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Title: Out of the Howling (part 5/?)
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: “It’s my life.” Her voice was soft but uncompromising. “If I’m gonna be a bargaining chip, I’ve gotta have a say. I don’t like it, we don’t do it. Yeah?”

Previous parts: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4

Rose stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her pale and tired face stared back at her. She reached up and touched the dark circles under her eyes with the pads of her fingers. It really did look like she’d barely slept in weeks.

It was the weird hours she’d been working, she told herself, and the early morning she’d had. Besides, she never slept well when things with the Doctor were rough. It would be better now that they’d made up. They’d got an hour or two of sleep after the sex, and then they’d ordered take away, and already Rose felt a little refreshed.

“Think I’m gonna shower,” she called out to the Doctor, idly hoping he might decide to join her, when something caught her eye. It was a bug, on the floor, next to the partially opened crack in the door. Rose took a step closer and then stopped abruptly. It was a cockroach.

She hated cockroaches.They used to get them sometimes, back on the Powell Estates. She was eight-years-old when she discovered their worst infestation. It had been late at night. Mum was in bed and Rose got up because she had to pee. She stepped on something on the way to the toilet, something that was sharp and then gooey underneath her toes. She’d flipped on the lightswitch and then she saw them – cockroaches, all over the kitchen, on the counter, on the table. Jackie came running when Rose started to scream.

She pushed the memory away and turned back to the sink. She froze, hand going to her mouth to muffle her gasp. There were two more of them. She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, and whirled around, gaze on the bathtub. They were in the bathtub. On the walls. She counted – twelve, fifteen, twenty – she lost track.

There was a noise behind her, a ding like water dripping from a leaky tap. It was the sink – they were coming in through the tap. Cockroach after cockroach, a steady stream of them, dropping from the tap and landing in the sink. They crawled over one another, fighting for space before reaching the edges of the sink. They fell over the sides, landing on the floor with a dull plop.

Rose expelled a ragged breath, her stomach heaving with revulsion. She took a step backwards, then another. Her foot landed on something – sharp, uncomfortable. She looked down, stomach lurching. She’d stepped on one; its guts and bits of its skeleton were stuck between her toes. Her heart was pounding and she scrambled backwards, but there was nowhere to go. She whipped around in a circle. They were everywhere – pouring out of the taps, multiplying. Coming for her.

Then Rose did something she hadn’t done in a very long time. She started screaming.

The door to the washroom banged open and the Doctor skidded inside. “What is it? What’s going on? Rose?”

She clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, and shook her head at him. He was covered with them. They were on his shoulders, clinging to the shirt on his arms, climbing up his chest, running over her feet. Rose backed up, stepping on more of them – squish, squish.

“Rose,” the Doctor’s voice was low, soothing. She didn’t understand. How could he be so calm? Couldn’t he see them? “Whatever you’re seeing, Rose, it’s not real. It’s in your head.”

Her breath hitched, but his words got through to her. The Master, she thought. He’d done this to her. That thing, in her head.

“Cockroaches,” she finally said in a strangled voice. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see them still coming in, still pouring in from the tap. “Everywhere. They’re on you.”

“No they’re not.” He took a step closer to her. “There’s nothing here. It’s not real.”

“It is,” she said. She felt something wet on her cheeks. She was beginning to cry. “Please make it stop.”

“I will,” he said gently. “Close your eyes.”

She shook her head. “No. I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Close your eyes. Do it for me.”

She was so frightened, but she followed his instructions. Her fingers clenched at her sides, her whole body felt like it was stretched tight. She couldn’t see them, but she felt them coming towards her. And she was just standing there, her eyes closed, not fighting back, not running.

“Listen to me, Rose, it’s in your head, that’s all. It’s not real. It’s just in your head.”

Her heart wouldn’t stop pounding. “It feels real,” she said hoarsely.

“I know. I’m going to come closer, okay? It’s just me, Rose.There’s nothing else in here with us.”

She nodded. As reluctant as she had been to close her eyes, she understood why he asked her to do it. She couldn’t hear them anymore now that she wasn’t looking at them, and she wiggled her toes, which suddenly felt clean and dry.

She sensed the Doctor in front of her. “I have to go back in your mind,” he said. “See if I can rejig that wall a bit. Is that okay?”

“Okay.”

She couldn’t stop her flinch when he touched her temples – stirring a memory of another man doing this to her, of the pain it brought her when he did. But this was the Doctor. He would never hurt her. Then, suddenly, she felt him. It wasn’t the strong presence she was expecting, but a gentle warmth nudging the back of her mind. She felt herself relaxing, her hands at her side unclenching.

