Chapter 1: Prophecy
Witness the fruit of many months' work, generously aided by my betas, studyofrunning and spiralstarfall. This story will update irregularly, since I am a full-time college student. This fic is a multimedia experience, so at one point in the text you will find a hyperlink to a song I arranged, sang, and recorded as a soundtrack to this part of the story. Bonus points if you can recognize any of the melodies I used.
Trollesund, Norroway, Earth, Omega Tau Universe
It was midnight in winter in Trollesund, and the townspeople with any sense at all were nestled in their beds under bundles of fur, retreating from the Arctic chill.
In one house near the harbor, the windows were still flooded with light. A young woman sat at a simple wooden desk, her head bent over a thick volume. Coiled around her neck was a lithe little creature, a pine marten, staring with equal concentration at a small dial that might have appeared, to the casual observer, to be a golden watch.
Out of the corner of her eye, the young woman noticed a silhouette flutter past her window. She looked up from her reading and watched the door expectantly. The pine marten followed her gaze.
The knock on the door was barely audible over the roar of the fire in the grate. “Come in.”
A fair woman stepped into the house, a pine branch clasped in her hand. Despite the bitter cold, she was clad in nothing but a few scraps of black silk and a garland of red flowers. She looked out of place in the small, modest house, like a leopard in a kennel. “Greetings, Lyra,” she said.
“Hello, Serafina Pekkala.” For any other guest, Lyra would have pulled up a chair, but Serafina had no need for such gestures.
“I came to check on your progress with the alethiometer.” Serafina Pekkala gave the barest nod toward the dial on Lyra's desk. “Even now, Kaisa is in council with the elders of the clan. They say that there is only a little time left before the new star disappears and the prophecy takes effect.”
Lyra stared out the window, where a single star blazed brighter than all the others. “It's been tricky. I've only had a few months, and the alethiometer's answered my questions very…cryptically.” She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “They're coming from Will's universe, Serafina. The three travelers. I thought it was impossible. The walls are sealed.” Her fists clenched and unclenched. “It's just not fair. If they can cross between worlds, why can't I?” The pine marten dug his claws into her sleeve, and she flinched. “Ouch, Pan.”
“Pantalaimon is right. This is not your prophecy to fulfill,” said Serafina sharply. “You know the consequences if you cross over. Now, what else have you learned?”
“I asked the alethiometer what the result will be of the events to come. What they lead to. I've only just worked out what it said, but it doesn't make any sense. I double-checked, cross-referenced, but I keep getting the same answer.” She held up the alethiometer so that Serafina Pekkala could see the thirty-six symbols painted around the dial, and pointed to two of the symbols as she spoke. “The needle stops once at the serpent, then indicates the 28th meaning of the owl.”
“So what does it mean?”
Lyra closed the alethiometer and frowned at it. “Bad wolf.”
Cardiff, Wales, Earth, Alpha Universe
“So, why aren't you helping him work on the TARDIS, then?” said Rose.
“I dropped a laser spanner on the cross-dimensional circuits. He started going on about primitive humans who can't tell a laser spanner from a rock hammer. Decided I'd be better off out here. Besides,” said Jack with a grin, “I never pass up a shopping trip. Ooh!” He rummaged through a sales rack and pulled out a brown dress with gold trim and a neckline that made Rose flush. “What?” he said. “Nothing wrong with showing off your assets.”
Rose laughed and smacked him gently on the shoulder. “If you buy me that, the Doctor'll dump you on the nearest uninhabited planet.”
“Nah, he'll be too distracted,” said Jack, eyes alight with mischief. He tugged meaningfully at the neckline, and Rose felt her cheeks turn even pinker. “Besides, he'd miss me too much. The TARDIS would be an cold, empty place without my charms.”
In retaliation, Rose grabbed a giant, floppy hat off a shelf and jammed it on Jack's head. He struck a pose. “How do I look?” The brim of the hat flopped down over his eyes. Rose giggled. “What? I think it brings out my – ”
Jack's chatter was interrupted by gasps and screams from the shoppers around them. Rose pulled the hat off and pointed out the window.
There was a hole in the sky. From the hole, shadows were falling across Cardiff.
“Jack, what are those things?” said Rose, indicating the shadowy figures. “They look like…ghosts.” As the shadows fell, they dissolved into the air, like snowflakes falling on a fire, vaporizing against the smoke.
“No such thing,” said Jack, half-whispering, his eyes still fixed on the hole in the sky. He took her gently by the hand. “Let's get back to the TARDIS.”
The streets of Cardiff were in turmoil. Rose held onto Jack as tight as she could so she wouldn't get swept away in the confusion. Someone was standing on an overturned crate, shouting about the end of days. “Repent!” came the cries over the hysterical throng. “The time has come to judge the souls of the living and the dead!”
Jack squeezed her hand reassuringly and guided her through the crowd. “Come on, Rose. I bet the Doctor's already figured out who's responsible and written a nice angry lecture about the error of their ways,” he said with a rakish smile, fitting his key into the TARDIS door.
The almost subliminal hum of the TARDIS was a welcome respite after the noisy confusion of the Plass. The Doctor was watching the screen on the console and scowling. “You lot,” he said, and Rose could just hear him rolling his eyes. “The most superficial resemblance to one of your old myths, and you think it's the end of days. Typical.”
“Hey, we're not the ones worried about the end of the world,” Jack pointed out. “I consider a day wasted if I haven't prevented at least one apocalypse.”
“He's in one of his 'lesser species' moods. No use arguing with him.”
“Oi!” said the Doctor, without looking up from the screen.
“It's the truth.” Rose sidled up to him. “So, what's going on? What are those things in the sky?” She sensed Jack drawing up to the Doctor's other side.
“According to these readings,” said the Doctor, eyeing a series of interlocking lines and circles on the screen that the TARDIS either couldn't or wouldn't translate, “that hole in the sky is a portal to another universe.”
“But that's impossible,” Jack said.
“Impossible? Why?” demanded Rose.
The Doctor looked up from the screen at her. “Pick a number. One or two.”
Rose was confused, but she could tell from the set of his jaw that he wasn't playing games. “All right. Two.”
“At the moment you made that choice, the universe split off. Somewhere out there, there's a parallel universe in which you chose one. Now, that universe probably won't be much different from ours. But there are so many choices, so many places where the path splits, that there are infinite parallel universes to ours, some of them more different than you can imagine.” He turned back to the screen and spoke in a muffled tone, pretending to be preoccupied with the streams of data. “Once upon a time, my people could travel between realities in our TARDISes.” The only visible sign of his grief was the bob of his Adam's apple as he swallowed, hard. “Now the walls are sealed off.”
Rose put her hand on the Doctor's forearm. Jack studied the lines of his face, but left a hand's-breadth of distance between them. “So…why's there a hole between them now?”
“I don't know.” He jerked upright, as if suddenly awoken from deep sleep. “But the portal's moving, and fast. The rate it's going, it could destabilize the wall between this universe and the one it connects to. We need to follow it. It's accelerating.” The screen switched to a map of Cardiff, a glowing blue dot indicating the portal's location. It was zigzagging crazily across the city, too fast for the eye to follow.
Rose frowned at the image. “It wasn't moving like that when we were outside. Something's changed.”
The Doctor blinked in surprise, then sprang to action, turning dials and flicking switches with frantic purpose. “Help me lock the TARDIS to the portal's coordinates, Jack.”
Rose stood and thought for a moment as her two friends dashed around the console, hands and mallets flying. “Do you think it's got something to do with the Rift?” She could feel the TARDIS dematerialising, and grabbed onto a coral strut just as it began to jolt from side to side.
“It's not part of the Rift, or it couldn't move beyond the boundaries of it,” said the Doctor, tilting and swaying to keep his balance. “But the portal should be drawn to weak spots between universes.”
“Doctor! Look out!” cried Jack. The Doctor felt the man collide into him, sending them both into the rondeled wall. He felt rather than saw the sparks showering from the console. His time senses screamed in unison. Reality itself shivered. Jack gasped. Rose had fallen on top of him, knocking the breath out of him.
The lights dimmed to blue. The Doctor's eyes fluttered shut. There was nothing he could do, but sitting by helplessly while the TARDIS sang confusion and shock was the worst thing of all.
The console flared with searing light. Rose threw up her arms to cover her eyes, but she could see the flames even through her closed eyelids. The TARDIS shuddered to a halt, then went cold and dark.
Chapter 2: Annunciation
“Here it is,” Lyra said softly as they drew near the edge of the cliff. She carefully dismounted Iorek, then leaned against him a little, glad of her confidant's presence.
The great bear looked up at the sky, where clans of witches traced spirals in the air on their cloud-pine branches. His breath fogged in a shroud around his face. “The star is gone,” he said, his voice a sepulchral rumble in his broad white chest. Lyra looked blankly into the sky. “The bridge between worlds is gone.”
“I know. But sometimes I wonder – if it might leave any trace – ” She clutched a fistful of Iorek's fur. The sky was unbroken and empty.
Then, suddenly, it wasn't. Curtains of green light shivered into being. Serafina Pekkala swooped down onto the ice, accompanied by a snow goose pale as the ice. “The Aurora is here,” she said, her face and the goose's feathers tinged eerily green in the light. “It begins.”
The still night air began to stir. The white clouds of Iorek and Lyra's breath were swept away by a wind from beyond the sky. There was a great rasping sound, and Lyra was momentarily blinded as the wind blew plumes of snow in her face. Through her eyelids, she could make out a pulsing blue light. Pan nuzzled her ear reassuringly inside her hood.
When the snow settled, there stood at the edge of the cliff a blue box. Lyra blinked melting ice out of her eyes, then read the lettering on the box.
“A police box? The witches' prophecy was about a police box?”
The Doctor walked the circumference of the console slowly, as if in a trance. Jack and Rose watched him apprehensively as they stretched the kinks out of their muscles and assessed their bruises. The temperature was dropping every moment. Unable to stand the tension, Rose gave a little shiver and said, “I'm going to the wardrobe room to find an anorak. Coming?” She glanced at Jack, who didn't seem to be as affected by the cold as she was. If she asked, she was sure to get a lengthy explanation about 51st century genetics that she really didn't want to hear.
Jack's gaze was still fixed on the Doctor. He hesitated a moment. “Tell us when you figure out what's wrong, OK?” The Doctor gave the barest of nods. Jack took Rose by the hand and let her take the lead to the wardrobe room. As they left, blue eyes and brown cast concerned looks back at the lifeless console and its despondent companion.
The Doctor traced his fingers over the dials, which were starting to whiten with hoarfrost. It was so hard to think through the roaring silence in his mind. It was as if he'd forgotten how to write his own name, as if he'd woken up without knowing where he was or how he got there. It was like realizing he'd forgotten the name of his first love – like feeling for his pulse, and finding none.
He was glad his companions had left; he needed some time alone with the corpse.
He cleared his throat. His oldest, most faithful companion deserved a eulogy, but he couldn't summon the words to describe how he felt. Instead, he did as he had always done with his ship, his beautiful ship. He opened his mind and let his thoughts be enough.
