“Did they see you?” The Doctor had to shout to be heard over the clanging of the cloister bell. “Did they see your face?”
“Couldn’t have,” Rose shouted back, clutching to the edge of the console, slamming levers and pressing buttons as he instructed her while he dashed around, frantically trying to keep up their mad pace through the time vortex. “You threw your coat over my head and carried me back over your shoulder, remember?”
“Bit busy just now, we can reminisce later!” He rapidly turned a crank with one hand while simultaneously tapping the keyboard with the other. The Doctor’s dark brown eyes darted back and forth as he checked the readout on the screen, his brows furrowing low. “Not good, not good!”
“What’s not good?” she asked. “Can’t we lose them in the vortex?”
“They must’ve caught my scent,” he said, slamming his hand against the screen. A shower of sparks flew down from the ceiling and he glanced up once in mild apology before running to the other side of the console. “They’ll follow us anywhere we go now, anywhen.” He grabbed the bicycle pump and began depressing the handle, thoughts flying as he considered their options.
“So, what do we do?” Rose asked.
He looked up at the ceiling again and expelled a hard breath. “I hoped I’d never have to do this, but we’re running out of time.” He went back around to the keyboard and frantically began typing. “Rose, you remember the flying lessons?”
“Yeah,” she answered, tentatively. He’d begun telling her more about the workings of the ship ever since the incident with the daleks and cybermen. Intermittently over the last year, he’d started teaching her how to fly the Tardis, though she had yet to attempt it on her own.
“Good, because you’re going to have to land her.” His eyes never wavered from the screen, but he didn’t have to be looking at his companion to picture the shocked look on her face.
“What?” she squeaked. “B-but... What if I land us in the ocean or something?”
“You won’t,” he said, then winced slightly. “Well... you shouldn’t. If you’re careful.” He checked the readout, then went back to typing. “We’re going to be landing around your time...”
Her eyes went wide. “We can’t go to mum’s! I won’t have those hunters near her!”
He shook his head. “We don’t have enough power to get to London,” he said, for the first time admitting just how dire the situation was.
“You mean to tell me, we’re running from a bunch of hunters and we’re low on petrol?” she said, her voice climbing with every word.
“Should have topped off last time we were near Cardiff,” he muttered.
He glanced at his companion, seeing now how pale she was. He couldn’t afford to stop typing the lines of code into the Tardis, so he tried to infuse every ounce of command he had into his voice.
“Rose, listen to me,” he said, evenly. “We are going to have to hide. These hunters... they have very short lifespans. Like May flies. They live for about three Earth months, and then they die. They want a Time Lord so that they can use my life force to extend theirs. They have my scent, so I’m going to have to change my physiology to hide from them.”
“How’re you gonna do that?” asked Rose.
A piece of machinery lowered from the ceiling, looking like a kind of helmet with wires sticking out of it, connecting it to the Tardis.
“Chameleon arch,” he said, tilting his head at the device. “It’ll rewrite me, make me human.” He nodded at the screen. “I’m setting up the personality matrix right now, it’ll create a human persona for me, integrate me into the society where we land, which should be near...” He switched screens to check. “Dorset.” He shook his head. “Don’t have time to do one for you, you’ll have to... improvise.” He glanced at her apologetically. “Sorry.”
Rose was already trying to keep up with the complicated dance of landing the Tardis by herself. “Not really worried about that right now,” she said in a rush as she tried to keep the ship from pitching sideways.
A slot on the console opened up, containing a silver pocket watch. The Doctor grabbed it and fitted it into the arch. “I just hope we have enough power...” He looked at Rose, his face grim. “Rose, you’re doing great, just brilliant. Whatever happens, keep landing the ship.”
“What do you mean, whatever happens?” asked Rose, her eyes darting between him and the console.
“It’s going to hurt, this,” he said, taking the chameleon arch into his hands. “But no matter what, don’t be afraid, don’t try to stop it, it’s just doing what it’s supposed to. The arch will place everything about me that’s a Time Lord into this watch,” he said, tapping the fob watch in the circular depression before fitting the helmet onto his head. “Keep track of it, because the watch is me. Lose that, you lose the Doctor forever.”
