Previous Chapter: Seven
Summary: Love, silk, and memory, in shades of cold and dangerous blue.
Author's Notes: Yes, once again into the breach. And to review: it's PG-13, Nine/Rose/Jack
Disclaimer: Doctor Who and the Whoniverse do not belong to me. They are the property of the BBC. I love them, but take no coin for playing in the BBC's sandbox.
And, in a burst of inspiration that doesn't quite eclipse that of better fic journalers than my own poor self, I've realized that linking to previous chapters would be handy for anyone who actually, you know, wants to read the whole thing. Herewith, I list 'em:
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Getting out of a cell was nearly always easy, the Doctor knew. Staying out of it once you had was another thing altogether.
Alright, then. You've maybe eight minutes before someone comes t'check the cell, and time's wastin', he thought.
He stuffed the screwdriver back into a pocket, spared a quick look up the hall where the guards had gone, and immediately broke into a lope in the other direction. Most buildings – even prisons – had two or more ways out, and he’d risk spending the extra minute to find an alternate exit, if it meant he could avoid the much greater risk of taking Rose out into a courtyard full of guards.
The hall was long, its plasteel walls interrupted at regular intervals by the same kind of thick door he’d jiggered open to get out of their cell. This was no ordinary holding facility, he knew; doors that thick were meant to isolate and muffle. And it was relatively new; probably no more than 20 years old, if his guess was right. That would make the building interior, at least, a Bohlver works project. He tamped down hard on his anger, shuffling it off to where it wouldn’t interfere with the search.
At the end of the hall, he had to make a choice; a lift, or one of the two rather nondescript doors to its left and right. He didn’t trust lifts, and while he was intrigued by the “Authorized Holding Personnel Only” sign on one door, he wasn’t prepared to waste his time, or Rose’s safety, by exploring someplace where there might be holding personnel. So “Stairs” it was. Finding the door locked slowed him down only the seconds needed to use the screwdriver on the mechanism, but he noted that it was far more sophisticated than the already very secure cell doors. Curious.
The stairs he found behind the door went in only one direction, up. He grimaced. Odds were he’d find no easy exits upstairs. He was about to pull back into the main corridor, when something – perhaps a slight variance in surface texture – made him look at the wall to the left of the door. Something about it ....
He made a slight change in the screwdriver's setting, then shone the resulting light at the wall; to his unsurprised satisfaction, a thin tracery of lines became visible and resolved into an extraordinarily well disguised aperture.
A hidden exit? For a full 10 seconds he considered the less palatable possibilities waiting behind that door. Are you walking into trouble if you open this? Better hope not, or you’ve made the wrong decision, and where does that leave Rose, he thought, sonicing the door open and checking the stairwell he found behind it. Looked like three or four flights straight down. Nothing for it, then, but to head down and look for an exit on one of the landings.
The first flight was nondescript, almost identical in color and materials to the upper hall. He found a door to the first lower level and popped through; another outer door to another hall, more cell doors, obviously just a continuation of the prison. He heard the sound of people talking and retreated quietly to the stairwell. A manned jail level was of no use to him.
There were no doors on the second or third landings, so he hurried to the final level. As he did, the Doctor felt a change in the dry, cold air that was the norm on Lizhbau. By the time he reached the bottom, it was positively dank, and smelled more like sewer, or swamp, than a municipal building.
Come on, y'lumberin’ prat, there's two minutes gone, he thought before turning his attention to the very small door that greeted him at the base of the stairwell. A door with perhaps the most sophisticated lock of all those he'd run into. His unease rocketed. The feeling only increased when he opened it and stepped into a small, dark area, less a hall than a foyer, poorly lit by a few dirty, old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.
The walls were no longer plasteel. They were rough-hewn rock, grey and pitted, but somehow shiny. He looked closer and realized they were slick with brackish moisture. Now just where does that come from, he asked himself. Not exactly sanitary, that’s for – He stopped, his eyes wide.
Something was tugging at him. He could feel it at the base of his brain, as real as the damp wall next to him, though not as noisome. He closed his eyes, turned inward to identify what was agitating his mind’s telepathic and empathic circuits. It didn’t take long.
The drug. The bloody silk.
At least, he thought it was. He wasn’t falling prey to hallucinations, as he had when the stuff had been injected into him via suspension. But he felt it, shimmering just outside of his actual awareness; fluttering, shivering, pulsing.
He opened his eyes, shut them again, and shunted his awareness into some generally-unused neural pathways – no reason to exercise them regularly when he spent most of his time with non-telepaths – and activated stronger protections. The shimmering stopped.
How many minutes now? Just about five. He wasn't going to go farther, though, without checking this out. Very carefully, almost gingerly, he lowered his defenses just enough to "taste" the silk-generated disturbance. And it was only a matter of seconds before he wanted to spit it out.
Somewhere past this foyer, past the door sitting opposite him on the other side of the dismal space, was a large supply of silk. And (I will not allow this, I will put this cesspool to rights) there were human minds injured by it. He didn't doubt for a moment that they were some of the disappeared Sampaio had mentioned.
