Rating: PG / Teen (to be safe, but on the mild side)
Word count this chapter: 3940
Spoilers/warnings: Post-"Journey's End," if that's still a spoiler, otherwise none.
Disclaimer: None of it's mine but the alt!ness.
Summary: Part thee of my 2008 OT3 Ficathon entry (prompt under the cut in the A/N for minute possibility of JE spoilers). Crossposted to my personal journal.
A/N - Wow, Teaspoon's being sloooooooooow; I posted Chapter Two over there yesterday (same time as I put it up here), and the entry still hasn't processed! Well, guess the LJ crowd gets an "exclusive" this time, since I'm keeping to my chapter-a-day planned schedule, thanks to aibhinn and her speedy beta-ing skillz. :)
A short, upward-sloping, timber-reinforced earthen tunnel led to a second, outer door – which, the Doctor quickly established, was not deadlocked. The three of them bunched together for a quick consultation before opening the way to freedom and, most likely, all hell breaking loose.
“Our ship is in a field about three klicks south of here,” the Doctor murmured. “If we can get hold of a skimmer . . .”
“My ship’s closer,” Jed broke in, voice low but intense. “Less than half that distance. There’s a hangar, carved into a cliffside; the whole operation is designed to be difficult to spot from orbit. The hangar’s also where their main transmitter is. I was going to fire off a message to the Agency, alerting them to this place on my way out. If we work together, watch each others’ backs, I think we can still pull it off.” He paused. “It’ll mean that much less dreamcrack on the open market,” he added, looking the Doctor straight in the eye as he spoke.
“Agency?” Rose whispered. “The Time Agency?” She looked queasy at the thought. If they were anything like the Agency Jack had described in her home Universe, they prosecuted unauthorized time travelers, like herself and the Doctor, very harshly indeed.
“Yeah,” Jed replied, expression grim. “I’ve had my . . . differences with them, but they’ll settle this bunch in nothing flat. The cross-temporal trade in dreamcrack’s one of their pet peeves. Once I’ve got my ship, it’ll just be a minute’s work to get you to yours. We can all be safely gone by the time the Agency’s goons show up. I wouldn’t strand you; I owe you one. ”
The Doctor considered Jed sharply. If he’d been Jack, the Doctor would have called him completely sincere, but Jed wasn’t Jack. That was the trouble with alternate realities: they could play havoc with a person’s gut reactions and knowledge database. All the same, it was a split-second’s decision to take Jed’s words at face value.
“Deal,” he said. “I don’t want to run afoul of the Agency any more than you do, but once we’ve got our ship they won’t be able to catch us.” He couldn’t keep the smugness out of his tone. What the Mark Two lacked in shock absorption, she made up for in speed.
“Deal,” Rose echoed, smiling first at Jed then at the Doctor in that warm, approving way that made his single heart beat a little faster.
“Deal,” Jed concluded with a dazzling Jack-grin. He held out his hand, first to the Doctor and then to Rose, to seal the contract with a handclasp. “I normally offer fifty percent of the take on a joint venture, but in this case I think our intact hides are the best we’ll get.”
“Business as usual, then, for us,” Rose said, shooting an amused glance at the Doctor. He didn’t return it, being momentarily thrown off-balance by the odd, tingling sensation Jed’s handclasp had given him. The implications were many and disconcerting, but there was no time to ponder them.
“Right! Skimmers. We’ll still want one,” the Doctor said, somewhat abruptly, forcing himself back up to speed. Adrenalin (heady stuff, human hormones) and anticipation flooded his system. He cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows invitingly at Jed. “You wouldn’t happen to know where those are kept . . .?”
As it turned out, Jed did know; he had Jack’s ability to absorb, catalog and interpret strategic details with a glance, and he’d used it well. They crept carefully out the entrance to the munitions bunker, but all that confronted them was an apparently empty landscape. It looked natural at first glance, but the Doctor picked out some tell-tale regularity in the shapes of the rolling hills that hinted at a great deal more buried infrastructure.
“No guards,” Rose said when they stopped briefly. “Where is everyone?”
“Probably out harvesting, to pull in as much of their crop as they can before they run for it,” Jed hazarded. “With you two showing up right after they tossed me in the brig, they’re probably getting nervous that their cover’s broken. We need to move fast, while they’re occupied.”
