nonelvis: (DW blue TARDIS)
[personal profile] nonelvis
Title: Tangrams
Characters/Pairing(s): duplicate Doctor/Rose, duplicate Doctor/Rose/River
Rating: Teen for chapters 1 & 2; Adult for chapter 3
Word count: 6,000 (this chapter)
Spoilers: none
Warnings: none
Beta: [ profile] platypus
Summary: River Song unexpectedly arrives on Pete's World. What could possibly go wrong?
Disclaimer: Not mine, obviously.

Author's Notes: The third story in my Across the Universe series, but as with the other stories in that series, this one stands alone, and there's no need to read the others to follow along. The story is complete, and the remaining chapter will be posted later this week. Huge thanks to [ profile] platypus for helping the story make any sense at all outside of my head.

::xposted to [community profile] dwfiction, [ profile] time_and_chips, [ profile] spoiler_song, and archived at Teaspoon and AO3

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

Rose remembered every detail of her last moments clinging to that lever in Torchwood Tower: the rubber grip of the handle chafing her palm, then slipping away beneath her sweat; the wind and Daleks and Cybermen whipping past her like a metallic storm front; the rush of breath from her body when her stepfather caught her just shy of the wall.

But most of all, she remembered the terror of falling backwards, falling such a long way, and how her brain had filled in what the rest of her days would be like: tumbling and screaming through the vast emptiness of the Void, until oxygen deprivation slowly choked her life from her.

That was travelling by vortex manipulator. Torchwood's interdimensional teleport disks had been a long, slow blink: closing your eyes, yawning, waking in another world. The vortex manipulator was like being ripped out of one dream, dropped into another, being ripped apart again. It was surely only a second or two of pain, but when she and River winked back into reality, she felt that same jarring, breathless fear she'd felt headed towards the wall in Canary Wharf.

And here, as in the London she'd called home, she was falling.

She landed haphazardly, dropping on top of something softer than a rock but harder than a pillow, then rolling sideways off a slope, coming to a rest in dried leaves and dirt. River tumbled afterwards and lay still and silent beside her.

Rose's temples ached. What she wouldn't have given for a paracetamol or something stronger, preferably in a cocktail glass.

But the woman who'd brought her here still hadn't moved. "River? You okay?" Rose said. "River?" River's eyes were closed, her mouth slack. "River? River, wake up."

Rose leaned in, listening closely: River was still breathing, a good start. No blood on her, and even when Rose carefully slid her hand beneath River's head to check for injury, she found only a small lump. Eyelids lifted: pupils normal-sized, both the same.

Rose sat back on her heels. She and River had fallen from mid-air, which explained both the lump and, Rose reluctantly realised, the not-entirely-squishy surface she herself had landed on: River. Oh, nice work, very nice indeed, her own bulk taking out the only person who might have the faintest clue where they were, and who held a headful of secrets she was dying to know.

Would the Doctor be able to track them? Torchwood could track almost anyone, and the Doctor wouldn't rest until he found her, that was certain. But Torchwood's first line of inquiry would be tracking Rose's mobile, which she'd discovered out of juice during her meeting when she'd surreptitiously tried to check Twitter underneath the conference table. Maybe the vortex manipulator had left contrails through time and space even a half-Time Lord could see, or maybe if she simply wished hard enough in his direction, he'd pick up her thoughts.

"Or maybe I could stop feeling sorry for myself and see if there's anything like civilisation nearby," she said bitterly, then pushed herself off the ground and straight into something directly over her head.

"Ow. Ow. What the hell –?" Rose raised a hand tentatively above her. Even in the rapidly dimming light sifting through the trees, she could see there was nothing over her head – except that her hands told her otherwise. Cool metal, broad and smooth, a width easily as long as her armspan, length farther still; a sharply curved edge only a few inches high. She traced the edge, noting how the shape tapered to a rounded point at one end, and at the other, was welded to an equally invisible body.

A ship. An invisible ship. And she'd seen invisible ships before, or one in particular.

"Oh, please, please, please ..." Rose found the point where the wing met the side of the craft, and braced herself against both, forcing herself up the side until she was at last sitting on the wing. She patted the air beside her, the arc of the hull revealing itself beneath her fingertips. Somewhere up there, if this were a Chula ship like Jack's, was a hatch that led inside, where there were nanogenes to help River and navigation to take them home if the manipulator couldn't.