He grunted, a pained huff as his awareness reared back, away from a grotesque and nonlinear tangle of shredded thoughts, bewilderment, impressions twisted into a maelstrom no human mind could comprehend. No human mind should be part of that. No human mind could withstand it.
And what about his, then?
This is strong, way too strong ... He put a hand out to the wall, largely to steady himself, and the ooze of water brought him back to his surroundings. He shook his head slightly, then looked up and tried to reinforce his telepathic protections. Twenty-five more precious seconds before he had them knocked back into place, and two further seconds of unhappy realization that the defenses were dissolving as quickly as he shored them up.
Seven minutes gone, now. Back to the cell, then, he decided; before someone arrived and prevented him from taking Rose and running. (Just not down here.) He started back up, taking the stairs two and sometimes three steps at a time.
But he couldn’t move away from what was sliding around the outer walls of his head; couldn’t get away from the inner tug. In fact, that tug was changing, seemingly trying to mold itself to his unique brain, trying to find a way inside, almost as if it was alive. And the more it did, the more he ... oh.
Almost audible, that. He started breathing faster. Don't be daft. You know what it is, he told himself. And he did, certainly he did, it was the tremors and echoes of whatever hell was hidden somewhere down at the bottom of the stairs.
It hit again. He gasped and fell against the wall, just two steps from the door to his floor. The air around him (inside me) was shimmering again. He put a hand to his face.
He heard her voice – no, he didn’t, he told himself. He heard nothing. But he felt the walls crumbling, dissolving like a sand castle before some inexorable wave.
Her voice threaded into his awareness. He felt her breath upon his neck, her hair brushing against his face.
Stop it. Now. Please. Stop.
He couldn’t. Every time he felt the tug, her face flashed into his mind, the smell of her hair was sharp and insistent in his nose, echoes of her voice faded in and out of hearing, and all he knew of the world for that moment was her.
It wasn’t silk, or not just silk, at any rate.
It was Rose.
Rose (Rose, oh Rose– ) was calling him, and he doubted that she knew it.
She was still prisoned by the drug - had to be, didn't she, funny, lovely (no!) little human. she had to be flattened by the drug - but her deep unconscious must be restive. Must be fighting, and searching for him.
He knew, gut deep, what had happened. The drug had done more than lay her out. It had stimulated Rose’s previously inert telempathic neural pathways; and now she was calling to him.
The hidden door slid open as soundlessly as it had the first time, and he let it shut behind him before opening the door to the main hall. It was still empty of guards, and he allowed himself to relax very slightly, before preparing to dash back to Cell 42.
Relaxation seemed, however, to involve watching a spot on the wall opposite the door slide higher and higher. This was not good.
He tried to brush away something from his eyes, then scrubbed at them, and still he could see nothing. His vision swam and pulsed in synchronous rhythm with the shimmer of the silk. And now he thought he saw her face blossom into reality in front of his own. He could smell her, the mix of perfume and sweat, human sweat, all hormones and mortality. Such eyes, he thought. Such beautiful brown eyes, such alien and lovely eyes, such a lovely gravity sink and she was all he wanted to sink into ....
“Doctor! Doctor? Doct ... oh, will you please wake up, Doctor ... come on-”
Rose was working very hard not to panic, or at least not to let panic freeze her into immobility, as she softly chanted her plea. She knew they had to get out of here, and she was afraid she was the only one who could do it for the both of them.
His blue eyes were so incredibly wide that Rose still couldn’t quite believe they didn’t see her. She knelt and touched his beautiful, blank face, lightly. Not a twitch. She’d get no help from that quarter.
She looked back down the hall, and shook her head, determined not to fall back into whatever crazy unconscious dreams she’d been dreaming — dreams of calling for him, she thought, screaming for him — before ... something ... pitched her back into the land of the living. Someone’s voice, she was certain. His voice. But here he was, as out of it now as she’d been only a few minutes before.
She had thought at first that the alarm had awakened her. She'd even opened one eye, expecting to see her own pink duvet. Instead, she’d found herself staring at a none-too-clean floor through the wire mesh of a very uncomfortable crate. It had only taken her a split second to realize she was alone, slightly longer to figure out which way was up, and bruise her shins and elbows quite thoroughly as she struggled to free herself. Once she tumbled out (landed on your face again, and you'll be lucky if you don't have a shiner there, too) she scrambled to her feet, crept to the door of the cell, intent on following the tug—
Of what? Of what, Rose Tyler?
She'd sworn softly at herself and followed the tug, something fastened in an unfamiliar-feeling part of her head, tying her to him. Because of course it was him, of course it was. She'd headed right down to the end of the very long hall, looking behind her with every second step, certain someone would find her. And this place looked bad, like every rotten prison they'd ever landed in. Oh god, she wished Jack was here ... but he wasn't, and she had a job to do.
