by Camilla Sandman
Disclaimer: Just written for my own and other's amusement, BBC. Please not be suing me.
Author's Note: Written for an anon request in my LJ. Thanks to Saz for beta-ing and being awesome. Love ya, darling.
Prologue: Wherein the premise is laid out
A murder, it is known, requires at least two parties. There's the victim, sometimes aware and sometimes not, but no one lives to compare and decide which is best. There's the killer, sometimes with regret and sometimes not, but the result always remains the same. Life is taken. Sometimes with blood, sometimes not, but always, always with force.
One ancient act. A million little consequences. Two parties.
Except, sometimes there's a third.
The innocent passing by.
Part One: Wherein our hero and heroine are unjustly accused of murder on a strange planet, a question by the dying is answered, the Doctor is worried, the problem of Watson is raised and a request for bravery brings fear
Spin, spin, twirl and spin goes the TARDIS, dancing through time in steps that sometimes seem random even to its choreographer, and he's seen all the patterns across time. But even a Time Lord can enjoy just not knowing. Knowledge weighs a feather and a mountain, and he likes to skip carefree.
Rose doesn't know this. Or perhaps she does, because a long time ago she saw everything and it nearly killed her. Now she lives, and she's bursting with excitement as the TARDIS lands in a burst of energy.
There's always the moment of stillness that's the biggest thrill of all, Rose thinks. When where they've landed can still be everywhere and everytime.
"So where's this?" she asks, because he loves to tell her and she loves to listen, and it's become a ritual as much as getting into trouble is. There's something reassuring about little constants in a Universe that he spins her wildly around in, and in a friendship where he might be someone else tomorrow.
He grins, as he does, pushing the TARDIS door open with the usual energy. She follows him out with as much energy as she can muster. "The planet of... Oh, Nattdvalve! Their sky is always dark, even when the sun is out. A right tourist attraction for star sighters, or would be if strangers weren't kept out."
"Sounds friendly," she observes, looking at the dark sky. Stars glitter faintly, but what she first thinks is the moon, she realises must be the sun. It looks cold, but the air is almost warm against her skin, so there must be some kind of heat coming across space. "So what do they do for a tan, then?"
The Doctor doesn't answer, and she turns to see him staring at a staring alien. It takes a moment for her to realise why, and then she lets out a strangled cry. There's blood, so much blood across the ground, and the second alien is shuddering in pain and dying, and his killer is still gripping the knife.
A lot of things happen at once. The attacker flees, the Doctor springs into action and follows, and she stumbles by what feels like auto-pilot until bloodied fingers are gripping her arm and she's looking into a stranger's face.
"I'm so sorry," she whispers, because she knows if there was anything that could be done, the Doctor would be there doing it.
"What's your name?" he gasps, his eyes as black as the sky, only starless.
"Rose," he repeats. "Are... Are you brave, stranger Rose?"
She thinks of Daleks and Cybermen and Slitheen and other aliens in the dark, and all the times she's never left the Doctor. "Sometimes."
"Be brave, stranger Rose. Comfort my ghost," he says, and dies. She can feel it, the heat fleeing from his body as if afraid now and the wind taking all the breath from his body too. She still shakes his body a little, for otherwise it would feel like she's just accepting it. But death is death, and she stops when she feels the Doctor's hand on her shoulder.
"He got away," the Doctor says, sounding troubled.
"Can't we chase him with the TARDIS or something?"
"Not going to be as easy as that."
"Why not?" she asks angrily, turning to look at him and seeing the dozen aliens behind him, all looking angry.
"They think we did it."
Rose has learned that strangers will often come to assume the worst about her and the Doctor, but she hasn't had this allegation of worst thrown at her before. Murder. Murder, the aliens toss at her and she tries to protest it, just as the Doctor protested when they more or less tore her out of his arms and separated them by force. She feels alone and cold and not quite like Rose, stripped of her own clothes and put into something drab. Her head is pounding too, trying to answer questions she can't or won't by aliens with dark eyes she can read nothing from. No sympathy, no hint they believe her. No nose in their faces either, and that's really starting to freak her out.
No, she can't show them how she got here.
No, she can't tell them why she came here.
No, she can't tell them who the Doctor is.
No, she can't tell them why she killed, because she didn't, didn't, didn't.
They don't seem too impressed at her repetitions, but they must be beginning to find them as tedious as she is, because they stop asking and take her to a cold room she knows must be a cell. Stone and steel and a lone light on one wall, just making the room feel filled with shadows. She makes the best of it still, sitting down in the corner that feels the least drafty and hugging her knees to her.
She wonders what they're doing to the Doctor. The thought that she might not see him again does present itself, as it inevitably does almost every time they get into trouble. She's almost so used to that fear it feels a bit dull.
