After the first few decades, she finds she cannot rest in young places.
She lingers in the oldest cities, in their cathedrals and crypts, but years pass and soon she feels the pull of ruins, of broken stone and the shelter of sunken rooms far from sunlight, long empty and buried deep.
There are so many things in the world older than she is. It helps to be reminded.
When she was a girl she said, “You can’t really be 900 years old. I don’t believe you.”
“You shouldn’t,” the Doctor said. He touched the controls of his ship, and it shivered beneath his hands – responsive, but stubborn. He grinned, too widely. “I’m much older.”
“You’re a liar,” Rose Tyler said, and if there was something flirtatious in her smile, some coy twist of her hips, well – she had been very young, then. Very young, and very human. “You’re a terrible liar, and I obviously can’t trust a thing you say.”
The Doctor was an old man who didn’t look it, not even in his eyes. His eyes were blue that day, blue and laughing and ill matched with the hard lines of his soldier’s face. That day his eyes had been younger than hers, and she couldn’t help but shiver a little (stubborn, but responsive) when he turned from the ship’s controls and looked at her.
“Excuse me,” the Doctor said. “I’ll have you know I’m a very good liar. One of the best, in fact.”
“Now that I believe,” Rose had said, and they’d both laughed.
She’d probably thought it was a funny thing to say, at the time. She doesn’t really remember now.
When she is in Paris, she sleeps in the catacombs.
There are tunnels forbidden to the tourists, long-buried paths used now only by rats and the lingering dead. The rats are thin, but their blood is thick enough; her fellow revenants are quiet, and keep mostly to themselves.
Rose has never seen a true ghost, but she knows when one is near. She is as cold as the air, as the stone floor at her feet and the low ceiling above; they are colder. She spends the daylight hours sheltered beneath bleached walls of their bones, listening for the dry dust whisper of their voices.
The Doctor didn’t believe in ghosts. He’d died a number of times himself, he said, and never once felt the slightest desire to haunt anything.
Rose catches rats in the white-boned dark and thinks that she may have only died once, but she certainly knows a great deal more about it than he ever has.
The Gelth were sentient blue gas, and Scotland’s werewolf a lupine wavelength haemovariform; when they arrived in 18th century Prague to rumours of vampires, Rose rolled her eyes and said, “Let me guess. Invasion of the Plasmophiles.”
That day, the Doctor’s eyes were brown. He frowned and jammed his hands in the pockets of his long coat, not meeting her eyes. “Plasmovores, actually. And they’re not the only species to feed through exsanguination, just the most likely.”
She looped her arm through his and smiled. “You take me to the nicest places,” she said, and leaned into his side. He leaned back, a solid, shoulder-sharp counterbalance to her weight, and said:
“Vampires it is, then. You up for it?”
She gave him an eloquent, impatient look.
“Right,” he said, “stupid question,” and led her out of the lamp-lit inn and into the night.
She returns to London for the Blitz. She isn’t sure why.
Neither the blackout nor the bombs trouble her, but she often spends her nights in the Underground shelters, curled in a threadbare wool coat she doesn’t need. She sits alone, and watches.
It’s been some years since she spent much time around the living. Paris was a city of vibrant nights long before the now inescapable burn of electricity, but she’s spent decades below ground, sleeping amongst bones and moss. The riot of sound and life around her now – the newspapers and bedrolls, the small talk and cigarette butts and wax paper wrapped sandwiches – the intensity of it overwhelms her, and weighs like a stone upon her chest. It’s almost suffocating, and for a moment she remembers what it was like to breathe. To need breath, the way she once needed so many things.
She watches the men and women and children of London around her, hears their lungs fill and their hearts beat and their voices echo against tile walls, and she inhales once, deeply – an experiment. She exhales and tastes the thin layer of dust that’s collected at the back of her throat.
“Rose?” a girl’s voice asks above her. “Rose, is that you?”
