She didn't know where she was when she opened her eyes. It should have been Earth - her Earth - but it didn't feel right.
Her head swam and she sat down in a hurry. Grass. There was grass underneath her, and sky above, and she could breathe the air. That was good. Trees in the distance, hills and a lake, and no houses or people that she could see.
Something hard and cool pressed into the back of her neck.
"Ok sunshine, what are you and why are you here?" A woman's voice, low and unmistakably English.
Almost no people then.
"Hello," she said carefully. "I'm Rose. And, this is going to sound weird, but could you tell me where I am?"
"I said what are you, not who." There was no softness in the voice. "And I'm asking the questions here."
"Human. I'm human, alright?" She suddenly felt very tired and irritated. This had been their fifth attempt today and the last one had landed her on a roundabout in the middle of Swindon. "And I don't know why I'm here, it was a mistake. And who are you, anyway?"
The pressure on her neck lifted and she heard someone step away behind her. She scrambled to her feet and swung around to find herself looking at a woman about her height and maybe ten years older. There was a rumpled sleeping bag on the ground and the remains of a small fire that she'd unwittingly come within a foot of landing on top of.
"You can call me Ace." Ace held a frying pan in her right hand, the handle of which was pointed towards Rose. Rose started to giggle.
"Is that what you were threatening me with?"
Ace glanced down at the pan. "First thing that came to hand," she sounded a bit ruffled, which Rose took as a good sign. "You did wake me up."
"What if I'd been, like, huge? And had fangs?"
"I'd have hit you with it." A smile quirked at the corners of Ace's lips.
The device on Rose's wrist crackled to life, shocking in the surrounding stillness. "Rose? Can you hear me?"
"What's that?" Ace's guard was back up.
"It's just my... communicator... thing. Hang on," Rose lifted it to her mouth, her eyes fixed on Ace's face. "I'm alright, Mickey. Don't think I'm where I'm meant to be though."
"Want me to bring you back?" He sounded tired, too, Rose thought.
"Nah, dunno where I am yet." Maybe the three of them should take the day off tomorrow. Do something normal, like go to the cinema, or the pub. Or just spend the day in bed, with movies and take-away and each other, the way they used to before the universe began to fall apart around them.
"Remember, the more info you can get us..."
"Yeah, yeah, the less likely we'll make the same mistake again. Not like we haven't done it before." Or they could just keep doing this, because the thing none of them were saying was that they weren't getting any better at it. One of these days she's going to jump and end up in the middle of space and that'll be the end of her.
"Ok, we're here when you want us." There was a pause and an even more muffled voice in the background. "Jake says he's ordering pizza."
Rose grinned. "Ham and pineapple. Thanks."
She lowered her arm, and Ace regarded her for a minute. "If you're spies, you're terrible at it."
"Run into many spies, have you?"
Rose waited but apparently that was all Ace was planning to say about that. She glanced around her. "Nice bike."
Ace's eyes flicked in the direction Rose was indicating, as though she could have been talking about anything other than the large, grimy-looking motorcycle that was propped up a little distance from the camp. "Time Hopper."
"I said," Ace enunciated very slowly, as though she was speaking to someone a bit deficient, "it's not a bike, it's a Time Hopper."
They both stared at it for a minute.
"I need a drink," said Rose.
Ace smiled, suddenly, genuinely. "That I can help you with."
Nothing like a bottle of cider and a beautiful, sunny day to ease the tension. Rose tried to remember the last time she'd had a conversation with someone who wasn't her family or part of Torchwood and had to tell herself that her mum's dog didn't count.
"So let me get this straight," she said, flopping backwards and resting her head on her hands. "You actually don't know where we are, any more than I do."
"Haven't a clue." Ace shrugged. "It's a good place to rest and it seems safe. I've come back here a couple of times now, and nothing's ever bothered me. Until you."
"And that thing over there," she waved her hand vaguely in its direction, "can travel in time."
"And space. And sometimes dimensions, but that's usually an accident."
Rose sat up so fast she knocked her cider over. "Say that again."
"What, that it's usually an accident? Blimey, you do know how to make a girl feel good about herself..."
"No!" Rose snapped, trying not to breathe too fast. "The part about dimensions. You can," she swallowed hard. "You can jump dimensions?"
Ace frowned. "But that's how you got here too. Why are you surprised?"
"Well, yes, I... how did you know that?"
Ace said something about the way the air felt greasy when Rose appeared out of it, and the smell, like hot metal, and the fact that Rose obviously wasn't from this universe, because nothing seemed to be from this universe except fields, but Rose only half listened to her, scurrying over to the motorbike and kneeling to examine it, as though it would tell her its secrets. Ace ambled after her. "Don't touch that."
Rose drew her fingers back quickly. "Please." she said, turning to look up at Ace. "You have to come with me. You've got to help us. Please."
Ace's expression was carefully blank. "I'm not saying I won't, but you're going to have to give me more than that."
Rose almost stumbled over her words as she explained. About the stars going out, and there being something wrong with the universe, with all the universes maybe, and that she's looking for a man called the Doctor, who can help them. Ace was very controlled, but Rose had seen enough over the last few years to catch the moment when she flinched.
"You know the Doctor."
And for a little while, there didn't seem to be much else to say.
It all went a bit wrong when she let slip that she was with Torchwood. She'd been there before, Ace claimed, refusing to listen to Rose's protests that their version wasn't like that, and had no desire to lose her wheels or her freedom, thank you very much.
"It's not like I'm leaving you high and dry," she grumbled, not quite looking at Rose. "I've given you that data chip from the Hopper. You combine that with what you have, and it'll be tons more use than I'd be myself."
Because it turned out that Ace knew. Well, not knew, exactly, any more than they did, but she knew something bad was going on. She'd seen the signs, she said, she had friends in places who knew things, and she'd been trying to gather information. They weren't alone.
"Do you know where he is?" Rose asked her at some point, quietly, although she knew what the answer would be.
Their eyes met. "He'd have a better plan than we've got, wouldn't he?"
Rose barked out a laugh. "He'd have any plan, you mean."
"You're obviously doing something right. Your cannon thing found me, didn't it? Big multiverse. It must have known I traveled in the TARDIS."
"Yeah, give us a couple of centuries and we'll have it perfect."
"Where's the fighting spirit, Rose Tyler? There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold."
"That was his, wasn't it? He said that?"
Ace grinned. "Yeah, but it sounds good when I say it, doesn't it? Come on Rose, we've got work to do, you and me."
"You sure you don't want to come with me?"
"Not on your life. Besides, I've got an idiot bloke waiting for me who might get himself killed or something if I don't show up."
Rose caught the affection in her voice and grinned. "Know the feeling."
They hugged, and Ace kissed her softly on the cheek. "Goodbye, Rose."
"Maybe I'll see you again? You know, when this is... when we..."
"Yeah," Ace smiled in a way that somehow didn't reach her eyes, let her hand linger on Rose's shoulder. "Yeah, of course."
As always, her arrival in the landing-circle was horribly jarring and made her head spin, but this time she managed to stay on her feet. Mickey gave her a warm half-smile and a cold slice of pizza.
"Get the coordinates?"
"Nice to see you too, and no, I didn't," she said, a grin spreading across her face. They weren't alone. "Got something that might be better though."