The dry leaves of Autumn crackled underneath my boots as I ran through the forest, abandoning all notions of stealth in favour of speed. I pushed my body harder, clamping down on the harsh gusts of air escaping my lips and ignoring the stitches in my side and the burn in my legs. Above me, the skies of the alien planet turned an angry red and the first drops of the devastating rain fell. The droplets were like acid against my unprotected skin and left bubbling burns behind. I tugged my hood over my eyes without breaking stride, knowing that the rain was nothing compared to the horrors behind me. The nightmares on horse back gained ground on me, all my tricks and contraptions wouldn't save me. I threw myself down behind a bush with thorns like needles and held my breath. The Wraiths cantered their skeletonized horses closer and the leaves beneath their hooves started to blacken and wilt. A ghastly, emaciate face with bulging black eyes scanned the foliage I hid behind with the patience of the dead.
Don't stop, Alex. Run. They'll catch you.
I jumped at the ethereal, tinkling voice that sounded so urgent inside my head. It remind me of a warm blue box, friends and a place to call home. Everything I had given up to save them. That was how I had ended up stuck on a planet a million miles from home, caught in the middle of someone else's war and running for my life. I eased a small knife from my boot that was useless against the swords the army held but it made me feel a little better that I wasn't going down without a fight.
"I know you're there, boy. I can smell your fear. It's thick on you like a stench." The one I assumed was the Captain hissed. "Come out. There's no where for you to go."
I tightened my grip on the pathetic excuse for a weapon I clutched and swallowed hard. What was it my brother had said once-don't fight a battle you can't win. Live to fight another day. Far in the distance, in a place where it couldn't possibly be, a wolf howled mournfully and thunder crashed. A quiet reminder of the vow I had made that only I and one other man remembered.
Shaking away the fear that had indeed begun to cling to me, I drew myself up to my full height and stepped out of the shelter. The rain poured down on me but I barely felt it, my eyes locked on the towering forms of the Wraiths. They loomed over me, empty eyes seeing straight into my soul and trying to wrench it a part.
I'm so sorry, Little One. Don't be a hero. Stay alive. I will send him for you.
I smirked sadly and readied myself to lunge forward and strike, no matter how fruitless.
"Sorry, old girl, no promises. Keep him safe."
She let out a mournful chime and her presence filtered from my mind like sand. For the first time in months, I was left alone in my head and the silence was terrifying. The chill in the air turned into something unnatural and otherworldly and it dug deep into my core. It left me shaking in front of the Wraiths as they dismounted their steeds and ghosted across the woodland floor to me. There was a defiance in my glare that I would not allow to be extinguished by them. The Captain stooped down slightly so we were eye level, his grey robes fluttering like deformed wings at his sides and he smiled at me. I had never seen a smile like that before, it was carved warped and twisted into the flesh of his face. The back of his hand grazed my jaw and left a trail of burning goosebumps behind.
"I know you." He murmured, he moved the collar of my jacket aside and ran his fingers over the golden emblem pinned underneath. I held my breath as that awful smile grew more intensified "The Phoenix. Where is The Doctor?"
My heart shuddered in fear and I hastily tried to wipe it from my face. Now my situation was dire, I had been recognised as the Doctor's friend. I couldn't betray him to save myself.
"Safe from you."
The hand on my face tightened and pulled my chin up, nails dug into my skin and blood started to trickle over my lower lip. I hissed and barred my teeth at him, slashing at him with my knife. He caught my wrist and twisted, I cried out and the knife fell from my nerveless fingers. Liquid fire blazed through my limb and into my shoulder. I almost couldn't think past the onslaught of agony and only did it occur to me when the Wraith squeezed the broken bones that he hadn't let go. I lifted my blurry eyes to his and glared again, tugging on my arm. He just laughed.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know. I wouldn't tell you if I did."
"Don't lie to me, boy. Where is the Doctor?"
"Aren't you listening to me? I don't know where he is!"
"I hope for your sake, you do. Life is about to get...unpleasant for you."
There were a thousand torments promised in his words, decades of pain and suffering but I wouldn't stare each one down.
"Do your worst."
He didn't need to say anything to promise me he intended to do just that. The subtle pressure on my wrist wouldn't let me forget in a hurry. I squared my shoulders, in every way the solider I was raised to be. Something barged into my mind, like a blizzard and stabbed into the deepest parts of my psyche and started to shred. The screams that followed were my own and they was as endless as time.
Two years. Two years I spent chained in the furthest depths of hell, clinging to a promise made by a glorified police box. No one ever answered my pleads. The Doctor never came.
Talgone was much like every other planet I had visited on my travels. A rural world where the people had come from nothing and still didn't have all that much to their names. They worshipped their Gods ever other week and grew purple corn in fields that stretched to the horizon. It was charming and attractive, yet I didn't really see it. I saw the thin, starving children and the guilty mother who couldn't afford to feed them. The deceiving man found continuously in the bed of another woman by his abused wife. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I always looked for the bad now. Perhaps seeking for the bad was easier than searching for the good. That way I couldn't be disappointed when the dream inevitably ended.
I hummed and leant back against the side of my rented shack, my legs hanging through the railings of the balcony. A little blue skinned girl looked up at me from across the marketplace and her face contorted in confusion. Most people know me around here now, the stranger who doesn't even try to fit in. I don't need to hide that I'm not from Talgone, it's in my pale skin and the dark hair that brushes my jaw. The shirt I wore was a gift from an infatuated woman on a planet I didn't remember, the mad to withstand the heat of summer and the chill of winter. And the material is a dark, midnight blue. Dark colours are a bit of a taboo on Talgone but I couldn't be arrested because of it. I raised my eyebrow at the child and she blushed pink and pressed her face into her mother's hip. The phone on my hip buzzed once and I tugged it free and pressed the receiver to my ear.
"Talk to me."
"Hello, Alex." A warm welsh voice answered.
I felt a smile form on my face. "Ianto. Not that I'm not pleased to hear from you but why are you calling me?"
"It's been six months since I last heard from you, excuse me for being a little concerned. You said you'd call every three months."
"Sorry. Life got a little hectic but I'm free now. So talk! What's happening in the life of Ianto Jones?"
"My life is Torchwood and you know it. I don't have a life outside of it."
"That's...really sad. Surely lover boy would give you some time of for the right price."
"Alex!" He cried, scandalised. "We're not like that. He's...just no." I frowned at the hopelessness I could hear in my friend's voice and settled into what I expected would be a long conversation. But Ianto surprised me by saying. "I didn't call to talk about Jack. Do you know what the date is tomorrow?"
I pursed my lips in thought and slowly shook my head even though he couldn't see.
"It's June 13th 2016."
My stomach turned into a ball of lead and dropped past my feet. How had the days slipped by me that fast? I raised a hand and dragged it through my tangled hair, blowing out a frustrated gust of air. "Oh."
"Yeah. What do you want me to do?"
"Do you still have the box?"
"Then do nothing. Whatever happens will happen."
Ianto let out a huff of annoyance and I could almost see him pressing his palm to his forehead.
"I don't like this, Alex. Jack will kill me when he realises that I've been keeping more secrets and I don't know what the Doctor will do. Probably erase my timeline."
I snorted. "Jack and The Doctor can't even remember me, I think you're safe."
"You should know- he has another companion. Her name is Rose."
I shouldn't have been upset by that, it had been years after all and I had erased all memories of myself from the Time Lord's mind but it still felt like a knife through my gut. It hurt to have it confirmed that I had been replaced again.
"Good for him." I mumbled.
"She's nice, Alex. You'll like her."
"I'm sure. I'll see you tomorrow, Yan."
I hung up before he could and chucked the slim phone down onto the wooden deck. I had been able to put the ever present date out of my mind and pretend that it didn't have to happen. That the day didn't have to come when I would have to face the Doctor again and admit to everything I did. I pulled at the unbreakable chain around my neck, hidden by my shirt and stared at the key. The metal had always remained warm even through the distance that separated us. I always felt the TARDIS in the back of my mind, gentle and nurturing but as fierce as a wolf. She had never let me alone with the monsters, her songs had kept the nightmares away time and time again. I pressed the key to my lips and closed my eyes.
"I know you might not answer me but I'm ready when you are." I breathed against the metal. "Come and get me."
Almost instantly there was the familiar whirl of engines and the TARDIS appeared in the centre of the square below me, her doors already opened. I smirked and dashed forward.