He gazed at her for a few precious seconds, a soft smile on his face. Pride swelled in his hearts as he watched her run around the console. He was glad to have her distracted as another tender emotion flickered across his expression, one he usually took great care to hide from her. Fear surged up next, because he knew, in a few moments, he wouldn’t recognize her, and the thought of being without Rose terrified him.
He took a deep breath, his finger hovering over the button that would change him as he let the fear disperse. Rose would never let him be alone, he trusted that. “Rose,” he said at last and she looked up at him, meeting his gaze. “The Tardis will take care of the details, but I know it’s you who’ll keep me safe. Thank you.”
His last thought was of her brave smile as he punched the button and searing fire scorched through his body.
* * *
While not strictly a crash, the landing was still incredibly rough. Rose only managed to stay on her feet because she’d been gripping the console for dear life. The room instantly went dark, except for the dim light from the time rotor. A sickly whine emanated from the poor Tardis, and though Rose couldn’t understand her the way the Doctor did, she knew the time machine probably wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.
The Doctor’s screams were still ringing in her ears. Watching him use the chameleon arch had been one of the most terrifying things she’d ever had to endure in their time together, almost eclipsing the Year That Never Was. That had been a special kind of nightmare, being forced to watch as the Master tormented the Doctor and Jack, being unable to do anything to stop him, but this… Watching him go through the conversion, standing so near as he shook and screamed, clutching at the device... It had taken every bit of willpower she possessed not to go to him and yank the helmet off his head.
Reminded, she looked around the rotor to where the Doctor had been. The arch was swinging in the air from its cable. Her breath rushed out of her as she dashed around the console to find the Doctor lying on his back on the grating, his already pale face near white, his freckles standing out in stark relief. His chest softly rose and fell with his breath, bringing her some comfort. Falling to her knees at his side, she dove one hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out the stethoscope he carried. After fitting the earpieces to her ears, she quickly placed the bell gently at the center of his chest.
One heartbeat echoed back to her. It was eerie, like that Christmas years ago when he’d regenerated into his current body, and only one heart had been working. She still remembered leaning over him, pressing a cool cloth to his head as he shivered, eyes shut tight. How her nerves had made her hands shake, just like now. This was different, though. He had a human body now. One human heart.
Her brow furrowed slightly and she repositioned the stethoscope, listening more carefully. It sounded... off. There seemed to be a slight... rasping sound between the beats. That was definitely not normal for a human. She glanced up at the ceiling, wondering if the Tardis had had enough power to fully ‘convert’ him, or if something had gone wrong. With everything shut down, there was no way to tell. The only thing to do was hope that he’d be all right.
Rose removed the stethoscope from her ears and put it back in his jacket pocket, then frowned. She couldn’t send him out dressed in his usual pin-striped suit, which she knew had bigger-on-the-inside pockets that his human self wouldn’t understand. She took a deep breath. Time to stop worrying, buckle down, and get to work.
She stood up and made for the archway that led to the corridor... only to find that it had vanished, leaving only a smooth wall. The Tardis had, evidently, shut down the rest of her rooms while she was in recovery mode. Rose worried for a moment at not being able to reach her room or the wardrobe room, until her eyes fell on a set of suitcases near the railing.
Sending a mental thank you to the time ship, Rose went to the first bag, a carry-on sized black tote. It held a wide array of men’s toiletry products, a hairbrush, toothbrush, shaving kit, as well as a laptop, and, most importantly, a wallet that held the Doctor’s new identity.
She was surprised to see the silver badge next to the identification naming him Alec Hardy. Apparently, the matrix had made him a Detective Inspector. It fit, somehow, that he’d still want to be in a position to help people, even as a human, though Rose couldn’t help wishing he’d made himself a boring Maths professor or something similar. Keeping an eye on a DI would definitely be a challenge.