Footsteps clanged along the metal grating, strangely jarring and loud without the usual background hum. The Doctor didn't turn around. “It took us half an hour to find the anoraks,” said Rose, her voice wavering.
“I'm sorry, Doctor,” said Jack, his voice catching. Out of the corner of his eye, the Doctor could see him reach out and touch one of the frosted rondels with painful tenderness. He had forgotten that Jack loved her too. He exhaled slowly and gave a little nod, knowing that would be enough for the other man to understand.
Rose drew a little nearer. “What will we do now?” The Doctor's throat worked, but no words came out. “Where are we?”
“Wherever we are, the portal can't be far off,” said Jack softly, still staring into one of the rondels as if it were a dead, misty eye.
“We're stuck.” The Doctor began to pace like a caged animal. “Trapped.”
“There's a whole world out there, Doctor,” said Rose. “We're not trapped. Why don't we go look?”
The Doctor paused mid-step and wheeled on Rose. “No! It could be dangerous.” He let out a long breath, feeling the concerned looks of his friends like a physical weight. “I'll open the door just a bit and scan with the screwdriver, just to make sure it's safe. Stay here.”
Jack reluctantly separated himself from the wall and came up to Rose, just for the sake of being near. She looked very small inside her bulky coat. They edged just close enough so that the arms of their coats touched; Jack wished he could feel her skin against his, just so he could feel the reassuring pulse of a heartbeat in a moment when everything felt dead.
They watched as the Doctor opened the door a crack, just enough to stick the sonic screwdriver through. A freezing wind blew in, bringing with it a faint trail of snow that hovered in the air a moment before settling on the grated floor. The Doctor gave a little shout and closed the door.
Rose and Jack jumped. “What is it?” said Rose.
“I know where we are,” said the Doctor, with an expression that bordered on awe. “We're in the Omega Tau universe.”
The light on top of the police box went dead. The witches circled overhead. Lyra, Iorek, and Serafina Pekkala stared at it for a while. It didn't move.
“I'm going to find out what's inside,” Lyra declared, and marched determinedly toward the doors. She pulled on the handle, but nothing happened. She frowned and fished around in her pockets for a lockpick. Pan peeped out from inside her hood to watch as she jimmied the lock. The lockpick vaporized, the heat blistering Lyra's fingers. She gave a hiss of pain. Ideas chased each other around her head. Could it be some sort of defense mechanism, maybe? “Iorek, can you break down the door?”
“I do not wish to destroy an item of prophecy,” said Iorek Byrnison, looking to the witch queen.
“Patience, Lyra,” said Serafina Pekkala. She and her snow goose dæmon exchanged glances with the air of knowing a lost cause when they saw one.
Lyra gave a little growl of frustration and prowled the perimeter of the box. “She's right, you know,” said Pan, his whiskers tickling her ear. “It came from another world. We can't just smash it to pieces.”
“We're never going back, Pan,” said Lyra in a fierce whisper. “We've got to stay here.” She beat the side of the box with her fist. “Why did we even bother coming here?”
“This isn't all about you, and you know it. We have to make sure that – ” Pan was interrupted by the sound of a door creaking. Lyra gave a little cry and ran back around to the front of the police box. The door was slightly ajar, but all she could make out was a small blue light and a buzzing noise. She started toward the door handle, but it shut with a click, and she knew she hadn't a chance of opening it again.
Lyra rested her forehead against the seam between the doors and fought back a scream of frustration.
“Omega Tau universe?” Rose's forehead creased. “What's that?”
“The Time Lords had a system for naming parallel universes.” The Doctor was pacing again, but without the same quiet desperation as before. “This is the Omega Tau. Great universe. Been here once or twice.”
“How's it different from ours, then?”
“Humans. Fascinating creatures,” the Doctor said. Jack covered a smile with his hand; just a few minutes before, he'd been maligning humans left and right. “You often construct your thoughts in the form of an internal dialogue. 'Which path should I take, the right or the left?' 'Left looks a bit dodgy.' 'All right, I'll take the right then.' Whole conversations going on inside your head. Multifaceted is what you are.” His face softened. It wasn't quite a smile, but the frosty edge was gone. “But what if the other half of your internal dialogue weren't just a voice in your head? What if your other, hidden half had a physical form? In the Omega Tau universe, it does.”
“Like in Socrates' Apology,” Jack murmured. “Socrates had a 'daimonic sign' in his head, a part of him that helped him tell right from wrong.”
“So, it's like your conscience, sort of, but it has a body.” Rose frowned a little. “What does it look like?”
“That's the fun part.” The Doctor's eyes were alight, like sun shining through ice. “They take a form that symbolizes who you truly are. A metaphor for your personality in the shape of an animal.”
“Like if you were wise, your conscience thing would be an owl, or if you were a lying cheat, it'd be a weasel. That could be useful,” said Rose thoughtfully.
“Not exactly. Humans perceive owls as wise, but that doesn't mean they are. Weasels don't lie and cheat nearly as much as ravens or crows or apes do. You can't know everything about people by looking at their animal form. It's much more complicated than that.”
“What'll happen when we go outside?” Jack shifted inside his furry anorak.
For the first time in what seemed like years, the Doctor smiled. “You'll get to meet yourselves, face to face.”
Jack's heart was in his throat. What sort of man was he? That was the question that plagued him ever since he lost his memories. He could have done anything during those two years: a coward, a thief, a hero, a tyrant. During his time with Rose and the Doctor, he'd discovered who he wanted to be. He wanted to be fierce and compassionate like Rose, wise and just like the Doctor. They believed that he had that inside him. Perhaps today he could know for sure.
Rose broke the pensive silence. “What about you, Doctor? Will we get to see yours?”
“Time Lord, me. My brain doesn't work like yours.” He plastered on a smug smile, the kind that made Jack want to peel it off and reveal the kinder face beneath. “I can choose to arrange my thoughts like yours, but I prefer my consciousness inside my head where it belongs, thanks. I'll need something to blend in with the locals, though.” He rummaged through the inside of his leather jacket and pulled out a little brown lizard. He set it on his palm and beamed at it as if it were a new pet.
Jack leaned in and peered at it. “Is that an animatronic diamond-circuit automaton?” He let out his breath in a slow hiss. “It's beautiful.”
“Yep.” The Doctor relented under Rose's impatient look. “Or a robotic skink, if you like.”
“That's your animal symbol?” said Rose, arms akimbo. “A skink?”
“Nothing wrong with skinks!” the Doctor protested. “No, Rose, I'm not a skink. And mind you don't do that when we go out,” he said to Jack, who was inspecting the robot eagerly. “It's considered very rude to handle a person's dæmon like that.”
Jack put the skink back in the Doctor's palm. “Dæmon,” he reflected. “I like it. Nice throwback to Socrates.”
“Enough talk,” said the Doctor firmly, tucking the robot into his sleeve so that only its tiny head peeked out over his wrist. “There's a whole new universe out there.”
Chapter 3: Nativity
Lyra leaned on Iorek for support as the doors of the police box creaked open. She had visited many worlds in her childhood, but the strange sight still made her breath catch in her throat.
A tall, dark silhouette filled the doorway, just barely contrasted against the dim interior of the box. “It's human,” Pan whispered in Lyra's ear. She gave a shaky sigh of relief. Not all non-humans she'd encountered were a threat, but nightmare visions of Specters and ghasts had been dancing through her mind. A boot crunched on the bright snow, and the figure resolved into a rangy man clad in dark fabric. His eyes were icy green in the light of the Aurora, but could have been any color at all. Pan wondered, silently, why he wasn't freezing in his leather jacket. Maybe in his world, witches were men, flying through the dark in scraps of leather instead of silk, never feeling the cold, Lyra thought.
The man raised his arm to beckon toward someone or something in the police box, and she caught a glimpse of a skink dæmon tucked in his sleeve. It gave Lyra a brief glance, but the man seemed not to care about his audience.
The figures that appeared in the doorway, hands gently entwined, were almost overwhelming in their color and brightness next to the blank snow and their dark, understated leader. There was a girl a few years younger than Lyra, her soft round face dwarfed by the fur-lined hood of her pink coat. Her full lips and the flush across her cheeks perfectly matched the color of the coat. She looked first to their leader, the witch-man, then to Iorek, her brown eyes huge.
Her companion squeezed her hand reassuringly. He wasn't afraid of the armored bear; his fear was subtler, veiled behind the green-tinged blue of his eyes. The fine contours of his body and his handsome face were noticeable even through the bulky shape of his deep blue coat, but it seemed to Lyra a hard-edged beauty, like an assassin's smile as he slid a knife between your ribs.
Their chests rose as they took a deep breath, then stepped out together onto the snow.
The Aurora thickened and swirled around them, until it seemed like the hem of a cloak that Lyra could reach out and touch. She could only see snatches of yellow hair and blue eye through the scintillating green light. Lyra wished she'd thought to bring a special spyglass or camera. She imagined that the man and the woman would be aglow with fundamental particles drawn to their presence. It occurred to her that she'd seen something like this before, though she'd been too heartbroken to notice at the time.
The curtains of light parted, and their dæmons were revealed, blinking in the brightness of the stars, the snow, and the Aurora.
The faces of the woman and the man were constellations of feeling as they looked upon their dæmons for the first time: the most intense thirst imaginable; a deep sense of recognition, relief and respite; and not a little wonder. In the dark eyes of their dæmons was a love so deep it edged on pain, for their love had been doubted and ignored for so long that it almost hurt to have it acknowledged at last. These feelings she knew, even though she had her darling Pantalaimon all her life, for they had been recounted to her, years ago.
An otter lay in the snow, his brown fur dusted with the white. The woman seized him in her arms, clutching him to her chest as if to meld him back into her heart, whence he had come. The snow on his fur melted in the heat of her embrace.
The man knelt, throwing his arms around the neck of his dæmon, unmindful of how the ice dampened the hem of his coat. The pink tongue of the lioness reached out and rasped against his cheek, licking away the tears there.
The hard planes of the witch-man's face softened, his love overflowing until Lyra felt that her own heart might burst. She was shaking a little, but Iorek was steady beneath her loosely fisted hands.
The world slowly returned to the three travelers, the cold seeping into the edges of their awareness. The man got to his feet and brushed snow off his anorak, his dæmon licking off the remainder. The woman's dæmon rested his head on her shoulder. They looked to each other and the witch-man and exchanged beatific smiles. Lyra knew from experience that there was no greater joy than to have one's true self revealed before an intimate friend and feel completely loved, from the outside in and the inside out.
The witch-man turned to Lyra and company, still wearing that eldritch smile, luminous and indefinable as the Aurora. “I'm the Doctor,” he said, gesturing to the other two travelers, “and these are my friends.”
Serafina Pekkala was serene and composed, Iorek blank and inscrutable. Lyra, however, felt excitement uncoiling in her belly. Visitors from another world, after so long! “Are you a witch?” she blurted out, then flushed, Pan's claws scratching out a reprimand against her neck.
The Doctor's friends exchanged surprised glances, but the man himself was the picture of quiet gravity. “I'm not a witch. I'm a Time Lord.”
