Chapter 11: Intervention
His trainers slapped the street in strict rhythm, the sound echoing and eerie on the completely empty street. This was a residential district, of sorts—mostly apartments and a few smaller shops. It should have been full of sound; in the growing dusk, lights should have on in the apartments. Instead, there was just… nothing.
That was the least of his problems
He could feel it, now. Actually, it was enough to make the beginnings of panic flutter unpleasantly in his chest—the way that foreign something was slowly uncurling in his head. He'd noticed it, and now he couldn't un-notice it, not even to concentrate completely on finding a solution to the problem. Nor could he isolate it, not that he'd really made a serious try yet. His own subconscious wasn't a place that he particularly liked venturing into, and his tentative jabs into the space had been deftly avoided by whatever the hell this was. What was it moving around while he tried to figure things out? What was it changing? Would he even be himself in a few hours?
What scared him, what really unnerved him, was how easy it had been to overlook. Only slightly wrong. So close to… well, him, to how his mind always worked. If it hadn't started being obvious about the changes it was making, he probably wouldn't have noticed at all. And HOW was it making changes, anyway? That kind of thing didn't happen! Not to him, anyway.
Wait a minute… Only the sound of my footsteps…
His eyes shot open very wide, and (without coming to a proper stop first) he turned around so quickly that almost lost his balance. "Rose?" His voice bounced off down the street as his eyes flicked here and there, hoping to see a flash of pink, a strand of blonde hair, or (as a nice change of pace) an actual, complete girl smiling back at him and wondering what the problem was. No such luck. There was absolutely no sign of Rose Tyler. He pursed his lips, glaring at the stubbornly empty road. What did he say? What did he always say?
She was probably fine. She'd probably just found something interesting, and was in the process of poking it with a stick. Sighing quietly, with resigned irritation in every line of his expression and posture, he started back the way he'd come, though at a considerably slower pace. It wasn't as though she couldn't look after herself.
… Although… that ability did seem to fizzle out at the worst possible moments.
"Okay," he muttered, trying to keep entirely fresh alarm off of his face, "Running it is." Accelerating up to a full sprint again, he tried to keep his mind on light things, like how stupid he was going to look if he charged in to save the day and Rose had stopped to tie her shoelaces.
For the second time in so many minutes, he came to an abrupt stop, though his expression this time was more uncertain than worried. Had he really heard that? Had it been telepathic? Normally he trusted his senses, but with things the way they were…
"Okay, definitely telepathy." Someone needed help. He helped people. Match made in he Angelic Cluster of the Castibulan Nebula. Unfortunately, this also had 'trap' written all over it, and (much more importantly) Rose was still missing in action. How was he just supposed to leave her on her own, especially since the last time he'd done so, she'd almost gotten carved up for spaceship parts?
Mummy, where are you?
The Doctor rolled his eyes in overwhelming exasperation. "Oh, that is just…" Well, that was it. Out of his hands. He shot one last, worried look down the street (Please look after yourself properly for a bit longer. Please?), then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat and warily started off down a little side alley in the direction of the voice. Well… the thoughts, really, since it wasn't an actual, physical voice in any sense of the word.
To be fair, it wasn't an alley; it was the space in between an apartment complex and a fenced in garden—a rather impressive one, as it happened. Someone had bright purple pumpkins that, despite being twice the size of his head, looked only about half grown. "Hullo?" he called softly, trying to keep his voice light and friendly despite his caution. He added a small telepathic bump to the word, so that someone operating only on that level would catch it as well.
Who is that? You are not of the people. Where is my mummy?
"I'm sorry, I really am sorry, but I don't know. I need to you to tell me where you are, alright?" There was no immediate response, and he was forced to come to a stop. The telepathic signature was from right there… "Really, it's fine. I can help. It's what I do."
What… you do?