Somewhere up there, but impossible to find when one was unacquainted with the topography of an invisible ship. Rose crawled across the hull, feeling along its ridges and valleys for a handle, or even a seam, and found nothing. She was losing what little light she had; better to pause and build a fire for the night, then try again in the morning, when hopefully River would be awake to help.

At least Torchwood had provided mandatory survival training, and the forest provided enough materials for Rose's fire. Fist-sized rocks for a bank; timber to burn; a few leaves for kindling, though a bit of fluff to burn more slowly would be nice ... ah, the trim of River's coat, padded with lambswool and easily picked away with Rose's fingers. River still lay motionless on the ground, not even flinching when Rose opened her coat to get at more loose batting.

Inside the coat, in a pocket close to River's chest, was a book with a blue binding. How thoughtful of River to provide reading material for this evening.

The sun was low on the horizon by now, but mercifully still visible enough to provide solid beams Rose could focus with her hand mirror on the kindling. The fire caught quickly. One worry down, in any case, while the other slumbered beside her.

Rose settled in and opened the book. The inside front cover, a stippled cream cardstock, bore an inscription: For River, to keep track of our days. We'll meet again – spoilers, I know.

And the words that made her breath catch: Love, the Doctor.

Not a novel, then. River's diary, which the Doctor had mentioned when he'd told Rose about the Library: "She mentioned a picnic in Asgard. Something about the fall of Byzantium. That's all I remember, because she wouldn't let me look at it. She said that was my rule, and I have to admit, that does sound like my sort of rule."

Somewhere buried in the memories River was unable to discuss were her stories of meeting Rose's first Doctor. And the rule about not reading the diary didn't apply to Rose.

She turned to the first page. Today, I was supposed to kill the Doctor. Instead, I remade the universe.

* * *

Shadow Proclamation holding cell, 53 alpha-sub-Q/22-46
Madame Kovarian always said it wasn't really love; it was just my conditioning. I was raised to kill the Doctor, but I loved him, too. How could I not? All those dashing deeds, running in without a plan yet saving the day anyway. The Doctor was a good bad boy, and what girl can resist trying to tame one?

Old Kovarian was wrong, though. I do love him. I'm old enough now to know the difference between love and obsession. Obsession burns bright, like an ember slowly turning my heart to ash. Love burns slow and warm and forever.

Mother would laugh at my terrible poetry. Father wouldn't. But they'd both tell me I'm right. Anyway, I've got loads of time to come up with a better analogy; my sentencing's tomorrow, even though I already know it's life in prison.

I'm sure some people will argue a wedding to a man in a giant Doctor suit isn't valid. But the Doctor made his vows from inside that suit, and I made them, too.

And then we kissed, and unmade my universe.

Rose flipped the page with trembling fingers, telling herself it was just that she hadn't eaten in hours.

Stormcage Prison, 53 alpha-sub-Q/23-1
Very cheeky of him to visit me on my first night in prison, considering I'm only there because I'm supposed to have killed him. I punished him appropriately. He loved every minute of it.

Rose closed the book.

* * *

She opened it again five minutes later, when her breathing had slowed down. This time, she skipped ahead, skimming pages to see what drew her attention. She paused at a spread with precise, crosshatched sketches of twelve numbered faces; some she recognised from photos and paintings she'd been shown, and two she recognised from real life. The sharp slope of cheekbone and sleek, cropped hair of the first one she'd fallen for; the pincushion hair and sly grin she woke beside every day now.

Both of them liars. The first, who'd never told her about meeting this woman; the second, who'd told her only reluctantly. He was supposed to be more human now, and he was, in that he'd given himself to her wholeheartedly. But perhaps the crafty habits of a thousand years were harder to break than she'd expected, particularly when they ran smack against the risk of her jealousy.

No. She wasn't going to take the blame for this. He'd known who she was, and accepted her, faults and all. He'd chosen to lie to her, by omission if not deliberately, and though he'd eventually come clean, Rose was certain there was more to know than the little he'd told her.

