I. The Lost Girls
All her life, Rose dreamed of a life of adventure, like the heroes of her childhood: Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, or Harry Potter and his friends. She dreamed that someone would come and take her away from a world she never felt was quite her own.
She never dreamed that person would come in the form of a tall woman with legs like a colt and eyes like the heart of a storm. She took Rose by the hand in that dark cellar, told her to run, and she knew she never wanted to stop.
Jackie didn't quite know what to make of the Doctor. Her chestnut hair was cut so short that from a distance she looked like a man; a leather jacket, dark jeans, and a pair of Doc Martens encased her leggy figure. Her face was hard and fierce, her cheekbones chiseled so that she looked like nothing so much as a bird of prey. Something about the Doctor made Jackie think of a deep well; everything fell toward her, and once something, or someone, fell in, it would take a whole rescue team to get them back out again.
She shouldn't have been surprised that Rose would be the one to fall in.
II. Changed My Jumper
Rose felt resplendent in her dress, like a young duchess coming to court. The Doctor's compliments, and the way she watched her hem float along the TARDIS floor, only made her feel more magnificent.
"So why don't you have to get all dressed up? My clothes'll start a riot, but a leather jacket won't?" Rose teased.
"When you've been traveling as long as I have, you learn to walk around space and time like you own it," said the Doctor, her smile bright as a magnesium flash. "No one'll question me, you'll see."
When Charles Dickens refused to believe that she was a doctor, she blamed it on the jumper and took it in stride. In the end, she earned his trust all the same.
III. A Dark and Handsome Stranger
After the Doctor left with Rose for the second time, Jackie invited Mickey over for drinks to celebrate saving the world and getting the murder charges dropped.
"So what do you think is up with her? The Doctor?" They were supposed to be celebrating, but instead they were hunched over Jackie's table, staring morosely into their beer bottles. "Rose doesn't look at me anymore. Not the way she used to. Maybe the Doctor has her under alien hypnosis or something."
"I think she might be some kind of predatory lesbian. I mean, what is she doing, traveling around with a girl so much younger, and wearing all that leather?" Jackie took a pull of her beer. "You know how Rose gets swept up in her adventures. She's too blinded by it to see what's really going on."
"Next time we see 'em, Jackie, we'll figure out what's happening, you and me."
They shook hands on it.
IV. Warrior Woman
There's something about the Doctor.
Wherever they went, there was always someone who wanted to wink and flirt with Rose. She found it more flattering than anything else - except for the time when the Sultan of the Eighth Gharant kidnapped her to be his bride. (The Doctor liberated her by fomenting a feminist revolution in the Sultan's all-female kitchen staff.) Strangely, though, despite the fiercely beautiful contours of her face, hardly anyone dared to give the Doctor that kind of attention; only Jabe had managed to walk with her, arm in arm, leaving Rose feeling somehow bereft. At first, she couldn't understand their reluctance; after the encounter with the Dalek, though, she understood.
Van Statten was an oily man, no doubt about it, but after the Doctor demonstrated her extensive knowledge of alien technology, the man become all the more unctuous. The way he looked at the Doctor out of the corner of his eye made Rose's skin crawl. Reluctantly, she left with Adam; they flirted a little, but her heart wasn't really in it. She wanted to smear the slimy smile right off van Statten's face. This feeling of protectiveness, of proprietary concern, surprised her. The Doctor could take care of herself, couldn't she?
Soon, though, van Statten was the least of their problems - and it was all her fault.
"What use are emotions if you cannot save the woman you love?" the Dalek demanded of the Doctor, and despite her terror, Rose felt something like hope. Could it be true? Could these two soldiers, grim with death, find some solution that didn't end in slaughter?
It was only when the Doctor had the enormous gun leveled at Rose, with an Amazonian fury making her bosom heave and her fierce features contort, that she finally understood. The Doctor had lost some part of her to a war Rose couldn't begin to imagine, and something ugly and snarling had crawled into the empty spaces of her heart. That was what made people look in the Doctor's eyes - and then look away.
Rose couldn't look away. She was mesmerized by the Doctor, by every inch of her, down to the primal rage and despair that might end Rose's life. There was nothing about the Doctor that could scare her away, not even this.
Slowly, shakily, the Doctor put down the gun.
V. Mother's Day
Back in the TARDIS, Rose was overwhelmed both by grief and by wobbly-kneed relief. She clutched the coral struts of the TARDIS with one hand and the Doctor's hand with the other, just to remind herself that they were both alive. She thought she might never let go.
The Doctor led her to a room that was also a garden. The grass was reddish, and softer than any she'd known; she found herself sinking to her knees. The Doctor let her go, but Rose could feel that she was near, and that was enough.
Once the gasping sobs subsided and she was able to breathe properly, Rose leaned against the Doctor's shoulder. "Have you ever had children?" she asked.
The Doctor hummed a melody that seemed to wander about; Rose couldn't grasp any pattern in it, but she could feel it vibrating from the Doctor's chest. "I was a mother once," she said, "and I would have done the same for my children. To a parent, a child is greater than galaxies, and more worth dying for."
"I'm not," Rose protested. "I'm not more important than a galaxy."
The Doctor's mouth curled into a smile, dimpling her cheek. "To him, you were."
