Author's Notes: An AU fic set in a parallel world similar to Pete's World.
"Hello there! You don't mind if I sit in here for a spell, do you? Course you don't."
Rose Tyler's first thought about the man addressing her, as he half-slides and half-flops into the seat across from her, is that he's clearly a little bit mad. He looks as though he's practically vibrating with pent-up energy, and with those overly long and gangly limbs there's something about his movements that sort of remind her of a foal in its first attempts at walking, and of course he's wearing dirty plimsolls with a pinstripe suit of all things. And then there's the hair. He's probably spent hours on it just to make it look as if he's just climbed straight out of bed and not bothered with it (or like he's been electrocuted, maybe). She wants to deny that that effect really sort of works for her.
Most other people rich enough to afford a private first class compartment on the bullet train — and there really aren't many of them, these days — would immediately kick a man like that out on his backside. He's lucky, she supposes, that Rose never had the chance to grow up that entitled.
He settles in, crossing his legs to mirror her posture, and gives her a contemplative look. Then his face splits into a grin. It's undeniably disarming, that smile, and because of it Rose has even more trouble denying that this man is hot.
"Nice shoes," she notes jokingly.
"You too," he says. His eyes run from the tips of the uncomfortably high heels all the way up the bare length of her legs appreciatively. "Not very practical, though. You should always wear shoes that you can run in."
She can't help but sit up and take notice of the way he looks at her, like she's really something to behold. For an odd moment, she has an inexplicable urge to reach out to run her hands through that hair. She wonders whether he'd even kick up a fuss. Probably not. He obviously isn't the sort to care much about things like personal space and asking for permission.
That train of thought is quickly stopped in its tracks by what she notices in his lap: a worryingly sharp-looking knife, the blade of which must itself be at least the length of his hand. He toys with it absently, his eyes trained unceasingly on her face, obviously so at ease with the weapon that he doesn't worry at all about the possibility of cutting himself due to his inattention.
The feeling of easiness that had filled the compartment is sucked out of the room in an instant.
She'd known there was a reason (aside from how much she hates her job) that she hadn't wanted to go all the way to Paris and back just to represent Vitex at that stupid function. Still, even her low expectations hadn't prepared her for the whole thing going quite this pear-shaped.
She really probably should have taken a zeppelin instead, she thinks.
Rose sneaks a look towards the door of the train carriage, which is cracked open just enough to see that there's no one in the hallway outside. She tries to calculate whether she can make it out before he can grab her. There's next to no room between them, with his outstretched leg practically touching hers, and the door is a good several feet away. He could be on her in a second or less, she thinks.
She clearly doesn't hide her thoughts very well, for he says simply, "I wouldn't."
Rose swallows and meets his focused gaze. She forces an undaunted expression onto her face. "This isn't exactly the first time someone's threatened my life, y'know." It's only happened a grand total of once before, but she figures she doesn't need to tell him that.
She's really sort of hoping that he laughs and asks her what she's going on about. He doesn't. His expression doesn't even change. That smile that was (still is, annoyingly) so attractive suddenly seems almost disturbingly large, all things considered.
"No, I'd say it's not," he says. "Pete Tyler's got a lot of enemies. People just don't properly appreciate anyone who works their way up from nothing, do they? Bit of a shame, that. Of course, I hear this has something to do with specific business deals, so perhaps Mr Tyler's done more to attract their wrath than just participate in a little upward social mobility. I hear he's tangled up with John Lumic himself, even." He shrugs. "The things people do for money. It's all a bit beyond me, personally."
Rose bristles at the slur on her father and crosses her arms defensively across her chest. "You've got me at a bit of a disadvantage," she says, stalling, hoping that a way out is about to present itself. Someone stumbling in through the door, the train coming to an unexpected halt, anything will do. "You seem to know all about me, or my family at least. On the other hand..." She looks pointedly at him.
"Ah, right. Sorry about that." He actually sounds it. "I'm the Doctor," he says cheerfully.
"You're a doctor?" Rose asks sceptically.
"The Doctor," he corrects.
"The Doctor of what, exactly?" Rose finds that she's actually legitimately curious despite herself.
"Of... well, nothing. Or a lot of things, depending on how you look at it. It's just my name."
"What, is it some kind of assassin code name? D'you normally kill with a scalpel or somethin'?" she scoffs.
"I've been known as 'the Oncoming Storm' from time to time," he admits. "Is that more the sort of name you'd expect?"
"The Oncomin' Storm," Rose repeats, looking over him. "Seriously? When you look like any tiny breeze'd blow you right over?"
He looks down at himself, appearing a little miffed. She knows she's probably pushing her luck by insulting him, but even with the knife in his hand, he's hardly acting particularly threatening. Of course, she has to remind herself that that's precisely what it is. Acting.
"You're not what I expected of an heiress, with all that cheekiness and laughter in the face of death and all. I like you, Rose Tyler," he announces.
Rose laughs, hoping he doesn't pick up on the slightly hysterical nature of it. "Yeah, well, the feelin's not mutual. I don't really like people who wanna kill me, as a rule."