She kept flipping pages, searching for the fragments of phrases she'd overheard earlier: You alone at the bar, feeling sorry for yourself while Rose and Jack were on the dance floor? Us in that back room, with the handcuffs? There were only so many clubs she'd visited with Jack and her first Doctor, and only so many points in time he'd been separate enough from them then for anything to have happened with River.

Until finally:

Telamos VII, 55 alpha-sub-N/14-1
Gave myself a week's holiday from Stormcage – you'd think they'd know by now not to assign trainees to guard me – and tracked the Doctor to Club Paradis. Not his usual haunt, I must say, particularly for this melancholy model. I liberated a silver dress from a mannequin that needed it less than I did and took the opportunity to get to know my husband's ninth body –

Leaves whispered and rustled, and a cold hand gripped Rose's wrist.

"A diary is supposed to be private," River said, "and I don't remember giving you permission to read mine."

* * *

River was remarkably alert for a woman recovering from a blow to the head. She slid her diary from Rose's hands and replaced it in the jacket pocket, then settled cross-legged across from her and watched her with considerably more focus than Rose would have expected under the circumstances.

"You had no right to read that," River said.

"I didn't know what it was when I found it. I was just looking for something to do until you woke up."

"But you didn't stop reading it once you knew what you had."

"No." Rose returned River's glare. "You'd have done the same if you were me."

That got a half-smile. "I would."

"I need to know," Rose said. "Why you? How'd he pick you? Why ..." Her fists dug into her thighs.

"My story with the Doctor is far more than could ever fit in that diary. And does it really matter, Rose? You have him, too."

"I thought I did back then. But I guess I was wrong."

"Just because he and I had a moment in a back room somewhere? That's all that was, Rose; a moment. He didn't know me then. But I'm certain, knowing my Doctor now, that he wanted to know you."

The fire spat a spark at Rose, and she brushed it from her jeans. River was still watching her, as calm as she'd been back in the jail cell, when any other person would have been pacing or panicking.

"You seem fine now for someone who hit their head like that," Rose said.

"I've got a bit of a headache, but I'm a fast healer." River picked up a crisp brown oak leaf and tossed it on the fire. It spun and crackled into dust. "The question is, what did me in? There's nothing big enough here to knock me out."

Rose grinned. "Other than an invisible spaceship?"

"An invisible space–" Even through the haze and smoke of the fire, Rose could see River go pale. "Where? Show me. Show me right now."

"Okay, okay, calm down." Rose got up, turned around with her arm stretched out, and walked forward slowly. "Here. I've got my hand on the wing."

River scrambled to join her, swiftly running her hands along the slope of the wing until she reached the hull. She turned right, continuing to map the ship with her palms, then paused a couple of metres along. She swept her hands in small circles, moving methodically from chest to waist height.

"There we go," she said, leaning into the hull. An arch of dim orange light burst into view, expanding into an ellipse as the ship's entryway tilted forwards until it was a shallow ramp on the ground. "Tarryk?" River called, running up the ramp. "Tarryk, are you in there? It's River! Tarryk, tell me you're okay!"

River had disappeared by the time Rose began to follow her. What little light the ship offered inside seemed to be for emergencies, outlining the doorway, a few side panels, and the windscreen. Larger shapes she couldn't yet identify rose fuzzily before her in purple and navy.

And in front of the windscreen, sitting in a chair while cradling someone slumped over a control panel, was River.

"Tarryk, my sweet," she murmured. "I'm so, so sorry."

Rose hung back near the doorway. No matter how little she trusted River, this was not the point to interrupt her to ask about the ship, or its dead occupant, or even how the vortex manipulator had magically dropped them nearby.

After a few minutes, she heard River call her name. "I know you're there, Rose. It's okay. You can come in. I'm going to need your help moving Tarryk's body anyway."

"Was he a friend of yours?" Rose asked tentatively.

"She," River said. "More than a friend, once. She was doing me a favour flying me to Earth. The place I was trying to go – the vortex manipulator wasn't getting me there from a distance, so we thought trying from nearby might help. She'd saved for years to buy this shuttle. I was her last trip before she started taking on charters."

"I'm sorry."

River stroked Tarryk's hair. "Thank you."

Tarryk's silhouette grew clearer; Rose's eyes were adjusting to the light, or lack thereof. The body looked roughly human-sized, and the jagged edge of a forehead ridge bit into the windscreen light. "What ... what do you think happened?"