The girl is not a girl but a woman – a young mother with a fair-haired son. She is smiling, but hesitantly. Rose does and does not look like the girl she met, not so many months ago; she thinks she might be mistaken, and bothering a stranger.
“Nancy,” Rose says, because that is the woman’s name. Her voice sounds like stones grinding together, like the grit on the floor of the Paris catacombs. She’ll have to drink before she can sound like herself again. She coughs into her hands, clearing away the worst of the dust. “Nancy, Jamie. Hello.”
Jamie stares at her. “You’re the lady who helped the Doctor. The funny-faced man.”
“Jamie—” Nancy scolds, but her next words are lost in a long howl of sound from above. Behind the tiled walls of the station, the earth shudders. Rose feels it; she doesn’t think the others can.
“Bombs are close tonight,” Nancy says, as if commenting on the weather. “The Doctor’s not up there, is he?”
He might be, for all Rose knows. He’s been stranger places. “I don’t know,” she says. “We don’t travel together anymore.”
Jamie is still staring at her, eyes blue and watery wide. “Are you ill?”
Nancy grips his shoulder. “Jamie—”
“It’s all right,” Rose says. She sits forward a bit, easing away from the wall. Rests her elbows on her knees and stares back at the boy, hiding nothing. “You have eyes, Jamie. Do I look ill?”
The boy steps closer. He smells like the streets above, like smoke and ash and winter sweat. He’s not as thin as he was when Rose met him months (centuries) ago, when a bomb that wasn’t a bomb twisted a hungry child into a monster. That had been a long night, and Rose remembers it now, looking at the boy’s full cheeks and the steady swell of the pulse at his throat.
Rose has not seen her own reflection in nearly two hundred years; she doesn’t know what the boy sees in her face that makes him stumble back and reach for his mother’s hand. He grips it until his knuckles turn white.
“You’re not the lady,” Jamie says, breathless with curiosity and fear. “You’re not her at all.”
Rose stands. The dead do not move like the living, and Nancy’s eyes go wide. Rose slips out of her wool coat and offers it, folded over one arm. “Take it. I won’t need it.”
Nancy takes the coat slowly, with the caution one uses when confronted with a suddenly dangerous animal. “The Doctor—”
“Can’t save everyone,” Rose says. “You met him on a good day.” She looks down at Jamie. “The Tube draws all sorts at night. Do you know what to do if you see someone like me?”
“Yes,” Jamie says. “Run.”
“Clever boy.” She nods to Nancy and walks away, into deeper shadows.
It was Prague in 1774, and she’d wandered off.
The night had been a scavenger hunt of corpses, the freshly dead with their throats ripped out and blood drained clean. Always a step behind, they’d found five bodies tucked neatly away in alleys, in an innkeeper’s cellar and beneath bridges.
Rose’s skirts were splattered with mud, her hair loose in its pins; the Doctor was walking in circles around the corpse of a rather surprised-looking banker, muttering to himself about bicuspids and coagulation. He had the sonic in his hand, but for once he didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
The Vltava flowed dark behind her, a long worm of a river that smelled of the growing city and the winter cold depth of its waters. Rose stood at the edge of the pavement, listening.
“Doctor, do you hear that?”
He wasn’t paying attention. “Plasmovores don’t feed like this,” he said, just as he’d said at the first body, and the second. “I’ve never seen anything that fed like this.” He crouched beside the banker and shone the sonic’s light into the dead man’s face, illuminating his own. His eyes were brown, and worried. “That innkeeper said the dead were rising from their graves.”
“Yeah, but he also said the chewy bits in the house specialty stew were beef, so he might not be the most reliable source of information.” The sound rose again over the water – a woman crying, or singing. Wind hissing along the underside of the bridge. “Do you really not hear that?”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Rose, five people have died and I haven’t the slightest idea how or why. I need to think.”
“You need me to shut up.”
