Chapter 12: Overwhelmed
The metal pipe connected solidly, and there was a surprised yelp. "Agh! Rose! What the hell do you think you're doin'?"
Rose, who was still brandishing her weapon and attempting to look fierce, hadn't been expecting that. Her eyes widened in sudden, horrified recognition. "Mickey?" The pipe clattered to the pavement, and she threw her arms around his shoulders in an apologetic hug, which was a little difficult, since he had one hand pressed tightly against the right side of his skull. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry! You alrigh'?"
He looked more shell-shocked than anything else, and nodded. "I think so."
She pulled back and glared at him. "Well, good, because that was a bloody stupid thing to do to someone. Couldn't you just, I don' know, say hello? Like a normal person?"
He just shook his head, his expression still stunned, his eyes not quite focusing, and Rose had the sudden, unnerving impression that he couldn't actually see her—not really. "I had to get you out of sight, Rose. You have no idea… "
She took a deep breath. "Alrigh'. Jus'… calm down. Wha' happened?"
Finally, his eyes focused on her. Somehow, it didn't make her feel any better. The whites were showing all the way around his dark irises. "I met… I think I met whoever is doin' this, Rose, and we have to get out of here. I'm tellin' you, we jus'… have to."
Rose was shaking her head before he'd finished speaking, an uncertain frown on her face. "I can't leave the Doctor on his own. As in, literally, even if I wanted to-which I don'—we have no way of getting' off this moon without him, so—What?" He was shaking his head, eyes out of focus again. "Mickey, whoever is doin' this, it's the Doctor. He can handle it."
"I's not the Doctor I'm worried about," he replied flatly. "He—" He broke off, shuddered a little, and swallowed before continuing. "It wanted me to think that it was only interested in the Doctor, that if I got him, I could leave with you, but—"
"Wait," Rose said, putting up a hand, confusion lining her forehead. "Interested in the Doctor?"
"Will you forget about the Doctor for one second?" Mickey demanded, his voice shooting up to an almost hysterical pitch. "Rose, I think it wanted you. I almost believed it. I really wanted to believe that it was only after him—I don't think I've ever wanted anything more in my life-but… I think it wants you. It kept asking about you—about events, and things. Like…" He swallowed again and met her eyes. "Like it wanted to know if you were done yet."
Rose regarded him blankly. "Done? Wha's that supposed to mean?"
"How should I know?"
"Well, you're the one who said it!"
Mickey licked his lips. "It was just… He… It kept asking about the Doctor, and you popped up in conversation. Casually. A little… too casually, you know?"
"No!" Rose snapped. She had no idea what was going on, and was getting scared anyway, which was beyond frustrating. "It sounds like he was tryin' to get you to… sell out the Doctor, or something, and…" Something in Mickey's expression made her stop, her breath hitching in her chest. "… Mickey…?"
"I wasn't goin' to…"
Disbelief slowly turned to anger, and her hands balled into fists. "You were goin' to."
"No! It was like… he knew me. He knew how I felt about the Doctor, and the two of you being off together all the time..."
"Probably because he isn't blind or deaf," Rose spat. The betrayal, the sheer unfairness of the situation, was making her feel lightheaded.
"Shut up for a second!" Mickey all but shouted, "I'm tryin' to—"
"Don' tell me to shut up!"
He gripped at her shoulders, fingers digging in painfully. "Rose, you can be angry with me, you can hate me, whatever you want—just promise me that you'll find somewhere to hide and stay put!"
She was already getting to her feet, though the sudden, furious tightness of her every muscle made that difficult. "No. Way."
"Even if you're right, and this thing, whatever it is, is all about getting me, what does that make the Doctor?" Mickey just stared at her. "Bait." As an afterthought, she reached down and picked up the metal pipe again. After testing the heft of it once, she glanced down at him again, disappointment and anger warring for space in her eyes. "Try not to get caught again, alrigh'? " she said finally, fighting to keep her voice even.
Ignoring him, she turned and walked out of the alley.
… And immediately heard muffled, distant voices. "…don't under… where… going…"
Flinching, she immediately got back behind the building. "That was fast," Mickey noted darkly.
"Oh, shut up," she muttered, straining her ears. Whoever it was, they were getting closer.
"… is the problem? We're not little kids!"
"This is not up for debate, Pond." Pond? … Amy Pond. And that did sound like the other Doctor…
"But what happened? One second, everything was fine, and then suddenly it's 'Whoops! Field trip over.'" Definitely Amy's voice.
"Pretty much, yeah." The words were clipped, barely polite.
"So, sorry, what are we doing?" That was the other bloke. Ro…ry?