"Whatever brought me here must have brought her and the ship, too. If she got as shaken up as I did before I arrived, she probably lost control and crashed. It must have happened too quickly for the safety systems to compensate." River sighed. "She was one of the kindest people I ever knew. Most appalling taste in music, but you can't have everything."

River leaned in to kiss the jagged ridge, then stood up. "Chula tradition requires that we bury the body as soon as possible after death. Will you help me carry her out to the fire? The space where I was sitting looks flat enough for a grave."

"Sure, of course. How do you want to – ?"

River pulled Tarryk up by the armpits. "Take her feet. Once we have her outside, I can do the rest."

Rose nodded. "Okay."

The body was heavier than it looked for a humanoid no taller than River herself. By the light of the fire, Rose could see Tarryk's ridges extended in parallel lines down each side of her gunmetal grey face. She had deep red hair coiled at the side like copper wire. It was the first time Rose had seen a Chula, she realised; twice now she'd seen their ships, but never before their occupants.

River removed a petite blaster from a pouch at her side and blew a perfectly square hole in the ground. Grasping Tarryk by the armpits again, she manoeuvred her into the grave, then aimed the gun again and refilled the hole. The dirt and leaves rose in a low hump above the grave.

That, too, Rose had seen, but not with this person.

"The squareness gun – where'd you get that?"

"I found it on the TARDIS. It's not like the Doctor to keep weapons around, but it's rather useful."

"I think it belonged to a friend," Rose said quietly.

"A friend who's no longer with us either, I take it."

"I used to think so, but I saw him again a while ago. It's just funny that you have that – when I met him, he had an invisible Chula ship, too."

"Funny sort of world," River said.

"Yeah, it is."

River replaced the gun and sat beside the grave, stirring leaves with her fingers. "Chula tradition also says that the family should keep vigil at the grave the night of a burial, so that evil spirits can't possess the body. There are bunks in the shuttle if you want to get some rest, and there's a latrine and a galley if you need anything. But if you don't mind ..."

"No, of course not." Rose crouched beside River and tapped her wrist. "But I want to make sure you'll still be here when I wake up."

A slight smile. "A reasonable request." River unbuckled the vortex manipulator and handed it to Rose. "I'll see you in the morning, then."

"Good night, River."

"Good night, Rose."

* * *

Rose slept fitfully on her bunk, waking periodically at the hooting of owls and the anxious shivering in her brain as she considered what the Doctor was doing. He'd be frantic by now, snapping at Rose's staff while waving them away whenever they tried to help him locate her. Hopefully at first light she and River would be able to work out where they were and how to get back ... assuming they could get back at all. Who knew what River had pressed before Rose had grabbed her wrist? River had said she'd arrived by accident, but what if the accident had boomeranged them back to the real Earth?

The one with the real Doctor, who'd left Rose behind without even saying goodbye.

She stopped sleeping at all after that.

* * *

When she finally rose, sunlight had sneaked into the ship through the doorway and windows, illuminating last night's mysterious shapes: two aisles of plush seats, and storage bins lining the wall. Not unlike a commercial airplane, albeit larger and more invisible. The fabric on the seats sprang back instantly at Rose's touch: new, never even sat upon. Regret stabbed at her, albeit briefly. She knew what it was like to pursue a dream for years, come so close to achieving it, then fall short; but she'd come to terms with her regret long before, and had never fallen short in as permanent and unpleasant a way as Tarryk had.

Outside, smoke swirled around River, who was busy kicking dirt on the smouldering remains of the fire. "Good, you're awake," she said. "I need the vortex manipulator."

Rose reached into the waistband of her trousers and removed the manipulator. "You can get us home with this?"

"Maybe. It depends where we are." River peered at the display, tapping buttons and turning a side dial. "And where we are is northern New Jersey, approximately 100 kilometres from New York City. In your world, in case you're wondering. Damn. I did hope the rebound protocol would work. Apparently not."

"Rebound protocol?"

"Automatic return to point of origin. I suppose it did work, after a fashion; this is about where I activated the vortex manipulator when the accident happened. I was hoping the protocol might re-create the circumstances and send me back to my own universe."