When she'd found him, she'd also found the screwdriver, lying a short distance from one open hand. She grabbed it now, and (If I was the Doctor, wouldn't I have set this thing to open doors? Sure I would've) pointed it at the stairwell door, automatically ignoring the personnel door as a potential trap. She was relieved when it opened with satisfying rapidity.
Rose pocketed the screwdriver, scowled at the Doctor and blew out a breath, her cheeks puffing in anticipation of the strain to come.
She grabbed him under the arms and tried to push him into a standing position before seeing that it wasn't going work. And, she thought bleakly, there went her last hope that he could be jostled awake. Save it for later, she admonished herself, folding the Doctor's head and upper torso gently over one arm and wrestling him away from the wall. She considered getting behind him, then changed her mind on the fly.
"I'm shorter'n you, you bloody useless lump," she whispered in his ear, "but if I can get you over my back ... uhnh ... god, you're ... uhmn- oh, for the love of - there!"
'There' wasn't much more than his lanky self draped over her right shoulder, and threatening to slip off, until she fell to one knee and triangulated herself enough to duck under him completely, pull one of his arms around to her left shoulder, then haul him further up her back, as if he were some leather-clad backpack. (Yeah, one with long and completely useless legs. Git.) Could she stand up with him now?
She heard voices, far enough away to be an echo for now, but she knew which direction her luck was turning, and blinked back tears. She really had to move.
"Ghnn." It was painful, but she ignored her protesting leg and back muscles and staggered to her feet, the Doctor draped over her.
Rose peered out from under her unconscious load and started to move toward the door just as she heard the voices again. Whoever they were, they were much closer. Her stomach lurched.
The Doctor chose just then to slide bonelessly from her shoulder to the floor, landing heavily on his back. That was bad enough by itself, but the unexpected motion also surprised a small scream from her—
—Just as two uniformed men turned a corner into the far end of the hall. They had been speaking with each other, but her outburst attracted their attention. Both began shouting as they started to jog toward her.
"Prisoner! Prisoners loose!"
The sheer adrenaline jolt of fear made her head feel light, but she'd experienced that countless times since first rmeeting the Doctor.
A split second later, she almost dropped back to her knees as the tug in the back of her mind threatened to pull her head from her neck.
Her eyes snapped to the Doctor. His face was as still as before, but his blue eyes were no longer blank. They were focused on hers, intense and yearning. He obviously hadn't spoken, but she knew as certainly as she knew her own name that the word in her head had been his.
"Where?" She kept her voice low and it only wobbled a bit. "What about you?"
"I'll be fine." Now he was speaking, albeit in a whisper. "I need you free. Stairwell, goes up, find an exit. Go!" With the last word, his eyes seemed to lose her face again. She saw a flash of helpless anger slide back into that unnerving earlier absence.
Rose didn't try to rouse him, although he'd clearly wanted to say more. She knew she couldn't haul him with her, not with potential capture halfway down the blessedly long hall. She also knew that splitting up was sometimes their only option. Her next job would be to find Jack, and the two of them would come back for the Doctor. (We'll be back, I promise, we won't leave you.)
Rose practically fell through the door, deploying the screwdriver even as she caught her balance and slammed the door shut behind her. She wanted to jam the lock, give herself a few extra seconds, but she had no idea whether the screwdriver would answer that need. She willed herself to calmness, maneuvering it like a wand and hoping to accomplish something.
While shaking and waving the screwdriver left and right in frustration, a door that hadn't been there before opened in the wall to her left.
Rose didn't hesitate. She could duck in there, and the guards would think — she hoped — that she'd legged it up the regular stairs. After all, a secret door would be, well, secret, wouldn't it? She shouldered the almost-invisible door further open, slid through the gap and fell against the other side, forcing it shut with her weight.
She looked about her. Another stairwell, this one going down. That's good, she thought, down usually means out. The Doctor should be pleased. She hesitated when she thought she saw something shimmering out of the corner of her eye, but could spot nothing when she looked closer. She decided it had been a trick of the light, and descended.
"Shit. We lost her."
The grunt looked at Sargento Celestino nervously. They had both lost her, but he knew the Sarge would dump all the blame on him. He stepped aside as two other squaddies ran back from the stairwell door, trying to look as if they knew what they were doing. " Do you want the search widened?"
"What, with this crew? They can't find their arses with both hands and a road map," Celestino snapped. Then he sighed. "Oh, hell. Yeah. We'll play it strictly by the book. It may keep the both of us out of the brig long enough for someone to trip across her. Maybe. Let's get this one back to the cell. The Tenante'll want to figure out how in god's name he got as far as he did. Mother of god, I hate dealing with her jobs."
"Guess it's better than-"
"Shut it." Celestino didn't even like to think about the poor bastards assigned to Holding/Disposition.
It didn't take them long to drag the prisoner back to Cell 42.
The safe house living room looked like every safe house Jack had ever used; spare, dingy and sad.
He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, then looked over its brim across the card table.
"So, Nico. Just how do you intend to turn this world upside down?"
(to Chapter Nine)