"We are not doing anything, Rory. You are going to go back to the TARDIS, clear the rubble, get inside, deadlock the doors, and… I don't know… play Parcheesi. More importantly, you are going to stay inside, no matter what, and keep the doors locked, with no exceptions."
"But why?" Amy again.
"Because I said so."
"That isn't a real answer!"
"No, it isn't. It doesn't have to be. Did I not make that clear? When I say jump, you say how high. This is not a relationship of equals, and I'm telling you that you are going to stay inside until I personally come to fetch you out. End of discussion."
"You're scared," Amy informed him challengingly. No response. "What scared you? What's going on?"
"… Hopefully, someone is playing a very bad practical joke."
"Do you think that's what's happening?" She certainly wasn't letting him off the hook easily. Rose pressed her lips together, caught between wanting to reveal herself and never wanting to talk to that other Doctor again, regardless of the circumstances.
"Amy." That was Rory again. He wasn't much of a talker, was he? "Leave him alone."
"Amelia," The Doctor again. Something in the tone of his voice had changed, and Rose abruptly felt vaguely voyeuristic. "There's actually something… Just in case, I probably should…"
"What is it, Doctor?"
Rose's cheeks were suddenly very hot. What was going on, here?
"It's your house." Oh. Maybe it wasn't what she'd thought.
"How would you describe it?"
"Is this a joke?" Amy was starting to lose her composure, and Rose couldn't blame her.
"Absolutely not. I never joke about houses. They're important."
"You don't even have a house," Amy pointed out.
"I have the TARDIS."
"That's basically living out of your car, Doctor."
"W-That is not—" There was a pause. "Alright, fair point. Just because I don't have something doesn't mean it isn't important."
" Fine! Er…. Old? Big?"
"Big. That's half of it. What else?" Everyone was silent for several long moments. Where was he going with this? Amy didn't seem any clearer on the point than Rose was. "…Empty. It's empty."
"Well of course it is!" Amy sighed. Rose could almost hear her rolling her eyes. "It's just me and my aunt, so of course it's empty!"
Another beat of silence, and then the Doctor sighed. "It probably wouldn't have helped, anyway."
"What wouldn't have…?"
"Come on. The sooner I deal with you lot, the less time younger me has to get into very deep trouble. "
"Can we come?" Mickey's voice was right behind her, and loud enough that Rose almost jumped out of her skin. Immediately, she turned around and glared at him.
"What the hell are you doin'?" she hissed.
"Keepin' you safe," Mickey growled back, expression belligerent, "Whether you like it or not. Tha's another Doctor, right? An older one. I heard about him, and he's lockin' his companions up." He stuck his chin out, completely unapologetic. "He's lookin' after them. Why isn't yours doin' that?"
It was too late to do anything about it. "Mickey?" Cautious footsteps sounded on the sidewalk, and then the bowtie Doctor poked his head around a corner, expression politely inquisitive. Then his eyes settled on Rose, and overwhelming relief flickered across his face before he his expression settled into a polite mask again. It was just a flash—gone so quickly that she wasn't sure she'd seen it at all—and left her feeling shaky and uncertain. "Oh, good. Yes, you can." Without waiting for a response, he reached out and grabbed Rose by the wrist, pulling her after him. "Come on."
"Hey, what about m—" Mickey began.
"Yes, obviously," the Doctor interrupted impatiently as he rounded the corner, Rose in tow. She shot a last, furious look over her shoulder at Mickey, who glowered back, and then devoted most of her attention to keeping up.
Amy and Rory were waiting for them around another corner, looking both fairly exhausted and very nervous. Nonetheless, Rory offered the new arrivals a small smile and a nod, while Amy managed an actual grin. "Have a pleasant little trip?" she asked Rose brightly.
"Oh, yeah," Rose replied, words dripping with sarcasm, "Brilliant." Amy's grin was catching, though, and she found herself smiling somewhat wanly in response.
Bowtie Doctor was still tugging her along behind him, moving quickly enough that she had to take the odd skipping step in order to keep up. "Where am I? Come on, you lot," he added, shooting a look over his shoulder.
Rose frowned and worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "Um, I dunno." Her eyes came to search his face, but he was no longer looking in her direction. "That is, we sort of got separated." She wasn't sure if she ought to mention Mickey—that was, what Mickey had tried to do. She didn't know if she could ever forgive him, but she didn't want him hurt, either.
Bowtie's voice was calm, but underneath that she thought she detected a hint of a snarl. "Of course you did."
