Evening Chill

Pale strands of grass melted into lush waves of tall greenery as four sets of footfalls thundered out of the building and deep into the woods. Barely seconds later, numerous other footfalls resounded heavily behind, trailing rapidly after them. They ran, more than she'd ran with any slaves before, and suddenly the long distance between them and their assured freedom was shortened, but at the cost of the hastened air from their lungs.

His respiratory bypass was doing wonders, allowing him to speed up a tad, and soon Rose had disappeared from his peripheral vision.

"Doctor," Rose called after him, making him turn his gaze towards her.

Frowning, the sound of his heavy breathing smothered the thudding of his converse as he slowed to allow his friends to keep up. He gasped desperately when Iris suddenly stopped, as did the others. His feet slid on the mossy ground as he skidded to a halt, and ran back to the girls.

"We can't stay," he huffed impatiently.

Iris blew out a puff of air, the beginnings of the evening chill evident by her visible breath. "Gotta…give me a minute, blimey," she wheezed, clutching Rose's shoulder for support. "Developed asthma in that last year." She let out a sarcastically excited trill, as if invigorated. "Haven't ran like that in years. We'll reach your ship in no time!"

The ginger-haired woman released the insecure grasp she had on her own shoulder to lightly touch Iris' back. "She's got some sort of lung damage," she told Rose, barely above a whisper. "Her third slave driver was vile."

A shout rang out behind Rose and reflecting torchlight gleamed against the expanse of bushes around them. The Doctor swallowed impatiently and wrapped a hurried hand around Iris' arm. "They'll catch us if we don't move. I can carry you."

Rose shook her head quickly, still gasping for breath as well. "All that jostling could make it worse. We need…to stay put."

The Doctor's eyes flicked rapidly behind her. "They're right over-"

"We'll lie low, then," Rose countered, wiping at the sweat matting her hairline. "We could all use a break." She grabbed the Doctor's hand and tugged, gesturing for him to kneel below the bush-line and hopefully out of sight.

All four sat on the soft ground. Waiting.

The Doctor plucked apprehensively at moss and grass, listening to the resonance of the hollering around them. Never receding, never advancing. The voices seemed to circle the area, and he hoped they weren't slowly becoming the victims of an ambush. The Doctor tilted his head in different directions as he continued to toy with the shrubbery, trying to gauge how close every footstep was. The ginger-haired woman gasped sharply at the loud crack of a snapping twig.

That noise was closer than the rest, and the Doctor tensed, ready to jump up and run at a moment's notice. For a long spell, the auctioneers and slave drivers got quite closer. However, their angered hollering grew to irate murmurs as the footfalls backed off, further into the woods and back to the auction site.

The Doctor exhaled and, after a moment, caught Rose staring.

They snagged each other's gazes, and light blushes rose to their cheeks, though this was, for the most part – thank Rassilon ! – hidden under the cover of nightfall.

"Hello," the Doctor murmured with a light grin.

Rose smiled back. "Hello."

The Doctor chuckled warmly and stood, then offered his hands to pull the girls off the ground. "All right, then?"

"Yeah," Rose replied, a touch of breathlessness still clinging to her throat. "Just give us another minute."

Iris looked at the other woman, then back to Rose. "We're ready if you are."

Rose bit her lip. When she felt the Doctor's firm, but gentle hand on her shoulder, she sighed. "You'd think," she swallowed, looking into the Doctor's eyes. "All those times we ran for our lives…I'd me more prepared for this." Rose took a particularly long exhale, and the Doctor frowned at her abrupt wince.

Rose startled when the Doctor brushed a handful of her fraying hair behind her shoulder. "Once we get back to the TARDIS," he spoke softly, resolutely. "I want you in the med-bay." He looked to Iris and the other woman. "You two, as well. I'd like to give you an assessment before handing you back to your families."

Iris gaped widely, pulling her friend closer. "Like hell you're getting us out of our clothes!"

The Doctor spluttered. "I'm-I'm not…I'm-What?!"

"It's all right," Rose raised her hands defensively, away from the Doctor and to their friends. "He doesn't even have a doctor's office, really. He doesn't do hospital gowns."

"Something moved behind you," the ginger-haired woman murmured frantically.

They both spun around, the Doctor searching madly through the darkness while Rose moved off to the side, ready to defend her friends, as well as leg it. She stuttered to a halt, eyes widening as she watched the figure step out of the thicket. Her jaw dropped when the figure raised a gun at the Doctor.

"Move," a voice shouted. Before the trigger pulled, the Doctor threw himself to the ground. The gunman fired half a second after, a thin band of blue electricity rocketing from the nozzle and slicing through deep shrubbery several feet away. A strangled cry erupted beyond the bushes, followed by a thud.

Silence fell once again.

"Now," the stranger said, dusting his hands on his pants after he stashed his weapon between waistband and the small of his back. "Who said they were getting out of their clothes?" The man flashed them a devilish smirk, and Rose, who had started to smile, was now grinning like a mad-man.

The Doctor sighed heavily and stuck out his hand. "Give it," he demanded, as if taking a toy away from a child.

"It's out of power," the man said. "All of my chargers are back at the TARDIS. Fifty-first century tech," he smirked impressively and flashed a wink at Iris and the woman.

"You shot him, Jack," the Doctor ground out.

Jack rolled his eyes. "It was a stun gun. Pretty low setting, but he won't be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for several hours."

"Honestly," Rose shook her head, chuckling breathlessly. Jack Harkness went still at the sound of her voice, and a wide grin slowly split his face as she stepped towards him. "I don't think I could ever imagine you murdering someone." She flicked her gaze to the Doctor, then back to him. "Not with him around, at least."