“If you think you can manage it, yes.” He winced. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
He had, but it didn’t matter. He’d been different since the night they’d freed the Isolus, though she couldn’t say exactly how. This new desperation took strange and subtle forms. He needed her close, and to pretend she wasn’t there. Wanted her to step back, and to stay forever.
The sky in the east was growing lighter. It would be dawn soon, and the deaths would stop until nightfall. Rose closed her eyes and listened to the wind. To a sound like singing, or grief.
“I’ll be back,” she said, and walked away.
The Doctor never looked up from the body.
She comes at night to linger at the edge of the construction. The workers have gone, but the Powell Estate stands pale against the sky, half-finished and raw in the citylight. It is not a beautiful place, and never will be. She watches it in silence and feels something like movement in her chest. A memory of her heart’s beat.
Somewhere in the city her mother and father have met, are meeting, and are in love. Her father is still alive; his daughter soon will be.
The window of her mother’s flat is open above her, dark and glassless. Rose thinks about climbing to it and passing the night within its walls. If she liked she could watch the sun rise from her bedroom, and for a brief, blissful moment pretend she has a heart that works and lungs that breathe and hands that still reach for the warmth of the sun.
She could burn in her mother’s flat, and let the workmen sweep her ashes away come morning. She could, but she won’t.
Two hundred years later, and she is still afraid to die.
The river led her to the woman.
Rose followed the sound across the water, over one bridge to the cobblestone shadows beneath another. The Vltava ran almost black here; Rose pressed a hand under her nose and tried not to gag from the smell. She stepped deeper into the dark.
The woman was curled in the shelter of the bridge. She wore a dress finer than the one Rose had found in the wardrobe, and its full skirts were lush and heavy with lace. It was ruined, shredded at the hem and black with filth. Her hair was loose, and hid her face. Rose could not see her lips as she sang.
The lullaby was high, lilting, Bohemian and unfamiliar – after a moment’s delay the words shifted, twisting to English in Rose’s mind.
“Sleep, Johnny, sleep,” the woman sang in a sweet, broken voice. “I’ll give you apples three. One will be red, and the second green. Sleep, Johnny, sleep.”
Rose moved closer. When she was just outside arm’s reach, she crouched down and tried to see the face behind the dirt-matted hair. “Hello,” she said, gently. “My name is Rose. What’s yours?”
The woman flinched away. There was worse than mud staining her dress, Rose could see now; a long, black viscous stain spread from her collar down the left side of her bodice. The woman pressed her hand to her mouth, muffling her song. “Sleep, Johnny, sleep,” she sang through her fingers. “Close your little eyes. Sleep, love, sleep.”
“It’s all right,” Rose said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman laughed. Her body shuddered with it, the sound rattling low and harsh in her throat. Then she lifted her head, and Rose saw her face.
The dead do not move like the living; Rose tried to shout for the Doctor, but the woman had her arms, was wrenching her off her feet and down to the stones. Rose fell, breathless from the impact, and the woman straddled her chest. Her weight was impossible, crushing; Rose struggled, and cold, blackened fingers closed around her mouth and nose.
“Please,” the woman said, weeping without tears, her teeth stained with gore. “Please, I don’t want to. I never wanted—”
Rose fought with hands and fingernails and all the strength of her legs and hips. She raked bloody lines across the woman’s skin, her arms and face, but nothing moved her. She wept, and Rose choked on the air in her lungs.
Then the weight was gone and Rose’s skirts were shoved up around her chest, her body exposed from the waist down. “Please,” the woman said, “please help me,” and bit deep into the artery in Rose’s left thigh.
“Is it like people say?” the boy asks. His face is gaunt, his hair an unwashed bottle black. He leans into her, closer than she’d like. “Is it just like going to sleep?”
The boy is a squatter, like her. He is nineteen, maybe twenty – young enough to see her for what she is, and old enough to be foolish and unfrightened. His name is Razor, or Butcher, or Tony. She has known many boys like him; they always ask the same questions. She finds them in alleys, sleeping in graveyards or abandoned blocks of flats. She finds them, or they find her.