“Well,” the Doctor commented, lying on his stomach and propping himself up on his elbows so he could peek over the crest of the rise shielding them from view, “not everyone’s out in the fields. Looks like they’ve left a couple of bruisers to guard the skimmers.” He ducked his head, spiky hair blending with the golden-brown grass tips as he plotted their best approach to the above-ground outbuilding – concealed in a grove of trees – containing the skimmers.
Fortunately, all three of them had some training on how to move quietly and under cover. Unfortunately, the outbuilding had only one usable entrance, leaving them no option but to deal with the guards.
They paused again, and Jed, who had taken the lead, held up a hand to keep the others back as he risked a quick, orienting glance around the corner. Silently, with swift, clear hand gestures, he indicated that he would deal with the right-hand guard, and assigned the Doctor the left-hand guard. Rose caught his wrist, stopping him mid-gesture, and shook her head, indicating herself rather than the Doctor.
Jed’s eyebrows went up and he shot a quick, confirming glance at the Doctor, who nodded, reluctantly. There was no time to plan anything more subtle and Rose’s Torchwood training was combined with an impressive natural talent, making her far more effective in hand-to-hand situations than the Doctor.
Jed looked back at Rose, they traded nods, and then they were moving smoothly and silently around the corner in almost perfect unison.
Sixty seconds and two unconscious guards later, the Doctor was sonic-ing open the door and Rose and Jed were settling the shoulder straps of a couple pulse rifles over their shoulders. Rose, frowning, inspected her weapon with practiced efficiency.
“Yeah,” she told Jed, “I’ve seen something like this before. ‘Long as you don’t ask me the change out the power pack, I think I can handle it fine.”
“God, I love competent women,” Jed told her with what appeared to be genuine admiration. Rose, caught by surprise, dropped her eyes and flushed for a second, a tiny smile curving her lips.
The Doctor, catching the nonverbal byplay, experienced a wave of something he couldn’t name; it should have been jealousy, but didn’t feel like it.
Refusing to let himself be rattled, he hissed, “Oi! Skimmers, in case you’d forgotten!” It came out sounding more Donna-ish than he’d intended and both his companions twitched guiltily, but apologizing would have been even more out of line, so the Doctor settled for pulling the door open a crack and jerking his head towards the interior. The others followed him inside.
None of the skimmers were big enough for three people, so Rose and the Doctor claimed a two-person vehicle, while Jed chose a smaller, lighter one-passenger model. A quick search turned up protective eye goggles for all of them. Jed and the Doctor finished hot-wiring their respective vehicles within seconds of each other and traded respectful glances.
Rose swung up behind the Doctor, slipping on her goggles, and he was briefly, disorientingly reminded of a scooter and a trip to see Elvis. No frothy pink skirts for Rose this time, though; in fact, she looked downright daunting, with her leather jacket and pulse rifle.
We all change, the Doctor reminded himself with self-conscious irony, gunning the skimmer’s engine and engaging the reverse-tractor field. But that didn’t stop him from resolving to make their next adventure one where pink skirts would be more appropriate – minus the face-sucking alien life forces, naturally.
There was no way to disguise the sound of the skimmers’ engines. The best they could do was go fast, hug low points in the terrain to reduce their visibility, and hope any observers took them for members of the farming operation. Jed took the lead, arrowing across the landscape at a white-knuckle low elevation. The Doctor, fully in his element with machinery at his control, shadowed Jed effortlessly. When one was used to piloting in four-plus dimensions, a mere three were easy-peasy.
He was starting to think they’d make it to the ship hangar without being detected when he had the brief warning of new engine noise audible over the roar of his own skimmer. A few seconds later, a pair of skimmers swung into view on a path to intersect them. Jed swooped evasively to the right, gaining altitude now that they’d been discovered.
Blue fire lanced out over the Doctor’s shoulder as Rose fired her pulse rifle, standing in the skimmer’s stirrups and showing off her gymnast’s balance. The oncoming skimmers broke their approach and swerved to the side, attempting to weave evasively. A few shots from Jed’s direction sent them into further disarray. The Doctor concentrated on keeping close on Jed’s tail, trusting Rose to keep their pursuers at bay.