VI. Captain Envy
Captain Jack Harkness was the most gorgeous man Rose had ever seen. When he held her in his arms, her pulse raced feathery under her skin and blood rushed to her cheeks - a feeling she realized she'd come to associate with the Doctor. But the Doctor wasn't here. Instead there was a dashing Captain who was looking at her in a way the Doctor never did. A rush of pleasure at the attention warmed Rose down to her toes.
So when the Captain put his arms around her and asked how disappointed he should be about her 'companion,' Rose couldn't help but wonder: how disappointed should he be? Her feelings were so confused, and it was hard to focus with his warm breath on her face, and the heady masculine smell of something like aftershave. Even when Jack pulled away, and her senses weren't deluged by that dizzying closeness, she couldn't help but wonder what his lips would look like freshly-kissed - and for a moment, she even wondered what the Doctor's lips might look like.
The rivalry between the Captain and the Doctor was immediate. They put Rose in mind of dogs fighting over who would be the alpha. She knew it was petty, but it gratified her to see the Doctor compete for her attentions. So of course she couldn't be blamed for trying to goad the Doctor into a little dancing herself, just to see if she measured up to Jack's moves on top of the spaceship.
Of course, they'd been teleported before Rose could even find out who was going to lead.
VII. You People and Your Quaint Little Categories
When the Doctor told Rose about "dancing" in the 51st century, her mind buzzed with new ideas. She'd never thought of it that way. As far as she was concerned, there was gay and straight, and Rose couldn't be gay because she liked to wear lipstick and high heels, and she'd had boyfriends before. But seeing Jack approach another man with the same flirty swagger and hungry gleam in his eye he'd had when they first met… well, Jack was as macho a bloke as any she'd ever known.
Rose knew she wasn't gay, or she wouldn't be swooning a little inside every time she got a whiff of Jack's vanilla-aftershave scent. By this point, though, she couldn't deny that her feelings for the Doctor went beyond the platonic. But "bisexual" wasn't the right word either, because the Doctor wasn't even human. Rose had met alien species with five sexes or more, so what meaning did a word like "bisexual" have then? She was beginning to think that she might be a little flexible too - and just as Rose was coming to terms with the fact that labels weren't all they were cracked up to be, she realized she could finally put a label to her feelings for the Doctor.
VIII. The Sound of Home
Dying now, Jack supposed, was like quitting while he was ahead. All his life, he'd searched for someone or something to believe in. After he lost Gray, he didn't believe in anything anymore. His experiences as a soldier, a Time Agent, and a con man only served to grind down his apathy into a grit that blackened his spirit. Now he'd finally found something in the universe that wasn't tainted by pettiness and greed, something worth living and hoping for, and he was going to die alone.
The Chula warship stated the certainty of his death in its harsh, grinding language. Jack didn't want it to be the last thing he heard before he died, so he prattled to himself in his own tongue, the rounded vowels and feathery consonants of the Boeshane rolling off his lips.
Jack heard the strains of "Moonlight Serenade" resonating through the doomed ship, felt strange air wafting in. For a moment, he couldn't allow this rescue to be real - and then, for the first time in a long time, he dared to believe he was worth saving.
The ship was a beauty, no doubt about that, but in this moment there was nothing so beautiful in all the worlds as the women dancing around her console. The Doctor led, her hand snug around Rose's waist, but it was Rose who led with her words.
The Doctor pulled away from Rose and teased Jack about whom he'd like to dance with. She was right of course: he could no more decide between her and Rose than between light and dark, truth and beauty. He was almost glad to be robbed of the decision as the Doctor and Rose completed their dance, and he found himself swung into the Doctor's orbit.
As the Doctor held out her hand to Jack, he wondered how he could ever have doubted that he'd be following.
IX. A Fairy Tale
There's a story Rose knows she'll be telling her children, if she ever finds the time to have any. It goes like this:
There was once a lady who didn't have a name. She lived in a little blue box that was as big as the world. Of course, that was only part of the truth; if you were to ask the lady herself, she would say the whole universe was home to her, and that would also be true. But another part of the truth was that she had no home at all, for once upon a time, she had been a soldier with the whole universe as her battleground.
The lady met a girl named Rose who was chased by monsters who wore human form. She rescued Rose from the monsters and took her by the hand; she led her on adventures through the galaxies, and showed Rose that she could be brave and clever and save the day. For even though the lady once laid waste to countless planets, it was Rose who had the big bad wolf inside her.
Soon, Rose discovered that the lady who didn't have a name was chased by monsters of her own, but her monsters came from within. Rose rescued the lady from the monsters and took her by the hand; she showed her the wonders of the galaxies through new eyes, and taught the lady that she could be vulnerable, and feel, and laugh with delight. For even though the lady called herself the Doctor, it was Rose who could heal a broken heart.
One day, the Doctor and Rose met a soldier who didn't know what to fight for. When he lost his family, he left his home by the sea, and though he fought battle after battle against foes too terrible to name, he couldn't get his family back. Together, the three of them saved a lost little boy looking for his mummy. The soldier taught the Doctor and Rose to be open with each other, to voice the feelings they couldn't name, and in return they gave the soldier something worth fighting for.
Once upon a time, there were two old soldiers, and a girl who was also a big bad wolf, and they lived in a little blue box whose heart was vaster than planets, and more ancient. It was their home, because it was the place where they could always go back and find each other, no matter how far they roamed.