She does not drink from them, not even when they ask. They die young enough without her help.
This one smells alive still, like cooking oil and cigarettes and piss. His pulse throbs at the base of his throat; she wants to touch it with a fingertip. To feel the give of his living skin.
She curls her hand into a fist. “What do you want it to be like?” she asks. The boy grins, very young and very human. He’s half-hard against the zip of his trousers.
“Not like sleeping,” he says, and the hunger in his eyes makes her tired. “What was it like for you?”
They always ask the same questions, and she always gives the same answers. “It was a long time ago,” she says. “I don’t remember.”
Rose watched her last dawn from beneath a bridge in Prague, beside the black waters of the Vltava.
The woman drank her hollow, humming against the open flesh of her thigh. The pain of it faded as the cold set in; Rose watched the sky and bled warmth into the stones below. Into the hot suction of the woman’s mouth.
“Sleep, Johnny, sleep,” Rose sang, her voice wrecked beneath the melody. “I’ll give you apples three. One will be red, and the second green. Sleep, Johnny—”
The woman ripped her mouth free. “Stop it.”
“I don’t know the rest,” Rose said. It was hard to find the breath to speak, but she did. “You could…teach me.”
The woman wiped her mouth on the ragged sleeve of her dress and moved up Rose’s body to sit again on her chest. She was warm, and her eyes were bright. “You’ll be dead soon,” she said, not unkindly. “You will have little use for it.”
Rose could not argue with that. Still she lifted a hand and touched the woman’s wrist. Her fingers looked like bone against the flush of the woman’s skin. “Please,” Rose said. “Help me.”
Somewhere in the city, a church bell began to count out the hour. The woman looked down at the hand on her wrist. “My husband wept at my funeral. I could hear him through six feet of gravesoil. It was unmanly, but I did not care.” She met Rose’s eyes. “I killed him first, before I went to my son’s cradle. I do not think I would have waited, if he hadn’t wept.” She shifted on Rose’s chest, digging her knees deeper into the ground. “Do you have a husband?”
“No,” Rose said.
“Good.” The woman lifted her arm and bit hard into her own wrist. Something darker and richer than blood seeped down her forearm. She held the wound over Rose’s mouth, just out of reach. “You have to offer them the choice, if they ask. The man who killed me told me that, and now I’m telling you.” Something darker than blood dripped onto Rose’s chin. “If you drink, it’s your choice.”
Rose looked at the wound. Her vision was black at the edges, fading even as the sky grew bright with sun. The air rippled where it touched the woman’s skin, like waves of heat rising from pavement on the hottest of summer days. As Rose watched the woman’s face began to warp and crack at the nose and mouth, the skin charcoal black and curling away from bone. Rose inhaled and smelled smoke. Smoke, and the heavy sweetness of rot.
“The sun,” Rose said. “You’re—”
“I know,” the woman said, her jawbone chalk pale through the blackened flesh. “I was frightened before, but I’m not now.” She lowered her bleeding wrist to Rose’s lips. “Drink or don’t, but decide soon. It’s almost dawn.” She turned and looked over her shoulder at the sky. “I thought I’d never see it again.”
Rose opened her mouth and drank deep.
A boy and a girl are sitting on a park bench in an empty playground. It is night, and they think they are alone. The girl straddles the boy’s lap, a pair of red knickers dangling from one ankle; the boy is trying to open a condom wrapper with his teeth. They are both laughing.
“Oh, to be young again,” a man’s voice says from the shadows behind her. “I never used to believe it, but youth really is wasted on the young.”
Rose doesn’t turn around. On the bench, the girl takes the condom and opens it with one good rip. Rose leans into the park’s chain link fence and smiles. “Hello, Jack.”
