rose, claiming the TARDIS, that had to take first priority.
He turned and ran in the direction of Rose's voice.
* * * *
"The general idea," the Doctor had said, his fingers and sonic screwdriver working frantically, "is to keep him off-balance. Keep him confused. It's the same tactic he's been using on you -- he's not going to expect it. Once you've lured the Mockingbird past this street corner here, Mickey, then it'll be your turn, Rose. You lure him back to the TARDIS. That should give me just enough time."
"Where will you be?" Rose asked.
The Doctor made one last adjustment. "Gone," he said.
* * * *
The Mockingbird made a quick scan of the general vicinity. The female human, the Rose Tyler, was alone. She was unarmed. There was no sign of the Doctor anywhere.
She'd seen the truth. She'd been inside him. He was going to have to work quickly to regain her trust somehow. He amped up his telepathic emitters, wore an expression of the utmost concern.
"Rose! Rose, are you all right? What happened?"
"Doctor!" Rose opened her arms to him as he ran up to her. "You're all right!"
"It's okay, Rose. I'm right here. Where is he? Where's the Enemy?"
"I don't know! I got away from him, but -- he took me somewhere else, I don't know where we were. It was like the TARDIS, but -- oh, Doctor, what happened? Where did you go?"
"He must have taken you away, Rose, with a transmat beam. But you're all right. It's all right now."
He stroked her hair. She looked up at him trustingly.
"But, Rose," he said to her, "you're going to have to stop lying to me."
Rose pulled away. She tried to cover her sudden look of panic with a quick smile. "What do you mean?"
"You don't think I'm the Doctor," he said. "He's convinced you. I can tell."
He could, of course. Her distrust was radiating off of her, no matter how much she tried to cover it.
"I -- don't know what to think, any more," she said. "Everything is so confusing."
"Rose, I don't know what he's told you, what you think you've seen, but I need you to trust me. He's dangerous. If we can't trust each other, we're not going to make it out of this alive." He took hold of her shoulders, looking deep into her eyes, and pushed as hard as he could with his mind. "How can I convince you? I'm the same man who took you to Woman Wept, the same man who walked with you under the frozen waves and held your hand. How do I make you believe that?"
"Take me there," Rose said suddenly. "Right now."
"If that's what you want," the Mockingbird said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
"If -- if you're not the Doctor, then you couldn't control the TARDIS, right? So just show me. Show me it's really you. And then I'll -- I'll open the heart of the TARDIS, if that's what you need me to do. I'll do anything you want."
He squeezed her shoulders. "That's my Rose," he said. "Come on, then."
* * * *
"Now, Rose, what I'm asking you to do is dangerous," the Doctor had said. "I won't claim its not."
"Forget it, then," Mickey had said. "Think of another plan."
Rose put her hand on Mickey's arm. "Go on, Doctor," she'd said.
"The Mockingbird was designed for combat-level telepathy. Its systems might be damaged, but we don't know how badly damaged. It might still be able to force you to trust it, force you to believe anything it says. You could lose yourself."
He took hold of her hand. "You've got to remember the plan. You've got to remember me. No matter what he says, you have to hold on and remember that it's not me you're talking to. D'you think you can do that?"
She didn't answer him right away.
"Rose? Do you?"
* * * *
"So where do you want to go first?" the Doctor was saying.
"I'm sorry, what? I was miles away," Rose said.
He walked along next to her, beaming away. "Where do you want to go first? Oh, I know, take me to Woman Wept, you said, but really, that's a bit boring, innit? Going somewhere we've been before. We can go anywhere, Rose, anywhere you like. Just you and me."
"Just you and me," she agreed. That's not him. It's not.
"Do you want to see what happens when a supernova falls into a black hole? I've seen it, in the Cythonus cluster, it's brilliant, that one is. I could show you."
"Sure, sounds fine," Rose said.
"Well, you don't sound very enthusiastic," he said sulkily. "If you'd rather go somewhere closer to home -- how 'bout I show you the invention of electricity? Ben Franklin and kites and all that, yeah? What d'you think?"
"Anywhere," Rose said, making herself smile.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, you're right." He reached out and took her hand. "Anywhere we go, so long as we go there together. Right? Better with two."