And they all lived…
X. The World Doesn't End Because the Doctor Dances
The Doctor, Jack, and Rose had many adventures, but this is one they can't call to mind without smiling secretly to each other.
They stepped outside the TARDIS, all three clad in thermoregulated boots that went up to their knees, for the snow of this planet was so cold that if it touched their skin it would freeze on contact. But when their boots touched the ground, there was no snow at all. The ground was bare, but for a few low-lying ferns that clung desperately to what soil there was between the rocks.
"What about the crystal snow?" Rose demanded, arms akimbo. "I can't believe you landed in the wrong year again! You promised you'd get it right."
The Doctor licked her finger and held it up to the chilly breeze. "No, I got it right. It's the planet that's wrong." She flashed her companions a mischievous smile. "Let's find out why."
"And we got all suited up in these big boots for nothing," Rose huffed, but there was no ill humor in it.
"I like the boots," said Jack, stomping across the rocks for exaggerated effect. "They make me look dashing, don't you think? And you two," he leered, his blue eyes bright with mischief, "look like leather queens of the hilltops. Everyone will quiver beneath your mighty heels."
"I bet you'd like to quiver beneath our heels," Rose teased, then raced over the rocks to keep up with the Doctor. Jack caught up despite her lead, laughing with exhilaration.
Suddenly, the Doctor stopped. Rose and Jack almost collided into her back. "Look," she said, pointing at a nearby hill. At the top of the hill was a walled-off structure, like a castle or an abbey. There were two giant gates in the nearest wall, but upon closer inspection, the wall also seemed to be pockmarked with much smaller doors. "The native species of this planet is about yea high," the Doctor explained, gesturing to just above her knee. "They're adapted to sub-freezing conditions; the crystal snow freezes us, but it's home to them. So for starters, why is there no snow, and also, why is there a bleeding great building with giant gates?" She started to run up the hill, and Rose and Jack strained to follow.
"But what about the smaller doors?" asked Rose.
"They weren't built into the structure," the Doctor said. "They look like they were carved in later." She aimed her sonic screwdriver at one of the gates, and the black portcullis rose to let them through. Rose gaped at the sight that greeted them beyond the gate.
The interior of the rectangular wall was the size of several football fields. At each corner rose a great chimney almost as high as the wall. When she looked very closely, she could see faint ripples in the air above the chimneys. There were also structures that looked like wells, but when she peered down one, it seemed so deep she couldn't see the bottom. Each well and chimney was surrounded by arrays of equipment that flashed readouts Rose couldn't begin to understand. In the center, though, was a truly boggling sight. There was a giant circle that Rose could only guess was a map of the planet, all white and grey and blue. The map wasn't smooth, though - there were circular depressions all across the surface, like too-neat footprints.
"What is this place?" Rose said quietly.
"It's a Drexlar terraforming center. There'll be dozens all over the planet, but it looks like we've found the control center." The Doctor was standing in front of a screen with a cascade of symbols that were meaningless to Rose, even with the TARDIS' translation. Jack was watching a similar screen nearby. The Doctor's voice was flinty, and Rose knew that if she could see her face, her eyes would be bright as the edge of a knife. "They're terraforming this planet to their optimal climate, and they don't care if a whole species dies in the process." She turned to face Rose. "We're near the equator. All the natives will have retreated to the poles by now. The Drexlar ships are in orbit, waiting for the atmosphere to stabilize to their liking."
"The chimneys are pumping out greenhouse gases," Jack reported. "The wells leach organic compounds into the groundwater. Benzene, naphthalene."
"The entire water supply will be poisonous to the natives eventually," the Doctor said, her mouth set in a scowl.
"What about the map?" Rose asked.
"Drexlars have six legs and no arms, so all their equipment has to be operable using either their legs or their mouths. A Drexlar steps on the circles on that map in a certain rhythm and pattern that tells the system where water flows need to be directed, or where to raise the carbon dioxide concentration."
"But none of us are six-legged Drexlars, so how are we supposed to do it?"
"We do have six legs between us, though." Jack took a step toward the giant map, spread out his arms, and grinned. "Isn't it obvious? The Drexlar has to step in the right places with the right rhythm and the right pattern. This map is a dance floor."
"Right then!" The Doctor was infected with new energy; she pirouetted madly around the sensor arrays. "I'll work out the steps and teach them to you."
"I'll run back to the TARDIS and get a Glenn Miller recording," Jack announced.
"No need. The sonic screwdriver can om-com from the TARDIS." The Doctor beamed and pointed the sonic screwdriver at a gently beeping device. Instead of beeps, the device started playing "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." Rose fell into a fit of giggles. "I haven't turned on the device yet, so you and Jack can practice staying in rhythm. Just an instant off tempo, and it'll all be for nothing. Get a move on, and don't let your feet touch anywhere but the circles!"
Rose gave a yelp of surprise as she was swept into Jack's arms. They dipped and whirled to the quick beat. At first it took all of Rose's concentration just to keep up; eventually she fell into the rhythm and was able to let her mind drift. Jack was sweating, just a little, and it brought out his natural musky-sweet scent and made his neck gleam invitingly. It was a beautiful neck - almost as lovely as the Doctor's, which was pale and supple as a swan's. Jack caught her staring and raised an eyebrow. Rose blushed; she must have seemed like a vampire, looking at his neck like that.