Jack Harkness steps out of the shadows and stands beside her. She hasn’t seen him since the Brixton riots in ‘81, but he hasn’t changed. It’s a warm night, and his shirtsleeves are rolled to his elbows; his waistcoat is grey silk. He doesn’t belong among here anymore than she does.
He grins, showing white, even teeth. It looks forced. “I wondered how long it would be before you showed up. You held out longer than I expected.” He looks her up and down. “Looking a bit peaky there, Rosie. Getting enough iron in your diet?”
“That an offer?”
He winks at her. “You know it.”
Jack had first let her drink from him in Paris, in the 1880s. Or maybe the early 90s; she hadn’t kept time very well that century. She’d drained him to the point of death three times, but his blood was like seawater, and drinking from him only worsened her thirst. He still offers from time to time, and she still refuses.
Jack knows he cannot die; if he hasn’t yet realised that he is no more alive than she is, she doesn’t want to be the one to tell him.
On the bench, the girl and the boy have stopped laughing. The girl’s hair is long and bottle blonde, and the boy twists his fingers into its length as she rides him with slow, practiced rolls of her hips. Jack doesn’t even pretend not to stare.
“This era isn’t what you’d call open-minded about public sex,” he says. “Did you get caught?”
“Not tonight,” Rose says. She exhales once, through her nose. She doesn’t need to, but sometimes she breathes just for the sensation. “This is the last time Jimmy and I have sex. In a week he’ll leave me, and I’ll move back into my mum’s flat, unemployed and 2,000 pounds in debt. In two years I’ll be with Mickey again, working as a shopgirl in a department store.”
Jack is watching her carefully. “And then you’ll meet the Doctor.”
The girl fucking Jimmy Stone on a park bench moans his name, and Rose looks away. “She will. I’ll be in a crypt beneath Rome or Paris or Lisbon, scrubbing the rat’s blood out of my clothes.” She gives him a crooked smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”
Jack shrugs. “You could always come work for me,” he says. “The hours are terrible, but we’ve got an underground office and all the rats you can eat.”
“And if there’s a cure,” he says, suddenly serious, “Rose, if there’s some way to undo this, we’ll find it. Torchwood has the resources—”
“I’ve heard all about your resources,” she says, more sharply than she means to. “I may literally live under a rock, Jack, but I’m not deaf. I’d sooner take a kip in a tanning bed than give Torchwood evidence that there are worse things than aliens waiting in the dark.” She takes another breath. Inhales and exhales again, and then meets his eyes. “I’m not sick, Jack. This isn’t some exotic extraterrestrial disease, and it isn’t something you can save me from. There’s only one cure, and I’m not ready for it yet. All right?”
Jack looks away. There’s a silence. “Yeah,” he says. “All right.”
The girl on the park bench comes, her head tipped back to the sky. Rose watches and remembers the steadying grip of Jimmy’s hands at her waist, and the hot stretch of him inside her. She’d touched herself as he’d whispered in her ear, and now even from across the empty playground she can hear the words.
“Oh, Rose,” the boy says. “Oh baby, I love you. Love you so fucking much.” He comes, gasping.
Rose shakes her head and smiles. “It’s funny, the things that stay with you. I’ve forgotten a lot about my life, but I remember tonight. I remember this.”
The boy and the girl on the park bench are laughing again. The girl kisses the boy’s face, just above his left eyebrow. “You loved him,” Jack says.
Rose nods. “Sometimes,” she says.
The boy tosses the used condom in the bin while the girl pulls her knickers up under her skirt. The boy is hungry; he wants pizza, or a Chinese. The girl makes a weak joke about working up an appetite and as she crouches down to pick up the torn condom wrapper from the pavement, she sees them.
A man and a woman are standing in the shadows outside the playground, leaning on the chain link fence. Even in the dark the girl can see that the man is handsome, square-jawed and well dressed. The woman is blonde and unnaturally pale, and though she wears a dark coat and trousers she doesn’t seem to feel the summer heat. Her face is impossibly familiar.