The Doctor pulled his hands away and Rose opened her eyes. She looked at him, and then around the bathroom. The cockroaches were gone.

She sagged with relief, and the Doctor stepped forward, gathering her up in his arms. She clung to him, her heart still pounding in her ears. She was trembling.

“Was that it?” she said. “Is it starting?”

“Yes,” he said. “Rose, I am so, so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.” She pressed her nose to his neck, breathed him in. She was so scared all of a sudden. “I don’t hear any drumming.”

“The wall I put in your mind... it’s still there.” He paused. “It’s weaker, though. I don’t think... I don’t think it will hold for much longer.”

Rose’s voice sounded small. “Can’t you do anything?”

“I’ve done what I can,” he said, and the defeated tone was back in his voice. “I told you, only a proper Time Lord can take this out of you.”

Rose’s stomach twisted uncomfortably, and she felt burning nausea in the back of her throat. She pushed the Doctor away and then stumbled to the toilet, falling to her knees a second before she threw up.

Above her, the Doctor rummaged around the sink, and turned the water on. A second later, he flushed the toilet, and then dropped to his knees beside her, holding a damp cloth in his hands.

She took the cloth gratefully, wiping her hands and then her face. It was beginning to sink in, a little bit at a time. This thing that the Master had put in her head, it was going to take over. She was going to lose her mind – and then she would die.

Rose couldn’t look at him when she said, “How long have I got?”

The Doctor touched her on the arm. “I honestly don’t know.”

She clenched the washcloth in both hands. “I’ll have to tell my mum... Tony. It’s his birthday next week. Eleven years old. What a rubbish present.”

She started to cry, and the Doctor closed the distance between them, his arms going around her. “Oh Rose,” he said softly, in her ear.

She cried harder, clutching him to her. “Don’t leave me,” she found herself saying, “promise me you won’t...” she could barely get the last words out, “that you won’t run away.”

The Doctor tensed, and he pulled away enough to meet her gaze. He reached out and brushed at her tears with his thumb. His face was solemn. “I would never.”

She caught his hand, held it tight. He didn’t exactly have the greatest track record. She couldn’t help but remember another conversation, another point in time. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone you....

“Promise me, Doctor,” she found herself saying, “just... promise me you’ll be with me until... until...”

Her breathing hitched. The Doctor squeezed her hand. “Rose Tyler, there is nothing in the universe that could keep me away from you.”

She nodded. A simple promise would have done it, but she would take that, too.

Something else seemed to occur to him. He dropped her hand, suddenly looking lost in thought. “You know, there is one thing we could do.”

Through her tears, Rose felt a flare of hope. She knew he would come up with something. She knew it. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“We need a Time Lord,” he said. “And we happen to have one at Torchwood. Locked up and waiting for us.”

“The Master? But he did this to me. Why on earth would he help us?”

The Doctor looked away from her. His next words chilled her. “Because I’ll make it worth his while.”

---

Having the shadow of a plan filled the Doctor with a single-minded purposefulness. It was something Rose had witnessed many times before and usually filled her with confidence; when the Doctor was like this, she couldn’t imagine much that could stand in his way. This time, though, it felt different.

He’d held Rose until her tears had dried and her heart rate evened out, and then he’d swept into the bedroom, methodically getting dressed as though he were preparing for battle. Rose stood in the doorway, feeling light-headed and a little nauseated as she watched him. The steely determination emanating from him was like a cold breeze that set her hair on end.

The calm before the oncoming storm, indeed.

“You should stay here,” the Doctor said bluntly, searching for a shirt to go with the dark trousers he’d pulled on. “Get some sleep. It’s late.”

“What?” She couldn’t keep the defensiveness out of her voice – nor would she have wanted to. “No way. I’m going with you.”

There was a flicker of nerves across the Doctor’s expression. “I don’t want him near you.” It was a grudging admission, mumbled quietly.

“It’s a bit late for that,” she said, but regretted it when she saw the twitch in the Doctor’s face. She decided to switch tracks. “What would the Master even want from us?” Already she dreaded the answer.

The Doctor shrugged on a crisp blue shirt and began fastening the buttons. “Well, historically, regenerations, or the TARDIS.” He adjusted his collar. “But I’m fresh out of both, so we’ll have to get creative.”

The prospect of “getting creative” did nothing to comfort Rose. Dozens of half-formed scenarios flickered in her mind, all equally dismal. The ransom for her health might be a much higher cost than they could pay, but the Doctor looked as though he was determined to come to an agreement. How were they going to bargain with a madman who held all the cards?

“What if he wants to hurt you?” She wasn’t about to trade the Doctor’s wellbeing for her own.

