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Title: Out of the Howling (part 4/?)
Authors: goldy_dollar & _thirty2flavors
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Ten II/Rose
Genre: Angst, drama
Summary: Six years after Bad Wolf Bay, Rose gets a message from another universe.
Excerpt: She had seen the Doctor angry before, and sad, and near hopelessness, but she had never seen him like this. Truthfully, it was scaring her half to death.

Previous parts: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

Overtop of Torchwood’s protests, the Doctor climbed into the back of the van with the Master. “I’ll be fine,” he insisted, though he took Jake’s taser before he slammed the door shut.

“You’re not staying with her?” The Master’s tone was filled with insincere pity, his words accompanied by a pout. Despite the fact that his hands were cuffed to the bench behind him, he looked perfectly at ease where he sat, his legs spread and his shoulders back. It was all too clear he was enjoying himself.

The Doctor was determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing how successful his bid to create chaos had been. He sat as far from the Master as he could, with his back straight and as cold an expression as he could muster. “Okay, you’ve got the captive audience you were hoping for. Start talking. What do you want?”

The Master’s lips twisted into a disdainful smile, his eyes sparking with a madness that may have been due to his time in the Void. Or maybe that was just him. “I want you and I to have a little chat. We’ve got such a lot of catching up to do.”

“I’m not interested.”

That was a lie, and he was sure the Master knew it. There were a hundred questions rotating ceaselessly through the Doctor’s mind, and a whole cocktail of emotions that had been stirred up the instant he’d seen the Master’s face. Perhaps he should have learned by now to expect the Master’s survival against all odds, but the fact remained that he hadn’t expected to see another Time Lord ever again. In another life, the Doctor might even have been relieved.

But with Rose in danger, all that had to be shoved aside. Her safety was paramount. The rest he could deal with later.

True to form, the Master rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on,” he sneered. “You can pretend all you like that your only concern is Blondie but we both know that’s not true. You can’t help it. You’re the curious cat that keeps wandering into its own proverbial death.” Then he shrugged. “I have what I wanted. My freedom.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure becoming Torchwood’s prisoner was high up on your priority list.”

The Master glanced around the van, the twisted smile still playing across his face. “What? This?” he said disdainfully. He rattled his handcuffs, and then closed his eyes, as if savouring his surroundings. “This can’t even compare. Imagine it, Doctor. A place without time, without space. For so long I fell... into nothingness, into darkness. I almost gave up. Welcomed it, even. But there was no ending, no final destination.” He fell silent and when he spoke again, the disdain was back in his voice, “Of course you’d shack up with someone stupid enough to rip open reality just because a voice in her dreams told her to.”

The Doctor’s fingers clutched the taser tighter, but he kept his face stern. “She saved you,” he said bluntly. “But all right, then, tell me. How did you end up in the Void? You were dead. I burnt your body.”

The Master opened his eyes, staring at the Doctor with narrowed eyes as though he was seeing him for the first time. “Is that where we left off?” Slowly the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement. “You were quite distraught, as I recall. All that sobbing and begging… it was very moving.”

The Doctor’s jaw clenched, and he sat a little straighter in his seat. Like so many other things, memories of everything that had happened on the Valiant were kept in a mental lockbox, shoved as far out of sight as possible, yet they remained as vivid as ever. He recalled exactly how he had felt at the end of that long year, tired and beaten and viciously lonely, watching the last of his people choose to die rather than stay with him. At the time it had been the cruelest thing imaginable.

Life was different now. He no longer needed to latch onto each and every scrap of home that came his way; he had Rose.

For now, hissed a voice in his head, and he felt sick.

He kept his voice as steady and as cold as he could. “Things have changed.”

“I can see that,” the Master agreed. He relaxed back against the wall of the van, looking the Doctor up and down. “So what are you, then? You’re not a Time Lord, but you’re not human either.” He smirked. “Let me guess: half-human on your mother’s side?”