Two hundred and thirty-two years later, Rose raises a hand in silent greeting, and the girl waves back.
“You knew,” Jack says, an uncertain edge to his voice. “You saw us tonight, and you remembered.”
The girl and the boy walk away, hand in hand. Off to their pizza, or their Chinese. Rose has forgotten which they chose. “For the longest time I thought I’d imagined it. Then after I’d been traveling in the TARDIS for a while and met you, I figured we’d just stopped in 2003 one night to play memory lane voyeur.”
“Not by your standards,” she says. “Or mine, these days.” She pushes away from the fence. “I should eat before dawn. It was nice to see you, Jack.” He lets her reach the street before he calls out and stops her.
“I’m still looking for him, Rose. I haven’t given up.”
Rose stands still, her hands in her pockets. She looks left, to the jumbled layers of graffiti painted on the brick wall at her side. “If you find him, and if he asks—”
“If he asks, you’ll tell him you haven’t seen me. You don’t know where I am.”
Jack hesitates. “I don’t like lying to him.”
“But you will.”
“Only for you,” he says. “And only once.” He walks over and kisses her cheek. He smells alive, even if he isn’t, and she feels the hunger like the weight of stone on her chest. He steps back, leaving a hand on her shoulder. “You can tell me, you know. Whatever you did, whatever you’re punishing yourself for—”
“Next time,” she says. “Next time, I’ll tell you everything.” She gently pushes the hand from her shoulder. “Goodnight, Jack.”
“Goodnight,” he says, but she’s already walking away.
She won’t see him again.
Rose woke in the dark, inside a cheap pine wood box.
She pressed her hands to the lid. She didn’t push, or struggle, or pound her fists against it. Just laid palm to wood and closed her eyes.
She could smell the earth around her, above and below. At her feet and beyond her head. For a moment she felt weightless, as if suspended in water or the midnight vacuum of space. She floated beneath the surface of the world, untethered and unrestrained, and for that moment, there was peace.
Then she heard the scrape and shift of a spade overhead. I’m being graverobbed, she thought, and it was almost funny until she tried to call out and found she had no breath to do so. She was suffocating.
She opened her eyes and saw nothing, opened her mouth and tasted wood dust and dead air and the milk-sour stench of the pauper’s dress they’d buried her in. She beat her hands against the lid of the coffin, screaming without breath or sound, and the spade above her doubled its pace. Then there was a heavy tread of footsteps, the scrape of metal on wood, and someone was prying the lid free.
“Rose,” the Doctor said, and she was in his arms.
The dark soil walls of the grave rose above them, opening onto the clouded night sky; she sucked in great mouthfuls of air, desperate and choking. The Doctor was murmuring in her ear, a nearly inaudible mantra of comfort and relief – you’re all right, I’ve got you, you’re all right – but though she felt the hiss of breath as her lungs expanded and contracted, she was still suffocating. Her body breathed, and it meant nothing.
The woman had offered her the blood, and she’d drunk until the wrist in her mouth burned to ash.
“Need to get you into the TARDIS infirmary, start a transfusion,” the Doctor said into her matted hair, his fingers clenched in the coarse bodice of her dress. “You slipped into a coma after it finished feeding, and these medieval-minded morons sent you straight to the nearest cut-rate undertaker. Probably for the best, really – a doctor might’ve chopped your head off and stuffed your mouth with garlic. A difficult fix, even for me.” He pressed a hard kiss to the top of her head. “They buried you hours ago, Rose. I thought I was too late.”
She breathed again, drowning out the terrible stillness inside her. The rising quiet. “I was cold,” she said. “I just – I remember being cold.”
“Blood loss,” he said. He struggled out of his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Your body temperature is still dangerously low. We need to get you into the TARDIS.” He pulled her to her feet. “If I give you a leg up, can you make it out?”