Rose closed her eyes tight. It's not him, it's not him --
They turned a corner and he stopped abruptly. She had to catch herself to keep from running into him.
"Where is it?" he said quietly.
He let go of her hand and stepped forward into the space where the TARDIS had been standing. "Where is my TARDIS?" he shouted.
"It's gone," Rose said.
He turned toward her angrily. "Yes, I can see it's gone," he said. He stepped back over to her and took hold of her wrists. "Where is it?"
"You're hurting me," she said.
"Rose, listen to me. The Enemy took it, didn't he? Do you know where? Do you have any idea where he may have taken it? Rose, think!"
"Let go of me!" Rose said, and pulled her hands away.
"Rose, I'm sorry -- look. I'm just in a bit of a panic here, all right?" He ran his hand over his close-cropped hair. "We have to get it back. If we don't, then I'm stuck here, and you -- you are stuck with your ordinary, simple little life. All right? You don't want that, do you? You don't want to go back to being a shop-girl again, do you?"
"No . . . " Rose said.
"Do you want that or do you want the stars?" He pointed up. "Rose, please. I am asking you to help me, here. I need you, Rose Tyler."
Rose's eyes were blurring.
"Did he say anything to you? Anything that might help us find the TARDIS?"
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Ask him yourself," she said. "He's standing right over there."
And with that, with the oldest trick in the world, she got the Type 970 TARDIS to turn around. Long enough for her to pull the device from her pocket.
* * * *
"You'll only have one chance," the Doctor had said. "This first shot will almost certainly discharge the battery. Probably burn out the circuitry, too."
"Why does it have to be my phone?" Rose asked.
"Look, I can get you a new phone," the Doctor said, frowning. "I can get you a dozen new phones! The point is, he'll expect you to be carrying your phone, but if I gave you, say, a laser bazooka, he might notice that, mightn't he?"
"All right, all right, I'm just asking -- "
"So what have you done to it?"
"Turned it into a sonic screwdriver. Well, sort of. Only one setting."
He had handed it over to Rose, looking serious. "Remember. One shot."
* * * *
The Mockingbird turned back to face her. "I don't see any -- "
She took her shot.
She pointed the phone right into his face and pressed down hard on the keypad.
The phone let out an unearthly shriek and heated up in her hand. She nearly dropped it, but made herself hold it tighter --
He was thrown backward by it, like it was a gunshot to the head. She heard another sound start up, a sound like the TARDIS engines. His engines.
He hit the far wall and almost kept going, slipping through the wall, but his hands caught hold of the wall like a doorframe he was falling through, his feet dug in, and he held on.
A wind was gathering, a tiny storm here in this small space, blowing the newspapers and the other trash around. The sound from the phone died away, and Rose let the hand holding it fall limply to her side.
Ignore him. Just turn and walk away.
He let go with one hand, held it out to her, reaching and strain. The sound of his engines growing louder.
"Rose, do you hear that? That's the sound of the turn of the earth. Taking me away from you. D'you hear it? Take my hand, Rose. Take it!"
"Shut up," she said under her breath.
It's not real. It's not really him. It's not.
The Mockingbird struggled, holding tight to the world. Diverting all the power he could to his telepathic emitters. "Rose, please!"
I'm not listening. She lifted the phone and looked at it. Surprisingly, it was still on. The low battery icon had come on -- but it was still functional.
"Rose, we can still do this. Just take my hand. We'll get the TARDIS back and everything can be just like it used to be! Rose. Rose, look at me!"
She looked at him.
"Rose -- please. I love you."
Now her tears came. For a moment, he thought he had her.
She stared him down. "You're not my Doctor," she said.
And lifted the phone and fired again.
He screamed. And let go of the wall.
* * * *
Somewhere beyond the orbit of Jupiter, and three hundred years in the future -- just far enough to get a good running start -- the Doctor was waiting.
His finger hovered over the fast-return switch.
He used to do this all the other time, when he was a student. Simple principle, time rams. He and the other students used to fold tiny origami tesseracts out of slightly pandimensional paper, set them loose, crash them into each other. He'd been good at it.
Easy, he told himself.
Finger twitching. Waiting for the right light on the console to light up to let him know the Mockingbird had dematerialized.