Pan gave a little gasp; Lyra fished for the alethiometer. She flipped it open discreetly, as if she were merely checking the time. “The hourglass and the sun,” he whispered in her ear. “That's what it meant. First meaning of the hourglass is time. Fourth meaning of the sun is lord.”
Lyra carefully masked her surprise; the alethiometer had much to say on the three travelers, but the meaning behind those two symbols had remained hidden to her. The words “Time Lord” meant nothing to her, but they had to be worth knowing. The alethiometer had had much clearer things to say about the Time Lord's companions, so Lyra was not at all surprised when the man gave a dazzling smile, bright as the snow, and held out his gloved hand to shake, his other hand still tucked around his dæmon's neck. “Hi. Captain Jack Harkness.”
Normally, Lyra would be suspicious of a smile that wide, but for the moment, at least, the Captain's grin was without guile. She shook his hand and returned a tentative smile of her own. “Lyra Belacqua.” The appreciative glint in his eyes as he scrutinized her face and figure amused rather than affronted her; the alethiometer's primary symbol for him was the wild man, representing lust and the masculine.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Belacqua.” He let go of her hand and gestured to the woman beside him. “And this is the lovely Rose Tyler.”
Rose was staring at Iorek, slightly openmouthed. “Is he your…”
Iorek gave a little rumble of amusement; Rose took a step back, misinterpreting it as a growl. Pan peered at her out of the hood, and Lyra tapped him on the head with a finger. “No. He is.” She smiled. “Iorek Byrnison belongs only to himself.”
“You know little of kingship, Lyra,” said Iorek, deep voice still tinged with amusement. “I belong to my people.”
Rose gave a little gasp; the Doctor and the Captain looked at the ice bear with keen interest, their blue eyes sharp as blades. “Iorek Byrnison, king of the armored bears of Svalbard,” Lyra amended.
“It's an honor, your Majesty,” said Rose, her face split in a smile. She bowed stiffly, her movements constricted by many layers of clothing. The Captain grinned and followed suit, adding a flourish with his hand. Only the Doctor remained unmoved, though it was Lyra's intuition that it was not out of disrespect for Iorek, but because the man bowed to no one.
“You are not my subjects. As visitors from another world, you are honored guests. To you, I am Iorek Byrnison, not a King or a Majesty.”
Serafina Pekkala spoke for the first time. “Likewise, I am Serafina Pekkala, queen of the witches of Lake Enara – but not your queen.”
Rose's eyes widened; the Captain's eyebrows rose. “You'll have to pardon my friends, Serafina Pekkala,” the Doctor said, casting them significant looks. “In our universe, witches are the stuff of legend, nothing more.”
“No offense taken,” said Serafina Pekkala. “In some parts of the world, we are still legend.” She looked up at the witches spiralling through the sky, and the travelers all followed her gaze. The three of them gave a little start; their company in the sky had heretofore gone unnoticed, though once their attention was called to the spectacle, it seemed they couldn't look away. Mounted on their sprays of cloud-pine, the witches' silhouettes looked like ragged black wings reeling against the stars. All around them flew their dæmons, all birds, their wings pale in contrast to the witches' dark rags. “Your arrival was prophesied by the clan elders. We came for you.” Serafina Pekkala looked down and met the Doctor's eyes.”We would be honored to have you at our council.”
“A witches' council!” the Doctor exclaimed. He glanced from side to side at his companions, breaking the eye contact with Serafina Pekkala. His smile was that much brighter for appearing across such a haunted face, like a candle flaring in a dark room. “Fantastic.”
Iorek reared up on his hind legs and made a deep noise in his throat, not quite a growl, not quite a roar. Over the crest of the rise came three more ice bears. The travelers watched, enthralled, as the witch queen and her goose dæmon floated into the sky. Iorek went back down on all fours; Lyra's face stretched with a fierce smile as she swung up onto his back. “Come along!” she shouted.
Gingerly (in Rose's case), eagerly (in the Captain's case) and majestically (in the Doctor's case) the travelers climbed up on the bears' backs. “Thank you,” Lyra heard Rose murmur to her steed. Lyra could feel Iorek's diaphragm rumble beneath her as he gave a throaty call. The bears turned and followed the witches streaming through the night above them, bounding on padded paws across the snow.
Chapter 4: Gifts of the Magi
This chapter comes with a drawing I did of Rose with Bree.
Once, when Rose was little, she went to a carnival in the park, and her mother let her go on a pony ride. On top of its back, she had felt so tall and powerful. As the pony paced slowly around the ring, she imagined she was setting off on a journey to discover new lands and fight strange monsters.
Riding a bear was nothing like riding a pony.
“Of course it's not like riding a pony,” said a coarse yet rich voice in Rose's ear, and she gave a little start until she realized it was only the voice of herself. She gave a breathless giggle and clutched her dæmon a little tighter. “I know. It's new,” he said. “But remember all those adventures you pretended to have on that pony?” His breath was warm against the small patches of exposed skin on her face. “This is so much better than anything you could have imagined.”
Rose let go of her fear and angled her head up so she could watch the landscape unfold around her. A fine mist of snow flew in her face, kicked up by the bear's paws, but she blinked it away. The tundra was more colorful than she would have imagined. Low-growing plants clung to the rocks, speckling them in subtle palettes of color. Tiny willows, shorter than Rose's hand, carpeted the ground with fuzzy white blooms. Cushions of moss, dotted with purple flowers, sprung up in the gaps between rocks. Somehow, in this freezing wasteland, these plants managed to eke out an existence.
The bear carrying Jack drew up beside her. His dæmon loped steadily alongside the bear, her tawny fur startlingly bright against the dim rainbow of the vegetation. The look of lazy contentment on Jack's face made Rose smile. Only he could sprawl out across a bear's back like that, as if it were some savage throne.
She craned her head around to peer behind her to see the Doctor astride another bear. Something in his bearing forced to mind a general riding off to war; the knowledge stabbed through Rose's gut like an icicle that he hadn't just been a soldier. She shivered and looked away. “You may never know,” her dæmon said, and somehow, hearing the thought aloud made it that much harder to bear.
Ahead, a stand of pines loomed. The light of a hundred fires shone through the trees, painting the snow orange and gold. Black silhouettes floated between the fires like ash on the wind. High in the trees, bird dæmons of every shape and description fluttered from branch to branch.
When they reached the edge of the wood, Iorek Byrnison drew to a halt. The other bears stopped in formation behind him. “Stay,” said the bear king to his subjects. “I shall represent our people in this council.” Lyra dismounted from Iorek, and the others followed her example.
“Thank you,” said Rose shyly to her steed. The great bear bowed his head. Her arms were beginning to ache a little from carrying her dæmon, so she slipped him into the front of her anorak so he could hang on by his paws, his sleek brown head nestled under her chin.
Jack joined her at her left. His smile was all the more dazzling in the light of the fires and the moon reflecting off the snow. “He's beautiful,” he said, gesturing at the otter tucked in her coat. “No surprise, since he's a part of you.”
Suddenly, Rose's cheeks were pink from more than just the cold. She was secretly relieved when the Doctor appeared at her side with perfect timing to distract Jack from the fact that she was tongue-tied as a schoolgirl. “Doctor,” she said, “how are we going to find the portal?” With it came the unspoken question that Rose didn't dare contemplate: how are we going to get back home?
“Don't know,” said the Doctor with false cheeriness, “but then, I was never one for plans.”
Jack and his dæmon looked around, his eyes keen and her ears pricked, to make sure they were out of Lyra and Iorek's range of hearing. Then Jack said in an undertone, “I think Lyra knows more than she's saying. If we can learn what she knows, it might help us.”
“Bear king, witch queen, and a girl in a coat,” said Rose. “Think I can tell which one's the odd one out there, yeah. But they listen to her, like she's important.”
“It's more than that,” Jack countered. He gestured at the three of them. “Time Lord, ex-Time Agent, former shopgirl, but we listen to you, because you are important.” This time, he didn't miss her pleased flush, and he smiled with unguarded tenderness. Something seemed to capture him from above: strange new thoughts inspired by the strange new starlight. He opened his mouth to continue – then gave a little jump of surprise when a snowflake landed on his tongue. Rose giggled, the Doctor gave a smug grin, and the moment was dispelled.
As they neared the council fires, the snowflakes disappeared, dispelled by the halo of heat from the council fires. “Almost there,” Lyra called over her shoulder. The woods were now dense with witches, all pale and clad in dark silk, watching them out of the corners of their eyes. The scrutiny made Rose shrink a little, but the Doctor gazed steadily back at them, while Jack eyed the expanses of lean muscle revealed by their scanty clothing and grinned appreciatively. Some of the witches seemed amused by Jack's attentions, others flattered and clearly interested, but none were able to hold the Time Lord's gaze for long.
Rose suppressed the jealousy that hit below her ribcage like a fist. Next to the savage elegance of the witches, she couldn't help but feel small and frumpy. Her dæmon's whiskers tickled her cheek as he whispered, “Just watch them, Rose.” She looked, really looked, at her companions, how they bracketed her protectively as they passed between the fires. She really did come foremost, didn't she? Not for the first time, Rose could scarcely believe her luck. She was at a witches' council, trapped in another universe, but she couldn't imagine being afraid.
A cavern loomed before them, stalactites framing its mouth like broken teeth. The Doctor found the sight reassuring rather than ominous. His time sense had been thrown off by the dimensional shift, and without the bedrock knowledge of the passage of time, the world felt unsteady as a swaying ship. The stalactites were a subtle reminder that the laws of physics were still at play. Calcium carbonate still mineralized as it always had in his universe. It was easier to look ahead at the cave than up at the sky filled with stars he couldn't name.
Iorek Byrnison only just managed to fit through the cavern entrance without scratching himself on the jagged rock. Lyra darted nimbly across the uneven floor, sure-footed as a mountain goat; it was obvious she'd come here many times before. She didn't have to duck to avoid even the most low-hanging of outcroppings, for despite her unmistakable presence, she was a petite woman, about a head shorter than Rose. Still, Rose had seen the truth of it: Serafina and Iorek treated her as if she were queen of every bear and every witch in the world.
A circle of witches was assembling around the perimeter of the cave. The Doctor made to join the circle, until Serafina Pekkala beckoned to them. She stood at the back of the cave, the focal point of the circle. Lyra was at her right, the hood of her anorak drawn back. The shape of her dæmon was revealed, his russet fur backlit by the council fires. The Doctor joined Serafina at her left, Rose and Jack close behind him.
Jack threw back his hood to get a better view of the cave. Dimly lit by the fires just outside, it was a study in monochrome, all flickering shadows, dim stone, white skin, and dark rags. The only muted splashes of color were the blue of his anorak, the pink of Rose's, the yellow of her hair, the plumage of a scarlet tanager perched on a rock, and the red of the flower garland on the witch queen's brow, just barely discernible in the half-light. The faces of the assembled witches were turned to them, expectant, their expressions ranging from curiosity to awe to fear. The shifting light from the flames made everything look like a vague impression that might slip away at any moment. Jack turned to the queen of the clan. Serafina Pekkala was about to speak.