"That's a very good rule to have," he commends her.
Silence falls for a moment, and Rose shakes her head at how surreal this all is.
"All right, seriously, what you waitin' for?" she asks. She doesn't want to push him into doing something that she'll regret, obviously, but this odd camaraderie thing he's going for has her on edge and really rather confused. She thinks that she'd rather he just be straight with her. "I really don't see how playin' around with me helps any, so why don't you just get on with it already?"
"Well, I've got rules too, don't I? I've got to give you a choice."
Rose finds herself speechless for a moment. Eventually, very articulately, she says, "Huh?"
"Everyone should get a choice, I think," he responds conversationally. "It's the basis of civilisation, choice. I mean, my... sponsors, you might call them, chose a target. That's you, by the way. I chose to take up the challenge. You can choose to get yourself out of a really very bad situation. If you want to, that is. You may not. I dunno. I've met a few people who almost seem to welcome having a hit placed on them, like they've just been looking for an opportunity to give up and step right out of their existence. Odd, that. If you don't like your life, I say change it, not end it. Why would anyone want to stop living when none of us really have a clue if anything even comes after all this? Silly idea. So I really don't recommend the whole giving up route. I don't think you really seem like that type, anyway, and I'm usually a pretty good judge of these things. Well, most of the time. There was that one time in Bristol... But never mind that. That's not the point. The point is... where was I up to, again?"
"You really do like to hear yourself natter on, don't you?" Rose marvels.
"Ah, you're right. Talk too much, me," he says. "It'll get me in trouble one of these days. It has already, a time or two. But I'll admit that I'm not really worried for the moment. I'm pretty confident I've got the upper hand here."
Rose can't help but look once more at the knife and silently agree.
"Ah! That's where I was up to!" he exclaims. He taps his finger again his temple. "I've got too many thoughts in my head sometimes, I think, but at least I've got a good memory. I always get back on track in the end. Well, almost always."
"And 'in the end' is how far off, exactly?" Rose snipes. "I'm not gettin' any younger. Or any older, apparently, if someone gets their way."
The Doctor raises his eyebrows. "Ooh, that's a bit dark, don't you think? All right, then, this is how it goes. Someone wants proof that you're dead and I'm the one that offed you, see? But all I've really got to do is provide some photographic evidence. That's easy enough to fake, but only if you help me out a bit and then go into hiding. And I mean properly in hiding. No one could know that you were still alive. Not your friends, not your family, especially not your father, since I'd say that this whole thing is designed to hurt him. If you tried to contact any of them... well. People have a way of finding out about that sort of thing, and you'd end up face down in a ditch somewhere right quick after that. So here's what I'll do for you so that you can at least try to avoid that unpleasant end. You go withdraw some money from your likely massive bank account as soon as we're back in London, then you pay me off and take off. Ooh, it sounds so sordid when I say it like that: 'pay me off'." Rose looks incredulously at him. He nods. "Right. Bounty hunter. I forget sometimes that sordid sort of goes with the territory. Anyway. I'll get you a fake passport and you'll get on a plane and not come back. I get paid twice over. The people who want you dead think they've got their money's worth. You get to live. Everyone's happy."
"What, easy as that?" Rose asks sarcastically.
"Easy as that," he confirms, completely serious.
"Well, obviously that's not gonna happen," Rose says, shaking her head. As if the fact that he's toting a knife around isn't enough of a warning, the idea that he thinks for a second that she might just agree to fake her own death clearly rules him firmly into the 'crazy' column of life.
"It's your choice. What are we, about twenty minutes outside of London? I'd say you've got maybe about another half an hour on top of that to decide. Though I warn you, that might be a generous estimate. Could be less, depending. Now me, I'm exceptionally good at my job — bit of a genius, if I do say so — so it wasn't hard for me to find out where you were quickly enough to actually get all the way to Paris and then get the same train back to London as you. Any others, even though they're bound to be a bit slower, will still probably have at least figured out where you were today and that you've booked a train back. They'll likely come out of the woodwork pretty soon after you're back in the city and easier pickings."
Rose frowns. "Um, hang on, what? What others?"
The Doctor leans back in his seat, but despite the casual pose Rose can tell that he's just as able as ever to leap up and grab her the moment she makes a run for it. "Oh, didn't I mention?" he says. "I haven't been directly hired. You, Rose Tyler, have a price on your head, and it's an open offer. It's not enough money to draw the best of them out, mind — apart from me, obviously — but there are a lot of bounty hunters and the like in the London area, and they all have their ears to the ground. You're bound to attract a lot of interest that, trust me, you don't want."
"Why would I trust you about anythin'?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Don't, then. Ignore me. Doesn't bother me what you do."
There's something about the way he says it that makes Rose think that it does bother him, actually, even if it's just a little. Then again, he's already admitted to liking her, so perhaps that's reason enough for him.
"If it doesn't bother you, then let me go," she suggests.
"Who's keeping you here?" he asks ingenuously, turning the knife in his hands and looking down at the weapon for the first time since initially producing it. "Having a knife doesn't mean I intend to murder you or imprison you here. It's a mistake to just assume things like that. Assuming anything at all might get you killed even quicker."