Despite everything, the Doctor snorted. “Actually that’s not so far off.” He sighed. He could continue keeping his cards close to his chest for as long as he wanted, but all it would do was waste time Rose might not have. “Biological metacrisis, that’s all you need to know.”

“Really?” The Master looked to the ceiling as he laughed. “So he gets to keep the TARDIS and you get… what? The overbearing self-righteousness and the face of a cartoon rat?” The corners of his mouth twitched with realization. “I bet you can’t even regenerate, can you?” He shook his head. “You sad bastard.”

The Doctor ignored him. “So what about you? You wanted out of the Void, I get that. But why here? You’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The Master shrugged. “The walls were thin. Besides, I needed someone stupid enough help me, and your dearly beloved fit the bill.” A smug expression washed over his face. “And she was so eager, too. Couldn’t wait to help the Doctor. Why do you suppose that was? Surely she’s not disappointed in the version she’s got.”

With his thumb and forefinger the Doctor rubbed his eyes. The Master relished having the upper hand, and the Doctor knew that allowing himself to show any weakness was like pinning a bullseye to his forehead. But he already felt so drained, and if he was going to chase the Master down this latest labyrinth, he at least needed to know where the finish line was.

“Please just tell me, is…” His voice hitched and he swallowed hard. Taking a deep breath, he looked the Master in the eye. “Is she going to die?”

The Master pretended to consider the possibility, then nodded gravely. “Oh, I should think so, yes.”

It was the answer he’d expected, but still the Doctor felt like the ground was giving way beneath him. Panic hovered at the periphery of his being, ready to surge at any second. Head bowed, he focused on his breathing. He could fix this. There had to be a way. He just had to--

“But don’t worry,” the Master went on, “I’m sure that’s not for some time yet. How long do you reckon it takes a human to go mad?”

The Doctor felt dizzy. “You could help her.”

“I could. But it’s much more fun to watch you try.” The Master’s handcuffs jingled as he leaned forward, as close to the Doctor as he could get. The mirth disappeared from his voice, and when he spoke again it was a low, dark whisper. “What do you think, Doctor? Can you pull the rabbit out of the hat like you always do? Save the girl, be the hero. Or did you lose that in the metacrisis, too?”

The van came to a stop, and the Doctor sprang to his feet and threw open the back doors.

“Get him to a cell,” he barked to the Torchwood guards flanking the doors, then strode towards the building. His single heart was pounding.

---

Rose woke with a dull pain in her head and a woozy feeling in her stomach that reminded her of too many Sunday mornings as a teenager after a night out. Her eyes opened for only a second before she squeezed them shut against the fluorescent light overhead and groaned.

“Oh, good, you’re awake!”

“Mum?” Rose turned her head towards the sound of the voice and opened one eye slowly. Sure enough, there was her mother, sitting by Rose’s bedside, relief on her face.

It wasn’t what Rose had been expecting.

Squinting, Rose looked around the room. In the years she’d been with Torchwood, she’d grown somewhat accustomed to waking up in a hospital bed with only a foggy memory of how she’d ended up there. Though the experience was never pleasant, by the fifth or sixth time, it stopped being quite so alarming. In recent years, it also usually meant waking up to the Doctor’s nervous hovering, and while Rose didn’t like to worry him, it was nice to be doted on, sometimes.

He was nowhere to be found today, though.

“Where’s the Doctor?” she asked.

Beside her, Jackie huffed. “Oh, sure. Nevermind your old mum, sitting by your bedside for hours, worrying myself sick. No, ‘where’s the Doctor?’ she asks.”

Rose rolled her eyes goodnaturedly and smiled. “Thank you, Mum.”

Jackie nodded. “More like it.” Then she waved a hand. “He’s fine, he’s off at Torchwood. He’ll be here when he can, I’m sure.”

“Right,” said Rose, suddenly feeling silly. Of course he was. Dealing with the Master, no doubt. What had happened, anyway? She could remember that the Master had woken up – he knew the Doctor was human – and then… then all she could remember was a deafening noise before she woke up in the hospital bed.