“A year ago, the elders of our clan prophesied of these travelers. They call themselves the Doctor, Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler,” she said, gesturing to each in turn. “We are assembled tonight to gather our knowledge, learn from each other, and reach understanding. I ask Signe Nordahl to come forward and recite the prophecy.”
There was a flash of scarlet across the room as the tanager flew to the wrist of a witch who looked different from the rest. While the others looked young and strong, her hair was threaded with silver, her face lined and care-worn. Her eyes were closed, but her tanager dæmon's wings fluttered ceaselessly, revealing her wakefulness. Then the dæmon clicked his beak, and her eyes snapped open.
Rose gasped. Jack blinked. The witch's eyes had no whites or irises, but were black to the corners. She spoke in whispery singsong. “When the new star fades into the dark, a wind from another world shall come to the North, bearing three travelers. They have come to heal a wound that must not be healed; they must keep the wound open against those who would seal it. Their home is torn asunder, but it shall not be whole until the serpent opens the eyes of Adam and Eve, and they claim the fruits of knowledge.” Then Signe Nordahl retreated to the circle, her eyes closed once more.
Serafina Pekkala turned to her guests, her eyebrows elegantly arched. “What does this prophecy mean to you?”
Not much, thought Jack, but the Doctor was ready with an answer, as usual. “In our world, we found a portal that shouldn't have been there. We followed it here to close it. There's the wound your prophecy's on about. Apparently we shouldn't close it, but we'll determine that for ourselves. The home torn asunder…” His throat worked silently for a moment. “The police box we came in – that's my TARDIS. Our home. It's broken now. We're stranded.” He shrugged. “The rest means nothing.” The witch queen's eyes met his. “Does it mean anything to you, Serafina Pekkala?”
“Thank you for your honesty, Doctor, when we have done so little to earn your trust,” said Serafina Pekkala. Her eyes were a little wide; it was the first time all night she seemed anything but unruffled, but she carried on without interruption. “Lyra, would you care to present the findings of the alethiometer?”
“Greetings, friends,” said Lyra. Jack's eyebrows rose. The witches watched her with something approaching reverence. It wasn't just Serafina and Iorek who respected her, then, though they seemed to be her special confidants. She drew an item from the pocket of her anorak that appeared to be a gold fob-watch. “And greetings to our guests. This is an alethiometer, or symbol reader. It can truthfully answer any question asked of it. The trick is in understanding what it says.” Lyra's mouth was set in a slant, a study in wistfulness. “I've studied the art of symbol reading for six years, and I still don't know what it means half the time.”
The Doctor edged closer to Lyra to get a better view of the alethiometer. “How does it work?”
“Fundamental particles. Some call them Dust, others call them Shadows. Experimental theologians like to call them Rusakov particles, or dark matter. It's drawn to sentient beings, like humans or witches. Armored bears. Time Lords.” The Doctor's brow furrowed, but he nodded, and Lyra continued. “Part of the problem is coming up with the right questions. My first question was where we'd find you, when the time came. To that, at least, I got a straightforward answer. Then I asked who you were, and that's when the answers started getting complicated. I could puzzle out only a little. Now I realize that part of what it was trying to tell me is that you're a Time Lord, whatever that means.”
Lyra stopped to give the Doctor a searching look, but he only raised his eyebrows, so she went on. “Anyway, I asked how we can help fix your home, and I understood most of the answer. But it said that first, you have to do what you came here for. You said you were following a portal between worlds. I can help; I've traveled through them before.” Her tone was level, but her dæmon quivered, perhaps with excitement. Jack's curiosity about the young woman intensified. “What do you need?”
“We need equipment to track down the portal and take readings on it,” said the Doctor, his tone inscrutable. “I can get some parts from the TARDIS, but she's mostly broken now, and I don't know what can be salvaged.”
“Iorek,” said Lyra. The bear king was positioned at the mouth of the cave, where there was most room. “Is my father's house still there? Has it been disturbed at all?” Jack noticed her dæmon's claws dig into the collar of her anorak.
“We do not go near the place,” said Iorek Byrnison, and was that a note of disgust in his stentorian voice?
“My father was an experimental theologian,” Lyra explained. Her dæmon was trembling a little, and some of the unsteadiness reached her voice. “Or a physicist, as they're called in some worlds. He kept all sorts of technology in his house on Svalbard, the island of the bears. No one's been there for ten years, so some of it might be in poor repair, but it's the most advanced equipment you'll find in the North.”
Jack contemplated that for a moment, then spoke for the first time. “If Svalbard's an island, then how are we going to get there? We've lost our transport.” He cast the Doctor a sympathetic look.
The corners of Serafina Pekkala's mouth curved upward. “My clan can help. Bengta, Inge, Katrin, Signe, gather the rope for the journey.” She turned to Iorek. “I trust you and your people can bring our guests where they need to be?” He nodded. “The rest of us shall stay and continue our council. I will join you on Svalbard when we conclude.”
They followed Lyra out of the cave, along with the four witches Serafina had called upon to join them. Rose looked up at Iorek. “Where are we going? How will we get back to your island?”
“By boat,” said Iorek Byrnison, as if it were the most obvious fact in the world.
“But how – you can't – ” Rose gestured at Iorek's paws and blushed. Jack privately agreed; the bear's paws didn't seem nimble enough to trim a sail or tie a complex knot.
For the first time since they'd met her, Lyra's face lit up. “This isn't just any boat, Rose. It's drawn by witches.”
The bears appeared at the mouth of the cave, and they set off toward the shore.
Chapter 5: Confession
“Oh, yeah, I loved that part, though I think my favorite bit was how the Aurora made the water look like it was covered in stars. That was great.”
“Mm, it was gorgeous. Oh, and then Katrin flew too low, and I thought we were gonna go overboard for sure! Hah, remember that? The other witches looked like they wanted to strangle her! And then the Doctor started going on about how his leather jacket was going to be ruined by all the seawater.”
“Oi, this is high-quality leather here! What about those leather pants you tried on the other day? Would you want them to get waterlogged?”
“Only if it meant I got to take them off.”
“If you two would shut it for a minute, thank you very much! I think that's the house right over there. I can see Lyra and the witches in the courtyard.” On a sudden, wild impulse, Rose broke into a run across the icy plain. The only light to guide them was the lantern sparkling near the house, but the Doctor and Jack knew Rose's path by the crunch of her boots, and they took off after her. A whoop of joy rose from Jack's throat. His dæmon's paws flew across the ice, her legs quickly dappled white with flying snow. This is happiness, he felt her think, not the endless fucking and fighting and fleeing, but just this.
I'm so glad I found you, Jack thought. He wasn't sure exactly who he meant, but in that moment, it didn't matter.
The Doctor, with his long strides, caught up with Rose first, but Jack was close on his heels. “Before I started traveling with the Doctor, I would have been all out of breath by now,” said Rose as they neared the courtyard.
“Looks like he puts you through your paces,” said Jack, waggling his eyebrows.
The Doctor rolled his eyes and approached the door of the house, where Lyra was attempting to pick the lock with little success. “Here, let me help,” he said, and took out his sonic screwdriver. Ignoring Lyra's protests that she was perfectly capable of opening the door herself, he aimed the screwdriver at the lock, then calmly opened the door.
The first impression of the house's interior was the smell of decay that wafted outward on the cold air. The inside was dark, but the Doctor's enhanced nighttime vision could pick out moldering curtains and warped floorboards. He reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a 23rd century torch, which looked like a mirror the size of his palm, but threw out light like a tiny star. The dilapidation of the foyer was thrown into sharp relief; he could hear Lyra's breath catch at the sight of it. “Which way?” he asked softly, and Lyra pointed to a door set in one of the shadowy corners.
The Doctor led the way, taking his cue from Lyra's trepidation. The floor groaned under their weight. This door didn't need to be unlocked; it was half off its hinges and gave way to the push of the Doctor's boot. If anything, the stairwell looked more forbidding in the torchlight; its cold light cast every rotting timber in stark detail. The Doctor gingerly set his foot on the top step. It held, and he signaled the company to follow him downstairs.
Inge and Katrin, the witches who had accompanied them to the house, shook their heads. “We're to keep watch upstairs,” Inge explained. “Just in case. Iorek Byrnison and our queen will visit later. Call us if we're needed.”
Lyra made a soft noise of protest, but Rose took her by the shoulder. “You're safe with us. It's just a basement. There's nothing to be afraid of.” Lyra let out a shuddering breath, felt Pan's paws tighten against her neck, then followed down the stairs. The steps creaked as if they might collapse any moment, but Rose didn't seem afraid, so Lyra banished all thoughts from her mind of what terrors her father might have left behind in this house.
The basement was vast and bare, but for one wall taken up by piles of machinery. The light in the Doctor's palm made the tangles of rusting wires and broken vacuum flasks look like the skeletons of monsters. The screwdriver buzzed as the Doctor attached the flashlight to the ceiling. Rose rubbed her eyes with her gloved hands. “Doctor, the light hurts my eyes. Can't you make it look more…natural?” Another buzz, and the light shifted to a warmer tone. The basement started to look more like a workshop and less like an abandoned death trap.
Jack stared hungrily at the wall of mechanical parts, his eyes alight. “Hey, Doc, are those pulse generators up there?” His dæmon shifted weight from paw to paw like an eager child.
“Nah. Those ones over there?” The Doctor nudged Jack with his elbow. “They're modified refractory beams. You should know better!”
“Boys and their toys,” muttered Rose, turning to Lyra, but there was nothing but fondness in the way that her dæmon watched them prise apart old engines and bicker good-naturedly over their components.
“Thank you,” said Lyra, quietly. “I can usually speak up for myself, but they – they're so…”
“I know what you mean. The way you talk to queens and kings like they're your equals – I can tell you're not some scared little girl.” Rose followed her dæmon's gaze over her shoulder. “The Doctor and Jack, they're different. If I didn't know better, if I hadn't seen them in their pajamas making breakfast, or complaining about a twisted ankle, or wringing out their clothes after getting stuck in the rain, just like anyone else, I'd think they were – I dunno, princes or gods or something. But they're not. They've fought wars, traveled through time and space, seen things I can't imagine, but they're just men.”
Lyra sighed and took a seat on the bottom step. “That's just it, Rose. I was part of a war, a war for all creation. I've traveled between worlds, even spoken to the dead. But when I went home, nobody knew. I went to school with girls who thought that sneaking out to watch a horse race was the most exciting thing in the world.” Her lip curled in contempt. “So I came up north as soon as I was able to study alethiometry on my own, trying to get away from all of it, but up here, the witches look at me and all they see are the legends of what I've done. Serafina and Iorek are the only ones who see me. Just Lyra.” Rose sat down next to Lyra, and a companionable silence passed between them, interrupted only by the scraping of metal against metal and the occasional whoop of triumph from the men.
Their dæmons emerged from under their coats and climbed onto the step behind the women. Rose and Lyra sat on opposite ends of the bottom step, but the pine marten and the river otter sat facing each other, almost nose to nose. “What's your name, then?” asked Pantalaimon. “Had time to figure it out yet?”