The walls of the open grave rose just above his head; she nodded, and he boosted her up with two hands cupped under her bare foot. She pulled herself easily to the surface.
There was no marker at her grave, or at any of the fresh graves around her. She’d been buried at the edge of a small churchyard, in the shadow of a chapel abandoned to the brambles and weeds. The TARDIS stood beside it, door open and its windows warm with the glow of the light inside.
The spade landed on the grass beside her with a thump, and the Doctor followed it up a moment later. His suit was black with filth, his face smudged with gravesoil and silt from the river. “No Prince Charming jokes,” he said, and scooped her up into his arms.
She tucked her face against his neck and let him carry her toward the TARDIS. “My hero,” she said, and felt his pulse jump in his throat.
“Yeah, well.” He shifted his arms, holding her closer. “Don’t get used to it. You’re a lot heavier than you look.”
“Shut up.” The skin of his neck was warm and smelled of sweat. It was not a human smell, but she knew it too well to find it alien. She curled her hands against his chest and listened to the heavy double beat of his hearts. The air in his lungs and the rush of blood beneath his skin.
She kissed his throat once, a breathless brush of her lips. He kept walking, and pretended not to notice. Under her hands, his hearts beat faster.
She kissed him again, and tasted his sweat with her tongue.
He stumbled. The arms around her tightened, more reflex than invitation, but now she knew the taste of him, and the heat. She sucked at the skin over his pulse, twisting in his grip as want flared like a flame in her chest. She’d been so cold, so still, but the Doctor would help her. He would give her what she needed.
He gasped her name, and she bit down until she tasted blood.
It ran hot over her tongue, bittersweet and thick, and as she swallowed she felt its warmth spread through her chest, through veins and nerve and sinew until she swelled with it, flushed with want. He spoke again, but words were nothing compared to the hammer of his hearts beat in her ears, the frantic wheeze of his breath. She drank deep, and the Doctor fell to his knees, his arms still locked around her.
“Please,” she said against his jaw, the word hissing through the sudden sharpness of her teeth. “Please, you’re so warm.”
He swayed and slumped backward, onto the loose soil and winter-dead weeds. She straddled his chest and drank again.
His fingers brushed her face blindly, her eyebrows and ears and the working muscles of her throat. For a terrible moment she expected him to push her away, to fight, but then the fingers pressed up into the soft underside of her jaw, where her pulse should be.
“Impossible,” he breathed, and buried a hand in her hair to draw her closer.
The heat of him pooled inside her, in the still hollow of her chest and the ache between her legs; she rocked mindlessly against him, seeking some sort of friction or release. His free hand traced the length of her spine, gathering the skirts of her pauper’s dress around her waist and leaving her naked and exposed to the air. Her hips jerked at the sensation.
“You’re all right,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I’ve got you, Rose. It’s going to be all right.” He slipped two long fingers inside her, where she was warm and slick with life, and when he groaned the sound was low and broken and nothing like pain.
She came quickly, three fingers working inside her and her teeth still at his throat. When the tremors stopped, his touch fell away. She lifted her head and looked at his face.
His eyes were dark and dilated, his cheeks colourless and wet. He’d been crying. “I’m so sorry, Rose,” he said. “I never—” He choked, and there was a horrible gurgling sound in his chest, the wet rattle of a last breath. He was dying.
She took his hand and held it against her chest, pressing fingers to his wrist to feel the slow flutter of his pulse. “The TARDIS,” she said, forcing herself to think through the panic. “If I get you to the infirmary, we can do a transfusion—”
He shook his head. “No time.”
She sobbed, desperate and wrenching, but there were no tears. “Can you regenerate?”
His fingers curled around hers. “Didn’t know this would happen,” he said, his voice so faint she had to strain to hear. “Impossible. Believe me?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I believe you.” She lifted a trembling arm and bit hard into her wrist. Something darker than blood welled to the surface of the wound. “I’m supposed to offer you a choice.”