What had happened?

Suddenly Jackie’s hand was on her forehead, brushing some of her hair back. “More importantly, how are you feeling, sweetheart?”

Rose batted her mother’s hand away and shrugged. “Not so bad. Bit groggy.” She pushed herself up onto her elbows. “I’ll be fine.”

Jackie smiled for a moment, but it faded, and then she busied herself with straightening out the sheets at the edge of Rose’s bed. Rose watched her for a moment, waiting for her mum to come out with it; when she still hadn’t a moment later, Rose sighed.

“All right, Mum, what is it?”

Jackie looked up from the sheets, hesitated a second longer, then said, “Your father said you were messing around with that Dimension Cannon again.”

It was Rose’s turn to divert her gaze. She looked down at her hands as she nodded, tugging at the plastic hospital bracelet on her wrist, heat rising in her cheeks. She felt so incredibly stupid looking back, so easily manipulated. What had she been thinking?

“Oh, Rose.” There was disappointment in Jackie’s voice, but sadness too; Rose wasn’t sure which was worse. “Aren’t you happy here? With the Doctor? With us?”

Rose’s throat felt thick. She looked at her mum. “Of course I am.”

“Then why go poking around with that thing again?”

Rose swallowed. “I thought I heard the Doctor. The other one. I thought he needed me.”

Jackie frowned. “You’ve already got a Doctor who needs you, love.”

“He understands,” Rose said – but truthfully she wasn’t sure if he did. He accepted it, maybe, but what choice did she give him? She tried to imagine how she’d feel if their situations were reversed, if there was another version of her somewhere out there that the Doctor loved as much as he loved her. She imagined him pulling away from her, lying to her, stealing from her to help this other woman, and her heart sank.

She needed to see him – she needed to explain, to apologize.

“It doesn’t matter anyway, ‘cause I was wrong,” she continued, voice cracking. She closed her eyes tight as they began to sting and hid her face in her hands. “I should have listened, I’m so stupid—"

“Oh! Oh, no, Rose.” Her mother’s arm came around her shoulder, giving her arm a gentle squeeze. “Of course you’re not, that’s not what I meant.” Rose leaned into the embrace and Jackie rubbed circles on her back. “I just don’t want you to forget what you have here, that’s all.”

Rose sniffed and nodded, blinking back her tears and resting her head against her mother’s shoulder. Whatever it was the Master was trying to do, Torchwood and the Doctor would sort it, she told herself. She’d make it up to the Doctor and before long life would be back to normal. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

“Rose?” came a voice from the doorway.

“Doctor!” Rose sat up immediately, her face splitting into a broad smile. But as the Doctor walked into the room, her smile faded.

Something was wrong.

Though he smiled gently when he saw her, she could tell. The set of his shoulders, the look in his eyes, the slow steps he took towards her – all of it spoke to something unsettling, some invisible burden he was trying to hide from her. A lead weight settled in her stomach.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

The Doctor didn’t answer. He moved to the other side of her bed, smile still fixed in place. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” she answered, then amended, “I mean, hungover. But fine.”

“They told me it was probably a migraine,” Jackie piped up, shaking her head. “Rubbish doctors.”

But Rose was fixated on the Doctor. “What is it? What’s happened?”

The Doctor’s smile dimmed as he leaned over to kiss her forehead, and she thought she felt his hand trembling as it cupped the back of her head. Just as she was about to insist, he said, “I’ll explain at home, I promise. Let’s get you out of here, yeah?”

---

The taxi ride back to their flat felt like the longest she’d ever taken.

There had always been an unspoken agreement between Torchwood employees that work business was kept out of places like taxis, where information might travel beyond its intended destination. Over the years, she and the Doctor had shared numerous taxis where their conversation was simply put on hold, to be resumed whenever they reached where they were going. It was a fine policy, and one Rose was used to.