“Yeah, more or less,” said the otter, crouching a little so he would be closer to eye level with the smaller dæmon. “We thought about it in the boat, on the way here. It seemed wrong for me not to have a proper name.” Pantalaimon flicked his tail impatiently. “Right. Well, when Rose was little, her favorite books were the Chronicles of Narnia. They were about children who traveled to a magical world. One of the stories was about a boy and a talking horse who were so dear to each other's hearts, it was like they were one soul. We decided I should be called Bree, after the horse.”
Pantalaimon thought of the books about the North that Lyra's mother had given her, back in the days when he and Lyra loved her, of how they entranced her and made her long for adventure, and a sudden fondness for Rose and Bree burst inside him.
“Why were you scared of the basement?” said Rose in a small voice.
Lyra's nimble thoughts slowed to a bilious churn. She could barely discuss Lord Asriel with her dearest friends, let alone a woman from another universe who had no knowledge of what he was, what he meant. Something hot and bright as acid fizzed within her chest. “My father was a great man,” she said bitterly. “Great and terrible. He loved me, in his way, but he loved ambition more.” Pantalaimon rested his paws on her shoulder as she spoke, his warm weight reassuring. “He built a device in this basement to open a bridge to another world. It takes a terrific amount of energy to tear the walls between universes. It should have been impossible, but for my father nothing was impossible, nothing sacred. He took my best friend from me. Roger. After I'd gone through hell to save him.”
“Oh no,” said Rose, hand over her mouth. “What did he do?”
“One of the most powerful bonds in the world is between human and dæmon,” said Lyra grimly. “My father took Roger and used the device to tear his dæmon away from him. He harvested the energy, like everything in the bloody world belonged to him. Like he had the right.” She had stripped her gloves off, and was now gouging grooves in the wall with her fingernails. “He died in my father's arms, screaming my name.”
“I – I'm sorry. I wish we'd known before we came.”
Lyra's jaw clenched. “I don't need anyone's pity.”
“No. But you could use a little kindness.” Rose reached out and squeezed Lyra's hand. The other woman flinched a little, but didn't pull away. “Don't you worry about Jack and the Doctor. Don't even think it. They'd never to do that to anyone.”
Lyra looked up at Rose, her expression softening. “You really do believe in them.” She reached inside her pocket and traced the edge of the alethiometer with her thumb. “The alethiometer told me that Jack and the Doctor were murderers – but then, I've always thought that a murderer was someone you could trust.” Rose didn't seem to know how to respond to this, so Lyra pressed on. “Iorek and Serafina have killed for me, many times. They did it because they would anything to protect me. I know they don't like to kill, so that they're willing to do that for me – it means a lot.” She stared at the wall, her eyes grey and distant. “I've only ever loved one person, and he's a murderer too. He did it to protect someone he loved. Whatever they did, it was because they had to. That doesn't make them evil. It just means they're brave enough to look at themselves in the mirror after what they did.”
She found herself staring off into the distance, through the spaces between the worlds, but felt that Pan was looking Rose in the eye. At least he wasn't too cowardly for that. “It was hard for him, at first. When he was at the sink, washing up, or when he walked by a pond, he'd turn away his head. But after a while, he'd look at me, and he'd know that I trusted him. That's when he started to be able to see his reflection again.” A memory illuminated her face like a shaft of moonlight through a window. “One time, in the last world we saw together, I caught him staring at himself in a lake. I was so proud.”
“What happened to him?” said Rose, watching Lyra with wide eyes. In that moment, she made Lyra feel very old.
“I lost him to another universe. Now the walls are sealed, and I can't get him back.” Suddenly, she caught Rose's shoulder in a tight grip and pulled her face closer. “Don't let it happen to you. Not ever,” she growled. “Don't lose them, or you'll spend the rest of your life wondering what you might have had.”
“I won't,” Rose whispered, never breaking eye contact. “I swear, I won't.” At last, Lyra let her go.
Rose gathered Bree in her arms and buried her face in his fur. I won't lose you, she thought, knowing exactly who she meant.
Bree dug his claws into her anorak. I know.
“Awfully quiet over in the girls' corner,” Jack pointed out.
The Doctor got to his feet and peered over the old machine parts heaped all around them. His mouth softened into a smile much mellower than his manic grins. “Hush,” he said, as if any word might make the walls crumble around them. “They're sleeping. It's been a long day.”
Jack put down the wires he'd been crossing and joined the Doctor. “Aw. Would you look at that.” The two young women were curled against the stairs like commas, their dæmons nestled against their necks.
They glanced at each other, and a look of understanding passed between them as they recognized the same expression on each other's faces. Jack settled back into a crouch over the circuitry he'd been putting together, while the Doctor returned to his soldering work. The robot skink retreated into one of his pockets to hide from the sparks issuing from the sheets of metal as he joined them.
Soon, the Doctor felt the gaze of a pair of eyes. Brown, not blue – but Rose was sleeping by the stairs. It was Jack's dæmon, sitting beautiful and still as a sculpture. “Why a lion?” he heard Jack say.
The Doctor was still staring at the dæmon, frozen mid-thought. “What?”
“Why is she a lion?” Jack repeated. “I don't see what there is of me in…” He put down the wires in his hands and gestured at her. “That.”
The Doctor put down his sonic screwdriver and the soldered metal. “Well, let's see.” He held out his hands and flicked out his fingers one by one as he spoke. “They're social animals with a strong sense of hierarchy. They laze about in the sun most of the day, but the lionesses do all the hunting when it needs to be done, while the lions just lay about and mooch off 'em. They hunt in closely coordinated teams, but if times are scarce they're willing to take an opportunity to scavenge if they can. They're very protective of the pride. They enjoy being physically affectionate with one another.” Jack raised his eyebrows, and the Doctor threw up his hands and rolled his eyes in response. “Not to mention that lionesses in heat are sexually insatiable.”
“And you wouldn't have me any other way,” said Jack with a smirk, but the Doctor could see the genuine gratitude behind it.
“Maybe if you weren't, we wouldn't get thrown in jail every other planet because of you flirting with consecrated virgins -”
“That was just the once!”
“The consecrated virgins were giant sentient sea anemones.”
“They were pretty sea anemones.” They paused, looked at each other, then laughed themselves breathless, until Rose and Lyra began to stir in their sleep at the noise, and they guiltily quieted down.
Jack started to settle back into position to work on the circuitry. “Wait,” said the Doctor. He tilted his head toward the statuesque lioness. “What's her name?”
“There's a legend back on the Boeshane.” Jack was very much a man of the here and now, reveling in the experience of each moment, so the faraway mistiness in his voice was all the more striking. “They say there's a treasure buried under the sand. The door's hidden in one of the dunes. We used to run up and down the dunes, all the kids, looking for the secret entrance. According to the legend, there's no guard on the treasure. No sand gremlins, no clawborers, just a pool of water. When you looked in the water, it would show you your true face, and anyone seeking the treasure for the wrong reasons would be so terrified of what they saw that they'd turn on their heels and never return.” A veil seemed to drop from Jack's face, and their eyes met. “The name of that pool is Alizairi.”
“Alizairi,” the Doctor murmured. He felt the gaze of brown eyes and blue, and the reflection he saw there was too kind to bear. He flicked his eyes downward.
The Doctor returned to his work, but promised himself: Next time, I won't look away.
Chapter 6: Fishers of Men
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
- Mark 1:17-18
Rose woke with her bones aching and her muscles stiff with cold. For a moment, she thought she was waking up in jail, as she had done so many times before. Then she felt Bree shift against her chest, and memory flooded back.
She set Bree gently on the floor and got to her feet, suppressing a groan at the way her joints creaked. After she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, she could make out the Doctor and Jack, wide awake and energetic as ever, still bent over their work. "Witches, armored bears, Time Lords, 51st century men – am I the only person around here who ever gets cold?" she grumbled, tucking her hands inside her coat.
As Rose drew closer, she saw that Jack and the Doctor were putting the finishing touches on their contraption. It had two antennae, an assortment of gears, and a gauge with a needle, like a speedometer or a thermostat. The two men looked up at her and beamed, like children who had just built a particularly impressive tower of blocks. "All right then," she said, biting back a grin. "What is it?"
Both of them started to explain, but the Doctor cut Jack off preemptively with a look, and the Captain's mouth shut with a click. "Between the universes," said the Doctor blithely, as if this absurd dominance display had not just occurred, "there's an emptiness. A Void. Wherever there's an interdimensional portal, traces of the Void are left behind."
He nodded to Jack, who continued, "It's a portal detector. Goes 'ping' when there's Void stuff."
"Couldn't have put it better myself," said the Doctor, grinning.
"Look at the two of you," said Rose, trying to hold back giggles. "Like five year olds with PhDs, you are."
Before either of them could think of a comeback, she added, "What time is it? I'm starving."
Jack and the Doctor exchanged blank looks.
"Neither of you have eaten or slept in…" Rose folded her arms and set her jaw. "We are not tracking that portal anywhere until we've had something to eat."
"Yes, but – " the Doctor began, but Jack cut him off.
"Kaisa – that's Serafina Pekkala's dæmon – came by earlier to say that she'd come 'round with food if we wanted it," he said, trying to mollify Rose. "It didn't seem that important at the time, because we'd just come up with a way to reroute the circuitboard and we got a little excited…"
They heard a creak and a groan, and turned around to see the witch queen descending the stair. She had a basket on her arm, and Jack was surprised to find himself salivating at the sight of it. He'd been so preoccupied that he'd forgotten his own hunger.
Lyra was jarred awake by Serafina's footsteps along the stairs. She stretched, yawned, and looked up blearily at her friend. The corners of the witch's mouth quirked upwards. "Roasted rabbit for all," she said, unhooking the basket from her arm. Lyra fell upon the basket and pulled out a stick with chunks of tender meat speared on it. Jack and Rose rushed toward the bottom of the stairs and helped themselves.
"Mmm. This is great," Rose declared between bites. "Thanks, Serafina."
"Wait 'til you hear how witches hunt," said Lyra. "It's like nothing you've ever seen before." Rose sat on the bottom step next to Lyra and listened to her weave the tale. Jack, meanwhile, could feel Serafina's razor-bright gaze on him. She pulled him aside, behind a pile of scrap metal.
"Could you give me a moment alone with the Doctor?" she asked. "I won't be long."
Jack hesitated. The Doctor had seemed fine all night, but he had the feeling that the presence of his companions was the only thing keeping him from falling apart. It was as if the TARDIS had been the thread stitching the seams of his mind together. "All right. But if the Doctor needs Rose," Jack said, leaning in to murmur in Serafina's ear, "you'd better make sure she's there for him. He's lost his home, and there's nothing you can do." He pulled away and spoke louder for the Doctor's benefit. "I'll be just outside. Could do with some air."
Past the crumbling foyer, the sunlight glared blindingly against the snow. For a moment, all Jack could do was stand in the doorway and blink until his eyes were ready for the light. When his vision cleared, he could make out the barely distinguishable outline of Iorek Byrnison in the courtyard, white against white. Jack stepped outside. Beside him, Alizairi pranced delicately through the snow, leaving behind a trail of pawprints. For a moment he wondered at how she could leave a mark on the physical world, this beautiful abstraction made flesh.
