Rose sat frozen for a moment, staring in shock at the spot where the man – the stranger that had made her heart break when he'd screamed – had been only moments before.
And then she was running, legs pumping as her hair flew behind her. The Doctor was in danger, the man had said. The Doctor needed her, and though she hadn't known the Doctor for very long she needed to help him….
She tossed the doors at the end of the corridor open, and saw the blue box – TARDIS, she reminded herself, although she couldn't remember what it stood for – across the room. Two of them, both glowing an eerie red from within.
Across from them was the Doctor, strapped to a lab table with another man looming over him. Like the man Rose had just left, the Doctor radiated with a brilliant golden light. His screams sounded almost like a duet, and for a moment Rose wondered if the man next to him was screaming too. But as she moved closer, she saw that the standing man's mouth was not open in a scream, but grinning in blissful delight. His eyes were closed, as if savoring the sweetest symphony in the universe.
Paradox machine forgotten, Rose tackled him to the ground. "Stop it! Stop hurting him!" she shrieked, pounding her fists into every bit of the man she could reach.
He kicked her in the gut, and she rolled off him, gasping.
"Will you just bugger off?" cried the Master exasperatedly, massaging his bruised jaw. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
He extracted a small silver tube from his pocket and pointed at Rose. Her eyes widened, her brain not quite knowing what it was but somehow processing that it meant death –
She rolled, more on instinct than anything else, as the Master fired the laser screwdriver. In one great effort, she leaped to her feet and dove towards the closest TARDIS.
She slammed the door of the police box shut behind her and leaned heavily on the console, chest heaving, somehow hearing the zing of the laser screwdriver slamming into the other side of the door. "The forces of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door – and believe me, they've tried." Who had spoken those words? She couldn't remember. All she knew was that this definitely wasn't her mum's flat or Mickey's and it wasn't Hendricks. This was just some horrible, horrible nightmare that she'd tell Mickey about whenever she woke up and he'd laugh at her and tell her she'd had too much to drink…
Her knees suddenly buckled underneath her. Her head was spinning, and she thought she could feel tendons snapping, skin shredding, every fiber of her being ripping like pages torn from a book. Her eyes landed on the keypad attached to the center console, and she vaguely recalled a man's voice telling her some numbers. Half-crawling, half-stumbling, she moved closer to the console, fingers fumbling until they found the keys…7…4…6…6…
A clanging filled the console room, and for a moment Rose feared she'd misheard the strange man, that she'd somehow made things worse…Her head throbbed, pulsing as if trapped animals were trying to push themselves out….
Anxious to escape the bells, Rose opened the door to the police box and tumbled out onto the floor in a heap.
The Master knelt on the floor nearby, hands clutching at his temples. "What have you done?" he hollered like a toddler denied a toy. "What have you – NO!"
The entire world spun violently. Booming and crashing reverberated in an ear-splitting eruption of sound, and blurred streaks of her surroundings zoomed past her. Rose shut her eyes and covered her head as if that would protect her from the shower of memories bursting in her mind. Living dummies and the offer of a lifetime….her father, found and lost again….a captain in the Blitz…Daleks and the Doctor changing…werewolves and Sarah Jane and France and Mickey and….
The world finally halted, and Rose slowly rose to her knees, trying not to retch. The Doctor – Nine, she reminded herself – lay utterly motionless on the machine's table, no longer glowing.
The Master was already up and at the machine, jamming at buttons along its side in agitation. "Oh, no, NO NO NO!" He hit the machine repeatedly, frustrated.
Rose let out a sigh of relief, and the Master whirled to face her. "You stupid, stupid girl!" he roared, features twisted in livid rage. "It won't work, none of it!" He pointed the laser screwdriver at her, and she tensed, waiting for a fatal shock –
The screwdriver fizzled in the Master's hand. "What? What?" he sputtered. He and Rose both turned to the door.
The Tenth Doctor stood in the doorway, completely restored, from his Converse to his billowing overcoat to the tips of his crazy hair. His hand held the sonic screwdriver pointed threateningly at the Master.
"You broke my screwdriver!" the Master accused.
"You wiped me from all of existence," said Ten grimly, eyes blazing. "Seemed a fair trade."
Nine let out a groan, slowly opening his eyes. Rose rushed towards him and started yanking at the restraints.
"So what now?" scoffed the Master, eyes not moving from Ten. "Are you going to kill me?"