The ground swelled beneath them . . . and then dropped away without warning as a broad river cut deeply through the landscape. For a moment, they followed Jed in a brief free fall, until they got close enough to the water’s surface for the skimmers to find purchase again. There was a bone-jarring bounce as their downward momentum was brought to an abrupt halt a few feet above the river, then they were moving forward again, the invisible tractor fields churning the water below into fine, sparkling spray.
Behind him, the Doctor could hear Rose whooping with delight, despite the danger of their situation, and he grinned reflexively in response. The expression felt very human and rather feral, and he liked it.
Their goal was quickly visible, a gaping, semicircular opening carved into the rock of the canyon wall. It was set about halfway up a nearly vertical slope, providing excellent clearance for incoming and exiting air- and space-craft, but far higher than the uppermost limits of the skimmers’ hovering range. Jed solved that problem by revving his skimmer to maximum speed and simply running it up the side of the cliff, apparently trusting momentum to carry him high enough before the force of gravity forced him to stall out and fall.
He made it, barely, pushing free of the failing skimmer at the height of its trajectory, using the last of that momentum to carry him through the air to the entrance of the hangar, where he landed on both feet, only stumbling a little to one side as he found his balance.
Ooooooh, blimey, there’s something to be said for competent men, too, the Doctor thought in pure, silent admiration. Then he had to switch his attention to Jed’s abandoned skimmer, which was falling back down the cliff. It was easy enough to avoid its simple downward vector, and the Doctor gunned his skimmer’s engine and followed Jed’s cliff-climbing example. He even managed a messy but secure landing at the edge of the hangar’s entrance, sparing him and Rose from having to imitate Jed’s remarkable leap. As he’d hoped, the greater mass of the larger skimmer and its two passengers carried it higher and further than the single-person vehicle.
Jed already had the lone guard covered with his rifle. The man was glaring daggers, but he was on his knees with his hands behind his head.
“You work fast,” the Doctor told Jed in ‘Shaney, letting his admiration leak through into his voice.
Jed smiled in response without once taking his eyes off his captive; it was a sharp, predatory expression. “I tend to, when my life’s on the line. We’re just lucky they’re so greedy they pulled nearly all their staff off regular duty.”
“Here,” Rose said, stepping forward with a roll of heavy-duty tape she’d found after a quick rummage around the hangar. “I think this is just the thing.”
Together, Rose and the Doctor bound and gagged the guard with the tape, then the three of them heaved the man towards the edge of the hangar so Rose could watch him and their surroundings at the same time. Clearly, from the way he attempted to struggle, the man’s first thought was that they intended to pitch him off the cliff to his death.
“Calm down!” Jed growled to him. “Don’t tempt me. We’re not your sort – but when it comes to dreamcrack runners, I’m inclined to make exceptions.” After that, the captured guard lay relatively limply, though the pulse rifle Rose kept aimed in his direction no doubt had something to do with it.
Jed led the Doctor to the interstellar beacon. The Doctor recognized the system immediately, and between the two of them it was a simple job to set it transmitting an endlessly looped message on a Time Agency frequency and then fuse the controls permanently.
As they worked, the Doctor had a hard time not being distracted by how very smoothly he and Jed worked together, just as he’d always worked with Jack. Even more distracting was the new and very human awareness his new body had of Jed’s, the warm bulk of the other man radiating an almost gravitic fascination.
In and of itself, attraction to another man didn’t disturb the Doctor in the slightest; he came from a culture as inherently flexible about such matters (when they were acknowledged at all) as human fifty-first century society. Given his new half-human nature, which in turn was derived from the very heterosexual Donna Noble, he wasn’t surprised his newest incarnation was inclined to notice members of both genders. It hadn’t been much of an issue, really, since noticing wasn’t quite the same as wanting, and all of his actual wanting had been directed comfortably towards Rose.
Not anymore, though. As a full Time Lord, he’d always been relatively immune to the Harkness charm . . . but as a half-human, he was finding the Holbrook charm pretty bloody effective.
It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that, charm aside, he liked this new-found version of an old friend. Not to mention the seductive, gingerbread-y possibility of starting over – and getting things right the second time ‘round – that came with alternate universes . . .
“There, that should do it,” Jed declared, sounding satisfied. “I figure we have about twenty minutes before the wrath of the Agency descends.”
“Best get to your ship, then,” the Doctor said, feeling the familiar, twitchy need to be away and running starting in his gut.