Stung, Rose tried to tug her wrist away from him. It didn't work, so she started trying to dig in her heals. "It's not my—"
But he was already talking again, his tone much softer, almost gentle, though he still did not turn to look at her. "No, of course it isn't." His grip on her wrist slackened. "I shouldn't have…" She waited for the sentence to continue, but he just shook his head once, sharply, and dropped her wrist completely. She rubbed at it, glancing behind her. Amy and Rory were talking quietly to each other, heads bent and almost touching as they murmured to each other. Every once and a while, one or both of them would shoot Bowtie Doctor a look that was halfway between concerned and speculative. Behind them, Mickey trudged, glassy-eyed and miserable looking. Behind that… nothing. Empty streets. No sign of her Doctor.
Shivering, Rose took another skipping step and hurried to catch up with Bowtie. "So," she began quietly, "You're… what? Locking us up in the TARDIS, right?" He glanced towards her, if not precisely at her, but said nothing. "So something bad is happening. Something really, really bad." Again, no response. She frowned down at her shoes, then looked up at his face again. "Are you…" she began, then stopped herself. She wasn't sure she wanted to ask that question. More to the point, she wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
His voice was very quiet. "Am I what?"
She could feel tears prickling behind her eyelids. "Are you… are you going to send us away?" She saw his jaw tighten fractionally. "Like you did with me? Are you going to send us away to keep us safe?"
He was silent for a long, agonizing moment, and when he did reply, he sounded small. Lost. "I don't know." A small, humorless smile quirked his mouth, but left his eyes shadowed. "I have no idea."
Her hands were shaking. "Don't. Please." The tears were audible in her voice now, and she hated them. She did not want to cry in front of this person who was not her Doctor. "Don' ever do tha' to me again. I mean it. Promise me."
He still wasn't looking at her. "Rose," he said quietly, and the humorless mile grew in to a joyless little laugh. "Oh, Rose. Even if I promise, I'm a liar. You have no idea."
"I want you safe," she said, somewhat desperately.
He jerked as though she had slapped him in the face and finally met her eyes, his expression stunned. "You…" Then he shook his head again and visibly forced his thoughts together. His calm, composed expression snapped back into place. The smile came back, small and careful and polite. Her Doctor didn't have a smile like that, though… it occurred to her that the one before him, Big Ears, might have had an equivalent expression. "Rose Tyler. You don't give up, do you? So," he added lightly, "What happened?"
"To who?" Rose asked, thrown off balance by the subject change and (she realized later) effectively distracted.
He leaned in closer to her, his breath stirring the hair hear to her ear. "To Mickey," he replied evenly, his voice so quiet she could almost pretend he'd said something else. Then, in a louder tone, he continued, pulling away from her again. "Because something obviously did, and I'm guessing it's important. So what was it?"
Rose frowned up at him, then down at the ground. "I don' actually know," she admitted. "I… It was a bit confusing. He says he met the person behind this."
Bowtie Doctor's expression hardened almost imperceptibly, and something about it was eerily familiar. The Oncoming Storm was still there behind that genial smile and those cool manners. He was still the same, somewhere underneath. Somewhere. "Then it's probably time that he and I had a talk," he replied in a deceptively offhand tone. "Oi! There you are, beautiful girl!" He took two great leaping steps forward, and landed in front of a blue box half-buried in stone rubble and thick wooden beams. It was a brighter blue than Rose remembered.
Eyes bright, the Doctor turned to his associates. "Ready to get back in the saddle?" Some thought flickered visibly across his face. "Amy, remind me: we are going to America, and we're going to be cowboys. I mean it. Remind me."
"Oookay," Amy said crossing her arms.
"Good." He paused. "Now comes the part where we shift rubble as quickly as we can and hope that nobody comes to shoot us or stab us or bash us on the head while we're performing said hard labor." Everyone stared at him. "Oh, what?" he snapped, glaring at them, "I can't have a brilliant solution for everything; the sonic doesn't do wood."
"And then what?" Rory inquired, looking dubiously at the rubble blocking the doors.
The Doctor shot him a deeply annoyed look. "And then Parcheesi. Haven't you been paying attention? Come on, Ror—"
He cut himself off with a sudden yell, jerking back violently enough that he almost fell over. Rose couldn't see exactly what it was, but she could see that the TARDIS was moving, sinking down with the creaking of wood and the sound of moving earth.
She could hear Amy shouting, "What's goin' on? Doctor? Are you alright?"
"It's the Auunvanthi," Rose muttered, mostly to herself, staring blankly at the sinking TARDIS "They're… The Doctor said that they mostly tunnel." What if they were under the entire city? What if they could hear every footstep that was taken on the surface? How could they hope to hide? What could they even—
With a sudden jolt of mind-numbing fear, the ground crumbled underneath her, and she fell with a yelp. She didn't have enough air in her lungs for a proper scream. Earth filled her mouth, muffled her hearing, and still she fell. Then, finally, she landed on hard-packed earth, and everything went abruptly black.