He leaves the city behind and drives east. At night, the desert disappears and there’s only the road in front of his headlights. When the sun rises, there are mountains on the horizon, and he heads for them. Sometimes there are thousand foot drops on each side, sometimes the pavement is cracked and broken beneath his wheels, sometimes there are sirens, distant, melancholy wails. His foot is on the gas, the speedometer pushing red, but the world seems to crawl by. He lets the police chase him; they can’t keep up.
By the next day he’ll find himself in a new state, anyway. He’s not worried about the police.
His side aches, but the pain is dulling, fading away. The money has blood on it, but gas stations attendants and truck stop waitresses don’t seem to mind. It spends like it was clean, and he doesn’t have to drive for anyone but himself, now.
He should care about the money, about the blood. He keeps moving and doesn’t think of cartoon sharks, of blood in the water.
He has nowhere to go, and he doesn’t know how to stop. In some ways he feels like he hasn’t gotten anywhere, like L.A.’s right behind him. Turn a corner and there it is, the sun and the blood and the sea beyond it.
When the money runs out, he’ll think of something, but for now, he just drives, and lets his mind white out.
When it ends, it doesn’t end slow and gradual, like a bag of money emptying out over a long stretch of days. It ends with a sharp, sudden shock, like black ice beneath his tires.
A cold mug comes sliding down the nameless bar he’s in, one of hundreds. It could be any city, any highway. It comes to a stop by his elbow. He looks up. There’s a red-headed girl watching him.
“I don’t drink,” he says, and his voice is rusty. He can’t remember the last time he spoke out loud.
"I hear you drive," she says, ignoring him. There’s an edge beneath the Scottish lilt of her voice, and her smile is wavering. "I need a lift."
Time seems to slow as he stares at her, then he breathes out and looks down.
"It's a bit delicate," she’s saying, leaning in. "I just, I need to be at a certain time, a certain place, to save a certain man. I heard you’re the one who can do that, maybe the only one."
"No," he says. He gets up, not looking at her as he shrugs on his jacket. There's a man with a bowtie reading a paper by a window; a bartender polishing a pitcher; a woman with a pool cue bending over the table while a group of men leer.
He could kill this woman, if he had to.
She follows him outside. The town they’re in is small, mostly closed for the night. Everything’s dark, but he still can’t see the stars for the smog. No, not smog. Not here. Clouds. Rain.
"I'm not who you're looking for," he says once he’s reached his car, and she's still following at his heels. It's raining, but barely — the water catches in her hair and shines in the streetlight. He watches each drop shimmering and considers the line of parked cars, thinks about stealing one. For old time’s sake.
“You are,” she says, “You don’t know it yet, but you are. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” He glances around. Dark lot, no cameras. He pushes her against a truck’s side and holds her throat in his hand; her eyes widen, but she's not afraid. He knows what fear looks like. She looks like she’s waiting for something.
He should kill her, to be safe. If someone’s tracked him down here, they could track down Irene anywhere. Might be trying to.
The woman in his hands looks up at him, trusting, hopeful. She hasn’t seen him covered in blood; she doesn’t know what he can do.
"Who are you?" he asks, and wishes he was wearing his gloves, that they weren’t tucked in his back pocket. He can feel her pulse, the hot throb of it against his palm. “How did you find me?”
“A friend,” another voice says, and the driver turns his head very slightly and stares. It’s the man from the bar, the one with the newspaper. The driver is not an easy man to sneak up on, but this man’s done it, somehow. He lets the woman go.
“I don’t have friends.”
“Oh, but you do,” the man says, painfully earnest, and takes a step towards him. The driver frowns, and he stops, hands up. “I—we have to do this quicker than I wanted, there’s no time to ease you into it, but you have to know; you have to remember who you are. The Driver.”
“I don’t drive now,” he says, and wonders. He didn’t leave anyone alive that knows him, except Irene. Irene and Benicio. “Who told you I did?” He doesn’t want to hope they’re looking for him. He can’t help it.
“You always drive—well, or fly. Well, or – anything, really, anything that moved. You were a good horseman, once, too. They called you the Knight, then. I always thought you were a myth, honestly.”