Rose rises, somewhat shaky on her feet, and inches towards the sliding door that leads away from the compartment and away from him. All of her muscles feel almost unbearably tense. She's just waiting for him to jump up and put his knife to her throat, telling her that he's just playing with her and that she's not going anywhere after all.
Seeing her hesitation, he tilts his head at the doorway. "Go on," he encourages. "I'd get going now, if I were you. Might as well be ready to jump off the train as soon as it stops. You'll need the head start."
She wonders whether he means from him, or from these 'others' if they truly exist.
Rose reaches towards the doorway, grabbing the frame to steady herself as she uses her other hand to push the door fully open. She momentarily looks back at him.
"Nice to meet you, Rose Tyler," he says, as pleasantly as if they've just had a conversation about the weather rather than her impending doom. "Run for your life."
She doesn't quite, but it's a near thing.
Once she's all the way down the other end of the train and has had a moment to catch her breath, Rose considers pressing the emergency call button in the hallway and alerting the train security what's just happened. She doesn't really see the point, though. Even if she chooses not to believe the whole of his story, she does at least believe him when he says that he's a professional. He certainly has that air of danger about him. A man like that is hardly just going to hang about in the compartment where she left him waiting to be caught, and she'll be stunned if they manage to find him elsewhere on the train, either.
She thinks to call her father and ask him if he can hire some sort of bodyguards or something to meet her at the train station. Her mum's drilled the idea of 'better safe than sorry' into her for long enough that she doesn't doubt its wisdom.
Still, even Pete Tyler can't organise for security to meet her in (Rose looks at her watch) ten minutes flat. And she really doesn't like the idea of hanging around the station waiting for them. The Doctor might have let her walk away, but to her he seems rather like a cat playing with a mouse. She doesn't intend to make it easy for him to toy with her, thanks.
If there really are people looking for her, they'll probably be watching the house and her dad's office, she thinks, so she figures her best bet will be to get out of the train station and go somewhere unexpected. Her dad and whatever security he hires can meet her there, surely. It's the only option that makes sense to her.
She's outside and rushing down the sidewalks in what seems like record time, hoping that her flash dress and hurried pace don't make it too easy to follow her.
Apparently her hopes are in vain, though.
"You need to be a lot sneakier than this if you're looking to dodge a tail," the Doctor says, having somehow sidled right up to her without her noticing.
Rose, shocked, jerks away from him so violently that only his hand grabbing hers stops her from stumbling right off the path into the traffic.
"Jeez," she says, panting. "You scared me half to death. Think you could maybe not stalk me?"
"I'm hardly the only one who is. You've got at least two other hopefuls just waiting for you to go somewhere a bit less public so they can take you out."
Rose stops and turns in a circle on the busy footpath, but not a single person other than the Doctor seems to be paying any attention to her other than to step slightly irritably around her so that they can continue on their way.
"I can't see anyone," she says.
"You wouldn't, until they want you to. You're not exactly trained to spot them." He sounds so inscrutable in that moment that it sends a shiver through her.
"Look, stop it," Rose demands. "There's a police officer just over there. Get out of here or I'll grab him and hand you over. Don't think I won't. I dunno if this is how you get your jollies or what, but it's not funny to follow me around and try to scare me."
The Doctor chuckles darkly. "Police," he says like the word is a curse. "They can't help you. Not with me, and not with the others hanging about in the shadows," he points, "there and there."
Rose still can't see anyone, but his complete certainty that they exist almost convinces her.
"Why would there be loads of people after me, huh?" Rose asks. "Explain that. Why not just pay for one hitman and be done with it?"
The Doctor shrugs. "You want a job done quickly and cleanly, you pay good money to hire one professional. You want something a little more of the budget variety and don't care if things get a bit messy? Then it's the same with any type of service; you advertise. Bounty hunters who'll take up a job for the chance of pay aren't usually as skilled, but there's a lot more of them out there than you'd think. One's bound to get the job done. It's a numbers game. That's why you need proper protection."
"Yeah, well, I'm gettin' some," she says curtly. "My dad hires security for all types of events. He's got contacts. He knows the President himself, even. He'll get me a bodyguard or two and it'll all get sorted. No problem."
"Except that your father isn't that well-connected, or the price on your head would be much higher. His kind of strings take time to pull. You need protection now, not several hours from now when someone's already collecting the money for eliminating you." He grins, and it's somehow almost infectious even though she really doesn't feel like smiling just now. "Good thing you've got me handy, eh?"
"You?" Rose laughs bitterly. "What, worried someone else'll get me before you can use me to cash in?"
"Exactly," he says. Somehow she doesn't quite believe that that's all it is, though. "Look, I could kill you right now if that's what I was after. I think that you know I could. But for a relatively nominal fee, I'll get you out of here, and I'll get the head-hunters off your trail for good, just like I talked about before. No one needs to get hurt."
"Yeah, 'cept for everyone I know. They'll all think I'm dead," Rose says.
The Doctor shrugs. "Look, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about that. Anyway, it's not such a bad life, on your own."
