“Ok,” said Rose, taking a deep breath to try to slow her hammering heart. “Ok.” She had a few more colorful phrases on the tip of her tongue–swearing in alien languages had become quite the fad among Alternate-Torchwood’s field agents, and she was definitely the best at it–but the Doctor was already looking a little shocked, so she just blew out a breath instead. “Right. Well, then. Existing was fun. I liked existing. Shame it’s not going to last.”
She sunk awkwardly onto the wobbly desk and tried not to think about what might happen, causality-wise, if her younger self was killed by a plastic dummy because the Doctor was stuck here in Torchwood with her.
The pressure of a hand on her shoulder interrupted her morbid thoughts.
“Alright, so what’s all this about?” asked the Doctor. “And do me a favor–don’t make me drag it out of you this time.”
She gave a half-laugh. “No, I won’t. Not really any point to it now, anyway.” She leaned back a little, and the desk rocked precariously. “So…there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that I know where the transmitter is. And the relay device. And what you’re supposed to be doing.”
“And the bad news?”
“Yeah…” She rubbed the heel of her hand over her forehead. “The bad news is that you’re supposed to be saving my life right now. Younger-me, that is. But instead, you’re stuck in here with me-me. On top of that, Torchwood probably has us both on security footage, and that’s…not good. Really not good. In other words, I’m pretty sure I just detonated a nuclear bomb on both our timelines.”
The Doctor started to speak, but Rose was already pushing up off the desk, pacing back and forth in the small space. She had made a mess of their timelines, so it was her job to fix it and by god, that’s just what she was going to do.
“Ok, no use sitting around here whinging,” she decided. “And no waiting around for Reapers. Priorities. It’s about one o’clock by now. We’ve got to make sure you get to Henrik’s by, ooh…” She scrunched up her face thoughtfully, “Eight o’clock, I think. Maybe a few minutes sooner. Better aim for a quarter till. Or sooner. Would sooner be better, do you think?” She glanced at him for confirmation, but before he had a chance to answer, she was off again.
“Say seven-thirty, then, just to be on the safe side. In the mean time, we’ve got to make sure that Torchwood won’t be able to track us down. Might have to go erase their camera footage, which means we’ll have to find their central security office. And we have to do it without getting caught and without letting them find the TARDIS. And if they’ve already viewed the footage, we might need to ret-con some people…” She trailed off, looking thoughtful. “I don’t actually have any on me, though.”
The Doctor started to ask what the hell ret-conning was, but she was already talking.
“Well, we’ll figure something out. And we also can’t them know that you’re the Doctor,” she added firmly. “That’s critical. Oh, and you’ll have to erase your memory of me before you get to Henrik’s.” She drummed her fingers against the side of her leg nervously. “Does that take very long?”
He waited a beat before answering, just to see if she’d interrupt again. “You’ve got a bit of a gob, did you know?”
Rose blinked in surprise and her mouth popped open. “Seriously? You’re going to say that? To me? You?”
He smirked a little. “If the shoe fits…”
She still looked a little taken aback. Yep, he thought. Flabbergasted was definitely a cute look on her.
He clapped his hands together decisively. “Alright, here’s the plan. We forget about the security footage, you stop dragging us into cupboards, and we head for the TARDIS. One quick jump across London, and I can save younger-you and stop an alien invasion, and you can be on your way. Sound good?” He started rummaging in his pocket for the sonic.
“But what about the security footage?” she protested.
“Irrelevant.” He pulled out the sonic and started adjusting it.
“But Doctor, Torchwood will have our faces.” Rose pushed him aside and leaned against the door to stop him. “They’ll be able to track us down.”
“No, they won’t,” he said, unsuccessfully trying to nudge her out of the way. “If we are actually on any security tapes AND if they happen to check them, they’ll just see a man and a woman. It’s not like we’re wearing name tags.”
Rose rubbed her eyes, trying to reason it out. “But then what if they identify us later?”
He tilted his head to one side with a little smile. “I think you might be over-thinking this. If they figure out our names at a later point, then they might–MIGHT–realize that we were in their building today, but it will be too late to do anything about it.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shifted her to the side. “And if that’s the case, then they’ll have learned our identities through some other means, unrelated to this particular set of events.”
“But…but…what if they already know we’re here? What if they have the TARDIS surrounded?” she argued. “They have soldiers, Doctor. With guns.”
He paused and looked at her. “If that’s the case, how would wiping the security footage help?”
Rose stared back at him. “I guess…it wouldn’t.”
“You see?” He clapped her on the shoulder. “Nice and simple. We’ll just head up the stairs and be on our way.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Right, Torchwood. D’you know how many evil organizations I’ve dealt with over the years?” Without giving her a chance to answer, he unlocked the door. “Trust me, we’ll be alright. And the quicker we’re out, the better.”
Rose mulled it over. “You’re right,” she said, slightly abashed. “Sorry, I just…” But she couldn’t really explain to him the panic that had bubbled up in her when she’d realized where they were, at least, not without further compromising the timelines.
Torchwood tore us apart. The Slitheen couldn’t do it, the Cybermen couldn’t do it, not even the Daleks could do it, but Torchwood did. I’ve been trapped in a parallel universe for years because of this godforsaken place.
But of course, she couldn’t tell him that, so she just muttered, “Sorry,” with an embarrassed flush on her cheeks.
“It’s alright,” said the Doctor easily. “Ready?”
She nodded. “Yeah. But wait, one thing first: You can’t tell anybody that you’re the Doctor.”