The Doctor smiled. “Always a choice,” he said, and stopped breathing.
The churchyard was quiet but for the night wind in the trees and the rustle of grass. Rose looked up and saw that they’d been lying on a grave. The stone marker was old and weathered by time; after a moment the worn letters shifted into English, and she read the inscription.
I lived my life as an animal in a pen
But now am free at last
From bad wolves and worse men.
The wind stilled, and a single tendril of light slipped from the Doctor’s mouth. It floated in the air above him, a will o’ the wisp in Vortex gold. It shuddered, flickering like candle flame, and faded into the dark.
Then his body exploded with a sudden, brilliant light, and where it touched her, she burned.
Rose jerked back and landed hard on the ground, shielding her face with her hands. The Doctor’s body burned like a small sun, lighting the churchyard in blinding gold. Her skin drew tight and hot over the flesh of her hands, her arms and face, and she heard herself howling, an awful, inhuman wail in a stranger’s voice. She was going to burn.
“Rose,” the Doctor said, his face a mask of fire. “Run.”
She didn’t look back.
The gravestone is small. Like the London cemetery she finds it in, it is orderly, modern. Well cared for. The front of the stone is polished, the inscription engraved with the flawless precision of a machine.
Rose Marion Tyler
b. 27 April 1986
d. 18 January 1774
Beloved Daughter, Taken Too Soon.
Rose sits on the neat-trimmed grass over her grave, her hands folded beneath her chin. The sky is clearing overhead, night clouds driven west by the wind; it’s going to be a beautiful morning.
“Not the epitaph I would have chosen,” a man’s voice says from behind her. “But given the circumstances, I didn’t feel I had a right to object.”
Rose doesn’t look away from the gravestone. “You didn’t tell her.”
“Not the truth, no. Not all of it.” The man kneels beside her. He’s young, with an awkward, exaggerated face and floppy hair. He’s wearing a bowtie and a tweed jacket, and carries a fistful of white-petaled flowers. They look suspiciously like the sort planted in the flowerbeds at the cemetery gate. “I helped a bit with the funeral. Found some money, went back a few years and bought the plot in your name. Jackie wouldn’t let me do much more.”
Rose nods. “It’s a nice place. Better than a lot I’ve seen.”
He looks down at the flowers in his hand. “It’s got another four hundred years or so before the land is seized by a multi-galactic corporation and turned into a shopping compound. It was the best I could do, within London.”
“It’s nice,” Rose says again. “I’m glad she has a place to visit.” She turns and meets his eyes. “When I met you, you told me you were 900 years old. How old are you now?”
He gives her a long, steady look. “Older,” he says. “You?”
His eyes are hazel and wide as she leans in to kiss him. His lips are slightly chapped, and they open under hers. She moves to the fragile skin of his neck, and he shudders, face tilted back to the brightening sky. She pulls away, hunger like a twist of thorns in her throat. “You shouldn’t have let me.”
“But I did.” He buries a hand in her hair. “I’d do it again.” He bends until his forehead touches hers, his mouth warm and inches away. “I didn’t look for you, Rose. I couldn’t. What I wanted—”
Rose kisses him again, because she cannot stop herself. Because in the east, the sun is rising.
She breaks away, smiling. “Give me my flowers.”
“I know,” she says. “Give them to me anyway.”
He sets the flowers on the grave, at the foot of the stone marker. Beloved Daughter, it says. Taken Too Soon. His hand settles on the stone, just above her name. “I’m not leaving,” he says. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to be alone.”
She should make him go, but she won’t. The dead are selfish, and she has missed him. “I’m going to be honest with you,” she says. “I’m not sure how I feel about the bowtie.”
He laughs, but the sound is choked. “You and the rest of the universe.” He reaches for her hand, and she weaves their fingers together. “You ready?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I think I am.”
Together they watch the sun rise, and Rose is not afraid.