“No worries,” Jed said, lightly. “I’ve no desire to be around when they show up. Went AWOL from them a while back, and they don’t have much of a sense of humor about that sort of thing. C’mon. I’m betting these clowns didn’t have time to break my security locks yet.”
He led the way to a sleek black-and-red ship the Doctor recognized instantly as a one-man Chula warship. He’d never gotten a clear look at it back in the Blitz; cramped though it might be on the inside, he had to admit the outside of it was handsome, in a deadly sort of way.
Jed had the main airlock open in seconds, whipping through a complex series of key codes with practiced ease. “Hah. Thought so. She’s just as I left her.” He ran an affectionate hand along the rim of the lock, falling silent for a moment, then said, in a carefully casual voice, “Y’know, we work well together, you and me and Rose. If you’d like, I think we could . . . well, work together. For real. Fifty-fifty on all the profits, like I said. At least give it a try, see how it goes?” He looked sidelong at the Doctor, arching an eyebrow.
The Doctor opened and closed his mouth, taken by surprise. “Wuh, uh . . . I’m flattered, we’re flattered, I mean, I’m sure Rose would feel the same, but y’see, we’re not in this for profit. We just travel, help out here and there. Strictly not-for-profit. Humanitarian. Well, sentient-tarian . . .” He was babbling, he realized, and snapped his mouth shut to stop the flow. “Er. I’d better go get Rose.”
“I’ll come with you,” Jed said. “Might as well leave a few surprises as we go.” His smile was positively evil, and the Doctor couldn’t help smiling back as he caught the meaning.
The two of them headed for the entrance, merrily committing small, speedy acts of sabotage on every grounded ship they passed, repeating the performance as they returned to Jed’s ship with Rose in tow.
“You two are having way too much fun,” she said affectionately as the two men cackled together over a particularly effective bit of vandalism.
“Probably,” the Doctor agreed, with sunny good humor. “And now we really have to be on our way – we’ve got about fifteen minutes of clear time left.”
They piled into Jed’s warship and were airborne within two minutes, swooping out of the cavern-hangar and into the open sky. “Three klicks south, you said?” Jed confirmed, leveling the ship out at a low cruising altitude.
“Yep,” the Doctor said, looking over his shoulder at the controls.
“Shouldn’t take more than two minutes. Cutting it a little fine, but if your ship’s as fast as you say, shouldn’t be a problem. In fact,” Jed said, glancing over his shoulder briefly in Rose’s direction, “if you think you can keep up with me, we could head out together. I already offered your partner here a business proposition – maybe pull a few jobs as a team, see how that goes. I offered him fifty-fifty on the take, but for you, I’d drop it to forty-sixty, in your favor.” His concluding smile was stunningly persuasive.
“Oh!” Rose said, suddenly looking very young and vulnerable for someone with a pulse rifle still slung over one shoulder. She flushed. “I, uh, well, we . . .”
“I told him we weren’t in business, per se,” the Doctor offered. “Just travelers.”
“Yeah, exactly, what he said,” Rose responded in immediate agreement, still flustered . . . though she also sounded a little wistful.
“Aw, c’mon, talent like yours shouldn’t be wasted on the amateur market,” Jed began, starting to settle down into a bargaining groove before breaking off abruptly. “Uh, guys, I’ve got some bad news, I’m not seeing any trace of a ship down there, and it should at least be on my scanners by now.”
Ignoring the ship’s instruments and looking through the clear duraplas of the main viewport, the Doctor could single out a particular blue tree that shone like a searchlight to senses for which humans had no names. They were approaching it quickly.
“No, it’s there, just, er, shielded. If you set down in this next field, we’ll be almost on top of her.” Jed shot him a disbelieving glance. “Really, I mean it,” the Doctor said reassuringly.
“He’s right,” Rose said, “I, um, see it, too.”
“It’s your funeral,” Jed declared, halting the ship smoothly and beginning a vertical descent. “Tell you what, I’ll let you out and then wait for a minute or two, just in case . . .”
Alarms began going off and mauve lights began blinking throughout the cockpit.
“Damn it!” Jed yelped. “Their reaction time has improved, the bastards. The Agency’s just joined the party.” He worked the controls and opened the inner door of the main airlock. “You two bail – I’ll get airborne and cover you . . .”