"So, you're stuck in our universe, then. Well, I can tell you all about that."

"I'll bet you can. But with any luck, I won't be here forever." River shook her shoulders, stretched out her arms. "All right, then. We could take this back to Torchwood right now if you like. Or ..."

Rose folded her arms. "Or what?"

There was that dangerous sparkle to River's face again. "Or we could sort out what's wrong with Tarryk's ship and fly back in style."

"No funfair ride through the vortex? I like the sound of that," said Rose. "Hey, do you think the ship's communicator is working? The Doctor's probably going mental wondering where I am."

"You two are so cute. Anyway, I don't know; let's find out."

"We're not cute," Rose grumbled, tramping through the leaves behind River. "He just worries, is all."

"So does my Doctor," River called over her shoulder, "not that he'll ever admit it."

* * *

River seated herself in Tarryk's chair and spun round to face the console. "All right," she said, "emergency lighting and cloak are still active, so we've still got power in some of the cells. Start with a hard reset, I think. Rose, is there a big red lever on the floor on your side?"

There was, surrounded by the orange glow of importance. "Yes. Should I pull it?"

"Hard as you can."

Rose crouched down and yanked hard on the lever. It stuck halfway up, but she sat, wrapped her arms around it, and pulled again.

The floor rumbled, vibrations shuddering through Rose's calves and thighs. A metallic scrape like drawing a knife against steel; then a series of deep clunks, separated by several seconds at first, then speeding up, then drowned in a roar that dopplered from the front of the ship to the back. The orange light flickered and disappeared entirely when warm white light emerged from recessed fixtures along the ceiling, and a spectrum of readouts appeared on the console.

"That certainly did the trick," said River. "Okay, then. Fuel reading: halfway full, more than enough to get us to London. Engine pressure and temperature: a bit low, but not enough to worry about. Avionics: well, I hope that's normal. My Chula's a bit rusty. Let's see if I can get this bird in the air without attracting too much attention, shall we?"

The shuddering at Rose's feet sped up to a steady hum as River flipped more switches and slid her hands along the console lights, fingers tapping at buttons Rose couldn't read. The hum faded away when the ship rose into the air, hovering above the trees and setting them swaying in its engine's wake.

The shuttle was far calmer in mid-air than pushing off for launch. Even River's swift ascension to 10,000 feet was perfectly smooth, other than Rose's ears popping; in an airplane or zeppelin, she'd have felt every swirling air mass the craft hit, but the Chula ship carved the sky effortlessly.

"There we go," River said. "Autopilot set on a northeast heading; cloak, aircraft detection, and local radar jamming on. We should be in London in about twenty minutes. We could even call ahead to let them know we're coming – do you know Torchwood's galactic contact settings?"

"First thing they made us memorise after they installed the long-range communications array," Rose said. "Where do I enter these numbers?"

River pointed to a virtual keypad. "Press 'talk' when you're ready."

Rose entered the numbers, pausing to double-check them. "Torchwood Tower, this is Agent Rose Tyler. Come in, please."

The speakers crackled, sparks fizzing and popping within.

"Torchwood Tower, come in please. Torchwood Tower. Torchwood Tower. This is Agent Rose Tyler. Come in, please."

Stubborn silence, broken only by an occasional pop and Rose's cursing.

"Maybe we're too far out to connect, even with galactic settings," River said. "I shouldn't think so, but it's a new ship. There could be a software bug."

"Or it's busted from the crash," Rose muttered.

"At least we're in the air, and we'll be in London soon enough. Besides, this gives us that much more time to get to know one another." There was honey in River's voice, almost as if she were flirting. "So, tell me about your Doctor. How's he adjusted to life on Earth?"

"That's your question for me? Really?"

"Call it anthropological curiosity from a professional archaeologist. How does a man completely unequipped for normal human life – normal anything, really – manage to settle down?"

"I call it 'none of your business.'"

River laughed. "You read my diary, sweetie. The least you can do is return the favour."

Rose scowled. But it was either answer River's question, talk about the weather, or sit in silence for another fifteen minutes, and for all she knew, this might be her last chance to get information out of River in return. Sharing cost her nothing.

"You really want to know?"

"I'm not expecting a daily blow-by-blow. I'm just curious. I can't even get mine to spend more than one night in a posh hotel before he gets upset that all the walls are still in the same place."