A long moment passes as they stare at each other. The driver closes his eyes, then opens them again. The man with the bowtie is still there, looking at him pleadingly, while the girl hits him on the shoulder.
“Not helpful, Doctor! Start over,” she says. “Rory doesn’t have much time.”
“Can you feel it?” the Doctor asks abruptly. “The Earth, moving. You can, can’t you? The turn of the Earth. It’s spinning at a thousand miles an hour, moving through space, around the sun, sixty-seven thousand miles an hour. You can feel it.”
The breath in his throat seems to catch.
“You can feel all of it, you can feel time stretch and slow; you think you just have good reflexes, but it’s more than that – you can see things coming, see how the cards will fall.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the driver says uneasily, and tries, for once in his life, not to feel any motion at all, tries to stand still. “I have to go.”
“You don’t remember your own name – you’ve been here too long. Your TARDIS didn’t plan for that – didn’t write you a history for it. Your true self has been bleeding through for centuries, millennia! Keeps resetting each time you reach the end of a lifespan. It’s fantastic, fascinating, I’d really like to study your DNA sometime –”
“Focus!” the girl says, voice thick, and the driver looks at her. He ignores the man, and the gibberish; in the faint light from the bar signs he can see tears on her cheek.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, and reaches in his back pocket, puts on his gloves.
“Rory,” she says, an entire universe in the name as she breathes it out. “They took the TARDIS, and Rory, and – it’s complicated, so complicated, and we only have one chance to reach them.”
“You need to be in a certain place, at a certain time,” he remembers.
“We need a driver,” she says. “And the Doctor, he found your watch thing in this weird Time Lord collection the last planet we were on. The Vespids didn’t even know what it was.”
“They thought it was a toy,” the Doctor says, face momentarily gleeful, and she wipes at her face, laughing a little.
“He’s been babbling about you non-stop since he found the watch, we meant to come talk to you sooner—but this came up. We’re stranded here, now. On Earth. We need you, if you can just wake up and remember. You have to wake up.”
He’s shaking his head slowly throughout this speech, holding up his empty palms. “I’m sorry. I’m not that person. I don’t – you sound like lunatics.”
He has a name – he’s used hundreds of names, names aren’t important. It’s not important that he can’t remember the first one, now. He can’t remember what Irene called him, if she called him anything.
The Doctor holds something out; it’s bronze, and small. The driver takes it carefully, and feels the ridges on the back. There’s a shape etched on it. He thinks he feels legs, ridges, something that might be a barbed stinger. He stares at it, turns it over in his hands. The metal’s cold, but it warms quickly in his fingers.
The Doctor speaks up again, and his voice seems to be coming from some far-off place, distant and muffled.
“Your DNA’s stored in there – or should be, can’t be sure, it’s so old, older than me, even, which is quite, wow. During the Great Vampire wars, you were one of our heroes. They say that you ended it, that you refused to use violence ever again. You left, left the rest of the Time Lords, to spend the rest of your days looking for peace. You’re a legend, and you’re real, and we need you.” He pauses, and says slowly, like it’s being pulled out of him. “They’re all dead, now. The Time Lords. I thought I was the last.”
“The man—the hero you’re talking about,” the driver says quietly, and then, for no reason he can think of, he puts a hand against his side, feels the slight ache of the knife wound. I should have died then, he thinks. “That’s not me. I’m not that person.” He pauses, then says, “I’m sorry.”
“If you open it, you’ll remember,” the Doctor says, and he looks desperate – somehow, he’s gotten the driver’s hand in his, is holding it and the watch both.
He doesn’t want to believe any of this. He wants to think this is a fever dream; the strange last thoughts of a dying man, bleeding out in a hot car in the California sun. He wants to be on the couch in apartment 403, watching Saturday morning cartoons.
It’s a cold Colorado night, and he doesn’t want to remember anything at all.
“But you have to,” the girl says, voice raw and hoarse, desperate. He wonders what her Rory is like. If he’s ever killed a man, felt blood and brains beneath his boots. He wonders where Irene is. “Don’t tell me that, you have to. Please.”
It’s crumbled, and rusting, and when he thumbs the clasp, he cuts himself on it. But it opens, and suddenly it seems like all he can see is the sun.