The wallet also contained a bank book and debit card, along with a roll of notes, for which she was immensely grateful. She didn’t see any car keys. DI Hardy would either have to walk or rely on police cars and cabs for transport.
In the larger rolling suitcase, Rose found a large assortment of clothing. All suits, just like normal, but in drab black, gray, and navy colors. There was nary a pin-stripe to be seen, no whimsically printed ties. There were two sets of sturdy black shoes instead of battered chucks. The Doctor must have kept it simple when creating his human self, not that he’d had a lot of time to key in wider personality flourishes.
She pulled out a navy jacket and matching trousers and set to work. She left him in his white Oxford and pants, no pockets to worry about there. She made sure to take the sonic and the psychic paper from his jacket, sticking them into the pocket of her hoodie, as she thought they would probably come in handy. She knew, if nothing else, the psychic paper would provide her with whatever credentials she’d need for procuring a job, and could be used as a credit card in a pinch.
Again, she was reminded of Christmas as she tugged the trousers up his legs, remembering when she’d changed him into Howard’s striped jim jams. She knew he still had them. Occasionally, he’d join her in the media room for a movie marathon while wearing them. She smiled, even as she grunted with the effort of lifting him up into a sitting position to get the jacket on his shoulders.
That done, she began the monumental task of getting him out of the Tardis. Wouldn’t do to have his human self wake up inside the time ship. She wrapped her arms under his armpits and began dragging him toward the doors.
“Blimey, you’re heavy for such a skinny bloke,” she gritted out through her teeth.
She leaned him against the railing and poked her head through the doors to see where they’d landed. Thankfully, it appeared to be a back alley, completely deserted. Grabbing him under the arms again, she backed out of the Tardis and placed him against the wall of the building nearby. She went back inside and grabbed his tote bag and suitcase, setting them next to him.
Lastly, she returned for her own luggage, in matching pink. She paused next to the console and retrieved the fob watch from the arch. The metal was cool in her hand. As she ran her thumb across the circling design on the cover, a whisper drifted to her ears.
She startled. It was the Doctor’s voice. She clutched the watch in both hands, bringing it to her lips, as she squeezed her eyes shut. Already, she missed him, despite the fact that his body was sitting right outside. She knew it wasn’t the Time Lord she’d come to love, he was trapped inside this bit of metal. The man outside was a disguise, someone else wearing his face.
An ironic smile twitched at the corners of her mouth as she thought back to visiting New Earth, when the bitchy trampoline had taken over her body, squashing Rose into a tiny corner of her own mind. It just figured that the first time she kissed him, it wasn’t really her, and now, the second time she kissed him, it wasn’t really him. He’d told her what happened on the Game Station, of course, but since she couldn’t properly remember that kiss, she didn’t count it. She did feel the occasional bout of disappointment that he never seemed to want to repeat the incident. The kissing, not the dying and regenerating.
Placing one last kiss to the watch, she put it into her pocket alongside the sonic and psychic paper. Everything that made up the Doctor, held in the pocket of her hoodie. She ran a hand across the console, lovingly.
“I’ll come back to check on you, old girl,” Rose promised. She wasn’t sure what she could do to help the time ship along, but she knew she would miss the Tardis during this three month stint. She kissed her fingers and touched the time rotor before hauling her luggage outside.
She knew a moment of panic when she saw that the Doctor-- DI Alec Hardy, she reminded herself-- was no longer where she’d put him. His luggage was gone as well, but she saw track marks on the pavement where he’d rolled the suitcase through a puddle. She ran, following the trail, and stopped at the mouth of the alley. He was a little ways down the road, a taxi coming to a stop next to him at the curb. She breathed a sigh of relief as the cabbie helped him with his bags. He would be all right for the time being, he’d probably go to the police station first, which brought to mind finding a job for herself.
Rose went back into the alley and checked to make sure the doors to the Tardis were firmly locked. She knew the perception filter would help the ship blend in, so she wasn’t worried about anyone coming across it. Then she put the strap of her pink tote on her shoulder and extended the arm of the rolling suitcase. Filled with determination, she headed for the street.