Ten took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "No."
"Coward," the Master yelled, face screwing up in fury as he took a step forward. "COWARD!"
"Always," said Ten quietly. Nine nodded in agreement as Rose helped him off the table.
"I hear Volag-Noc is nice this time of year," the younger Doctor said cheerfully. "You thinking Volag-Noc?"
"Sounds perfect," agreed Ten. "Don't know why neither of me figured it out before." Both Doctors slowly advanced towards the Master.
"Nu-uh," declared the Master, "Not happening." His eyes darted between each of the Doctors surrounding him. "You can't." In one quick movement, he extracted a silver tube from his pocket and aimed it at the ceiling. Instant realization surged through both Doctors, and they bolted towards the Master to stop him…
Complete darkness fell. Sounds of a scuffle emerged, Rose shrieked, an electronic whistle sounded –
The lights came back on. Both Doctors were centimeters from each other, poised to punch the other in the gut and jaw respectively, Rose had been knocked onto the floor, and the Master was nowhere to be seen.
The Doctors backed away from each other immediately.
"I'm sorry," Rose murmured from the floor, "I tried to stop him, but he got past me…"
"It's fine, Rose," said Nine, noticing a small silver tube on the floor. "My sonic screwdriver," he pronounced, picking it up and inspecting it. "Used it to turn the lights off. You must have knocked it out of his hands – " A small machine in the corner gushed smoke from its fried circuits. "No!" Nine shouted, running towards the machine, screwdriver in hand.
Ten pocketed his own screwdriver and held out a hand to Rose. "Pardon me for being rude," he said, glaring at his counterpart's back.
As soon as she was on her feet, Rose threw her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. "You're okay!"
Ten beamed and lifted her off her feet, spinning her around in a bear hug. "Right as rain, me!"
"But you burned," stressed Rose when he put her down. "I forgot you…and you were gone…."
"Yeah, well," the Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. "Forcing him," he pointed a finger at Nine, who was still inspecting the machine in the corner, "To regenerate erased me from space and time. I unregenerated. Not eager to do it again, actually. But then you, Rose Tyler, you brilliantly managed to switch the machine off. Paradox machine goes boom, time fixes itself, events that have happened happened, and ones that weren't supposed to didn't! Regeneration drainer goes kaplooie, he doesn't die, I regain my place in time and space, all's well that ends well! Plus, time's reverted! It's a couple of months before we landed now, the Ardonians won't remember a thing! Two and a half months completely erased from existence, except for us!"
"And the Master," Nine added bitterly, attentions no longer focused on the machine. "Emergency temporal shift. He could be anywhere by now."
Ten scowled. "He got away?"
Nine kicked the machine in disgust and walked back to Ten and Rose. "Yeah."
"Well, not the end of the world," remarked Rose brightly, placing a hand on each Doctor's shoulder. "Means you're not alone in the universe after all! If he survived, somebody else might have too, yeah?"
"He survived because he abandoned Gallifrey," said Ten sourly.
Nine didn't say anything for a moment. "Looks like I'm not alone in the universe anyway."
The corner of Rose's lips stretched upwards, and she and hugged him tightly. Nine glanced down at her and then at his counterpart with wide eyes, as if asking what in Rassilon's name he was supposed to do now. Ten sighed and nodded, and Nine tentatively wrapped his arms around Rose and hugged her back.
The door opened to admit a perfectly healthy and very confused Kasna. "Hey, what're you doing in here? This is a private facility! Guards!"
"Oi!" said Ten indignantly, "You could be a tad more respectful, we just saved your planet….Oh, right, sorry, you don't remember a thing, do you? Oh, well…." Footsteps of the guards – heavy guards – echoed in the hall. "Time to go!"
"Off to Shuria, then," said Nine with a grin. His voice softened as he turned to Rose. "See you soon."
She beamed back at him. "It's been fantastic…or it will be. Bye!" Rose waved as Ten dragged her by the hand towards their TARDIS.
"Where're you going?" demanded Kasna as they entered. "You can't hide in there!"
Both TARDISes shut just as the Terrahegan guards arrived, and vanished mere moments later.
"So, where to now?" asked the Tenth Doctor excitedly as he bounded around the console room.
"Bed," Rose answered with a yawn. Her brief nap in the prison cell had been the only sleep she'd gotten in over twenty-four hours.
The Doctor's shoulders sagged. "You're missing out on the Waving Mountains of Felspoon for a nap?"
