Four of a Kind
Authors: Gillian Taylor
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Seventh Doctor, Ace
Summary: Life's a gamble. Life with the Doctor is poker. And four of a kind is a powerful hand.
Spoilers: Slight reference to TCI, if you squint. Some reference to the NA Love and War.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. I just like playing with them...a lot.
Archive: Sure, just let me know.
A/N: Thanks, as always, to my fabulous betas Ponygirl, WMR, and NNWest.
by Gillian Taylor
Chapter 1: Out of Aces
"If you don't mind me sayin', I can
see you're out of aces."
- The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Another day. Another planet. Another megalomaniac bent upon world domination. Another populace crushed under oppression and severe regulations. Another place to save with the judicious use of Nitro Nine and the Professor's brand of dramatics. Another day of having to rescue the Doctor from one of his failed master plans.
Sometimes, she thought, her life was too predictable. When had her life turned into a never-ending sequence of saving the day, teenage angst over one of the Doctor's decisions, and going back to the TARDIS in time for a much needed kip? When had her life turned into one death-defying gamble after another?
The sound of rustling fabric forcefully pulled her out of her contemplation. There was no time for this. No time for considering just what travelling with the Professor meant for someone like her. No time beyond what she needed to try and rescue him from yet another death sentence.
She pressed herself against the wall, willing herself to be invisible. Though she carried a gun, she preferred to avoid using it. If she did, it would only bring more - and better-armed - guards to the dungeons. Better to hide and sneak. Better to pretend that she was invisible and maybe the guards wouldn't see her.
She didn't move as the guards crossed the hallway to head down yet another passage. Snippets of their conversation reached her ears, but none of their words caught her attention until she thought she heard them say 'Doctor.' Deciding to risk it, she moved closer to the corner, straining her senses to hear the rest of the conversation.
"Still can't believe he won't give us a name beyond 'Doctor.' It's a title, not a name!" one of the guards groused.
"Yeah. Won't matter for much longer, though. He's scheduled to be done in a couple of hours, yeah? What sort of..." The voices grew fainter as they turned another corner.
Well, cruk. That told her nothing beyond what she already knew. The Doctor was here and in danger.
Same old, same old.
Only once choice. She had to poke her head into each one of the cells until she found him. Wasn't efficient by any means, but she wasn't willing to attract attention to herself by knocking out or threatening one of the guards.
When she found him, she was going to kill him. She was getting tired of this. Tired of gambling. Tired of loss after loss. Tired of one rescue after another. Sure, they saved the universe. Sure, they saved people and planets. They did all of that, and more. Travel with the Professor was never dull, never boring. However, it was never easy. Never painless. How many had she watched die? How many times had she been manipulated? How many times did she have to try and save the Professor only to find out that he had had something else up his sleeve all along?
And yet she stayed. Despite all of that, she stayed. Because he needed her and she needed him.
"Doctor," she hissed at each doorway. He had to hear her, had to answer. He must be here, somewhere. The guards had confirmed it. Unless she had missed his cell, or missed him, and it was already too late.
"Yes?" A faint voice answered at one of the doors and she grinned fiercely at the result. He was there. She had him.
"Wicked!" she murmured in self-congratulation as she began to pick the lock. Stubborn things, ancient locks, but luckily she had a bit of a head start over the people of this time. She was persistent and had a rather nice lock-picking kit.
A few moments later, she shoved open the door. The Professor would probably say something like 'Oh, Ace, what took you so long?' or something equally annoying. Or else tell her that her rescue attempt wasn't part of the 'plan.' Damn him, anyway.
That was when she realised that the man currently looking at her was not the Professor.
"Oh, cruk." That summed up her thoughts rather well.
"Ace! Hallo!" The man grinned widely, clearly excited to see her. "Blimey, I wasn't expecting to see you!"
He was tall, wore a pin-stripped suit, a bit cute, and were those Chucks? "Do I know you?" she asked suspiciously, edging back toward the door.
"Do I...oh! Surely I haven't changed that much! Oh, wait, I am a bit taller. Thinner too. And I have more hair. And I have a mole. The old me didn't have a mole. At least, I don't think I did. That was such a long time ago." His nose wrinkled faintly as he seemed to consider his words. "A very long time ago, indeed. So, what're you doing here?" He seemed to realise that she was still suspicious and he ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it further. "It's me, Ace. The Doctor. Your Professor?" He seemed so earnest.
She blinked. Impossible. Improbable. Then again, she did travel through time and space in what looked like a 1960's Police Public Call Box. "I...that's impossible. How can? What? You were, or rather he was just here. Just outside. Still short, Scottish, and infuriating."