"Yup! Well, that's always the plan, anyway." Probably not the best thing to say. He continued quickly, still looking around with serious eyes that did not match his carefully cheerful expression. "I usually do manage, though. Pretty impressive track record overall." Where was she? A little girl, he thought… "I'm the Doctor. What's your name?"
You are a healer?
"I can be," he replied carefully, "Are you hurt?"
There was something in my head. It made me feel fuzzy, and I did things. Then it went away, but I feel sick now.
Oh. He knew what this was. Actually, now that he'd worked it out, he felt a bit stupid for not having worked it out sooner. Very slowly and carefully, standing on tiptoe, he peered over the edge of the garden fence, staring straight down.
Huddled in a kind of rough dirt nest that she had obviously hollowed out for herself, there was a green child, dressed in nothing but something that looked suspiciously like an old potato sack. If she had been human, he would have guessed from her size that she was about five or six, but he couldn't remember anything about the Aaunvanthi aging process. Her limbs were frighteningly thin and fragile looking, and she was a lighter green than she should have been. She turned her small, eyeless face up towards his, then immediately hunched down defensively. "It's alright," he told her very softly, "I'm not going to hurt you."
Already, he could feel the anger building at the back of his mind, threatening to blot out rational thought. Someone had dressed a little girl in a potato sack. More to the point, someone had allowed a little girl to become severely malnourished. Somebody was going to answer for it, and somebody was going to answer for it soon. Period. Right at that exact moment, though, he couldn't express his wrath without the child assuming that it was directed at her. Moreover, she was telepathic; he couldn't even think angry thoughts without risk. As such, he locked his fury behind as many mental doors as he could immediately set up, hoping that he could stay calm for the length of a conversation.
The child's posture relaxed a little, and she turned her face up towards him again. Will you help me? My head hurts…
Making as little noise as possible, the Doctor unlocked the gate to the garden, slipped inside, and knelt on the damp earth. He tried to stay far enough away to be nonthreatening, while still being close enough to seem supportive; this girl had obviously been traumatized, or at least neglected. Sure enough, now that he was close enough to make up for the failing light, he could see patches of darker green on the stick-like arms and legs. Bruises. The waves of locked-away fury grew. "I will absolutely help you," he said seriously, "Stay still, and stay calm. Can you do that?"
Gingerly, he reached out towards her head with both hands… then abruptly stopped, fingers hovering a breath away from either side of her face. This was wrong. Especially with his mind like this. He couldn't risk it. His defenses were low, if they weren't completely compromised; he could hurt himself, or he could hurt her… assuming that this whole thing wasn't some kind of elaborate set up; he was more vulnerable when he was focusing on connecting to another mind. That last option was a little paranoid, even for him. Still, it would be better to find his older counterpart and let him handle things. The thought made him feel absurdly embarrassed, but there was no help for it. Reluctantly, he lowered his hands.
You won't help me?
Why did she have to sound so completely hopeless? "No! I mean—yes! I said that I would. It's just going to be a bit… complicated."
I thought that Time Lords could fix anything.
The Doctor smiled at that, a small, rather wry expression. "I wish that were true. Honestly, though, I'm just going to—" The penny dropped. He broke off, body stiffening. "Oh, that is just brilliant," he said very quietly after a beat, all warmth gone from his voice. "You almost had me. Well done."
I don't understand.
He stood, slowly, and took a careful step back. The fury was breaking loose, now, turning his veins to ice. "I think you do." There was a certain point when enough was enough, and he had officially reached it. "And here's another thing for you to understand: you are using a child. You're hurting a child. There are a few things that I am completely unreasonable about, and this is one of them. One warning: Let her go. Let them all go, and do it now, or I'll make you." His whole body was wire tight with rage by that point; his limbs buzzed with a kind of electricity. "And you will not enjoy it."
Well… No point in denying it, I suppose. You obviously can't see it, but I'm making my terrified face. Shall I ask where I slipped up?
A little thrown off balance somewhere deep underneath all of the anger, the Doctor paused for a moment. "I never told you what I was."