That sounded familiar. "He was absolute rubbish at it at first," Rose said. "I caught him turning the clock hands randomly so he'd feel like he was time-travelling. And he still disappears on me – goes off on a jaunt somewhere without telling me until he's there or on his way back."

"Don't you hate when he does that? Just because the rest of us have to sleep –"

"Oh, it drives me completely mental. He knows it, too, so he's mostly stopped."


"The best you can hope for from any of him, isn't it?"

"Fair point."

"And now," Rose said, settling back in her seat, "it's time for you to answer one of my questions."

"Also fair," River replied.

"In your diary ... what did you mean when you said you were raised to kill the Doctor?"

"We'll need a much longer flight for that story, Rose."

"I'll take the short version."

"All right," River said. "Stolen from my parents, who didn't even know they were going to have me in the first place. Raised by a religious order convinced the Doctor was going to bring about the end of the universe. As it turns out, they weren't half wrong about that, but not exactly in the way they expected. Sent back to Earth, grew up with my parents, who thought I was their ASBO best friend and not their daughter; met Hitler; tried to kill the Doctor; saved his life anyway. Any other questions?"

"Only about a million of them."

"We're nearly halfway across the Atlantic already. You'll have to narrow it down."

Kidnapping, the end of the universe, growing up with parents who didn't know her ... Hitler. It was hard to know where to begin.

"If you saved his life, why were you in prison for killing him?" Instantly, Rose regretted her choice. "This isn't some stupid time-travel reason, is it?"

River laughed, honey-blonde curls corkscrewing across her cheeks. "No, that's not it, for once. He and I both knew no prison could hold me for long."

"Yeah, but ... life. In prison. For something you didn't do. And without even knowing if you'd ever see him again."

"You of all people should know what it's like to have unshakable faith in that man. I knew I would see him then, just as I know I'll see him again now."

"Once you get back to your universe."

"Once I get back."

She turned to face Rose, and when Rose looked at River in return, it wasn't hard to see how the Doctor might have fallen for her. The seductive smile, the overwhelming aura of confidence mixed with more than a hint of scheming trickster; the man had always been in love with himself, and River was that desire made flesh. It was enough to give Rose a few twinges she'd rarely considered before, but which River obviously had, given what she'd said about her relationship with Tarryk.

"Rose, I swear, I didn't come here to steal your Doctor."

"It's just – it's just a lot of coincidence, you know?"

"You really think I want to fight over the Doctor? I have my life with him; you have yours. I'm not interested in stealing him from you or anyone else. What would I even do with two of him anyway?" River turned back towards the console. "Actually, never mind, I've already done that."

Rose stared down at the floor. River's words, the Doctor's words, her own, all simmered in her head: I have my life with him; you have yours. I can't stand it when women fight over me. You don't ever get to tell me not to talk to someone because you think I'll go all stupid and jealous. And here she was, as stupid and jealous as before, prying and poking at a woman who could probably teach her things about her own relationship if Rose were only willing to listen.

Rose found the stupid, jealous, black mask covering her heart, crumpled it into a tiny ball, and shoved it into the deepest part of herself, where she could forget it existed.

"I'm sorry, River. I'm really sorry."

River looked over at Rose again, her face softening. "It's all right. I forgive you. I can see how my diary might have given you the impression I can't always be trusted."

"Pretending to kill the Doctor and nearly destroying the universe, yeah, those were pretty big hints."

"You have no idea." River tapped at the controls. "We're less than ten minutes out, if you'd like to try the comm again."

"I would, but first I have another question. Hopefully not an insulting one this time."

"Ask away."

"So," Rose said, "two of him?"

"Highly recommended, if you ever get the chance."

* * *

It didn't matter how often Rose repeated the phrase "Torchwood Tower"; the communicator replied with nothing but static. Rose wiped the sweat from her palms on her jeans, but by the time she replaced her hands on the communicator, they were moist again.

Crossing into England, River slowed the shuttlecraft and descended to a few thousand feet. As usual, clouds obscured most of the countryside, but Rose could still make out squares of farmland and the grey squiggles of tarmac separating the fields.

She tried again. "Torchwood Tower, come in, please."