But not discussing work usually left room for plenty of other things. She’d had all manner of other discussions in the back of a taxi, and she and the Doctor almost never wanted for conversation. So having him sit beside her now, eerily still and silent, was doing nothing to soothe her ever-increasing worry.

She’d been discharged from the hospital with little more than a shrug and a script for some Tylenol-3. As best they could tell she’d suffered a severe migraine, possibly brought on by stress. Her elbow was bruised but nothing more, and should heal on its own. Through it all the Doctor stood there, always within arm’s reach, his promise to explain later hanging over her head.

The worry was making her feel worse than anything else. She looked across the back seat, where the Doctor was resting his head against the window, and walked her fingers over to where his hand was resting. He glanced at her and smiled, turning up his palm so she could loop her fingers through his, and Rose took a deep breath and said, finally, “Are you angry with me?”

A wrinkle appeared on the Doctor’s forehead and he lifted his head off the glass. “What? Why would I be angry?”

Rose bit her lip, looking down at their fingers. “I lied to you. I stole your screwdriver.” She paused. “I broke your screwdriver.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I don’t even know why I did those things, I—"

“Hey.” The Doctor shifted towards her. In the cramped space of the back seat, his knees bumped against hers. “I can build a new screwdriver, yeah?” He waited for her to nod, then carried on. “I’m not angry.” He reached up to brush her cheek with his thumb, and Rose leaned into his hand, grateful for the contact. “The Master has always been… hypnotic. It’s not your fault.”

“Yes it is,” Rose protested. “I should’ve listened to you, you were right, I—"

“No, I was jealous,” he admitted. The words were laced with a self-hatred Rose sometimes forgot he was capable of. “I was scared that if you found the other Doctor, you’d…” He trailed off, seemingly unable to finish that sentence. He shook his head. “I should have helped you. I should have been there. Maybe I’d have seen something, or….”

Rose leaned forward, kissed him on the cheek, then settled herself against his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

The Doctor leaned his head against hers. “Me too.”

Their taxi came to a stop outside their building.

---

The sun was low in the sky when the Doctor opened the door to their flat. Rose followed him inside, toeing off her shoes. Her hands were shaking, and she wiped them against her jeans, trying for some levity, “God I can’t believe it’s still the same day.”

He didn’t respond. Rose wasn’t even sure he heard her. It did nothing to calm her growing unease. “Alright,” she said. “We’re home now. What’s going on, Doctor?”

He turned to face her, hands sunk into his pockets. She could barely make out his face in the darkness of their flat, but he looked... defeated. Rose’s stomach twisted together. She had seen the Doctor angry before, and sad, and near hopelessness, but she had never seen him like this. Truthfully, it was scaring her half to death.

“Whatever’s happened, we’ll sort it out,” Rose said. Her words felt empty and useless. “We always do, yeah?”

“Yeah,” said the Doctor, after a pause. She felt his hand on her arm. “Come on. Cuppa tea. That’s what we need.”

His voice was strained, but Rose could tell he was trying to hold himself together for her sake. She nodded and followed him into the kitchen. She flicked on the lightswitch and then winced as bright light poured into her eyes. She felt a painful stab in the back of her head and braced her weight on the doorjamb, the world suddenly spinning around her.

The Doctor was watching her closely. She felt herself blushing under his intense scrutiny, and said, “I’m fine. Just the tail end of that migraine, yeah?”

She forced a smile, but he didn’t smile back. Rose let go of the doorjamb and forced herself to walk to the kitchen table. She sat down heavily, grinding her teeth together. She didn’t want him to see just how badly the pain was bothering her. He was worried enough as it was.

She was relieved when he didn’t say anything, but busied himself with making tea.

“So who is he, Doctor? The Master?”

“He’s a Time Lord,” said the Doctor. The stove rattled when he banged down the kettle, and he pulled open the cupboard, rooting around until he found two tea mugs.