"Yeah," she says sardonically, "You're a real great example of that." For a moment he looks little hurt by that, as if she's struck her mark a little too well, but she persists on anyway. "The money doesn't seem to make you happy. So why do this? Why make people pay you for their lives? It's sick."
The Doctor laughs. "Ah, but people tend to only believe you if they understand your motives, and money is a universal language. Besides, I don't hang onto it. What would you say, Rose Tyler, if I told you that almost all of the money I make goes to charities? Taking from the rich to give to the poor, like a veritable Robin Hood. Would you believe that?"
"No..." she says uncertainly. "Um, maybe?"
He smiles at what he clearly thinks is a triumph over her.
"Even if I did believe it, though," she continues with more certainty, "it'd probably just be guilt money. You'd only give it away so you can feel like you're making up for all the bad things you do."
The Doctor's smile vanishes in an instant. Again, his expression is oddly wounded, though she only sees a flash of that before his face goes blank. Still, she thinks perhaps she has the measure of him.
"We should move," he announces suddenly. "They won't want to act in a place quite this public, but they're not going to wait around forever. I wouldn't, if it were me." He cocks an eyebrow at her. "Are you coming?"
She has to admit that he's right when he says that if he wants her dead he could have done it several dozen times over by now. So she doesn't suppose that it could hurt to follow him for a little while, at least until she can be sure that anyone who might be following her (apart from him, obviously) is gone.
Besides, even though she knows it's mad (and he's mad), she's intrigued by him. He's undoubtedly dangerous, but she does have to wonder whether the danger is directed at her.
"Where would we go, then?" she asks.
"Next Tube stop we come across," he says. "It's still close enough to rush hour that there's guaranteed to be at least one train leaving too quickly for them to jump on with us, if we don't lose them in the mass of people even before then."
"All right," she says. She wonders just what it is that she's agreed to.
"Remember how I said that you should always wear shoes that you can run in?" the Doctor asks. "Well, now you're really going to regret wearing those."
He holds out his hand, wiggling his fingers invitingly at her. She hesitates, but then reaches out and grasps it.
He practically drags her away, then, and she immediately agrees with him. High heels are not designed for running for your life at all.
Ideal escape route or otherwise, Rose has never really considered how difficult it is to keep a conversation private on the Tube. She supposes that's partly because it's been quite a few years since she's had so little money that she's actually needed to use the Underground.
"Why do people want me dead, though?" she murmurs, hoping he and no one else can hear her over the other sounds of the moving train. "I mean, if they want to go after Dad, you'd think they'd actually, you know, go after Dad. Not that I want them to, obviously, but still."
"I didn't really ask," the Doctor says. "Well, how could I? I've never met them. Didn't even look past the fake identity given by the front man that put out the hit, to be honest. The 'why's and 'who's on that end don't really matter. They're just the money. The target's what's important."
"But it doesn't make sense," Rose protests.
"It's murder. Does it need to?" says the Doctor wryly. "It could be for any number of reasons. Revenge, jealousy, a distraction, business, and a whole lot more besides. There might not be a reason at all. Some people do this just because they can."
"Is that why you do this?" Rose asks. "Because you can?"
"You could say that. It's as good a reason as any, isn't it?"
When his stare goes all distant like that and no hint of his manic smile colours his expression, Rose is brought back to reality and reminded that she doesn't know this man at all. Even if weeks or even months rather than just a few hours had passed since he'd forcibly inserted himself into her life, she still probably wouldn't properly know him. He isn't exactly an open book. Even so, with his many contradictions and all of the hints he keeps dropping, she thinks it's a fair bet that she's never met anyone quite as complicated as him before.
"But how does someone even get to doing this sort of thing?" she persists.
She doesn't really expect him to answer. He surprises her; he seems to be constantly doing that.
"I don't know about other people, but me? I was a soldier once. Of sorts. Those skills only lead in so many directions. And you know my views on public law enforcement and the like."
"Right," she says, knowing she doesn't sound convinced. She's not. She doesn't believe for a second that there's not something more than just money or convenience or lack of better options driving him. She has a feeling he's better than that, bounty hunter or not. He certainly seems smarter than that.
He's the kind of man she sort of wishes that she could trust. She just doesn't know whether that would prove to be suicidal.
Better to be safe than sorry, she remembers.
She has an odd feeling of regret that she doesn't even plan to say thank you for his help before she leaves him. She shouldn't care. She can't even be sure that he is helping her. This could all still be a delusion of his, or a game, or anything. He's as much as admitted that he's not a good guy and that she should be wary of him, or even outright afraid of him.
That's why she's planning on ducking away as soon as she can. Even if he's telling the truth that someone's been following her, she's pretty sure they can't be anymore, especially after she and the Doctor have already changed trains twice along the way.
Despite this crazy reluctance she feels, it's an unjustified risk staying with him when he's become the only remaining possible threat to her.
He becomes distracted when a huge group of people pile onto the train. In the confusion of all of the rude pushing and shoving, his hand falls away from hers momentarily.