This time, after the usual buzz of static, there was a response. "This is Torchwood Tower to unknown aircraft. You are entering protected airspace. Please identify yourself."

"Torchwood Tower, this is Agent Rose Tyler. Can you find the Doctor? I need to talk to him."

A long pause. "This is Torchwood Tower to unknown aircraft. We repeat, you are entering protected airspace. Please identify yourself. If you do not identify yourself, we will assume you have hostile intent."

"That doesn't sound good," said River.

"It's not," Rose replied, an edge in her voice. "New security protocol since the Doctor narked some rogue Sycorax and they came back and took out the Eye. Trust me, we don't want what happens next."

They were rapidly approaching London and the squat, irregular patches of grey that marked houses and businesses; the City was a taller smudge on the horizon.

"This is Torchwood Tower to unknown aircraft. This is your final warning. We will fire upon you unless you identify yourselves within the next ten seconds."

"Definitely not good," River said. "Time to buckle in. Hit the switch up here." She rapped the top of Rose's seat to identify the area she meant, then did the same to her own seat. Five-point restraints emerged from the sides and bottom of the chair and fastened themselves tightly around her.

Rose strapped herself in. One last number to try, if she could stop her hands from shaking.

"Doctor?" she yelled before he even had a chance to answer. "Doctor, are you there?"

Again, the long pause Rose had heard from the main tower, long enough for the tremor in her palms to shiver its way through the rest of her body.

"Hello? Who is this? Hello? Hello?"

The Doctor's voice, thin and so far away, as weak as it had been when he'd called to her years before and drawn her to that beach. Only this time, if Rose weren't careful, she'd wind up the ghost, genuinely locked away from the Doctor forever.

"Too late," said River grimly, pointing to a pair of bright white streaks emerging between the rapidly focussing smudge of City skyscrapers and a windscreen message flashing mauve. Rose couldn't read it, but she could guess it wasn't a polite reminder that smoking was not allowed onboard the aircraft. "Hope you've got good aim, Rose, because we're going to need it."

Leaning in to the communicator, as if proximity and desperation could fix mechanical malfunction. "Doctor!" Rose cried. "You have to recall the missiles!"

"Time to go," said River. "Lasers. Those buttons with the red arrows. They'll tell you when you have a lock. Aim and fire."

The white streaks were moving closer. River lowered her altitude, but the streaks continued to track them.

Rose sucked in a breath and slapped off the communicator. She'd have to trust in River, and in herself. She'd survived the Daleks, the Beast, a hundred other threats worse than a pair of warheads.

And even if she never got to say goodbye to the Doctor, he knew. He always knew.

Rose shifted her attention to the red arrow keys, searching for a lock from the guidance square on the windscreen. Closer ... a few more ticks to the left ... down five taps of her thumb ...

A terrifying lurch, knocking Rose so far to the right she'd have been on the floor if not for the restraining harness. The horizon flipped perpendicular, and the guidance square zipped about the screen, as confused as Rose was.

"Hang on!" River yelled. The ship arced steeply into the space between the missiles, bucking up and down as they zoomed past.

"Holy – River! What the hell are you doing?"

"Evasive manoeuvres, what does it look like?"

The windscreen message, which had blinked off momentarily, resumed. "Dammit!" River said. "I'm going to try circling behind them. Get ready to fire."

River banked the shuttle upwards into a short, tight loop, driving her and Rose back into their seats as gravity did its work. It was impossible to aim while the ship shifted so rapidly, but Rose left her fingers on the buttons anyway, knowing she'd have little time to react once they emerged behind the missiles.

Two beats to the left. One to the right. She fired.

The explosion blossomed into a fiery cloud, buffeting them like a storm tide just as River had to twist the shuttle yet again to avoid the missile rapidly reversing itself towards them.

A long, creative string of curses from River as the shuttle sputtered in mid-air, its normally glass-smooth motion devolving into hiccups. The City and the Thames suddenly seemed much closer than they had a minute before.

"We're going down! Brace for impact!" River leaned into the console, still trying to right the ship even as the controls stubbornly refused to respond to her fingers. Her left hand gripped the top of the console, knuckles white.

Rose reached for River's hand and felt fingers as shaky as her own clasp hers in response.

The Thames rose up to meet them.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3


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