Oh, that. I didn't think you'd catch it, and I couldn't resist.
Who was this? "You're not going to let her go." It wasn't really a question.
I suppose I could, but then you'd start thinking that you're effective, and I'm not one for giving people false hope. By the way, where is your little Rose?
Rational thinking left the building, truly and completely. This thing, whatever it was, was going to regret ever being born. Expression cold, he turned, opened the gate, and left the way he'd come.
Where are you going?
"To find you. Start running."
Fine. We'll do this the hard way.
Suddenly, something small and wiry landed on his back; tiny hands pressed mercilessly at either side of his neck. It was the Aauvanthi girl—had to be. How was he supposed to get her off without—
A crack of thunder split the air, and the hands fell away from his throat; the slight weight left his back, and there was a sound of impact behind him. Uncomprehending, he turned and looked down. She was dead—thin limbs splayed haphazardly, a green puddle spreading underneath her head, and a small, neat hole just behind the spot where an ear would have been on a human. Without realizing it, he shook his head in silent, stunned denial. He would have saved her…
Footsteps made him look up, and the soft orange light of a lamp drew his eye to their owner's gun. "Why did you do that?" he practically snarled.
"I think the traditional thing to say is 'thank you,'" the man replied dryly. The voice was American, and seemed very, very familiar somehow. The Doctor blinked at him. "Seeing as I just saved your life."
Momentarily confused out of his frustration and rage, the Doctor blinked again.
The man followed his gun into the light, clicked the safety on, and stowed it back in his coat, all the while keeping calm blue eyes firmly on the Doctor's face. "Manners are dead. Look, have you seen a girl with ginger hair walk down that street?" He pointed back toward the main road. "Little gold dress, much less attractive boyfriend?"
The Doctor blinked again. "Um."
The man gave him an impatient look. "Um?"
"You're… " This was a disaster. Time lines… How was he going to fix this? Rose… Rose could not see this. He did not want to have to explain it, not to mention anything that it might remind her of, like (for example) certain people that he had abandoned on deserted gaming satellites. At least he could look at this version without wanting to bang his head against a wall; he wasn't a fixed point yet. Pre-London Blitz, then. "Out of luck," the Doctor continued, gathering up the shreds of his composure. "I haven't—" Wait a second. Why was he looking for Amy and Rory? "Seen them in a while," he concluded honestly.
"But you do know them?" Jack asked impatiently.
The Doctor couldn't quite hide a wince. "Well…" he hedged.
Jack looked him over, overt interest flickering in his expression. "I don't think I've introduced myself. I'm—"
"Stop it," the Doctor snapped peevishly.
"I was just saying hello!" Jack replied, indignant.
"I don't know where they are," the Doctor told him, tone flat. This was a con man, not his friend, and he it wouldn't be good for anyone (or the time stream) if he started thinking about all the ways he wanted to teach the con man a lesson.
Exasperation won out over curiosity. "Fine. I just think you should know, they're in way over their heads. If you see them, tell them to get out off world. They seem like nice kids."
The Doctor frowned. "How are they…"
"I can't remember who hired me to complete a certain job for the Achilles 7 government," Jack replied coolly, but there was a dangerous, flinty look in his eyes. "Someone selectively deleted some of my memories, and I have defenses set up that most people don't. I noticed the gaps when your friends asked about the contract."
"What are you talking about?" His hearts were pounding away again. Whatever it was, he could already tell that it wasn't going to be good.
The very young, soon-to-be Captain Jack Harkness gave him a speculative look—a very different brand of speculative than he'd displayed a few seconds before. "Have a minute?"
The Doctor gazed at him with impassive eyes, looked down at the broken form on the pavement, and then back out at the empty street. "Only if you walk and talk," he said finally, voice tight, and stalked off in the direction he'd last seen Rose without waiting for a response.
Jack raised his eyebrows, hesitated, and then followed.
AN: Yeah. Didn't have a computer for the vast majority of the summer. . Sorry. Seriously.