"I've got it," the Doctor declared. She turned away from the screen, and Jack and Rose stepped off the map hand in hand. "I'll lead, and you two'll follow. I'll call out instructions to whoever isn't my dance partner at the moment. Just stick to the beat, never stop moving, and trust me."
Jack and Rose glanced at each other sidelong, silently saying: as if there could be any doubt. The Doctor aimed the sonic screwdriver and set the music to "In the Mood." She beamed. "4/4 time, quick tempo. Perfect." She swung her arm around Rose's waist. "Jack, south pole, cut a rug around the southern ice cap, double time! Put the accent on the fourth beat. Go!"
Rose closed her eyes and let herself be swept away by the music and by the Doctor. She felt the Doctor's long muscles contract and release, and contoured her motions to mirror them. It was as if she were the negative space surrounding the Doctor, defined by her, yet as opposed to her as light to dark. The Doctor shouted instructions to Jack continuously, but she barely heard a word. All she knew was the rhythm and the flow of the Doctor's steps.
Suddenly, she was spun out of the Doctor's orbit, balancing on one foot at a circle along the equator. Now it was Jack being led around the dance floor that was a map, his body molded so closely to the Doctor's they seemed like a single sensual, four-legged beast. "Don't just stand there!" the Doctor barked. "Hop to the squiggly continent to your left. All right, now touch the circle just north of you with one foot every second beat. Don't shift your weight, just touch." That was something Rose could handle. Her heart rose in her throat when the Doctor dipped Jack, who turned out to be flexible enough for the back of his head to nearly touch the floor - and that couldn't have been necessary to calibrate the terraforming, could it?
"All right, Rose, step north along your latitude line without breaking rhythm," the Doctor called, and Rose marveled at how she wasn't flustered even a little after that dip - even Jack seemed suspiciously pink along the cheekbones, his lips slightly parted. "A little lighter as you reach the north pole. Don't stomp." The song finished and cycled back around to the beginning; switching to a different one might have broken the rhythm. The blare of the trumpets infused Rose with new energy.
"Take Jack by the hand and twirl him eastward. It's your turn with me now. We're almost there, Rose, I can feel it." She kept her eyes open this time 'round, felt them sway and loop, and the boom of the Doctor's voice in her chest. "Meet with us on the central circle on the last beat of next measure." Rose's heart beat fast; the circles were much larger than their feet, but it was still a snug fit for three. They landed on the circle at the same instant as Jack, standing so close she could feel both their exhalations on her collarbone, one hot, one cool. The dance was over, but she still felt electric with energy. She didn't want to stop.
The Doctor smiled broad and white. "We did it. We kicked off the reverse terraforming process." Jack gave a giddy little laugh and took the women by the hand. The Doctor arched an elegant eyebrow at him.
"There's no one in the universe I'd rather dance with." Jack's eyes were soft. "Just thought you should know."
"Jack!" Rose exclaimed, hand to her chest, feigning scandal. "Is that a proposition?"
"If you want it to be," he said throatily. None of them had moved off the circle. "In the Mood" played on in the background. Rose was suddenly a little frightened. Was this a line that couldn't be crossed?
"Jack, Rose…" The Doctor's chest rose and fell as she breathed in time with the music. "Are you sure you know what - "
"We know what we want," Rose asserted. "We know who we want. And we know what we're getting into. We've known for ages already."
"Not everyone can dance the way we did," Jack said. "We're tuned to each other. We…" Love you, Rose thought, but neither she nor Jack seemed ready to say it. She hoped the Doctor would hear it anyway.
"You might be ready," the Doctor said, her voice slow and heavy, "but what if I'm not? Did you think of that?"
Jack and Rose exchanged a glance. "Yes, we have," Rose said. "We'll take things at your pace. We can be your friends, if that's what you want." Even if the thought of never being anything more made something inside her crumble like ash.
"I want…" Suddenly, the Doctor looked strangely vulnerable, like a child very far from home. "I want, but I don't know how," she whispered. "You deserve better than that."
"We know how. We can teach you." Jack's hand was on the Doctor's shoulder. "That's what we're here for."
The Doctor hesitated. They were on the edge of some great precipice, and they didn't quite know what was at the bottom, Rose felt. "I'm a broken old woman," she said.
"You could be our broken old woman," Jack said, with a squeeze of the Doctor's shoulder.
"If you want," added Rose.
"Ah," said the Doctor, and her smile was secret, never to be shown to another. "I guess that's all right, then."
There's nothing quite like kissing the Doctor, Rose soon discovered. Her fingers ran through her hair like lightning, and the feel of her breath on her face was fierce as a gale, but her lips were soft and cool as the rain, flowing into Rose's upturned mouth. The only experience that could possibly compare was watching her and Jack kiss, their faces crashing together like waves to the shore. She didn't love Jack's kisses any less. The Doctor had the whole of the universe running through her mind as she kissed; when Jack kissed, Rose was all that existed for him, her mouth an entire world unto itself.
Afterward, Rose caught the Doctor with an expression like she was about to cry. But this was something private that she was not meant to have seen, so Rose pretended not to notice - but at their next stop, she and Jack wandered off into a meadow, then came back to the Doctor, their hands overflowing with tiny flowers.