The Doctor dropped his hand to Jed’s shoulder and squeezed. “No need,” he said, firming his voice into no-arguments mode. “Our ship is temporally equipped. Once we’re though the door, we’ll be into the Vortex, and not even the Agency will be able to follow us. Worry about getting yourself to safety.”
Rose dropped her hand to Jed’s other shoulder. “Thank you,” she said, and the Doctor could hear the constriction of tears in her voice – not surprising, since she was saying goodbye to a version of someone she’d long cared about. “Really.”
Then there was no more time; the Doctor grabbed Rose’s hand and they ran for the airlock.
“Will I see you again?” Jed called after them, unable to leave the controls, genuine distress in his tone.
The Doctor gritted his teeth. “I doubt it. I’m sorry,” he said with honest regret while he worked the controls to open the outer lock on an auto-close delay. He followed Rose out into the sunlight and fresh air and they hit the ground running for the Mark Two. In the near distance there was a low, ominous thunder, and the Doctor experienced a moment of déjà vu. Only this time, it wouldn’t be skimmers that hove into view, it would be temporally-equipped warships.
Behind them he heard the airlock seal, and the whine of maneuvering engines . . . but not the rumble of firing thrusters. Looking over his shoulder, the Doctor could see a sleek, black form hovering protectively over them, rotating to face the still-unseen approaching ships.
“Jack, you idiot,!” the Doctor yelled, forgetting himself, and turned to sprint in earnest for the Mark Two. They reached it a few breaths later and what looked like a ridge in the bark of a perfectly ordinary tree turned into the handle of a door under the Doctor’s hand while Rose slipped her key into the lock.
Later the Doctor was never sure how many times his feet touched the ramp leading to the control column, if any. With a breath that was half curse and half prayer, he switched off the chameleon circuit and sent the Mark Two leaping into the air, traveling through space only, not time. He really had no idea what his jury-rigged ship would look like without its camouflage in place, but surely Jed would see that something was taking off successfully, and end his ridiculous heroics.
The Doctor swung the primitive monochrome viewscreen into place and flipped it on. It gave him a staticky image of Jed’s Chula ship, now somewhat below them. Rose, he was dimly aware, was looking anxiously over his shoulder. He nudged a lever and circled Jed’s ship in what he hoped was a clear signal. For the first and only time, he found himself wishing he had the TARDIS’s more elaborate and mature systems at his disposal; as it was, it would take far too long to try and establish voice communication between ships with the Mark Two’s bare-bones equipment.
To his immense relief, Jed’s ship waggled its wings in a gesture of acknowledgment and shifted her attitude if preparing to fire thrusters. Just in time, because that was when the Mark Two’s temporal field proximity alert went off and the Doctor had no choice but to leave before the Agency could get a fix on him. Having the Agency aware of new (to this Universe, anyway), unfamiliar temporal technology was a terrifying prospect. He might be able to outrun them in any individual encounter, but he had no doubt all their available resources would be bent towards finding him if they knew he existed – and he and Rose had family to worry about, back on twenty-first century Earth. They daren’t risk discovery.
He slammed the dematerialization lever home, and the immense currents of the Vortex grabbed hold of the tiny ship, whipping her away as swiftly and lightly as a feather on the surface of the sea, into chaos and safety.
ETA Author's End Notes - When I got this back from aibhinn, she had the following comment appended:
Interesting that [Jed had] automatically dismissed Rose's fighting ability. Because she's female, or for some other reason? Would that be a mistake Jack would have made under the same circumstances?
Since I didn't want anyone thinking I was writing Jed as some sort of sexist bastard (and, FWIW, I probably would have written at least young!Jack having the same expectation, though old!Jack might have done something slightly different), here's my response to her:
RE: Jed's estimation of Rose's fighting skillz in ch. 3 . . . I figured at that point they didn't know each other well, and Jed was making a "snap" field decision. When in doubt, males are larger, heavier, stronger and usually more aggressive than females; also, the Doc had been taking a little more of a leadership role to that point, so out of the two individuals with him, I figured Jed would initially consider the Doc the more likely fighter. Not intended to be sexist on Jed's part, he's just playing the averages, if that make sense . . .
Probably not a big deal to anyone but me, but I did want that bit of authorial reasoning out there, for the curious.