"Yeah, I am." Rose started towards her room, but paused at the doorway leading from the console room. "Do you suppose he's alright, the other you?"
"Sure, he's got a meeting with a fantastic blonde in London coming up in – " His eyes widened in horror. "Rose! I just remembered!"
"What?" she said sleepily.
"Shuria! He's gone to Shuria!" He dashed around the console, jamming his fingers down on the controls.
"So?" she yawned.
"Shurian cities have these creatures, bit like alley cats, called Koul." The TARDIS lurched slightly as it changed direction.
"Okay…." Rose flicked a strand of hair out of her face warily.
"Except when they're agitated or feel threatened, they release this memory-wiping substance into the air. Makes the attacker forget why it's attacking, and then the Koul can eat rather than be eaten."
"That's very interesting," said Rose pointedly, "But I'm going to sleep now, yeah?"
Ten thrust another lever down. "So, I'm about to be attacked by one!"
"What?" Rose joined him at the console, thoughts of sleeping forgotten.
The TARDIS landed with a deafening crash, but both its passengers were both back on their feet and out the door within seconds.
They'd landed in a rough part of town. Boarded up cement shops lined the empty cobblestone road. Paper litter crunched under their feet as they stepped from the TARDIS. An eerie growl echoed from just around the corner.
They followed the growling around the corner to see Nine face-down in an alleyway, mere meters from his own TARDIS. A purple creature the size of a German shepherd with a mouth that could swallow a watermelon whole loomed over him, drooling teeth centimeters away from the leather jacket….
Ten brandished the sonic screwdriver wildly in the air as it let out a whining high-pitched shriek. The hulking Koul froze in its tracks and advanced towards him, head tilted in menacing curiosity.
"Ah, may need to bump the frequency up a bit….Rose, back away from me very, very….slowly…"
Rose took a step back as the Doctor fiddled with the screwdriver. She could no longer hear its whirring, but the Koul definitely could from the way its ears flattened. Yowling angrily, it turned tail and ran.
They rushed towards the fallen Nine. Rose turned him onto his back as Ten examined his counterpart. "Let's see…dislocated shoulder…and that is one nasty bruise." He pointed to Nine's forehead. "Might be a concussion or…oh!" He laughed. "Or just a tad of amnesia."
"So that's why you didn't remember anything?"
"Guess so." In one fluid movement, Ten snatched Nine's arm and yanked it back into its socket with a pop. "There we go, tip-top shape, he'll be fine! Right as rain!"
Nine let out a soft groan.
"Better bugger off before we screw up the timelines again," Ten grinned at Rose mischievously. He waggled his eyebrows at her daringly. "Run!"
She followed him, laughing as they turned around the corner and left the past behind.
The Ninth Doctor woke in a grimy alleyway with the third-worst headache he could ever remember. His blue eyes opened, then shut immediately as the harsh light invaded his retinas. He lay there for a few moments, sprawled spread-eagle on the ground, and pondered the sharp cobblestones pressing into his jacket and the back of his head and how he had gotten here to begin with. He remembered a missing laser spanner and a flash of blonde and something...something important. With a wince, he sat up and opened his eyes. A signal! There had been a very, very important signal! His hands rummaged through his pockets, digging through his collection of various signal-detecting devices until he had found one that was active. He frowned as he inspected the readings. Living plastic? On Earth? What was it doing there?
Well, he'd sort that. The Doctor stood, brushed the dirt off his beloved leather jacket, and turned to see the TARDIS parked directly behind him. He felt his mouth stretch into a wide grin and then laugh at the sight of his magnificent ship, although he couldn't remember laughing in a long time (far too long) and couldn't place where this sudden burst of optimism had sprung from. He'd come here to replace his laser spanner, he remembered as he entered the TARDIS and shut the door behind him. It could wait. He'd fix his pseudo-home planet one more time before he finally gave in to the despair that, though perhaps not as intense this exact moment, had been eating him for this entire incarnation.
Even the brief unexplained hopefulness dulled as he started the dematerialization sequence and felt the acute emptiness in his head and hearts. One more time, he thought. One last go, one last planet, and then he'd let himself quit and fade away.
The Doctor dematerialized a second too late to hear another TARDIS, the same TARDIS, reverberate with the glorious sound of the universe from just around the corner.
A/N: So there you are. And funny enough, finishing this did help a bit with my writer's block. =)