XI. Love and Treachery in Cardiff
Mickey had a bad case of nerves. He wished he could make it go away. He wanted to be suave and appealing when he saw Rose again, so she could remember what she'd left behind, and maybe one day come back to it. But how could he measure up, when she'd been off traveling the universe and he was nervous because he'd never traveled further than Brighton before?
Part of him hadn't believed that the TARDIS would really be parked in the middle of Roald Dahl Plas, but there it was. Mickey wondered if the police would tow it. It would serve them right for being so - so - he didn't even know. He steeled himself before knocking on the door. He had to be ready for anything. No matter what the Doctor said, he couldn't let it set him off.
He knocked. Nothing he said to himself had prepared him for the sight of an unnervingly handsome man with a defiant expression, challenging Mickey as if he didn't belong. As if this stranger suddenly did. Oh my God, Mickey thought faintly. The Doctor's building a harem in there or something. First Rose, now this bloke.
Much to Mickey's chagrin, he didn't belong. Rose was more at home in this impossible machine, with a leather-clad alien and a bloke who looked like an action hero from one of his comic books, than she had ever been in the Powell Estates. He felt betrayed. Was there nothing about the life he and Jackie led that was worth living?
Who was this Captain Jack, really? He didn't seem like a real captain, but he could make the Doctor and Rose laugh like nothing Mickey had ever seen. He hadn't even known the Doctor could smile like that. The Captain was just another thing Rose loved about life on the TARDIS, another obstacle in the way of her ever coming home.
XII. A Life Less Fantastic
The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't break through these doors, but Rose swore to herself that she would.
"Let me out!" she cried, as much to the TARDIS as the Doctor. "What have you done?" She threw herself against the doors again, but it seemed the TARDIS and the Doctor were of one mind on this point: she would not be allowed to face death at the Doctor's side.
At first she thought she was imagining the Doctor's voice. It was roughened with more than just a Northern accent, its husky tones edged with a grave certainty. The back of her throat bitter with dread, Rose turned around.
"This is Emergency Programme One. Rose, now listen, this is important. If this message is activated, then it can only mean one thing." No, it can't be, Rose thought, but somewhere in the holographic Doctor's stance, she knew. Her shoulders were too squared, her tone so carefully even. Yet it still came as a shock when she went on to say, "We must be in danger. And I mean fatal. I'm dead or about to die any second with no chance of escape."
"No!" For a frantic moment, Rose forgot herself and imagined she could shake some sense into the Doctor - but she stopped short of the hologram when cold reality seeped back into her mind.
"But I promised to look after you, and that's what I'm doing. The TARDIS is taking you home. The pink button to the left of the console screen is programmed to call Jack's wrist strap. If he's still alive, he'll receive the signal and come take care of you. If not, then you need to let the TARDIS die."
Rose almost ran to the console to call Jack right away, but she feared she wouldn't get an answer, and all semblance of hope would be lost. She couldn't believe what the Doctor was asking her to do. Abandon the TARDIS? Abandon her?
The hologram of the Doctor turned to Rose, as if she were right there. Her transparent grey eyes were full of holographic static. "Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life."
As she watched the hologram sputter out, all Rose could think was: How can I have one without you?
XIII. I Shut My Eyes and All the World Drops Dead
The Doctor shut her eyes and readied herself to kiss Rose for the last time.
She didn't know for sure whether she'd be able to regenerate from the damage the fires of the vortex would cause as they wracked her body. She couldn't know for sure until it started happening. What she did know was that she'd never look at the universe through these eyes again. The marks that adventure and passion had inscribed on her body would be unwritten; these arms that carried, these fingers that caressed, these legs that held firm, would all be unmade. That didn't scare her. What scared her was leaving Rose alone.
All of this would fade from Rose's mind, its only footprints in fragments of dreams, but these last moments might stay. "Jack is alive," she whispered. "He died, but you brought him back. He'll make sure you're never alone." He burned bright and caustic at the edges of the Doctor's time sense, but that wouldn't matter to Rose. She loved and she loved, and it had no ending.
Their lips met in a cascade of golden fire. The Doctor didn't even feel the pain.
XIV. I LIft My Lids and All Is Born Again
The first thing Rose knew when she woke was that she was home. Home, of course, didn't mean the Powell Estates, where one moment followed another in neat little rows. It meant the hum of the TARDIS reassuring her, down to her bones, that she was safe.
Light flooded into her mind, and Rose felt a gap in her memories she could probe but not fill, like the gaps in her mouth when she lost her milk teeth that she could never stop pressing with her tongue. The sight of the Doctor made Rose faint with relief, but none of the other pieces fit. There had been the Daleks, and the heart of the TARDIS, and - "What happened, Doctor? Did we save the world? Where's Jack? Did he - " She choked a little at the sense-memory of Jack's farewell kiss.
The Doctor spoke faintly, as if from the bottom of a deep well. "We did it, Rose. Couldn't have done it without you. Jack's fine. He'll be along any minute now." She let out a gasp of pain.
Rose rushed to her side, even though she wasn't feeling entirely steady herself. "Are you all right? What's happened?" She wished she could help support the Doctor on her wobbly legs, but the Time Lady was much taller and bulkier than her.