Jack drew up beside the bear king and put on his well-practiced smile. "So, what's a handsome bear like you doing out here all alone?"
"There is no need for that, Captain Jack Harkness," said Iorek, without rancor. "An armored bear cannot be blinded by human conceits. We see the truth as plain as the sunlight."
Jack stared at him, his jaw slackening. He wasn't sure how to talk to someone without lies, however white. Staring out at the icy plain, he said, "I've never seen so much snow before. It's beautiful."
"You lie," said Iorek, his tone still even.
"Got me," Jack said, a little hoarsely. "I've seen a lot. Whole cities made of snow and ice. Ever seen the sun rise over a frozen city? It's…" He shook his head a little and let out a breath, streaming from his mouth like white smoke. "All right, so I can't lie to you. I guess I won't bother with the usual bullshit, then." He glanced at Alizairi. "I shouldn't have even tried. People wear their souls on the outside here, right? So, since I can't pretend I'm something I'm not, just tell me the truth. Objective viewpoint. Am I a coward?" His only reply was a blank stare. "This is stupid. You don't even know me. But they won't tell me. It's just…" He swallowed. "They're so brave. They're heroes. That's not me. I'm not a good person. But they make me want to act like one, for once."
"I was once a coward." Iorek's unflinching eye contact made Jack feel a little too exposed, but he forced himself to maintain it. "I had been deceived by my peers. They tricked me out of my armor, my most prized possession. Without my armor, I was nothing. My only consolation was endless drink. There was nothing else left." The slightest hint of warmth gleamed in his voice, like sunlight on a glacier. "Then Lyra came, and I left my old life behind. When she looked at me, she saw a king. So I became one."
Alizairi leaned her tawny head against Jack's hip. "What we left behind is worthless compared to what we have now," she murmured. Privately, she added, I know what they see when they look at you, and isn't a coward.
Bear, man, and dæmon stood in the stillness of the courtyard, unblinking in the freezing air.
"So, fancy a chat?" said the Doctor, his smile a shade too bright.
Serafina Pekkala picked her way through the piles of scrap metal until she found a stretch of bare floor wide enough for both of them to stand on. As she did so, she said, "I came to inform you about the circumstances surrounding the portal." She turned to face the Doctor and lowered her voice. "I didn't want to put Lyra through having to tell the story herself. She went through hell to open that portal, Doctor. You need to understand why."
The Doctor's smile collapsed into a hard line. "My people used to open interdimensional portals for all sorts of reasons. Idle curiosity. Megalomania. Desperation. Then there were too few of us, and we couldn't hold back the Void any longer. It wasn't safe. The walls of reality were sealed. That's the way it's got to be."
"One portal, Doctor. Just one portal in the whole of reality. That's all I ask. Lyra would ask too, if she understood the meaning of the prophecy. 'They have come to heal a wound that must not be healed.' If this portal is closed, then we're all damned – and I speak as one who has never believed in damnation." Her voice went lower still. "Do you know what happens after death, Doctor?" The doors behind his eyes remained firmly shut, so she simply continued. "Lyra knows. She went through a portal to the place where all the dead go. Do you understand what price she had to pay?" Serafina gestured at the robot skink tucked in the Doctor's sleeve. "That might have fooled me, once upon a time, but no longer. That is not your true dæmon. Do you have one at all? Could you even begin to understand what Lyra went through?"
"I know what it's like to lose your soul," the Doctor said flatly. "Go on."
The witch queen inspected him. Not for a moment, she realized, could she doubt what he said. "She had to leave Pantalaimon behind in order to enter that place. I do not know how she found the strength to tell me of it, much less to do it. It was a featureless wasteland where the dead were condemned to dwell without their dæmons, forever. Lyra and her companion Will set them free." She heard a peal of laughter from Lyra and Rose across the room, and smiled despite the gravity of her tale. "They opened a portal to a tranquil place, a beautiful place. The dead could finally escape and dissolve into Dust. Don't you see, Doctor? That portal is our only hope. It's our only chance to find peace."
The Doctor folded his arms. "There are planets across the universe that build mythologies around space-time disturbances. Fascinating story, Serafina Pekkala, but I'm not so easily convinced."
"My people live hundreds of years, Doctor. We follow the moon and interpret the stars. We know old magic and older secrets. We have watched human superstitions grow and change and contradict each other. We're too old for myths. All we have are facts and principles."
Between them passed a moment of mutual recognition, long centuries of experience mirrored in each other's eyes.
"I'm still not making my choice until I see the portal itself," the Doctor said firmly, but without rancor. The conversation ebbed, and they took a minute to watch the girls share stories and laugh. Serafina kept the Doctor in the corner of her eye; he seemed to be all jagged edges in search of a whole. "How do you stand it?" he ground out. "I've lived a thousand years, but I never learn. It doesn't get any easier."
"Loving them is enough," said Serafina Pekkala, drinking in the sight of the girl she loved more dearly than a daughter, for who knew which day would be her last? "Even when they're gone, it will always be enough."
The harsh edges on the Doctor's face smoothed into fine angles as he watched Rose. Then something shifted in the stillness of his pose, and he suddenly sprang to life, his limbs all blurs of motion. "Come on, then!" he shouted, loud enough for Rose and Lyra to hear. "No use laying about when there's work to be done. Let's find this portal!" The Doctor hefted a bulky device in his arms and dashed toward the stairs as if unencumbered by anything at all.
Rose was instantly swept up in his enthusiasm and followed him upstairs. Lyra paused midway up and met Serafina's gaze. "Did you manage to convince him?" She only lifted an eyebrow in response. "Thought not. Well, I'll stop him with my bare hands if I've got to, but I think he'll make the right choice in the end. Rose'll talk sense into him."
"Remarkable people are nothing without remarkable friends," said Serafina warmly. They both smiled and made their way outside.
In the courtyard, Jack and the Doctor were each holding one end of the device and tweaking its many dials while Rose watched over their shoulders. Her dæmon had propped himself upright against one of the lioness dæmon's haunches so that he could get a good look too. Iorek stood off to the side, impassive. Jack noticed Lyra and Serafina out of the corner of his eye and waved, his other hand still supporting the device. "We're getting strong readings from that direction," he said, pointing south.
"That way's the ocean," said Lyra. "We'll have to get back in the boat."
"Good job it's not far off. Imagine if the portal were in Australia or something," Rose said, gathering Bree in her arms.
"Australia? Where's that?" demanded Lyra, but her words were mostly cut off by the Doctor.
"It's not an accident that it's up here, Rose. The portal's been appearing where the fabric of reality is thin. There's a rift through space and time in Cardiff. There must be something different about this place."
Lyra's lips thinned, and her eyes went hard as flint. Rose gave her a sympathetic glance, then looked back to the Doctor. "There is something different. There was once a bridge between universes right near here. Lyra told me." The other woman relaxed fractionally, but her dæmon's fur was still erect and bristling.
The Doctor paused, clearly tempted to ask, but he let it go. "Right, then. Off we go. Into the boat." He turned south and set off, forcing Jack to match his stride so the portal detector wouldn't overbalance on his end. Kaisa flew off to call the other witches, and Iorek Byrnison departed for Svalbard after a laconic farewell. Lyra, Rose, and Serafina followed the men toward the shore and the big, sturdy boat.
Rose boarded the boat with a good deal less enthusiasm than she'd felt last night. In the haze of adrenaline that invariably came with visiting new worlds, everything had seemed terribly exciting. Now, despite her curiosity, all she wanted was to sort this portal, fix the TARDIS, and get back to their own universe. She stared without seeing at the witches as they flew in and tethered their pine branches to the boat. "By the way," she heard in her ear, making her jump a little, "thanks for stepping in." Lyra stood beside her at the stern, looking out on the icy shore. "It would have been too hard to explain everything."
Inge, Katrin, Bengta, and Signe Nordahl tugged at their tethers, and the boat lurched forward into the waves. Lyra and Rose held on tight to the railing. "I can keep a secret. If he asks me about what happened, I don't need to tell him the story if you don't want me to." She felt a little seasick, but the sight of Bree's whiskers covered in sea spray made her insides unknot. It reminded her that she had a bit of the ocean within her.
"You can tell him. I wouldn't want to keep back any information that might help. Besides, I know you'll tell it properly." Lyra looked over her shoulder. "Let's go out front. Better to have as many eyes on the lookout as possible for that portal."
Up at the prow, Jack's dæmon had her paws resting on the railing so she could see out over the water while Jack watched the needle on the gauge swing higher and higher. The Doctor was ceaselessly adjusting the settings on the portal detector, his eyes darting across the machinery and up to the horizon. "Are we getting closer?" said Rose, drawing close behind them so they could hear her over the waves.
Alizairi made a rumbling noise in her chest, and Jack followed her gaze. "Hey, look. It's an island." At first, it was difficult to tell whether it was a large island at a great distance, or a tiny island at a short distance. As they drew closer, it seemed to be the latter. Then he noticed the needle jump in his peripheral vision.
"There they are!" Rose cried. "The ghosts we saw in Cardiff!" A portal shimmered in the air above the island, which was little more than a bare, windswept rock.
"It's stable. For now, any road." The Doctor raised his voice for the witches to hear. "Take us to the island! And whatever you do, don't fly into that portal!" He adjusted his grip on the portal detector and turned to Jack. "Go get the anchor ready."
Jack dashed to the other end of the boat, curiosity singing high and sweet through his blood. Finally, they would get to see this portal up close. Just as he reached the coiled anchor chain, Alizairi cried, "Over here, Jack!"
She was staring over the starboard railing, her whole body rigid. There was a shadow on the horizon, growing larger every moment. "There's another ship!" Jack bellowed. "And it's heading right toward the island!"
Chapter 7: Judgment
The Doctor's mind raced. Who else would be interested in the portal? A list of possibilities flickered through his mind in rapid succession: a rival witch clan, aliens drawn to the portal's Void signature, or…
Inge's voice rang out above them. “That's a Magisterium ship! I can tell from the design!”
Anger brewed in the Doctor's stomach. He might have known; humans were always interfering in matters beyond their understanding, no matter which universe they were in. The ship glided up next to the island, and the Doctor heard Jack drop the anchor with a splash. “Magisterium? What's that?” demanded Rose.
He heard boots and paws against wood, and Jack was beside them at the prow. The Doctor explained, “The Church is the most powerful institution on this Earth. The Protestants never split off, and the colonial powers of Europe spread Catholicism all over the world. The Magisterium is another name for the Church. Stands to reason. They're the only ones with the power to develop this sort of technology. Might even have their own version of UNIT.” The lines between his eyes deepened. “Still, interdimensional technology is far beyond this time. How could they have the proper equipment to track down the portal?” He shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” The Doctor got off the boat, waded through the freezing water as if it were nothing more than a puddle after a rainstorm, and helped the witches guide the boat a little closer to the rock so that Jack, Rose, and Lyra wouldn't have to get their feet wet.
Lyra's mouth was fixed in a frown. After they'd debarked, Rose whispered to her, “What's wrong?”
She scowled. “The Magisterium's tried to kill me more times than I can count.”
“We'll protect you!” Rose gestured at the Doctor, Jack, and the four witches who'd landed on the island with them.