A few weeks ago, Rose would have been shocked by his answer. But seeing what the Master was capable of... it was the only answer that made sense. “He survived the Time War, then?”

“Ran all the way to the end of the universe to escape it,” the Doctor said, and there was something wistful about his voice, as if he was suddenly talking about a long lost friend rather than a bitter enemy. “The Master wasn’t exactly what you would call Gallifrey’s most upstanding citizen. Of course, neither was I.”

Again, Rose detected a hint of fondness in his voice. “You’ve known him a long time?”

“My whole life,” the Doctor said. “We were friends, once. A long time ago. Lifetimes ago.”

The kettle came to life, a loud shriek that pierced the stillness in the kitchen. The Doctor shook himself and then poured the water into the two mugs. He sat down across from Rose, passing her a mug. He cradled his own in his hands, the steam wafting over his face.

“I always believed there was a part of him that remembered those times we had together. A part of him worth saving.” He set his mug down on the table, and again the defeated expression came back into his eyes. “But he’s maniacal, egotistical... as soon as he escapes from that holding cell at Torchwood – and believe me, he will get out – he’ll tear this whole planet apart. Because he can. Because it’s fun. Because he’s a Time Lord and it’s his right. He’s a kid with a magnifying glass and this planet is the ant hill.”

Rose shivered and took a sip of tea, wincing when the liquid burnt the inside of her mouth. “But you’ve stopped him before?”

“Oh loads of times,” he said. “But I was a Time Lord back then. And the Master... we were equals. Now... I’m just a shadow.”

Rose’s heart was pounding. “Don’t say that, Doctor. You’ve never been ‘just’ anything.” She smiled at him, and reached across the table for his hand. “Especially not to me.”

The Doctor stared down at the table where her hand rested on his. If anything, he looked even more defeated. “He did something to you,” he whispered. “After he came out of the Void. He connected with you – your mind – ”

Rose felt the tingle of a memory. She pulled her hand from the Doctor and touched her temple. She felt another stab of pain in the back of her head and dropped her hand back down in her lap. She felt vulnerable all of sudden, exposed. It was bad enough knowing that the Master had spent weeks using her, pretending to be the Doctor, but this felt worse. He had gone through her whole head and picked it apart without her knowledge or permission.

The Doctor continued in a strained, robotic voice. “He left a piece of himself behind.”

“What sort of piece?”

“Last time we met he said he heard this... this sort of drumming. Like it it’s what drove him mad.”

“And that’s what he put inside of me?” Rose said. She reached up to touch her head. It was still aching, but there was no drumming. “But I don’t hear anything.”

“That was me,” said the Doctor. “I put up a wall in your head... sort of a stop gag to keep the worst of it at bay.”

Rose sagged with relief. “So you stopped it?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s temporary. It might not even be that.” The Doctor scrubbed his hands over his face. “I tried to take it out of you, Rose. I couldn’t. Not without killing you in the process. Any moment now, you’ll start hearing it again. The drumming.”

“So I’ll fight it,” said Rose.

He still wasn’t looking at her. “You can’t fight a bomb. And when it explodes....”

“I die,” Rose whispered. Her mouth was dry, but she felt weirdly calm. A noise in her head? A drumming that could kill her? It sounded crazy, even for them. “That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”

He flinched. “First it will drive you mad.”

“Lovely,” she said, “so first I lose my mind and then I die?”

The Doctor opened his mouth and then closed it again like he didn’t know how to respond. Finally, in a tight voice, he said, “Essentially yes.”

“So how do we stop it?”

“We can’t.”

“Come on,” she pressed, “you’ve got an idea, and we’ll figure it out, just like we’ve always done.”

The Doctor shook his head. “Only a Time Lord can stop it.”

“Good job I’ve got one sitting across from me, then,” Rose said.

Right away Rose could tell she said the wrong thing. The Doctor’s mouth tightened into a thin line. He abruptly stood up, placed his tea mug in the sink, and then left the kitchen without another word.