Skinny as he is, she has the advantage of being smaller still, and it helps that she seems to have actually surprised him as well (she takes some satisfaction from that turning of the tables). She's able to duck through the people and lunge through the train doors just an instant before they close, while he's left on the train.
She gets on the very next train heading in the opposite direction, planning to pick another station at random at which to finish this crazy journey of hers. She silently thanks him for that idea. He's right. The Tube system is a pretty decent way to lose someone.
He'll likely give her up as too much effort after that, she thinks, regardless of whether he's legitimately trying to help her out, or actually wants to see her dead, or anything in between. She really does try not to be disappointed at the thought.
She doesn't pay much attention to what train station she gets off at, hurrying up above ground to find somewhere — anywhere — where she can just hole up for a few hours and wait for her father to send someone for her. Being out in the open with zeppelins passing low overhead, even with the fading sunlight providing some small barrier to prevent anyone from spotting her from that height, doesn't seem particularly safe.
Wherever she's ended up must be somewhere in the north-west sector, she realises. She doesn't think that there's anywhere else left in London these days that looks as mind-numbingly suburban as this. That's good, though. No one will think to look for her here. Everyone who knows anything real about her likely understands that these kinds of places give her itchy feet, and anyone who only knows what the news says about her would think that somewhere so middle class was beneath her.
She finds a garden bed that overhangs enough for her to hide under. So much for designer shoes and dresses, she thinks as she practically rolls in the dirt.
She calls her dad and tries to sound calm about the whole thing. She's not sure that she manages very well.
"Where are you?" Pete Tyler asks, his voice just a little too even for it be anything other than a tightly controlled facade.
"I dunno," Rose admits. "I'm back in London, though. Somewhere north-west, I think."
"I'll send some people to you straight away," Pete says.
He hangs up, and Rose is left stunned. How will he even know where she is? Or is he just frazzled enough by the whole situation that he didn't quite hear her when she said she didn't know?
The ear pod buzzes again and Rose answers the call, ready to laugh at her father realising his blunder.
"Rose, don't hang up," she hears instead.
"I... Doctor?" she asks uncertainly.
"Yes," he says. "I need you to get rid of your ear pods — leave them where they are — and run. It doesn't matter where, just go."
"Get rid of my only way to call for help? Oh, sure. I'll hop right to it," Rose says sarcastically. "How'd you even get this number?"
"With difficulty," the Doctor admits. "Not as difficult as it was to then hack into the tracker Mr Pete Tyler's installed in the phone — which he's just now activated, by the way, so I'd say he's looking for you — but I managed that as well. I may be better than your average bounty hunter grunt, but that enough phones have trackers these days that one of them will figure out to do the same thing eventually. So you need to get away from that tracker now."
"But if my dad's using it to find me, I have to keep the pods with me," Rose points out.
"You really want to take the chance that your dad and his people will get to you first?" he asks.
Rose is silent for a long moment, just barely restraining herself from kicking at the base of the shrub in front of her out of frustration. "I'm really starting to hate you," she says.
"I know," the Doctor replies. "I get that a lot."
"I'm not meetin' you anywhere," she warns. "I'm not tellin' you where I'm goin', and I'm not comin' to you. I still don't think I can trust you for sure."
"I'm not asking you to," the Doctor says, sounding impatient. "Just, please, leave the ear pods and get out of there."
"For the love of..." Rose sighs and hits the end call button, then pulls the ear pods away from her ears. She scrambles inelegantly out of the garden and back out onto the footpath.
She hesitates for a moment. She honestly can't see what the Doctor could get out of this move unless he's trying to help. It's madness, but she thinks that she needs to trust him.
She lobs the earpieces as far as she can throw them down the street, unable to see the distance they travel in the darkness. Then she takes off as fast as she can run — cursing the damned heels the whole way — in the opposite direction.
She has to travel an uncomfortably long way before she reaches a street large enough for an empty cab to be driving down it. She hails it, but then isn't sure where she should go. Somewhere unexpected. Through her out-of-breath gasping, her only instruction is, "Somewhere really remote and out of the way." The cabbie looks surprised by this, but shifts the car into gear anyway.
When they arrive in some industrial area nowhere near anywhere Rose has never been before, the driver seems almost hesitant to stop the car despite the fact that he's the one who's determined this destination.
"You sure you want me to let you out alone in a place like this, love?" he asks.
Rose thrusts her credit card at him and says, "Yeah, pretty sure."
The cabbie shrugs and swipes her card. Money is money, she supposes. "Suit yourself," he says, handing her a slip of paper to sign. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
It takes Rose quite a lot longer than she'd like to find any of the buildings around her with an open door. Not that it's actually open, so much as the latch is broken enough that she's able to force it by putting her weight behind her shoulder and shoving. She doesn't suppose a place like this needs a sturdy lock, being completely empty and abandoned. Although Rose does imagine it might attract squatters. She supposes, for the moment at least, that she's a case in point.
She almost laughs aloud when she thinks what those idiots who run the Daily Download gossip section, who insist on commenting on stupid little things like how she'd 'slummed it' that one summer with Mickey Smith from back on the old Estate, would say about Pete Tyler's daughter illegally taking up residence in a place like this.