“Who would I tell?” he asked, a bit exasperated.
“Really, though, you can’t,” she said firmly. “I mean it. No matter what. You’re actually in the Torchwood Charter. By name. Enemy of the Crown–standing order to capture.” She grimaced. “I’m not, though. At least, I don’t think so. Bit insulting, that. Anyway,” she said, shaking her head, “point is, you need an alias just in case we get caught.”
“John Smith,” he readily supplied.
“What? No.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Honestly, John Smith? Doctor, these are smart people. You can’t go using something as obvious as John Smith. Besides, they have files of information on you–John Smith is probably in there somewhere. You’ll need something else.”
She was mulling it over when a wicked little thought occurred. “Hmm…how about Mickey?” she suggested innocently, hiding a grin. “Mickey Smith.”
That’d teach him to say she was the one with a gob. If she actually managed to get back to Pete’s World, Mickey was going to die for laughing.
“S’pose,” said the Doctor gruffly. “Sounds a bit daft, though.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Rose firmly, grabbing her shoulder pack off the floor and slinging it across her back. “Sounds very brave. Well, c’mon, Mickey,” she waggled her eyebrows, “let’s go.”
The hallway was clear, for which Rose was grateful. She knew they’d run into someone eventually, but the longer they could stay out of sight, the better. Taking a moment to get her bearings, she decided to head toward the North staircase rather than double-back, just in case anyone was on their trail.
It was a both a familiar and surreal feeling, walking through dangerous territory with the Doctor–wrong Doctor for one, and she wasn’t used to feeling like she should be the one protecting him. She had to keep fighting the urge to grab hold of his hand, figuring it would just invite unwanted attention, the two of them strolling about hand in hand.
Funny that it had never really occurred to her before.
They made their way quickly down the winding hallways, getting only the occasional odd look from an assortment of office workers. Once they found one of the central corridors, the Doctor spotted a sign indicating the direction of the stairwell.
“There we are. We get ourselves up to Floor 38, and we’re laughing,” he said.
“Clear the hall,” called a loud voice from down the central corridor. “Sensitive equipment coming through. Clear the hall.” Two soldiers were directing people out of the way as a group of Torchwood personnel carefully moved a large, alien-looking machine using a black stabilizer platform, which was beeping softly. Behind them followed a technician in a white lab coat holding some sort of monitoring equipment. He was staring at his data screen intently.
Rose and the Doctor drew back into a side hallway.
“Alright, once they’re passed, we’ll head for the stairs,” murmured Rose, watching the procession warily.
“Hang on,” he whispered, grabbing her arm and pulling her closer. “That’s the particle accelerator engine from a Paxtril C-class short range cruiser.” He stared at the alien technology as the technicians wheeled it past. “How did they manage to get their hands on that?”
He was standing behind her, pressing forward against her back, and Rose tried to brace herself against him, worried that he would try to approach the group and start asking questions. “This is what they do,” she whispered back furiously. “Torchwood gathers all alien tech that falls to Earth. They reverse-engineer it and put it to use.”
“They’re going to end up blowing half the world apart if they start poking around with that,” he growled, still gripping her arm. “Stupid apes, playing with something they know nothing about. Idiots, all of them.”
“Hey, that’s my species you’re talking about,” Rose muttered, slightly annoyed because she agreed with him–Torchwood, this Torchwood, was terrible–but at the same time, he didn’t understand. He had never stood looking up at the Sycorax ship, every building ringed with people waiting to jump, and felt utterly helpless.
The Doctor has never felt Doctorless.
“Your species is made up of nothing but children,” he snapped, his voice livid. “Greedy children, always wanting what they can’t have.”
Ok, that was officially over the line. Rose thought of the parallel Torchwood field agents–people she had known, who were friends, and even a few who’d been under her command–who had paid the ultimate price in defense of the Earth, and she turned to meet his glare head-on. “Is that so?” she asked in a deadly calm. “Greedy children, the lot of us?” When he didn’t answer, just kept glaring, she added quietly, “And just how many of those children have given their lives to save yours, Doctor?”
She regretted it the moment it left her lips, and she watched the shaft strike home–the Doctor’s guilt would forever be a weak spot. His blue eyes that had been so fierce a moment ago suddenly looked lost.
Rose opened her mouth to say something–sorry, forget it, I didn’t mean it–but nothing came out. They just looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, before Rose broke the contact and turned away.
“Looks like they’re taking it upstairs,” she whispered, relieved, as the group of researchers began negotiating the stabilizer platform onto a large service elevator. Hopefully, the Doctor would just let it go. The last thing she wanted to do right now was go hunting down every piece of alien gear that Torchwood was hoarding. “No good worrying about it now. We’d have to search the whole place to find it–”
She was interrupted by a whir of the sonic right by her right ear. “What the hell are you doing?” she hissed at him. Across the hall, a small set of yellow lights on the Paxtril engine blinked three times and then stopped.
“Activating one of the engine’s minor systems–just a little thing, sort of like the system that checks the oil levels on a car,” he whispered back. “This lot won’t notice anything, but, now that it’s on, I’ll be able to track where they’re taking it with this.” He flipped the sonic once in his agile fingers.
Just then, the Torchwood researcher who was carrying the monitoring equipment called for the rest of the group to halt. He was frowning at his data screen.
Rose turned and craned her head to glare up at the Doctor. “Really? ‘Cause that looks like noticing to me.”