The Doctor laughed without any mirth. “He is hurting me.”

Rose’s stomach lurched.

“If what we need is a Time Lord…”

“I thought about it,” said the Doctor, heading her off with a wave of his hand. “Even if we got back to the other universe in time, it could take days to track down the TARDIS.” His voice darkened even as he kept his manner brusque and focused. “We don’t know how long you’ve got.”

Rose wiped her clammy palms on her jeans. She wasn’t sure the Master was the safer gamble, but all-too-real memory of a bathroom filled with cockroaches still lingered in her mind and she decided not to protest.

“Doctor…” she began, pausing to take a deep breath. “I need you to promise me something.”

She couldn’t tell whether his preoccupation with selecting a tie was genuine or put-on. He didn’t look at her. “What is it?”

Folding her arms and lifting her chin, Rose straightened up in the doorway, steeling herself for the objection she knew would come. “Whatever it is he wants, it’s my choice, yeah? I decide if we go through with it or not.”

The Doctor froze, the first loop of his tie half-formed around his neck. In profile she saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, and then he turned to face her, some of his icy determination melting away to reveal a vulnerability that frightened her just as much. “Rose…” he began, but seemed unable to finish.

He didn’t need to. She could read his objections in his expression alone, and knew that he was scared: scared to relinquish the small amount of control that had brought him some calm, scared she might be too self-sacrificing to go through with it, scared she wouldn’t value her own life highly enough, scared she wouldn’t be willing to go as far as he was to protect her.

He was right – and that was precisely why she needed the promise.

“It’s my life.” Her voice was soft but uncompromising. “If I’m gonna be a bargaining chip, I’ve gotta have a say. I don’t like it, we don’t do it. Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He had the defeated look of someone who wanted to fight but knew they had already lost. He dropped his eyes and nodded. “Okay.”

His pitiful look twisted her heart, and she crossed the room to him, reaching up and taking the loose ends of his tie. His fingers brushed over hers and then fell away. “Besides,” she went on, quieter this time, gentler. “This way, whatever happens, it’s not your fault.” She pulled the knot up to his throat, running the cool silk between her fingers. “It’s my choice.”

The Doctor made a noise in the back of his throat that was perhaps intended as agreement but sounded more like a whimper. It was a futile offering, she knew – the Doctor would shoulder any guilt there was to be had, regardless of whether or not he had claim to it. If the Master’s terms were too steep – if she had to say no – if she died… she knew it would be cold comfort to the Doctor that the decision hadn’t been his.

But it was the best she could do. She straightened his tie, folded his collar and pressed a kiss to his throat, now scratchy with a day’s worth of stubble. Then she stepped around him, picked up his jacket and held it out for him. “Come on, let’s go.”

---

London was lit up by the time they reached Torchwood. The looming buildings around Canary Wharf shimmered in the darkness, filling Rose with a familiar but since forgotten sense of foreboding. In the months after she’d first arrived at this universe, coming to work for Torchwood in the very copy of the building that had wrenched her from the Doctor had been incredibly difficult. She had avoided one particular floor for as long as she could justify, and in truth it was only after years spent going in and out of this building with the Doctor by her side that it had come to feel like any other place.

Now, though, it seemed as ominous as ever.

She gazed up at its impressive silhouette as she stepped out of the taxi and onto the pavement. Ever since that horrible vision back at her flat she felt like she could hear a clock ticking down, bringing her closer and closer to a fate she could scarcely stand to contemplate. Though it was a warm summer night, she rubbed the tops of her arms as protection against an imagined chill.

She heard the Doctor’s taxi door shut behind her – and then, seconds later, the horrible screech of tires and a dull bang that hollowed out her stomach. She spun around on instinct as fast as she could, then froze, momentarily paralyzed by horror.

A car was stopped in the middle of the street, its hood dented. Lying there, a couple feet away on the tarmac, was the Doctor. The impact had thrown him onto his side. One of his legs was twisted in an unnatural angle behind him. Under his head, beneath his temple, a dark red river was beginning to bloom.

For a split second, Rose was transported to another London street, in a different universe, nearly thirty years earlier, watching her father’s life come to its brutal, unceremonious end right before her eyes. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t hear anything but the blood rushing to her ears. Not again, she thought wildly over the frantic sound of her heart, please not again.

Doctor!” she cried, and ran into the street.

But something – someone – grabbed her around the waist, holding her back, pulling her up onto the pavement. She struggled furiously against their grip, scratching at their hands, jabbing her elbows backwards, driving her heel down onto their foot. In the street the Doctor was lying still; the halo of red under his head was expanding. From this distance she couldn’t even see if he was breathing.