She crosses the massive room and curls up in the far corner, wishing that she could just give in to the exhaustion that's finally replaced the adrenaline rush, but not quite feeling safe enough to relax.
"Don't ever give up your day job to become a spy. You're a bit rubbish at it."
Rose thinks she must have ended up dozing slightly after all, for she'd completely missed the sound of the door scraping open. She springs to her feet, heart racing, and traces the voice that's echoing through the warehouse to its source.
Even with nothing more than the moon and a distant streetlight to identify him by, that spiky hair and long sweeping coat are pretty unmistakable. The Doctor stands leaning against the far wall beside the door, his arms crossed.
"Although, do heiresses have day jobs?" he wondered. "I suppose you'd have to. I can't see you being satisfied with letting your father's wealth define your life."
She's not, of course. It's sort of infuriating that he can tell that about her after so little time when that's exactly what her own parents seem to think she should be doing.
"How on Earth did you find me?" she asks.
"Please," the Doctor says dismissively. "You're almost pitifully easy to catch. You're many things, Rose Tyler, but stealthy isn't exactly one of them. Using your credit card to pay for a taxi, and then staying barely two hundred yards away from the drop-off point? Really? Any second-rate tracker could find you in an instant. And they will. I doubt I have much of a head start, with a flashing light like that pointing the way to you. You should find some cover while I check things out. This place is too open."
Rose looks pointedly around the completely empty room.
The Doctor sighs, exasperated. "Right. See? Rubbish spy. You didn't even find somewhere with anything you could use to hide properly."
"It was the only door I could get through," Rose admits.
"You'd have done better to keep walking instead," the Doctor says, whipping out a pair of glasses that make him look about as threatening as your average secondary school science teacher and peering around the huge area. "If you can't find proper cover, always keep moving. Instead, I don't think you could possibly have trapped yourself any more effectively. Single room, only one door, all of the windows facing the street..."
"We'll just go somewhere else then," Rose says.
The Doctor looks back out of the building into the night. "We can't," he says after a moment. "Right up there, in that building across from us? That's where I'd go if I was looking for a clear shot into this building. And," he squints, "there's definitely something moving behind that window right there. Sniper setting up, I'd say. They're a bit amateur, putting themselves in a position to be seen, but I suppose they're relying on the cover of darkness. I doubt they're so inexperienced that they'd miss their shot, though. You should get over here, under the window and out of the line of sight." The Doctor points and crosses to that spot himself, meeting Rose and pulling her down low to the ground.
The warmth of his hand in hers is actually quite welcome, Rose thinks, as the cold air in the warehouse feels like it's nearly frozen her fingertips. His grip is just a little too tight, though. Too desperate. Perhaps it's just because of the way she's already managed to slip out of his hold once today, but Rose doesn't think that's it at all.
She wonders how long it's been since he's had proper contact like this with anyone. Long enough, clearly, that he certainly doesn't seem to want to let go.
"They're probably trying to avoid coming over here in person because of me. They won't want to tussle with a bodyguard if it's easily avoidable," the Doctor explains. "But it won't keep them away for long. We're busy people, bounty hunters. We can't just be waiting around forever, and a one-man guard won't be enough to deter him or her for long, or anyone else if they show up."
"Then what do we do?" Rose asks.
The Doctor is silent.
"I don't know," he admits. She can tell it costs him something to say those words. "I'm not exactly keen to get involved in a gunfight."
"What, don't want to put your life on the line?"
The Doctor shakes his head. "My life's always on the line. The issue is more that I don't exactly have a gun myself. It'd be a bit of a one-sided fight, don't you think?"
Rose looks at him, disbelieving. Nothing about his expression suggests that he's joking.
"Well that's just great," she snaps. "What kind of bounty hunter doesn't even carry a gun?"
"Me," he says. He looks away, seeming oddly mournful. "Never."
"Oh," she says, her fierceness fading away at the sight of his pain. There's a story there, she thinks. Yet another thing about him that she'll probably never find out. "Well, that's..."
"You just had to go and get yourself stuck in a corner, didn't you?" the Doctor bursts out suddenly. It's so unexpected that she flinches. "You could have been safely away from this hours ago if you'd just listened to me in the first place."
"How could I leave just like that? Leave everyone and everthin' behind on a whim?" Rose asks. "I didn't even know that you weren't ravin' mad. I still think that you might be, but anyways... well, if I'd known then, or if I could have that choice again now..."
The Doctor laughs bitterly. "Oh, but you can't! It's too late for that. Don't you understand? It's not like I have some special powers that let me swoop in and out like magic and save the day. I can't get you out of this!"
"Why are you tryin' so hard, then?" Rose asks. "What's the point in puttin' yourself at risk protectin' me from some gun for hire? You're a killer yourself. You said so."
"You think I don't know what I am? What it means?" he shoots back. "There's so much blood on my hands, you wouldn't even believe it. I can never go back and save them. I try, Rose. I try to make up for it by saving everyone else the best way I know how. But I can't always. And I can't save you now. What's the point of going around saving people if I can't even save you?"