She wonders what they're going to do her later, and what it would be like to spend the rest of your life in alien prison and never see a bright sky.
She wonders about death too, and tries not to.
Somewhere along it all, she thinks she drifts off, because the next thing she sees is the Doctor's face in front of her, crouched before her and a hand on her knee.
"Hello," he says, and she grins stupidly and flings herself at him, because here and now he's alive and there and somehow feels enough. He steadies her against him, burrowing his head into her shoulder and his hand on her back is a little painful in its force. She doesn't tell him. It doesn't matter, not really.
"Did they hurt you?" he asks, voice so calm she knows he's not.
"No. Just my fashion sense."
She can feel his laughter like a low rumble, and it's just a bit more desperate than really amused. He pulls back a little, and she notices he's been put in the same garb as her, more or less. Equals, then.
"They didn't seem to like us much," she says as cheerfully she can.
"They don't trust strangers. They've had reason to."
She finds herself nodding slowly, as if she understands. "What happens now?"
"They either execute us in the morning or pardon us with their sincerest apologies. Depends how much of a genius I manage to be."
She smiles a little dully. "Nothing at all to be worried about then?"
They fall into silence, still sitting in a half-embrace and she can almost hear his mind racing the speed of light. Considering, pondering, planning. Staying ahead of her by a million years, and she feels an irrational anger at it. Right now, she'd like him all here. But he never is. Not fully.
"Will they really execute us?" she asks, her voice feeling thin in the dark.
"No. They are not beyond compassion. They'll probably just keep us here for life."
"Kindness itself," she mutters, before a thought occurs. "Hang on, for your life or mine?"
"What?" He sounds distracted.
"Your life or mine?" she repeats. "You live longer than some countries. I get a few decades."
"I'm not planning on us sticking around, Rose," he says irritably. "I don't think it really matters."
"Even your genius can fail," she protests, and he gives her a Look. "It's just you and me this time, Doctor. We've had others help us before and now it's just you and me. And I could grow old and you'll just..."
"Watch," he says, and it sounds like a death sentence.
"You'll just go," she goes on, ignoring the very strong vibes coming from him. He doesn't want to talk about this, but she desn't have to do everything he wants. She doesn't. "I could die in some cold alien prison in the ugliest prison attire ever and my mum will never know and I'm supposed to comfort some ghost too..."
"What?" the Doctor says sharply, grabbing her wrist a bit roughly. "Rose, what did you say?"
"The guy... alien... who was killed, he asked me my name..."
"You didn't tell him?" The Doctor almost sounds pleading, and she get a sense something is going unexpectedly wrong.
"I didn't think it was important..."
"Names have power," he says forcefully, still gripping her wrist. "He'll know who to wait for now."
"Wait for where? He's dead," she replies, and the Doctor just looks at her and she feels almost punched to the stomach. He's afraid, she realises. Genuinely afraid. "Doctor?"
He catches himself, and smiles much too sincerely. "Been a while since I've been involved in a murder. I didn't even bring the approriate hat wear."
She just stares at him, trying to adjust to the sudden change of mood. He seems determined to plunge ahead, and she's feeling a bit scraped all over the place.
"Hats are proven to focus the brain's murder-solving area," he continues, tapping a finger against his temple. "Why so many of the great weren't great until I took them shopping. Sherlock Holmes, he was just a newspaper clerk until I took him to Hats Be Us."
She gives him a dubious look.
"I even set him up with Watson. Now, there was a team."
"Holmes and Watson?"
"Yep!" he beams. "Much better together than apart. Watson needed Holmes, and Holmes needed Watson."
"Holmes needed a Watson," she corrects. "There's only one Holmes. He solves the murder, Watson's just there to help him think, or something."
"Watson's an essential part of the team," he insists, sounding a bit hurt she's arguing with him.
"He could be anybody, couldn't he? He's only mentioned because he's with Holmes. He's nobody special."
"Holmes chose him. That's special enough."
"You would say that."
"I would!" he protests. "I do. Watson is essential in the... Watson-department."
She shakes her head at him. "You're just full of... hat-fluff."
He looks deadly insulted for a moment, and then he grins, and then he laughs and she joins him, if a little hysterically.
"Rose," he says, and laces his fingers in hers. "We'll get out of this one. Just trust me."
"Okay," she agrees, and wonders if he trusts himself. She could ask him, and he would probably lie, so she doesn't. She just rests her head on his shoulder, and feels the warmth of his body next to her, his mind already somewhere else, she knows. He's worried about something, and she wonders about ghosts and bravery and her own name, which shouldn't really matter, not to anyone but the Doctor himself.
Such was her humble role in their alliance.
But it's her own name she hears when she closes her eyes, a whisper that thunders. The Doctor isn't the only one who can be afraid.
Be brave, stranger Rose. Comfort my ghost.
She thinks she might be terrified after all.