"The Daleks are gone. All gone. Lots of the Earth destroyed, but they'll bounce back. You humans always do. So do Time Lords, in fact, though not quite the same way. Really, I much prefer your species. All those people, helping us defend the Earth - they were fantastic. Takes a lot more than Daleks to make you back down." The Doctor nearly doubled over and let out another gasp. "Oh, there it goes, old insides dissolving away. Time for some new ones. I hope they serve me as well as the old guts did. Oof."
"You're not making any sense," Rose said, but the Doctor didn't quite seem to hear her.
The TARDIS doors opened and Jack stumbled in. He looked frightened and bewildered; his hands and shoes were grey with dust. "Where'd all the Daleks go?" he asked breathlessly. Then - "Rose? How did you get here? The Doctor sent you away!"
"Well, I wasn't going to have that, was I? Not gonna let you die out here while I sit around with my mum at the chippie! Now get over here and do something, the Doctor's in some kind of - " She trailed off at the sight of a golden flame flickering under the Doctor's skin.
"Get back!" the Doctor hissed with such vehemence that even her stubborn companions dared not disobey. "It's starting."
"What do you mean?" Dread was welling up beneath Rose's confusion.
"Hush now. Got only a minute left now to talk. Gotta pack in as much as I can. Oh, the times we've had, you and I. They're worth so much more than what I can say in sixty little seconds. Aah!" Jack and Rose lurched forward to help, but she waved them back. "Jack, you were a hero today. Don't you ever forget that. And Rose - oh, Rose. You were brave, and kind, and gentle. More than I would've ever thought possible." She lifted her eyes to the sweeping arch of the TARDIS ceiling, her legs spread apart and planted to the floor. "Don't be scared. I'm going to change, but I'll still be me. And best of all? You'll still be you. Both of you, you frustrating, fantastic - "
The golden fire burst out from beneath the skin, enveloping the Doctor in flame. The TARDIS' hum crescendoed. Rose covered her eyes, but the light shone through her eyelids and her upraised hands as if they were transparent. White sunbursts dazzled her for a moment, then she let her hands fall to her sides. She opened her eyes.
The TARDIS filled with screams.
XV. Hush, Children
Jack somehow managed to keep his head.
He'd heard the legends of the Time Lords, back in primary training for the Time Agency. They'd been compared to the ancient myths of the Phoenix and the Trickster. They were reborn from their ashes, just like the Phoenix, but they also changed their faces, like the Trickster. It still beggared belief to think that from the fires of rebirth had come a tall, skinny man who vibrated with energy like a taut string, but however improbable a man the regenerative blaze had produced, it was still the Doctor.
Jack clapped his hand over Rose's mouth. She stopped screaming. The Doctor didn't seem like stopping any time soon.
There was only one recourse, one higher authority to whom Jack could appeal. He reached out and stroked a particularly sensitive knob on the console. "Could you please make everyone take a deep breath and count to ten?" he murmured.
With that, the TARDIS' hum softened until it seemed almost to thicken the air. Jack felt loose-limbed and pliant, like he'd just had a round of really good sex. He was gratified to hear both Rose and the Doctor breathing evenly, if not exactly calmly.
"OK, first off," Jack began, not feeling very charitable to the Doctor despite the recent ordeal, "you should have told Rose about regeneration. I'm ex-Time Agency, but she has no idea that you're still the Doctor." When the Doctor seemed about to protest, Jack continued, "You're a bloke, Doc. I noticed. Get over it for however long it takes to tell Rose what just happened. Then you can get back to panicking - though might I say, you won't find me complaining about the new look."
The Doctor let out a long sigh, then looked up at Rose hangdog. "I'm sorry, Rose. Jack's right. I should've told you. Time Lords have a way of cheating death. When the old body's about to die, we regenerate into a new one. I was just…scared."
Rose shot a nervous look at Jack. "It's really her?"
"I'm not so sure about the 'her' part, but it's the Doctor all right." Both Rose and Jack closed in to hug the new Doctor, who looked faintly ridiculous in the old leather jacket on this new, lankier frame.
"This isn't the first time it's happened," said the Doctor, voice muffled by the embraces of Rose and Jack. "But Rassilon, I'm a bloke now. Never been one of those before."
"Just because you have a male body doesn't mean you're a man," Jack pointed out. "You have the tech to match up your body to what's in your mind, if you want."
"Those bits aren't the only part that's changed. I've got new teeth," the Doctor said, probing them a little, "and that's pretty weird. New fingers. But I've also got a whole new brain. Same old memories, same old me, really. But there's lots different. You know, I don't think I like pears anymore. Blech. Pears. Just the thought of them turns my stomach. And I've got this urge to bounce on my heels. Like this. I feel like a bloke now, Jack. It's all matched up, mind and body. Wouldn't want my breasts back if you offered them to me - oh, stop, I know what you're thinking. Anyway." He sniffed and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "So. Brand new body! Anyone got a mirror? Ooh, I might have in one of these pockets, let me…"
That was when the Doctor slumped backward into Jack, his mouth streaming translucent golden ribbons. Rose clapped a hand to her mouth in a wave of renewed surprise and fear. "Zero room," the Doctor hissed through clenched teeth. "It'll be the first door on your right - she'll see to that." No one had to ask who was meant by "she."