“Let me go!” she demanded, clawing again at the hands restraining her. “He needs help! I’ve got to get to him! Doctor!” Her elbow connected with something fleshy, but the grip around her waist remained steadfast and strong. “Please,” she gasped, breathless with fear and exertion, “I’ve got to help him, I…”

“...calm down,” said a voice in her ear, but Rose shook her head, still struggling. She remembered the first time she’d seen her father die, how she’d stood at the side of the road and watched, useless, unable even to be there while he died. Unshed tears burned her eyes and caught in her throat. She had to get to the Doctor.

“I have to… he needs…”

“Rose,” came the voice again, low and soothing in her ear. In her panic and heartbreak she found herself drawn to it. “It’s okay.”

No it’s not, she meant to say, but a sob came out instead. She pushed at the hands again, but she could feel herself flagging. Her knees felt weak, her vision blurred.

“Listen to me,” the voice continued, still infuriatingly calm. “Rose, it’s not real.”

The whole world seemed to pitch on its axis at the words. The Doctor’s body, lifeless in the middle of the road, swam like a mirage behind her tears.

“Close your eyes,” the voice commanded gently.

With gargantuan effort, Rose obeyed.

“It’s okay, Rose,” said the voice – and suddenly she realized it was the Doctor’s voice at her ear, the Doctor’s breath tickling the back of her neck. “It’s okay. I’m fine. I’m right here.”

Reluctantly, still terrified of what she might see, she opened one eye, then the other. The body in the road and the car which had hit it had disappeared; instead there was a car parked in the lane closest to her, its driver standing with his door open, staring at her with a mixture of anger and fright.

Rose sagged back against the Doctor’s chest as a wave of relief, exhaustion and anxiety rolled over her all at once. She was trembling all over, her breathing still ragged. Were it not for the Doctor’s strong grip around her waist, she was sure she’d have fallen over. Distantly, as though she was miles away, she could hear the Doctor and the driver having an argument.

She closed her eyes again, trying to concentrate on nothing but the Doctor, the weight of his arms around her, the heat of his chest against her back, the sound of his voice above her head. He’s fine, she told herself over and over, fighting to regain her composure and stop the tears still trickling from her eyes. He’s fine. Thank God.

“Rose.” The Doctor’s voice was gentle in her ear. If her outburst had frightened him – and she suspected it had – he was doing a very good job of hiding it. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

He guided her into Torchwood with both hands on her waist, and Rose was grateful for the support. They walked to the first bench in the lobby and sat down, facing each other. Now that she was looking at him, under the bright fluorescent lights of the lobby, she could see his own anxiety bubbling under the veneer of composure he’d erected for her benefit. He reached out to take her hands, and her gaze moved downwards. Bright red lines crisscrossed on the back of his hands, dotted here and there by tiny pinpricks of blood.

“I hurt you,” she whispered, aghast.

The Doctor started to shake his head. “No you didn’t—"

“You’re bleeding,” she said, remembering with shame how desperately she’d struggled.

“Rose, I’m fine.”

The small drops of blood on the back of his hand haunted her almost as much as the blood she’d thought she’d seen pooling on the street. In her terror and her confusion, she’d hurt him as he tried to help her. She thought of the angry car driver and realized she must have run into the road. Was that what she was going to be like, now? Dangerous to herself, to others?

“I can’t tell what’s real anymore.” The confession was barely audible, her throat clogged with rising panic and tears she was sick of crying. “I thought I saw…”

“I know,” said the Doctor.

He opened his arms in invitation and she took it gratefully, burying her face in the warm crook of his neck. The Doctor’s fingers traced soothing patterns across her shoulder blades and down her back, and slowly Rose’s breathing evened out, her heart slowing to its normal speed. But even as she felt herself begin to calm down, the cold weight in her stomach hadn’t budged.

She slid her hand up his chest, resting it where she could feel the reassuring rhythm of his heart.

“Doctor,” she murmured, “I’m scared.”

“I know,” he repeated, and though he didn’t say it, she thought she heard a me too at the end of it.

Chapter Six

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
honorh
Sep. 6th, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
Gah! That was intense. Poor Rose--whatever the Master did, it seems to be targeting her worst fears. I hope the Doctor's plan isn't too stupid, whatever it is.
goldy_dollar
Sep. 8th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
Aw thank you! I'm so glad that you are reading. :)

I make no promises as to the stupidity or non stupidity of the Doctor's plan.

(Deleted comment)
goldy_dollar
Sep. 8th, 2014 02:49 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you! The next chapter should be up in a couple of days.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )