Hopefully this updating faster will be a regular thing, lol. Anyway, please please do let me know what you think, so I know if ya'll are even, you know, still out there and all. Thanks so much!
They didn't really talk about the question Rose had asked any more after the Doctor's simple answer. It wasn't the time or the place, and he was thankful she didn't press. After a few more minutes of sitting beside her he was up anyway, making his way back to the post in his cell and prying the panel open.
Getting the panel free was difficult to begin with—certainly without a sonic screwdriver—but once it was open he found it had a hinge. That would be useful if they were intruded upon suddenly. Slam the thing shut and hope they didn't notice. Then again, he hoped that situation wouldn't arise at all considering what it would likely mean, but anyhow…
"How's it coming?" Rose asked from her cell.
"It's going to be slow; I can tell that now. The fail-safes in this system…"
"Lot of 'em?"
"Lots of them, yeah. And complicated. What about you?" He glanced over his shoulder to find Rose still pressed against the front bars of her cell in the far corner. She was trying to squeeze a leg through the bars far enough to kick the lost sonic screwdriver back in her direction.
"No such luck," she grumbled. Even what of her leg could squeeze through was too short. She tugged it free and hopped backwards once or twice before she had her balance again.
He was their only hope at the moment, then. He was more than used to that sort of pressure, but right now he was feeling it more than usual. It didn't help that every hour he spent working tirelessly inside the post's guts and getting almost nowhere made it more likely that the Kadhar would return—looking for entertainment, probably. They certainly seemed to enjoy the revenge they were taking.
"What!" Rose called. He heard her moving abruptly behind him, probably sitting up from where she'd been leaned against the bars for a while now; nothing for her boredom.
"Nothing! Nothing, just touched the wrong wire. Bit of a shock. Nothing to be alarmed about. Ow…" He scowled and sucked at his finger for a moment, which gave him a moment to contemplate. The Kadhar really had grown even cleverer than they'd been in the old days. This wasn't easy. He was pretty sure he was at least on the right track, but…
Well, leave it to these people to build a machine to temporarily stump a Time Lord. Temporarily, mind.
"Could have fooled me; sounded alarming," Rose complained.
"It's too quiet in here, is all," the Doctor shrugged.
"How long has it been?"
"That I've been working on this?"
"About…five or six hours? I'd know which, but my internal clock's a bit off. Happens when old friends try to fry your cells," he said lightly. He was trying to make her feel better. Get some sort of half a giggle, maybe. It really was too quiet in here. Instead he could feel her glare boring into the back of his head. The fact that it wasn't necessarily directed at him didn't make it any less potent.
Sheepishly he twisted to look at her. "Sorry."
"Not your fault." She sighed and settled again, crossing her arms. "Maybe you should take a break, if it's really been that long. Can't be good for concentration."
"Time Lord, remember? I'm fine. I'd rather be out of here sooner rather than later as it is."
But sooner would not be as soon as he hoped. A moment later the main door opened, and he was forced to slap the panel shut and push away from it. By the time anyone was inside—glaring at them from the other side of the bars—the Doctor was on his feet and scowling right back.
His stomach was also twisting rather painfully all of a sudden, but they didn't need to know that.
"I can help you."
He said it again not because he thought the commander would listen, but because she needed to know she couldn't turn him into something he wasn't. She couldn't make him like them—vengeful and cold. Oh, there were days that were worse than others…but he could never be what they'd become. Maybe there was still a part of them that understood they shouldn't be like this. As long as there was any hope of that, he had to let them know he was still willing.
But he was afraid. The Doctor could admit that to himself, at least.
This time there was reason to be. This time she didn't answer him at all, and there was no foreplay before the world shattered around him again.
This time the Doctor didn't make it back to his feet before the Kadhar left. With them gone anyway, he didn't bother; he dragged himself over to the bars between them rather than force his legs to work. Rose knelt there, fingers locked around the bars, and she didn't really snap out of it or relax until the Doctor's hands closed over hers.
Hearing him say her name helped. It meant he was here. He wasn't all right but he was here.
"Yeah. I'm here."
She let out a breath. It leaned in the laugh direction; well, the hysteria direction, and she reminded herself to keep herself reeled in.
The Doctor, spent, leaned heavily into the bars on his side and eyed her with concern. "I think this is worse on you than me."
She didn't want him worrying about her. Not now. Quickly she swiped at her face even though it was mostly dry, and shrugged. "No, no, I'm all right. It's…no. I'm all right. I am. I'll just be better when we're gone."
One hand was still on the bars, and she felt him gently push her fingers open enough to weave his own with them. "I think I'd about figured out what I need to do…" He had to pause for a breath, and he took a deep one that looked painful. "Before they showed up. With any luck I can have us out of here soon."
"Good," Rose swallowed. He acted as if everything was fine, but he looked so fragile at the moment she just wanted to hold him.
He nodded, just a little, and then he started to pull away as if he planned to get back to work right now. Rose opened her mouth to protest, but he didn't make it any distance at all before he doubled over. Grunting loudly, he braced one hand quickly on the ground and held the other to his chest.
She reached through the bars for him, and when he groaned and leaned gingerly back against them again he was between her arms. She was able to hold him of a fashion after all, and he didn't argue. That worried her.
"Did it last longer this time? It must have," he mussed in answer. He was still clutching at his chest, though it was clear he was trying to make himself stop doing just that.
"It's worse?" she asked. Only his heavy breaths were her answer.
"If we're back in the Tardis soon it won't matter," he said after a moment.
"But it matters now?"
"That's not what I meant. Never mind."
He was quiet a while. Rose held onto him as best she could through the bars, and one of his hands found one of hers again while they sat there. She wasn't ready to let go when he moved.
"Just wait. You're exhausted. What if you make a mistake?"
"And what if they come back again and I can't do it at all?" the Doctor answered tiredly. "That would be worse."
He was right, and she knew it. So she didn't protest, but she sat tensely by the bars and watched him.
After an hour or two, the ship shook.
"What was that?" Rose asked. The Doctor's head popped curiously up from his work, and he frowned.
"Not sure." The ship shook again, and his mouth pressed into a thin line. "Then again, the way they are now…wouldn't surprise me if they've made a few new enemies."
They waited for the shaking to continue, but it didn't and the Doctor went back to his work.
"You're saying someone could have been attacking the ship?" Rose questioned incredulously.
"Could have done. This is a big, ship, though. Probably took care of it quick."
"Great. That's just great…" One more thing to worry about.
She wasn't sure how much more time passed before the Doctor started to get excited. Apparently he was onto something.
"Oo! Almost. This here should just—yeah. And that…!"
Rose sat up with interest. "Almost got it?"
"Almost! I've already got the next step sorted—shorting the doors—just need to get through the last defenses to get these cuffs off to do it with. Just about got it."
Her heart started to pound in her ears. Please, please…
She wanted to hear him shout happily. She to wanted to hear this being almost over. The Doctor shouted all right, but it wasn't happiness or victory. A moment later he was shouting in pain, falling back from the post. She could hear the by now all-too-familiar hum from the chains. He was screaming, and there was nothing Rose could do.
She shouted at the door, screaming for help. She kicked the bars and tugged at them and yelled again, but it seemed like forever before the door even opened. By the time it did the Doctor already seemed to be losing the strength to scream at all.
The Kadhar woman strode inside and looked down at him dispassionately. "So he's tripped the defense mechanism then. A pity," she mussed to the guards with her. "The fail-safe power is a bit higher than what we've been giving him; this will speed up the process, I'm sure."
"Good riddance to him then," one of the men spat.
"Oi!" Rose fumed. "Where have you lot been! He's been like that for—!"
"I know," the commander answered. "We were otherwise engaged."
"I'll otherwise engage you—!" The moment it came out of her mouth Rose knew it sounded stupid, so she wasn't surprised when the commander smirked at her. Still, she didn't back down. She glared right back, and god this was getting old…
A pitiful, choked-off scream cut through her resolve.
"Please," she pleaded. "Just stop this. Do you want him dead right now? We just got here."
For a brief second—just a second—she thought maybe the Kadhar woman looked troubled. But whatever Rose saw was gone in an instant and the woman turned away from her again. She didn't turn off the charge until the Doctor was all but quiet, consciousness lost but still twitching on the floor. When the hum from the chains stopped he went mercifully still.
Two of the guards opened the cell door and went in to check the innards of the panel before closing it again. One of them sealed it shut with a patch from a small laser that welded the seam. Then they stepped over the Doctor again and made to leave the cell.
"Bring him over here."
They looked at her. Rose didn't know why she'd said it. She didn't expect them to listen to her. But as small as the cells were, the Doctor still seemed so far away. She couldn't reach him; that was far enough.
The Kadhar were still staring at her.
"Just…close enough to me. What harm will it do? Everything you've done to him; can't you just do that? Just bring him over here." The farther she got the firmer it came out. It was absurd, though. It wasn't going to help; they wouldn't do it.
The soldiers looked to their commander. The Kadhar woman glanced briefly at Rose, scowled, and finally…she shrugged. The guards in the cell frowned, but they obeyed. The two of them picked the Doctor up by ankles and arms, and unceremoniously dumped him a few feet closer—by the bars at Rose's feet.
With that done all of the Kadhar left, leaving the human woman to stare after them in surprised confusion.
Alone, Rose shook it off. She lowered herself to her knees and reached through to rest experimental fingers against the Doctor's cheek. He was cold and clammy, and terribly pale again. Worse this time. His chest rose and fell unevenly with labored breaths that were still only shallow for the work they seemed to take. She was sure it would be a little better when we woke to pay it attention, but it worried her just the same.
"Oh god," she breathed.
She didn't want to cry, but it happened anyway. And if she was going to do it anyway she might as well really do it. She let herself sob.
Everything hurt. It was the first thing the Doctor noticed as consciousness returned. It was hard to breathe and everything hurt.
He'd felt some degree of all of this after the first two times, but it was considerably worse now. It hit harder, too, after being out for a while. How long? He hadn't any idea.
His mouth opened before his eyes did, allowing a groan to escape through dry lips. He knew he was grimacing, but there wasn't much he could do to stop it.
Air. He could really do with some more of that.
Rose. He wanted to answer, but he couldn't just yet. He finally convinced his eyes to flicker open, and he focused on a spot on the blurry ceiling and concentrated on evening out his breaths and pulling them deeper even though it was uncomfortable.
A hand slipped into his on the ground at his side. He tried to hold it but it wasn't that easy. Scowling to himself, he hauled his free one up before his face and found it was trembling. It hurt more when he really tried to flex it. The feeling and usage were beginning to go, just as he'd thought.
He released a pent-up breath, and it came out frustrated and heavy and he let the hand he was holding up drop to his chest before the whole arm could begin to shake. It would have, if he'd left it up there. It felt weak as it was.
"What happened?" he asked finally. They had to have come back again, but the last he remembered he almost had it, and—
"You don't remember?"
When the Doctor looked up at her Rose's face was pink—scrubbed dry. She'd been crying. "Not…exactly," he answered quietly.
"You...I don't know…it turned on on it's own and they didn't stop it. They came, but they just…let it go," she answered, with some difficulty. "They said…whatever you triggered, it was—was worse—was stronger." She started to shake her head as if to clear it of the memory. "They just let it go until you were out."
He squeezed the hand holding his as best he could. "Hey. It's all right." He tried to keep her face in focus and it wasn't easy.
"No. It's not. They know what you were trying to do, and they've welded the panel shut. Wha' are we supposed to do now?"
"They…what?" He looked over the opposite shoulder, over at the post, and saw what she meant. There'd be no getting back into it now. Not that it would be very easy to do anything now even if he could. "Oh."
They really were in trouble now.
When he looked back, Rose was shifting where she knelt on the floor so she could reach through more easily. She released his hand and began to work a forearm under his shoulders. Her face was all business now. "Come on. One of them came back and gave us a little water. You need to sit up a bit; you need some."
Getting his elbows under him was harder than the Doctor thought it would be, even with the supporting arm behind his shoulders. He kept them there long enough for Rose to hold the cup to his lips for a drink, and then had to slip back to the floor. The water helped, at least.
"Little better?" she asked hopefully.
"A little," he agreed. But flat on his back it was still hard was breathe. His chest ached fiercely—both hearts, protesting the overloading energy that had attacked them again—and his lungs weren't at all happy, either. They burned and his throat was sore.
"Okay. Not working," he announced finally. He wrapped a fist around the closest bar and pulled, trying to curl up and holding out his free hand in a request for help. Rose grabbed it and tugged, but she was frowning.
"What are you doing?" she questioned.
"I need to really sit up," he gasped.
"You could just rest; it's okay."
"But it's easier to breathe vertically, isn't it?" he grated. She helped pull him up, and he was grateful for the bars then. They held him up, straight enough that sitting seemed to be doing some good.
"Thank you," he managed through a grimace.
"Is it really that bad?"
He only nodded. While he clung to the bars for support Rose reached down to undo the last button of his suit jacket that was still holding on. She pulled out what of the bottom of his shirts were still tucked in, and completely unbuttoned the blue top one for him so all that was wrapped completely about his torso was the t-shirt. Nothing to constrain. He wasn't wearing a tie to worry about around his neck.
"Any better at all?"
It was, and he nodded again. Rose leaned in close and brushed back the damp hair plastered to his forehead. "I've been trying to think of something else. Anything," she said quietly. "I don't suppose you have another plan either?"
"Not really," he sighed. "I'm so sorry…I don't know what to do. Not yet, at least. I'm sorry…"
She didn't protest his apology aloud this time. She just shook her head at him and let her head rest against the bars at his shoulder. This time they both reached through. They clung to each other as best they could, because they didn't know when they would have another chance.
The ship shook again a while later. The Doctor had been drifting off and Rose was glad of it, but when the shaking started it woke him. He was in pain again. She wished she understood what it really was that hurt, beyond his chest and his hands and wrists. But she'd never been shot by a Dalek. She couldn't understand.
He'd tell her he was glad she didn't understand, she was sure, but knowing that didn't make her feel any better.
Still, he managed to drift off again. By then he'd turned his back to the bars, and she held him up so he wouldn't slump. She didn't want him waking up gasping for air. That would just make it all worse. So she curled on the floor at his back and locked her wrists around him. With any luck if she drifted off leaned into his back like this she'd still be holding him up.
It worked for a while. It must have, because she was opening her eyes in surprise when they came back again. It could have been hours or minutes. She and the Doctor both had slumped a little, but not so much to cause a problem. He still seemed to be breathing all right, but he wouldn't be once he woke.
She wasn't about to wake him herself. Not for this. Maybe if they saw he was out again they'd leave. Maybe they'd accept that it was too soon. They'd kill him too quickly if they kept up like this. It was an awful thought, but if that was really what they wanted—to drag this out—it might give them more time to find another way out of here.
The Kadar woman swept inside and quickly took stock of the situation. "Move away from him," she demanded immediately.
"I've said that I don't necessarily wish to harm you, but it is still true that I will if it's necessary."
"None of this is necessary," Rose all but shouted in return. "You said you know he tried to stop what happened to your planet; why are you still doing this then?"
"There is no one else."
"That doesn't make it right!"
The alien glared. "My answer to that has not changed. Now move away."
Her grip on the sleeping Doctor only tightened, but when it did there was a quiet grunt. A hand closed over the locked ones at his chest; he was awake now.
"Rose, let go."
He was leaning forward, trying to pull away from her and the bars.
Strangely enough, the Kadhar commander was helping him now—to convince his companion to release him. "There is insulating material around the cells—that is why the bars do not quite touch the floor and are supported by a bottom supporting horizontal instead—but he is touching the bars, and you are in contact with both him and them. Even brief exposure under those circumstances could do your child, if not you, considerable harm."
Rose hated her for putting it that way. Her grip loosened enough that the Doctor pulled away himself. He didn't get far, but he was away. He looked back at her, and everything in his face was an apology.
I would die first. You know that.
This time she couldn't listen. Or watch. Rose closed her eyes and clamped her hands over her ears and hoped he would forgive her later.
She managed not to cry anymore, at least. It was better than nothing. She didn't want that woman to see her cry.
Because she was turned away, when she did open her eyes again she saw something she probably wouldn't have noticed right now otherwise.
The sonic screwdriver in the far corner was closer now than it had been. Probably not close enough. Not yet. But the ship had been shaking…and it was definitely closer.
It took a day or more…maybe two; Rose didn't have a watch and everything seemed to run together anyway.
She watched the Kadhar become more and more agitated. Sometimes when they came now the commander wasn't with them. Sometimes they left abruptly. The instances in which the ship shook grew longer and more violent, and Rose could only assume they were under attack. Perhaps the first times had been smaller, more probing attacks—testing defenses. But if they weren't well and truly under attack now, if Rose knew anything she knew she was sure they would be soon.