Rose stared after him, dumbfounded. “Doctor?” she called. Oh he was not going to drop something like that on her and then walk away. She pushed herself to her feet and then chased after him. The pain in her head pulsed with every move she took, but she forced herself on, blinking the pain away.

She rounded the corner to their bedroom in time to see the Doctor kick the dresser with curve of his foot. The dresser wobbled, and the Doctor cursed, now hopping on one foot.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Rose demanded. “I get it, Doctor. It’s bad, but we’ll find a way, we always do—"

“No we won’t,” the Doctor interrupted. He hopped over to the bed and then sat down, wincing as he stretched out his foot. “There’s nothing I can do. Don’t you see that?” His voice was bitter when he added. “I’m not him.”

“Who? The Master?”

He looked frustrated. “The other me. The... the Doctor.” His voice softened, and he looked away when he said. “Right now I’m just a clone.”

Rose stared at him, momentarily speechless. Never in the six years they’d been together had she heard him talk like this. She knew a part of him worried she still cared about the other Doctor, loved him even, but he’d never questioned himself before, never seemed to question whether he was the real thing or not.

“That’s not true,” Rose said. She sat down next to him. “So you can’t go around playing with people’s minds anymore. So what. Maybe the world is better off.” Rose reached for his hand, and was relieved when he didn’t pull away. “Besides, I don’t want that Doctor. I want you.”

The Doctor shifted his body so he was looking at her. Some of the desperation was gone from his face, and she felt like he was drinking her in, his stare full of love and just a bit of awe. He reached out to touch her cheek, and then his fingers skimmed into her hair, brushing against the back of her neck.

Rose closed her eyes. His touch felt good.

“How’s the head?” his voice was quiet, but he sounded more assured, more himself again.

“It hurts a bit, I suppose,” Rose said. “Nothing I can’t handle, though.”

“If it gets worse – when it gets worse, I want you to tell me immediately.”

Rose opened her eyes, the Doctor’s face swimming into view. He was close enough that she could see the wrinkles on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. She wondered how long those had been there. Were they new? Or had she just never noticed?

“Rose,” he said, “I mean it.”

Rose leaned in closer to him until their foreheads were touching. The Doctor’s hand slid down her back. “Yeah, okay,” she said softly, “I will, yeah.”

She could feel the Doctor’s breath on her cheek and his hand was warm against her back. On instinct, she moved in closer to him, tilting her head up until her lips touched his. He didn’t react at first, but then he kissed her back, the hand on her back pressing her closer to him.

He broke their kiss with something that sounded like a sigh. “Rose, are you—"

“Shut up,” she said. She shifted her weight to her knees so that she was slightly taller than him on the bed. She leaned over him, arms going around his neck. “I’m fine, yeah? And I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this.”

“Me, too,” he said, but he sounded sad.

She nuzzled his nose with her own and then brushed her lips against his, kissing him again. The Doctor’s hands dipped under her shirt, fingers tracing along their back. He broke their kiss, shifting so he could stare into her eyes. “I love you.”

Rose’s stomach fluttered. “I love you too,” she said, “but can we get on with it?”

He gave her the ghost of something that was almost a smirk. He didn’t need anymore encouragement after that. They undressed quickly, their movements almost fumbled and harried. Rose wasn’t usually so impatient, but she wanted to feel him against her again. Skin on skin.

There wasn’t much foreplay, and it wasn’t their most elegant or even most satisfying joining. She climaxed quickly, and it wasn’t long before the Doctor followed.

Afterwards, he held her a little too tightly, his breath a little too ragged against the back of her neck. It was too hot and he was too close but she didn’t have the heart to tell him that. Rose shifted until she felt some cooler air on her skin.

Despite the Doctor’s dire warnings, she felt fine. Her mind was quiet; the pain was gone. She squeezed her eyes, sleep beckoning. They would sort it out in the morning. They always did.

Chapter Five