"Oh my god!" Jack laughed, bouncing excitedly before launching forwards and slinging his arms around her. If the strong hold around her waist wasn't enough to suffocate her, then the pair of lips crushing her own would've definitely done so. Finally, he pulled back to stare directly into her eyes, eyes gleaming and still grinning like a kid at Christmas. "You're alive!"

Rose scoffed lightlt, keeping her arms around his neck. "You think a bunch of slave drivers could've done me in by now?"

"With your stubbornness, I'm surprised they were bothering to chase you. I mean," he pointed to the Doctor, who was scrubbing an awkward hand over the back of his neck. "You had this guy whipped, for god's sake!"

"Ooh," Rose said, putting her face against his shoulder. "I've missed you," she murmured.

"Hasn't been the same without you, Rose," he muttered against her hair. "Me and the old man over there, we were going crazy. Couldn't find you anywhere. The TARDIS was no help."

Rose bit her lip, carefully picking out a burning a question that she already had an answer for. Yet, where the answer had come from, it wasn't enough. At the time, the voice had begun to lull her, slowly giving her the reality, and she thought she could accept it then and there. But then Jack made his appearance, and the trust that she gave when she received the answer was immediately taken back. Rose knew Jack. Rose knew she could trust him, and now she craved for an answer to come from him.

Rose leaned to Harkness' ear, dropping her voice to a whisper. "That man…in the trench coat," she swallowed. "He said…said that he's…"

Jack nodded solemnly. "Yeah, Rose…that's him."

Rose shook her head tersely. "That can't be him!"

"He changed, Rose."

"He changed," she repeated harshly. "He changed everything. I've no idea-"

"He regenerated," he negated gently.

"Okay." Rose agreed to that, but swallowed again. She tried to wrap herself around the idea, but with a completely different man standing in his place, her reasoning didn't want anything to do with it. "He said he was dying, but he regenerated. Regenerating saved him…" Suddenly, reasoning was out the window. She could feel it leaving, replaced by an absurd conclusion that her brain was now presenting. Saying it would sound barmy, but it was still an option - No…

It was a wish.

"If regenerating saved him…" Rose said carefully. "Then…then, my Doctor," she foolishly allowed herself a hopeful smile, a smile that was visibly bereft. "Would that mean he's…he's still-"

Jack shook his head slowly and pressed her closer. "The Doctor we knew is gone, Rose. He wasn't just dying." He swallowed thickly. "He's dead."

Rose tried to hide any kind of sob with a humorless laugh, but to no avail, and she pressed her face back against his shoulder to try to stop any moisture from collecting in her eyes.

"Hey," Jack murmured, rubbing her back consolingly. "Believe it or not, this one ain't too bad. Sure, he's got his…quirks," he said, thinking back on when the Doctor licked a bit of disinfectant at a hospital, trying to figure out why all of the patients were being cured more swiftly than he and the Doctor had ever seen. "But he's still got some of the old him. And you want to know what else?" Rose pulled back to look into his eyes. Jack smirked and tilted his head towards the Doctor. "That hair!" He mouthed the words around an elated whisper, causing Rose to bite her lip in an effort to stifle a snicker.

She squeezed his arms one last time before pulling away. She was pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes when she felt a hand touch her shoulder. She jerked her gaze up to connect with a pair of deep, chocolate eyes.

"Rose," the Doctor asked, eyes scrunching in concern.

"I'm fine," she sniffled, not taking her focus away from him. "Just missed him, that's all. Missed both of you." She said that last part more quietly, but purely genuine. The Doctor beamed at her.

Jack was right. Though this smile belonged to someone completely new to her, she supposed that, if she squinted, she could see a hint of his older grin. She didn't know if this general acceptance would last, but for now, it would have to do.

"Hey," Jack piped up, steeping passed Rose and the Doctor. "I missed you as well, but the question remains…" He stopped just a foot or two away from Iris, while the ginger-haired woman ducked her gaze away from him. "Who're your friends, and why haven't you introduced us yet?"

Rose carefully cleared her throat to have a go at his attention. "Jack-"

But he was already extending his hand to Iris, a debonair grin stretching over his features. "Hi there, Captain Jack Harkness."

"Jack, seriously-"

"Oh, that's-that's all right, Rose," Iris assured, taking Jack's hand. "If he's friends with you…He doesn't seem too harmful." Jack hummed appreciatively and brought her knuckles to his lips.

"What's your name," he asked the other woman. She stood stock-still, refusing to look him in the eye out of fear.

Iris touched his arm. "She doesn't trust men," she whispered somberly. "Not anymore."

Jack shrugged. "Bet I could change that," he said. And Rose found herself, ashamedly, surprised that his voice was no longer flirtatious, but serious, almost clinical. "First things first." He turned a little to eye everyone. "The TARDIS is over two hours away, and you all look bushed. We need a campsite. There's a safe spot not too far from here. Has a river, and it's pretty closed off," he offered.

"What are you doing out here, anyway," Rose asked.

The Doctor nodded. "I told you to stay with the TARDIS in case she goes mad while I went and got the parts."

"Eh, impatience," Jack answered nonchalantly. "And the TARDIS told me about a commotion a couple miles off. And then I told myself, 'Well, I better go save his sorry ass'."

Rose shook her head with a dramatically grave sigh. "Can't leave him alone for a moment," she agreed, before breaking out into a grin at the Doctor's petulant grumbling.

Jack chuckled. Then, he clapped his hands together, but not too harshly, as if not wanting to startle anyone. "So," he said a bit louder. "Camping? Resting? Sound good?"

A mutual agreement wasn't needed, for they were already trekking in the direction of their soon-to-be campsite, steadily moving away from the bushes and into a small thicket. The area where they had been was deserted within minutes, even the slave driver Jack had stunned wasn't there anymore.

In fact, he left minutes before they did.