That would be their chance, if only she could get the sonic screwdriver back. In fact, if it happened they might have a chance some other way, if the Kadhar got sloppy. If they made a mistake.
That hope was the only thing that kept Rose going. She didn't know if she could go on otherwise.
The Doctor's condition continued to deteriorate. He was never conscious for long anymore, and now the Kadhar made a point of dragging him over to the bars before they left. They needed her to make sure he kept breathing.
She wasn't sure if that bit was a gift or a curse. She could have him close, but if he died she knew she'd feel it was her fault.
He wouldn't die. He couldn't. Would he even regenerate like this? After something that had come on so relatively slowly? She didn't know if the process would even be triggered.
She was lying down by the bars to be at eye level with him in a rare moment of consciousness when he answered the question.
"I have another plan now," he told her.
"Yeah?" She picked her head up from the arm she'd been resting it on.
"You won't like it," he grimaced.
"Why not?" Rose frowned.
The Doctor had to take a careful breath or two before he answered, but his longer sentences were still broken up. "If…when I regenerate. It's more than enough energy. I can…I can make sure to take out the lock…my door at least…get to the sonic…"
"No," she said quickly. She squeezed his hand more tightly between them and pushed as close to the bars as she could—as close to his face as she could come. "Don't do that. Not if you don't have to."
He blinked sadly. "I never said I wanted to…"
"Good," Rose swallowed. "Don't." She relaxed a little again. "But…you're sure you would? Regenerate, I mean. I mean you're sure you'd be all right…" She didn't really want to ask, but…
"Yeah" he nodded slowly. "I should. It uhm…It might be harder than usual…but I should." He made a strange face and stared off for a moment. "You know…I think I've only got one life left."
"What do you mean? I thought this was your tenth face. Aren't you supposed to have thirteen?"
"Thirteen lives…twelve regenerations. But…I regenerated once and kept this face, remember?"
How could she not? If he hadn't, her John Smith would never have lived. The beginning of that regeneration was the last memory he'd had that was the same as the Doctor's.
Not the best last memory to have, he'd told her once. Thought I was dying…that'd I'd never see you again with the same eyes. Then I did. Well…saw Donna first and had to deal with the fact I wasn't quite me, but anyway…
"That's only eleven."
Now the Doctor really did make a face. "No. There's another one. I don't really…like to remember he existed, much less talk about it."
Rose blinked at him, propped up on an elbow now. She'd heard storied of all his lives, and even if she didn't already know where the only gap was…She knew him well enough to know there was only one thing he would run from in his mind so completely. "The war," she said in realization. "That's what you mean. You had a different face during the Time War, didn't you? It wasn't the you that I met first."
He let out an uneven breath and looked at her. In his eyes were all the things he always tried so hard to hide. "I had enough problems just with the memories," he told her. "How could I have looked at you with that face if…if it had been the one to end the Time War?" His eyes closed briefly in exhaustion, and when he opened them again he frowned a little. "You really thought it was that me?"
"You never talked about it, and John wouldn't either. What else was I going to think?" She smiled a bit. "On the brighter side…I always thought that, and I still loved you."
The Doctor swallowed. The answering smile was tentative, and it didn't last before he doubled over, curling toward her. The low groan was something she heard often now, and Rose kept his hand as his other pushed at his chest yet again. His fingers fumbled clumsily against his shirt, and she wondered how well he could even feel the hand she was squeezing. It had been a while since he'd squeezed back very well at all.
The spasm lasted long enough that when it ended he was still and sagging toward unconsciousness once more. Rose pushed the arm she'd been resting on through the bars and under his head since it was close enough now.
"Rose?" he mumbled.
"Yeah?" she whispered.
When she answered he forced his eyes open, as if panicked—one last fight against unconsciousness. "Rose…!"
She'd seen that sort of panic before, in John's face before he died. When he knew it was happening. Her response was barely controlled panic of her own; her chest tightened and her throat constricted.
"It's all right! You'll be all right."
His mouth started to form the words, but she stroked the hair and sweat from his face and distracted him long enough to stop him. Now wasn't the time. He wasn't really even lucid anymore.
"I know," she told him softly.
She didn't know if he heard her; he was out again.
It was always something.