"But why me?" Rose asks. "Why'm I important?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes!" she replies firmly. "It obviously matters to you. So I wanna know."
The Doctor rolls his eyes at her and pulls her in for a kiss. It should be as unexpected as his uncontrolled outburst of a minute or so ago had been, but it's somehow far less shocking, as if she's been subconsciously waiting for it. It's not much more than a brief touch of lips, really — they don't have time for more, and they both know it — but the feel of it still lingers.
She thinks she has her answer, and she understands that it's not the obvious one. It's not just that he's taken a fancy to her because he thinks she's attractive, though she doubts he'd have kissed her if that wasn't the case as well. It's about more than that.
This is the first time she's had any concept of what real loneliness might taste like.
He looks past her, focusing on something in the distance, as if trying to avoid her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm so sorry."
She thinks that she should be the one saying that to him — how could she not when she thinks she's figured out how very sad he is under that mask of his — but she doesn't get the chance to return the sentiment.
Her eyes widen and the breath gushes out of her in a strange wheeze when the knife digs in below her ribs. The pain of the blade being pulled back out hurts just as much, if not more.
Oh. She really hadn't dreamed he'd actually hurt her, killer or not. She only realises that she'd trusted him after all right as he betrays that trust.
She's oddly grateful that she's already sitting on the ground, since it means that she doesn't have far to fall.
The Doctor, on the other hand, rises to his feet.
"Back off," she hears the Doctor say. "This one's mine. First blood's already drawn."
"Bit of a messy way to kill," another man says in reply from somewhere behind her head. Near the door, Rose realises distantly. Rose hadn't known anyone else was even here with them. "Too drawn out. No finesse. You shouldn't play with your food, you know."
"Please. Your reputation precedes you, Ralph. I know for a fact that you get a little too much enjoyment from doing exactly that," the Doctor says scornfully.
An annoyed grunt echoes throughout the shed. "Whatever. She's yours. It's no fun killing 'em when they're already stuck like pigs, and the money's barely up to my standard anyways."
There's a shuffle of footsteps that grows fainter, though it takes Rose's sluggish mind an alarmingly long time to realise that that means the man is moving away. They retreat until all Rose can hear is her own shallow breathing and the throb of her heartbeat in her ears. It's like she's alone in the world. She doesn't like that feeling.
It's completely unexpected, then, when the Doctor suddenly practically falls on top of her, one hand gripping hers and the other pressing open-palmed at her forehead.
"Rose!" he says loudly. "Rose, talk to me. God damn it. I shouldn't have hit anything vital, but I think you're still going into shock. You're all pale and clammy."
"Shock," Rose murmurs. "Was a shock, yeah. Stabbed me."
"I know," the Doctor says soothingly. "I'm sorry. That was thick of me. Big genius brain of mine, but I heard him coming and just couldn't think. It was the only thing I could come up with that might work."
"Can't think," Rose agrees.
"Yes you can," the Doctor argues fiercely. "Stay focused. You're not going anywhere."
"Maybe a hospital," Rose suggests lightly.
The Doctor's laugh is low at first, but it grows into something unexpectedly full-bodied.
Rose likes the sound of it. She hopes she gets the chance to hear it again.
Her eyes fall closed and her hand falls free of the Doctor's.
Rose wakes up to find herself in a strange place and completely alone, though clearly someone's been here (wherever here actually is) looking after her. She's bandaged and presumably stitched up underneath that, and she has an IV running into her arm.
She'd be annoyed that the Doctor has taken it upon himself to remove her dress, but she's watched enough medical shows to know that he wouldn't have had much choice, and he's at least left her bra and underwear undisturbed. The sight of how much of her own blood is staining the silky material of both items makes her feel sort of sick.
She reaches to pull the IV out and winces at the sharp ache in her abdomen, immediately lying back flat to relieve it. She thinks she must temporarily pass out from the pain, or maybe just from the feeling of utter exhaustion, because the next time she opens her eyes and tries to move she notices that the room seems significantly darker. She has the feeling that quite some time has passed.
Still, the room isn't so dark that she doesn't still see the flash of bright yellow out of the corner of her eye. Trying not to move too much, she reaches across herself with the hand unimpeded by the IV line and grasps what turns out to be a passport. She flips it open.
"Ugh," she groans, seeing the name printed alongside her unsmiling photograph. "Do I look like a Chantelle Maree Olivier? Seriously?" Then she takes a proper look at the plane ticket that's tucked inside the back cover of the passport. "Barcelona? Seriously? I don't even speak any Spanish!"
Still, she supposes any fake identity and destination is better than nothing when she hasn't had to pay for it (and she wouldn't know where to go to get fake I.D. herself anyway).
Why has he done this for her without making her pay for it, though?
It's one thing for him to save her life (by nearly killing her, but she guesses considering the circumstances it would be petty to point that out even inside her own head) when he'll get paid for her death regardless. It's another thing, though, for him to go out of his way to patch her up, and to spend his own money to give her an escape route. He barely knows her.
Or, well, he's only just met her. Maybe that's not quite the same thing.