Jack hoisted the Doctor by the armpits, while Rose held up his feet. Sure enough, the first door swung open of its own accord, revealing a blank white room. The floor was springy, like thick memory foam, and the walls curved up like the inside of an eggshell. By the time Jack and Rose laid him on the floor, he was already asleep. "Better take these clothes off," Jack said. "They don't fit him anymore. Those jeans have got to pinch." Indeed, the jeans were so tight on the Doctor's legs that Jack almost had to take a knife to them to get them off. Finally, they managed to strip him naked. He lay on the white floor, slightly curled, like a child. Jack and Rose stood and stared at him wordlessly for a while.
He was slightly paler than their Doctor, but the long, lean muscles beneath the skin were the same. He had a light smattering of hair on his chest and legs, and a wild shock of it on his head. Their Doctor was handsome and striking, but this Doctor was downright pretty, Jack decided. Of course, that didn't mean anything. What sort of man was he?
"Will he still love us?" Rose blurted out.
Jack pulled Rose in close and kissed her on the cheek. "He's trusting us to take care of him when he's that vulnerable. In his place, I'd only want to be cared for by someone I love."
Rose pulled him down to sit on the floor and leaned over to lay her head in his lap. "It's just… strange," she said, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. "I mean, the Doctor wasn't exactly girly, but she was definitely a woman. I could complain to her about alien tampons and it wasn't weird or anything. It'll be strange now, I'll bet."
"Just because he's not a woman anymore doesn't mean he's forgotten what it's like to be one," Jack offered. He should have known that it would be harder for Rose. In the 51st century, he'd known people who switched genders as casually as Rose changed outfits. He felt assured that their relationship with the Doctor hadn't fundamentally changed; for his part, he was more preoccupied with what happened to the Daleks - and why he wasn't dead. What had his sacrifice meant, when it had been so easily undone?
"I don't know any blokes who can just…understand, the way she did." Rose reached up and cupped his cheek. "Except you, of course."
"Whatever he understood before, he'll still know now. You'll see, when he wakes up." Jack gently lifted Rose's head off his lap and spooned up behind her on the floor. "I think it's time for us to rest up too. There's something about this place."
"Yeah, there is," murmured Rose. "'S like…I'm being held in the TARDIS' hand. Or something." She went slack in Jack's arms, and her breathing evened out. Just when Jack thought she was asleep, though, she stiffened and gave a little cry. "Jack!"
"What is it, sweetheart?" he whispered in her ear.
"When I closed my eyes, I saw…" She shivered. "This golden light, and everything turning to dust."
Jack remembered the piles of dust, and the way it felt as it ran through his fingers. He suppressed a shiver of his own. "What can I do to help?"
"Something so I can sleep without seeing that again," Rose said.
What could he do in the face of something he couldn't begin to understand? Jack thought of darker days on the Boeshane, when the first wave of monsters came down from the heavens. He'd been old enough to imagine what was to come, but Gray had been too young to understand and too old not to be afraid. That was what he and Rose were, in the face of whatever had destroyed the Daleks: scared little children. So Jack did what his mother had done those many years ago. He sang a lullaby.
"Where the sea meets the shore and the sky meets the spray,
The waves to the seabirds will murmur all day:
Hush, children, hush, for our journey has been long.
Hush, children, hush, and listen to our song.
Where the shore meets the sea and the spray meets the sky,
The seabirds will ask them: why, why, why?
The waves will answer: Because we are old,
And we journeyed so far through the wind and the cold."
XVI. Tea and Sympathy
Some indefinable time span later, the Doctor sat bolt upright in the Zero Room. "That's what I need! Tea!"
Jack and Rose stirred feebly on the floor beside him. Jack got up first, then helped Rose do the same. "What is it, Doctor?" she asked sleepily.
"An infusion of tannins enhanced by Brownian motion. That's the kick-start this new body needs. Tea!" The Doctor sounded as if he'd spent his entire sleep puzzling out this solution.
"All right, settle down, Doc, we'll get you tea." Jack was already heading for the door. His clothes were very rumpled from having been slept in.
"Bring every kind we've got. I don't know which one I like anymore. I'm not even sure if I take milk. Or cow milk, at least. I might go for 52nd century lactating alligator milk." Rose stared at him, and shot glances toward the door, clearly eager for Jack to return and not leave her alone for too long with this strange new Doctor. "Oh, Rose. It's the good old bedhead, isn't it?" He'd lain back down and was giving her a goofy grin. "I love your bedhead. Shame you always shampoo it away so fast. There're centuries when bedhead is the major fashion craze."
"S'pose you ought to know," Rose said, looking at the Doctor's own spiky mop.
"I don't know!" the Doctor declared. "I don't even know what I look like! Now where's that mirror…" He reached down towards his pockets out of reflex, only to find his own skin. "Oi! Why am I naked?"
"Couldn't just leave you here in those clothes, could we? They didn't fit you anymore! What, am I not allowed to see you naked now 'cause you're a bloke? When we're in the TARDIS, Jack's naked more often than he's got clothes on!"
Just then, Jack came in wearing nothing but a smile and a tea tray. The Doctor gave him an exasperated but fond look. "Now that's what I call service," he said approvingly.
Rose's stern expression dissolved into a giggle. "Jack!"