His grin widened. "Still am. Here, that is. Well, I'm here. And he's here too. Somewhere. Seems to happen a lot to me. Two of me runnin' about on the same planet. Oh. Wait a tic. Now I think I remember." He stood up quickly, the force of his movement causing the bench to rattle noisily against the wall. "We've got to get out of here!"
Ace opened her mouth to reply before snapping it shut again. This man was manic. But, she did remember the Professor telling her a bit about regeneration. Maybe this was the Professor. Maybe. And she'd thought he was cute? "What do you think I'm doing here? Sightseeing?" She shook herself out of her fugue. There wasn't enough time. She had to rescue the Professor - her Professor.
He grinned. "Wasn't that why we came? Well, the other me. See the sights, check out the local cuisine, go to a concert?"
She looked at him.
The Doctor, well, this Doctor, had the good grace to look somewhat sheepish. "Right. Let's find where I put myself."
She was starting to get a headache and she suspected that it was only going to get worse before it would get any better.
She was going to kill him. If he wasn't already dead, she was going to kill him. 'You'll love it, Rose! Gothic architecture, fancy dress, balls, feasts, opera, theatre and, even better, no running from danger!' She should have known. Should've guessed. After all, when one travelled through time and space with a Time Lord - even if he was the last of his lot - danger was a given. It was part of why she had joined him, after all. But dungeons were not exactly on her top twenty things to see before she died. Especially not dark, dank dungeons with her leg chained to a wall.
The click-clack of spoons interrupted her introspection and she shot her cellmate a glare. He had been 'playing the spoons' off and on for the past twenty minutes. It was distracting. "Oi! Do you mind?"
"Oh! You have a request?" He grinned widely, doffing his battered fedora.
"Yeah. Would you stop makin' that racket? It's hard enough to think in here without that noise."
"Noise?" he asked in an affronted tone. "I'll have you know that I've won awards for my ability to play the spoons."
"And this is supposed to impress me?" she sighed, shaking her head. Just her luck to not only be separated from the Doctor, but to be stuck in a cell with a self-appointed entertainer.
He looked rather taken aback by her comment. "Of course! It is a specialty, you know. Not everyone can play the spoons."
"That's called playing?" she asked, rolling her eyes.
"Of course I get stuck in a cell with a critic," he groused before he eyed her intently. "I'm the Doctor, by the way. And you are?"
She blinked. The Doctor? There was only one Doctor and this short, annoying man was certainly not him. "Rose. Rose Tyler. And Doctor...?" Her voice trailed off as she waited expectantly for him to complete his name.
"That's right. Nice to meet you, Rose."
'Run for your life.' She completed the sentence in her mind automatically. Why did the Doctor's, her Doctor's, words come back to her? Impossible. But...she had seen the Doctor regenerate into a new man once before. Could it be? No. No, no, no, no. Not again. Not now. Not here. Not without her being there to see it. Not without her there to help him. No. She denied it. "You're the Doctor?" She knew that her tone was laced with disbelief, but she did not care.
"The genuine article. Accept no substitutes." He looked at her curiously, his expression intent as he seemed to stare directly into her soul. She knew that look. Knew it far too well.
He was the Doctor.
"You changed." It was a statement rather than a question. Regeneration. Changed every cell in his body because he had died. Her Doctor had died. But...
Wait. Her Doctor, the current Doctor, knew her. After regeneration. After he burst into that golden light and emerged speaking about new teeth and Barcelona, he knew her. And this one did not. Of course! An earlier regeneration. Had to be. Only explanation for it.
"I...do I know you? Or did I know you? Or will I know you?" His brow furrowed as he seemed to search his memories. "Hmmm...must be a 'will' know you, since I can't recall meeting you before. Though I do tend to forget things after a while, especially at my age."
A giant weight seemed to have been lifted from her shoulders at his words. He wasn't her Doctor, not yet. Her Doctor was still alive, somewhere, and he needed her help. And, once she helped him, she was going to kill him for this.
Silence filled the room, though this time it was not punctuated by spoons. She had to think. Figure something out. This might be a Doctor, but he wasn't her Doctor. Escape. There had to be something they could do. Something…
How this Doctor had survived for this long without someone killing him from sheer annoyance astounded her. "D'you mind?"
"Not at all." He increased the tempo. Clackety-clackety-clack-clack-clack.
She could feel a headache coming on. Maybe she could appeal to his better nature. "I'm tryin' to figure a way out of here."
"You are?" He seemed surprised, but he did stop 'playing the spoons.' "Of course you are."
"An' that racket is not helping."
"Hmmm...then you wouldn't be interested in knowing that I already know how to get out of here." He looked so smug. Damn him.
"You do." She favoured him with an annoyed look.