"Your part sounds dangerous, too," Mickey had said. "I mean, okay, it's damaged, but do you really think your TARDIS can survive a collision with it? If it's some high-tech combat model, and all?"
" . . . You're coming back, right?" Rose had said.
"I'm coming back."
"It's only -- well, if you thought you might not be coming back, you'd -- you'd say goodbye, first, right?"
"Of course I would," he'd said, smiling.
Now, standing here alone at the TARDIS console, he watched the light flare, and he let himself smile again.
"Goodbye, Rose," he whispered. Then he slammed the switch home and held on tight.
* * * *
It was a brilliant cold morning.
Mickey had finally come out of hiding, too worried and too impatient to wait for word. He'd found Rose sitting alone in the alley, leaning half-asleep against a wall. He had a hundred questions, but when she looked up at him dully with tears in her eyes, he hadn't asked any of them. He'd just sat down next to her.
Even when he saw that the line of bricks on the wall opposite them didn't run straight any more -- the bricks curved and arced, tightening at one point almost into a spiral -- he still didn't say anything. Just gave her a shoulder to lean on.
"He's not coming back, is he?" Rose said finally.
"You don't know that he's not," Mickey said.
"It's been hours," she said. "He said he'd come right back. If . . . . " She couldn't finish the sentence.
"Hey. Hey, now. I waited a year for you once. Have a little faith. He'll be back."
Rose sighed and stood. "I guess we should go back to the hotel," she said. "Get some sleep. We can check back later."
Mickey's eyes slowly widened. "Hey. I just thought of something," he said.
"How're we gonna pay for the hotel room, anyway?"
Rose stared at him for a second. Then started to laugh.
They were both still laughing when the TARDIS materialized next to them.
Mickey looked pleased with himself. "There, see? What'd I tell you?"
The TARDIS doors opened. The Doctor -- the real Doctor -- poked his head out. "Miss me?"
Rose laughed and ran to him, threw her arms around his neck. Mickey looked away. But he was still smiling.
"Everything all right?" Rose asked. "What kept you?"
"Had to do a little shopping first, didn't I? Here." He tossed Rose a new cell phone, and she caught it. "Hope basic black is all right. It was good enough for Henry Ford, after all."
The Doctor's smile faltered. "Sorted," he said. He reached out a hand and helped Mickey up. "So. Shall I get you back to London?"
"What, in that thing? No, thanks. Who knows where I'd end up? No, it's the train for me, thanks very much."
The Doctor shrugged. "Suit yourself. Rose? TARDIS or train?"
Rose looked up, at the stars the morning sky was hiding. "Doctor?"
" . . . Yes?"
" . . . You ever been somewhere called the Cythonus cluster? Something about a supernova and a black hole?"
"Umm. I know where you're talking about -- although I don't know how you know where you're talking about -- but no, I've never been there. Why?"
She looked at him. She turned and looked at the misshapen spiral of brick, and then back up at the sky again.
"I'd like to see it," was all she said.
* * * *
Thirty thousand years ago, somewhere on the plains of the Serengeti:
The young man stood, tending the fire. The rest of his tribe was asleep. He stood watch, for any of the beasts that might come out of the dark, keeping the fire going.
When he first saw them, he thought they were sparks.
There were hundreds of them. Shooting stars filling the sky. Enough to make it bright as day for just a moment.
He wanted to wake everyone up, wanted them to see this. But he didn't. This moment had been given to him, and him alone; he'd never had anything of his own before. He kept the moment, watching with wide staring eyes.
The stars fell, trailing smoke behind them.
Watching them filled his head with strange ideas.
He decided -- they weren't stars. They weren't stars at all. They were tears.
Tears from a once-proud warrior, a warrior whose tribe was dead. A warrior gone mad with grief, who fell into dishonor, trying to take a wife against her will.
These were his tears. These were his dying tears lighting the sky.
He didn't know why he would think these strange thoughts. He wanted, once again, to wake everyone, and tell them. He didn't know why he would want to tell anyone about something that never happened, something that had only happened in his head.
But he stood the rest of the night tending the fire, turning these not-true things over and over again in his mind.
Come the morning, maybe he would tell his tribe. Maybe they would want him to tell them more not-true things, want him to make up lives that never happened, people who never lived. Maybe.