"Those clothes were covered in dust, and I slept in them. I couldn't've kept them on a moment longer." He set the tray down. In a tone that clearly implied things other than tea, he said, "What will your pleasure be, sir?"
The Doctor lifted the teabags and sniffed one by one. When he reached the Darjeeling, his face lit up with delight. "Darjeeling! I love a good Darjeeling."
"Darjeeling it is." Jack dropped the teabag into the 24th century teapot, which flash-boiled the water, rapid-steeped the tea, and gave a beep to show that it was ready. He poured it out into a mug that read I was chased by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal and all I got was this stupid mug.
The Doctor propped himself up on his elbows and sipped at the tea. He grimaced, then added a tablespoon's worth of sugar. After that, he sipped with a lazy smile of contentment. "That's the stuff. I'll still need some more rest, but we'll be on the road again in no time."
Rose said in a small voice, "Can we go visit my mum?"
"Now?" The Doctor didn't seem thrilled by the prospect of spending his post-regeneration convalescence in the Powell Estates.
"She'll be worried about us."
The word "us" seemed to have an effect on the Doctor. He leaned on Jack, who started toward the console room. "Oi!" the Doctor squawked. "Hang on a minute! I'm not going to pilot the TARDIS in the altogether, and neither are you."
"Why not?" Jack demanded, but Rose was already sprinting off to fetch their dressing gowns. Jack's was deep blue, made of thick terrycloth, and hardly ever used. The Doctor's was burgundy silk, cut in a feminine style, and would probably be a bit short on him now, but it would do. She came back and helped the Doctor into his dressing gown, while Jack reluctantly put on his.
They led the Doctor along until he was able to rest his weight against the console. Jack took position at right angles to him and initiated the materialization sequence. The Doctor programmed the coordinates and shouted instructions to Rose: "Ding the bell near my left elbow - no, not that one! The other one!"
The landing was turbulent, but they managed it. Jack and Rose half-carried the Doctor out of the TARDIS, only to be greeted by Jackie and Mickey's disbelieving faces.
"Rose! You're OK!" Mickey exclaimed.
"Oh my God," Jackie cried. "You've got another bloke now?"
"Mum, this is…" Rose took a steadying breath. "This is the Doctor."
"She went and got a sex change? I thought she was kind of butch," Mickey muttered.
Jackie rounded on him. "I don't want to hear another word out of you, Mickey Smith! The poor thing's half-dead on his feet, and you're making jokes! Can't you see he needs help?"
Mickey shuffled his feet. "Sorry. I really am glad you're alright."
Rose looked at her mother in a funny sort of way, her eyes wide and a little watery. Jackie helped Rose and Jack haul the Doctor into her flat, despite his mumbled protests that he didn't need this much help thank you very much, and even gave up the bed for him. She didn't laugh at the sight of him spread-eagled on the bed in a woman's dressing gown, even though Jack and Rose would be the first to admit that it was more than a little funny. When she left them alone with the Doctor for a moment and went to put the kettle on, Rose wrapped her arms around Jack's bicep and rested her cheek on his shoulder.
"Never thought she'd be so nice to him," she said.
"She's happy he sent you home. That he wanted to keep you safe."
"It wasn't him who did that. It was her. Our Doctor."
"Rose." She looked at Jack. "It was him. The Doctor who loves you and wants you safe - he's right in front of us."
She stared at the Doctor for a long time, wondering what dreams unfolded beneath those eyelids she'd never kissed. She thought of the adventure, the wonder, and every joyous moment when they'd ran together, hand in hand. There had been so much running, and hadn't been away from danger, but toward home. The Doctor may have changed, but the running - that was the axis of his being.
Somewhere beyond the door, the kettle whistled on the stove.
Rose looked very young wrapped up in one of her old blankets, her hands clasped around a cup of tea. Jack was much quieter than usual, but still managed to charm Jackie with a few well-placed comments about her lovely hairstyle and the tasteful decor of the flat.
"So the Doctor's a bloke now," repeated Mickey for the tenth time.
"Seems like," said Rose.
"And the world was ending in the future," said Mickey. "Neither of you seem too bothered about it."
Rose smiled and shared a look with Jack over her teacup. "We're just glad he's safe. That's all that matters."
"But isn't it all going to change now?" Jackie seemed a bit disbelieving. "She - I mean he - it'll be different, won't it?"
"I'm sure it will. The only thing you can bet on when you travel with the Doctor is that things will always be different." Jack gave Rose another knowing look.
"But some things'll always stay the same." Steam floated up into Rose's face, a shroud of stories untold. "We didn't go with the Doctor 'cause her eyes were blue, or 'cause she sounded like she was from the North. We run with the Doctor because we want to see the universe, and meet new people, and make life better. And that's not gonna change."
Rose picked up her teacup and shuffled to the Doctor's bedside, her blanket trailing behind her. Jack nodded to Mickey and Jackie, then followed Rose, lifting up the end of the blanket so she wouldn't trip. They sat shoulder to shoulder by the Doctor's bed.
The Doctor slept, but his eyes darted back and forth beneath their lids, caught in a dream - for it came to pass one winter's night that the Doctor didn't dream of fire. He dreamed of a girl who dared to see the stars, of a con man who became a hero - and the days that were to come.