“They don't want me dead anymore,” Lyra muttered, “but they'd still love to get their hands on my alethiometer. Whatever you do, don't trust them.”
Rose didn't know what to say. Some of the most beautiful experiences in her travels had come from trusting strangers – but also some of the most horrifying. She didn't want to prejudge strangers like that, but at the same time, she trusted Lyra's judgment, so she simply said, “Nothing bad's going to happen to you. Trust us.”
The Doctor turned off the portal detector; they wouldn't need it anymore. He looked up and watched the ghosts stream out of the portal, dissolving as they went. “Oi!” he cried. “You lot! Up there in the portal! Who are you?”
One of the shadowy figures paused just as it was about to cross the threshold. It looked down with what Rose could only guess was its face. For a moment she wondered if the ghosts could speak at all. Then a voice rolled down like mist over the ocean. “We are the dead.”
Rose didn't know whether to feel indignant or triumphant. “Doctor, I thought you said there's no such thing as ghosts. You too, Jack!”
“Who says it's telling the truth?” said the Doctor, arms folded across his chest.
“It is true. I've been there,” Lyra said, biting out each word. Her dæmon's hackles were rising. “I had to leave Pantalaimon behind. Don't you tell me that it was a lie.”
“We are the dead,” the ghost repeated serenely. “And we thank you, Lyra Belacqua, for setting us free. The harpies tell us all your tale before they send us through.” By this point, many ghosts were accumulating inside the portal, drawn by their curiosity, it seemed. The ghost who had been speaking took a single step outward and floated up into the sky.
Lyra glared at the Doctor. “The dead were trapped in that dimension. Forever. We opened the portal so they could rest at last. Don't you understand?”
“The other ship'll be here any minute,” Jack warned.
More ghosts streamed outward, their forms shadowy and half-glimpsed. The Doctor watched the indistinct snatches as they floated by – a proud face with high cheekbones dissolving in the cold air, a little girl's hand reaching out and grasping at nothing. Another ghost dropped straight downward, and the angle of the sunlight illuminated her slender build and long blonde hair. Then her lovely features simply melted away.
As the Doctor bore silent witness to the ghosts' final moments, something seemed to come undone within him. His hands and eyelids trembled The only time Rose had ever seen an expression like that on his face was in the bunker in Utah, when he realized what he'd almost done to her. Her mind raced to come up with something, anything to say, but she didn't understand what was happening. Why was the Doctor suddenly so upset? She shot a desperate look at Jack, who could only shrug, his own eyes wide with worry.
But there was no time to find out. She heard the clang and splash of an anchor, and the crew of the Magisterium ship was disembarking.
There were five men dressed in furs. Four of them held complex devices that looked like shinier, better-kept versions of the portal detector. The fifth was dressed in finer furs than the rest and walked out in front. On his shoulder there perched a small brown frog dæmon. He was in his late forties, perhaps, with short, grizzled hair and dark eyes. He seemed to pointedly avoid looking at the four witches; Rose couldn't tell whether it was because he found them scary or just unnerving.
The Doctor's gaze fixed on the instruments in the hands of the technicians from the other ship, and his sorrow darkened and twisted into fury. “I don't care who you are, or why you're here,” he said, his voice low and edged with venom. “If you close that portal, you'll wish you were on the other side of it.”
Jack took a step toward him. “Doctor, are you sure this is a good – ” But the Doctor cut him off with a pointed stare that brooked no argument. Rose and Jack exchanged another bewildered look.
The leader of the Magisterium crew did not seem deterred; Rose couldn't help but feel impressed by his determination. “Don't you understand? These are matters of life and death. They are not to be left in the hands of children,” he said, giving Lyra a pointed look, “or any other man. The dead are in God's hands, not ours. To open the vault of heaven violates every law of nature.”
There was a snarl from Pantalaimon, and Lyra spoke, quaking with anger. “Keeping the dead trapped in that place forever violates every law of human dignity. That place isn't fit for anyone to spend eternity. You've heard the stories from the Church elders. You know who I am, where I've been. I'm not an ignorant child.”
“So you have the knowledge to decide the fate of the dead?” the Church man jeered. “The fabric of reality is in your hands?”
Both the Doctor and Lyra looked like they might attack him and his crew at any moment. Rose could feel bile rising in her throat. She met Jack's eyes, and they exchanged a nod. He signaled, and they stepped out between their friends and the Magisterium men, Jack hunched and ready to defend Rose from anyone who might lash out in anger. “Would you all just shut it for a minute?” she cried. “Just listen, all of you. No one's deciding anyone's fate. Lyra just gave them a choice. She's not forcing them to leave the land of the dead, whether you think it's heaven or hell or I don't know what. Just look at them.”
Everyone turned their faces upward. Another ghost drifted from the portal into a beam of sunlight. It was a little girl, her smile beatific as she dissolved into the clear sky.
Rose heard a shout, and looked down to see the leading Magisterium man signal to his crew of technicians. They began to power up their instruments. Lyra gave a feral scream and leapt toward their leader, hands outstretched like claws. Jack leapt on her and pinned her to the ground before she could do any harm; meanwhile, a buzz filled the air as the Doctor waved his sonic screwdriver at the instruments. They gave off sparks, then fizzled out, unresponsive to the technicians' frantic attempts to reactivate them.
The leader took out a pistol from inside his furs and pointed it at the Doctor. “You are coming with us and repairing the portal manipulators.”
Jack was already on his feet again. Rose could practically see his quick mind moving to formulate a plan. Then one of the witches stepped forward and rested her hand gently on the gunman's shoulder.
It was Signe Nordahl. “Enough, Nicola. Put down the gun.”
“I can't,” said Nicola. His eyes and gun still were still fixed on the Doctor, but his dæmon was staring openmouthed at the witch. “This is my duty.”
“I'm sorry, Nicola. You've made a mistake. The girl is right. Just look at them.” Signe turned her careworn face up toward the portal, as if bathing in a sunbeam. “They're so happy to be free. I know she must be happy too.”
“Lyra may be right,” the priest said softly. Signe's tanager dæmon and Nicola's frog dæmon made eye contact, and he slowly lowered his pistol. “What if she's opened a door out of hell? Are we letting sinners go free?”
“Perhaps,” said Signe, taking the pistol from Nicola's unresisting hand, “but even the damned must one day end their suffering. Go back to Trollesund. I will soon follow – but first, I owe these people an explanation.”
Nicola seemed inclined to disobey for a moment, but the frog on his shoulder gave a little chirp, and he stirred into motion. “This isn't over, madre.”
The other three witches stared at Nicola, their dæmons exchanging glances with their hard yellow eyes. Bengta looked like she might say something to him, but the man retreated to the ship with his crew before she could muster the words. They watched the Magisterium ship weigh anchor in troubled silence. Jack could sympathize with the witches. He was just as confused and worried about the Doctor and what he wasn't saying.
Finally, the uneasy stalemate broke. “You never told us you had a son,” Inge said. Her shoulders quivered with suppressed anger, jostling her song thrush dæmon off his perch there. “Any of us.”
“I'm sorry. I truly am,” Signe said softly. “When he was born male, I fell into such despair that I barely wished to speak with anyone. For years and years, I looked at him and could see only death. You can't understand, Inge. You have a daughter.”
“You think none of us know what that's like? That you're the only one?” Bengta practically snarled every word. “I had a son once. I watched his life pass by like a mayfly's, just as you have. I held his hand as he lay dying. You should have told us.” Her tone softened. “We would have helped you. I would have helped you.”
Rose told Jack and the Doctor in a quiet aside, “Lyra told me that witches' daughters become witches too, but their sons are human, and witches live for hundreds of years, so…” She cast Signe and Bengta a sympathetic glance – then another, tenderer one at the Doctor. The knowledge twisted in Jack's guts: this is what they were to the Doctor. He brought them into his home like lost children, then had to watch as their lives flickered away.
Signe bowed her head. “I am sorry, and I promise I will redeem myself before the clan. But first, we must ensure that my son does no more harm. Nicola and his men may have more devices they can use to shut the portal. I fear that my son may lose his nerve and abscond with the remaining technology if we don't catch up with them soon.”
“Besides, we still haven't figured out how the portal ended up here,” Lyra pointed out. “It used to open to a different universe. It shouldn't be moving about like this.”
“I must help pull the ship back to harbor, so I cannot tell you the tale from my lips. Sielulintu will will tell it for me.” Signe mounted her pine branch and joined her clanmates in the sky. Her tanager dæmon fluttered from her shoulder to circle around the passengers' heads. They boarded the boat, their dæmons bristling uneasily. Sielulintu perched on the rail at the prow of the boat. The other bird dæmons perched on either side of him, while the humans, their dæmons, and the Doctor stood facing toward him. Jack knew, intellectually, that he had been in stranger situations than standing on a boat surrounded by souls in the shape of birds, about to listen to another bird tell a story, but he couldn't call them to mind. The deck began to pitch and sway, and Sielulintu opened his beak and began the tale.
“It was 75 years ago when we realized that in all our centuries, we'd never explored the world beyond the North. We love the snow and the mountains and the northern lights, but it was all we knew. One day we left the clan behind and flew south to learn about the world and all the people in it. We flew to Muscovy, Beringland, Nippon, Corea, Cathay, Brytain, and Gaul. But our favorite place in all our travels was Rome. We loved to wander through the ruins of old empires, shadowed by the ancients. We stayed there for years, and in that time we met a man named Emilio Bonati.”
“He loved to walk through the ruins too, and after we encountered each other many times in the old Roman Senate, we started to walk together. Emilio's family had lived in Rome since days of old. He was a proud man. Naturally charismatic, and he knew the effect he had on people. He was tall and dark with a great black mane, and his dæmon was a Friesian horse. We were married in the Parco degli Acquedotti in the springtime. We knew that he would die long before our time, but at that moment, his death seemed such a long way off that we scarcely thought of it.”
“Then came the pregnancy. We convinced ourselves that it had to be a daughter, that we would bring another witch into the world. When our son was born – that was when, finally, we began to accept the fact of Emilio's mortality, and Nicola's. When Nicola was old enough so that Emilio could take care of him on his own, we ran. We fled back to the North, because we couldn't stand to watch them die. It is the decision in our life we most regret.”
“We came back to visit, once in a while. We learned that Emilio met another woman named Paoletta. They had a daughter, Berenice, and whenever we saw her, we thought of the daughter we might have had. After her birth, we stopped visiting. It hurt too much. That's why we weren't there to help when Berenice sickened and died. Emilio was old by this time. Nicola was the one who took care of her, but he was becoming influential in the Magisterium and devoted more time to his career than to her. Of course, he blames himself for Berenice's death, but really it's our fault. The witches know the cure for consumption. If we had bothered to visit, just once, we could have saved her.”
“After Berenice's death, Nicola contacted us. He said he'd heard rumors in the Magisterium of a prophecy about a girl who would corrupt all the world with sin and walk among the dead. He needed to know if it was true, because if a little girl could visit the vault of heaven, perhaps he could see Berenice one last time. We agreed to pass him information from the clan. It was the least we could do after so many years of neglect. We met the girl Lyra, but she didn't seem to know any more of the secrets of the dead than we did. She wasn't an angel or a demon, just a girl. Then, after the prophecy was fulfilled and the walls between the worlds were sealed, Serafina Pekkala told us her story. It was true. One portal remained among all the universes, a portal reft through the realms of the dead.”