She lets the passport fall shut and sees the yellow that had drawn her eye in the first place. A post-it stuck to the back of the passport bears just one word:
She thinks about her mum and dad, who must surely think that she's dead. She'd thought the idea of leaving them without even a word to let them know that she was all right was stupidity itself when the Doctor initially suggested it, true, but now that she's been shown just how real the threat to her life is...
It's the second time the Doctor's asked her to go. She hopes that this time she'll make the right decision.
She stays in what appears to be a tiny hotel room for several more days, eventually climbing awkwardly across the room to retrieve the fresh clothes he's left her and then doing so again every now and then to duck into the en suite or to fetch some food and drink from the mini-bar fridge. She doesn't do much else other than lie back and try to recover. Not even housekeeping comes in to disturb her. The Doctor himself is clearly avoiding returning now that he's played his part.
What is his part? What's the point of saving her, and helping her so much, if he doesn't even want to see her again?
She has a long time to lie there just staring at that single three-letter word on the post-it. It certainly gives her time to ponder the answer to that question.
When she does finally get up to leave, half a day before her flight is due to depart, she grabs a pen and scrawls a note on the reverse side of the post-it. She leaves it on the centre of the mattress.
She doesn't really expect him to come back. She certainly doesn't expect him to take any notice of the note even if he does return. But then, he's repeatedly defied her expectations from the start.
Even though she's got relatively little money, and she clearly can't withdraw money from the bank now that she's supposed to be deceased, once she's back out in the world (with the ridiculous hat the Doctor's left for her pulled low over her eyes) she still stops to buy a cheap backpack and some clothes to put into it. She wants to have luggage when she gets to the airport, as well as something to change into. It's important that she not raise anyone's suspicions and make them look too closely into her, which is what's bound to happen if she goes walking into an international airport with nothing but the clothes on her back. The passport looks like a pretty good forgery to her untrained eye, but she doesn't really have any idea what sorts of background checks they might do and how much effort has been put into her identity by the Doctor or his dubious contacts.
For now, all of that seems more important than the fact that in the grand scheme of things she has next to nothing money-wise. It's hardly the first time she's lived like that, after all. She'll find a job once she gets where she's going and make do. The Doctor's made it clear to her that getting out of the country so that she can actually do that has to be her priority.
She knows that she won't be really through the worst of it until she strolls unimpeded out of the airport in Spain, and even then she'll still be sort of wary until she moves on to someplace that even the Doctor doesn't know she'll be. However, on the train on the way to Heathrow, where no one bothers to meet anyone's eyes even at the best of times, she feels like she's already properly anonymous.
That's what she needs. She's not so sure that it's what she wants.
It's not that she'll miss life in London, stuck in what feels like a dead-end job with too many expectations heaped on her that she doesn't feel she can — or even wants to — meet. She's not the pampered heiress and never has been, whatever the public might think. She's always felt trapped in a way, and she knows that feeling will be incomparably worse now if she stays. She won't even be able to step outside the house, constantly paranoid that any minute a shot will be fired through the nearest window. She can't live like that. And she likely won't be any better off outside of London either if she tips anyone off that she's still among the living.
That's the real problem; the people she knows she'll have to leave behind, to whom she can't even say goodbye. She's glad that her ear pods are long since disposed of. She doesn't think she could have stood up to the temptation to call her mum otherwise, even if it was just to hear her voice.
This will eventually blow over enough that she'll be able to contact them again, she promises herself. Still, standing in line at the airport check-in where the fact that she's really doing this suddenly becomes so very real, she has lingering doubts as to whether she can really do it. Whether she can just go off travelling, leaving them to think she's dead for a year, two, more even.
Her dad knows that someone's been after her and why, she knows. He'll blame himself for her supposed murder. Can she do that to him?
But then, with hours still to kill at the airport, she finds herself staring into the window of one of the duty free stores with an unexpected intensity. As soon as she emerges she sits herself straight down on one of the nearby chairs and pulls her shoes off, tossing them uncaringly to the side, shedding with them that person who thought that wearing heels that high could lead to anything other than disaster.
When she's replaced them with her newly purchased pair of plimsolls, she breathes out sharply, exhaling her worries as best she can. Staring down at her feet, she feels herself grinning widely, precisely the way she remembers that he does, as if she doesn't have a care in the world.
Just like his smile, it's partly a lie. But for now she's content to make do.
She's finally ready to run.
The Doctor leaves it until several days have passed after the departure date of Rose's ticket before going back to the hotel to grab anything she's left behind and check out of the room. He figures that even if she chooses not to use the ticket, she'll still have vacated by now.
The only things that she's left are a couple of empty wrappers and cans and what look suspiciously like her own bloodied clothes (he'll have to dispose of those so no one asks uncomfortable questions, obviously) in the little trash bin beside the fridge, and a post-it on the bed.
He picks it up and reads the word 'run' in his own handwriting. Through the paper, though, he can see indentations on the other side. He turns it over and has to squint at it to decipher the writing without his glasses on.
Then he grins and lets the note drift out from between his fingers.
Catch me if you can, it says.
He's never been able to ignore a challenge.