"Of course! I tend to have several. Plan A is the first one, but if that doesn't work there's always B and C."
"Which are?" She waited somewhat impatiently for him to explain himself.
He seemed to deflate. "Oh. Well. You see, I tend to come up with them as I go. 'A' ended up getting discarded as soon as I noticed the bolt on the door was an antique. Sadly, my sonic screwdriver cannot affect it." He suddenly turned a rather intent look at her. "How are your acting skills?"
"Before you ask, no. Definitely no. Not going to work. You've tried that line before, Doctor, and it didn't work then an' it isn't going to work now. Playin' sick only works in the movies, an' everyone's tried it before anyway." Definitely the same man. Same stupid plans. Same request. Acting skills. She rolled her eyes.
"I assure you that the people of this time period have not seen those movies," he replied in an affronted tone.
"No? Then what're you still doin' in here? You were here before me, after all."
"Er…yes." He fiddled with the spoons for a moment before smiling sheepishly. "That trick doesn't seem to work as well when you're me."
"Then what's plan C, 'cause you're not convincin' me to play sick."
She repeated the word dubiously. "Rebels."
"Precisely. Where there is a megalomaniac, there is a rebellion. It's a fact of life." He rolled his 'r's' in emphasis, reminding her more of a Scottish Captain Kirk than the Doctor.
"An' how're you going to contact the rebels?" she asked.
"I hadn't got that far." Great. Fantastic. Looked like it was up to her to figure a way out of this mess.
"And plan D?"
Ace? Like that told her anything useful. She sighed. Wonderful. Fantastic. Why couldn't she have been stuck in this cell with someone useful rather than this annoying version of the Doctor?
"It's always useful to have an Ace up your sleeve, y'know." The Doctor smiled brightly at her, apparently ignoring her exasperated look.
"I'm sure," she said dryly.
She stood and brushed her hands against her jeans as she regarded the door with slightly narrowed eyes. There had to be something she could do. Think. Think. Think.
Assets. What sort of assets did she have? She felt in her pockets, but came up with nothing. Even her mobile had been confiscated by the backwater guards of this bloody planet. Then again, what use could that be? Call for help?
Last she knew, the Doctor - the proper Doctor - was in the same situation she was. Right. There went the assets discussion.
Ah. She'd forgotten her companion. If he was the Doctor, even if he was annoying, he must have something that might be of use. "So, d'you have anythin' that might be useful? Like a lock-pickin' set?"
The Doctor harrumphed as he set aside the spoons. "Let's see. Can never remember what I put in my pockets." He reached inside his pocket and began to pull out an assortment of bits and bobs. A piece of twine, a ball, a flask, a sonic screwdriver, a toothpick, a lot of matches, more spoons, a large brown bag that spilled open to release coins and a strange spider-like robot, and a green cube were spread out on the floor within moments. "Ah, looks like I left the lock-picking set in my other jacket. Too bad I also seem to have left the Nitro Nine. It might've been useful."
She didn't get a chance to make a remark about the contents of his pockets as she heard the sound of a key being inserted into the lock. As if by magic, the collection of odds and ends disappeared from the floor, secreted away into the Doctor's pockets once more.
The heavy wooden door swung open and a man who looked like he'd walked out of Shakespeare in Love entered the room. His expression was haughty and he barely even looked at them as he began to speak, almost as if his speech was by rote. "I am Chancellor Narim. It is my task to inform you that you are scheduled for execution at sundown. Do you have any last requests?"
"Can think of a few. How 'bout a pardon?" she asked. It was at that moment she realised that she had been travelling with the Doctor for too long. She was starting to sound like him.
"Any last requests?" Narim repeated, his tone indicating boredom.
The Doctor grinned and, as he caught her eye, he gave her an exaggerated wink. "How 'bout a nice walk outside? Smell the clean air, feel the grass beneath my feet, see the sky one last time?"
Narim sighed. "That is within my power to grant. You will be escorted to the castle gardens. You both will be surrounded by guards at all times. Any movement outside the gardens will be met with deadly force. The outcome will be the same no matter what you do. You both will die."
"Oh, that's comforting. Thanks for that," she retorted. Great, she really was sounding like him.
"You will be allowed one candlemark in the gardens," the Chancellor continued. "The guards will collect you shortly."
Because she was masochistic, or perhaps it was more a desire to determine just how much trouble they were in, she asked, "How long until sunset?"
Narim smiled and the slow stretch of his lips seemed almost malevolent. "Two candlemarks." With a mocking half-bow, the man stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him.
"I've always loved deadlines," the Doctor said as he put back on his fedora. "How about you?"
That settled it. If they survived this, she was going to kill the Doctor. And, at this point, she didn't care which one got the honours.
To be continued...