“Nicola was devastated by this news. It was blasphemy, he said. The girl had meddled in the matters of life and death. What if Berenice fell out of heaven through the hole, and lost the eternal happiness she deserved? He made it his mission to move the portal into this universe, so he could close it forever and ensure Berenice's reward in heaven. We weren't sure we agreed with his mission, but we helped him anyway. We owed him that much. That is why we betrayed you, sisters. Could you forgive us, one day?”
Bengta's dæmon, an eagle-owl, turned to the humans and Time Lord. “I believe that we must take our leave now, and fly on ahead, so we can discuss these matters among ourselves. You had a right to hear this story, but the decision to forgive is ours to make.”
The Doctor gave a solemn nod. Lyra was pale and looked a little sick, but made a soft noise of assent. The four dæmons launched off the rail into the pellucid sky. Lyra glared at Sielulintu as he flew off, but held her tongue. She knew in her heart that it was true: this was for the witches to decide. She leaned against the rail and stared sullenly at the ocean, wishing for a moment that Pan could be a dolphin gamboling through the waves. Jack and the Doctor were discussing something - probably Jack trying to figure out why the Doctor had changed his mind - but it washed over her head without registering any meaning. Even her curiosity about the Doctor's change of heart was dulled. Pan whispered in her ear that she ought to go talk to Rose, but her mood was too black to inflict on anyone, much less the sunny, charismatic traveler she'd come to respect.
The coast of Norroway loomed ahead, and soon enough Lyra could make out the familiar sight of Trollesund's harbor. Katrin's dæmon, a grey kestrel, had flown ahead to check on the Magisterium ship, and now circled back to report what he had seen.
“There's some sort of device on the Magisterium ship, looks like a telescope. They're calibrating it, and I think it's pointed toward the portal,” the kestrel dæmon reported.
“If that's the device they used to move the portal in the first place, we'll have to go hunting for it all over again and get to it before they do,” said Jack.
The Doctor's mouth set in a grim line. “I won't let them get that far.”
Chapter 8: Temptation
The tethers linking the witches to the ship tautened as they put on a burst of speed. Rose's fists clenched around the railing, the cold metal burning her skin even through her gloves. The Magisterium ship was anchored at a nearby pier, which loomed closer and closer as the waters parted before the boat's prow. She kept trying to ask the Doctor what exactly had come over him back on that island, but every time she started, a look came over him that seemed to quell all speech. She breathed a sigh of relief as they came into harbor and the Doctor turned away to toss the anchor over the side. It was likely that he would never tell them, but that possibility troubled Rose. Were she and Jack not confidants enough?
In a great rush, the passengers of the ship stumbled out onto the pier. Out at the end of the dock, Nicola had an instrument set on a tripod that looked rather like a telescope covered in blinking lights, switches, and dials. Nicola was peering through the eyepiece while one of his technicians adjusted the dials.
The witches untethered themselves from the boat and circled watchfully above. The Doctor ran toward the end of the dock and snarled, "Stop! This ends now."
Without looking away from the eyepiece, Nicola said, "Restrain him." Two of the technicians bracketed the Doctor, one holding onto each of his arms. Rose started to move toward the Doctor, but he cut her off with a look. He was right. There were too many of them. They would only capture her too. But what about the witches?
The four witches and their dæmons began a coordinated dive toward the dock, but Nicola looked up and shouted, "My men will kill him if you dare try!" Rose looked back at the Doctor and bit back a cry. One of the men had a knife to the Doctor's throat.
Rose's mind raced to come up with a plan. Nicola had returned to his work on the instrument, and time was running out. Then the Doctor spoke, his voice curiously mild compared to how he had been a moment ago. "You ought to take a screwdriver to that, Nicola. If you don't get this right, then you might open up a pocket universe. There was this one time, must have been five – no, three – no, eight years ago, when I was in a situation not unlike this one…" The Doctor rambled on, his words washing right over Rose's head, but their meaning unveiled itself to her. Screwdriver. Right. Pocket. Five-three-eight.
She glanced at Jack out of the corner of her eye. He gave her an infinitesimal nod, and she lunged forward, grabbed the screwdriver from the Doctor's pocket, put it on setting 538, and pointed it at Nicola's instrument. At once, all the lights on the telescope went dark. At the same time, Jack surged toward one of the technicians restraining the Doctor, and wrested his grip from the Doctor's arm. His dæmon attacked the other technician's iguana dæmon. Iguana and man shrieked with pain as the lioness' paws trapped the struggling dæmon.
The witches took this as their cue to descend on Nicola and the rest of his crew. Inge swung her legs off her pine branch, holding on with just her hands, and kicked one of the technicians to the ground with both legs to his chest. Katrin's kestrel dæmon circled around and savaged another man's crow dæmon with his talons. In the midst of the confusion, Signe landed beside Nicola and twisted both his arms behind his back, all in a single fluid movement.
Once the Doctor finally struggled free of his captors, he bellowed, "Stop!" The battle suddenly ceased, with most of the Magisterium men restrained or sprawled out on the pier, their dæmons in similar states of disarray.
"Why, Nicola? Why must you keep doing this?" Signe shifted Nicola in her grasp so she could look him in the eye without letting go of his arms. "She died years ago. She's at peace. Move on."
"This was never just about Berenice, madre. If that's what you think, then you're a fool," Nicola snapped. "The Committee on Heresy and Wrong Belief has been meaning to close the portal for years. The girl meddled in the affairs of God. It's blasphemy. I volunteered for the job because I thought it might help Berenice, but I would have done it anyway. I am a servant of the Church."
"So you manipulated me." Signe's voice was silky soft, but edged with steel. "You made me feel guilty about Berenice's death so I would help you."
"It's not that simple. I can be loyal to my family and to the Church."
"That's not good enough," said Signe. "There's more to serving the Divine than following orders." She let Nicola go, with a little shove in the direction of his ship. "Go, all of you. Return to your Church, and tell them that the portal's fate is not theirs to decide."
As Nicola trudged back to the ship, Rose could hear him mutter, "Then whose decision is it?" He signaled to his crew, which hobbled aboard in varying states of injury. They weighed the anchor and drew out of the harbor, heading south to a friendlier port.
Signe watched the ship recede into the distance, her face hollow with regret. Inge laid a hand on her shoulder. "You'll see him again," she said.
"Inge's right. They'll come back," said Lyra. "The Magisterium doesn't give up. Not ever."
"Then we'll make sure the portal is safe," the Doctor declared, striding up to Nicola's instrument.
Jack didn't hesitate to join him, his curiosity sparkling beside the Doctor's determination. "Portal manipulator," he breathed. "Based on the technology level we've seen, this has to be decades ahead of its time."
Rose drew closer so she could see what they were doing, and noticed Lyra a few steps behind her. "Doesn't surprise me," the Doctor murmured. "The Magisterium has the money to hire the world's best scientists, and the clout to keep their technology hidden."
"So how're you going to keep them from trying to close it all over again?" Rose demanded. "What's going to make them give up? Decide it's not worth it?"
The Doctor paused in his examination of the portal manipulator and blinked. "That's it!" Excitement raced from his smile down to his limbs like a current. "We've got to make it so it's not worth the trouble. If we move the portal to a place, like, say, the center of an unstable wormhole..."
"Then they won't take the risk," Jack concluded. "Make it close enough to home that it threatens the planet if they try to move it again. Another score for Rose Tyler!" He gave a whoop of joy and high-fived her and the Doctor in turn.
Rose giggled, out of embarrassment as well as triumph. She hadn't done much, just pointed out the obvious. "You know them," Bree whispered, his whiskers tickling her ear. "Terminally incapable of seeing the obvious."
Jack and the Doctor worked in perfect concert, the Doctor taking his place at the eyepiece and Jack manning the controls, as smooth as thought. For every movement the Doctor made at his end, Jack made a complementary adjustment. A high-pitched whine resonated from the portal manipulator, all the lights flicking on at once – then it was still. "Done," the Doctor muttered distractedly, his focus still on the instrument.
Rose cheered and hugged Jack, smiling at Lyra and the witches over his shoulder, but soon the merriment was drained away by the Doctor's grim aspect. He was still hovering around the portal manipulator, his gaze distant. "Jack, can you fetch the Void stuff detector?"
Jack looked as confused as she felt, but dashed back to the boat. Rose watched over the Doctor's shoulder as he worked. "What's wrong, Doctor? Didn't you sort it?"
"The portal's sorted." He looked at her over his shoulder, tenderness warming his eyes, then turned back to the portal manipulator. "But there's something I've still got to do. Oh, there we are." Jack had returned with the Void stuff detector and passed it to him. The Doctor was stripping wires from the two instruments and intertwining them.
"What're you going to – " Jack stared at the wiring in the Doctor's hands, and a growl built in Alizairi's throat. "No. Doctor, you can't!"
"I've got to, Jack. I'm sending us back." His hands shook a little, but didn't falter in their work. "I can't let her mother spend the rest of her life wondering what happened to her – thinking she died somewhere. Rose is the only thing Jackie's got." When Jack opened his mouth to argue, the Doctor added, "You too, Jack. I saw your timeline, back in our universe. I saw all that you could do, all that you could be." He looked away. "I can't take that away from you."
Jack seemed to be stunned speechless by these words. Did he really think so little of himself that he couldn't imagine the Doctor seeing the potential in him? Jack was so confident about some things, and so lost about others.
Rose wheeled on the Doctor, stepping into his personal space. "I thought you said that making holes in the walls between universes was dangerous."
Jack regained his confidence and joined Rose at the Doctor's side. "It is dangerous. The barriers between universes could become unstable and collapse. That's why interdimensional travel isn't supposed to happen."
The Doctor ignored them and kept working. "You've got to stop, Doctor," Rose pleaded. "It's not worth the risk."
"That's for me to decide," the Doctor snapped, still not looking at either of them. "It was the Time Lords' duty to watch over the walls between realities. Now they're gone, and that duty falls to me."
"So we don't get any say?" demanded Rose. Bree bared his glistening teeth. "I've learned a thing or two from you, Doctor. No matter what you think, you can't stop me talking, so I'm going to talk, and you're going to listen. You keep acting like our lives are over, like there's no hope at all. You're wrong. I've got hope, and Jack's got hope, and if you haven't got any, then we'll bloody well share ours with you, if you'll only let us."
"There has to be a better way, Doctor. And even if there isn't, there's still so much for us here," said Jack, and was that a hint of choked-back tears in his voice? "We could build a spaceship out of some old toasters and a difference engine, I know we could. Can't let a little thing like ending up in another universe stop us. We're still us."
A few loose gears clattered to the ground from the Doctor's nerveless fingers. He was staring off into nothing, his eyes grey and flat as the Arctic sea. "She's dead. The TARDIS is dead, and without her, I'm lost." His hand clutched at his chest. "My third heart's stopped beating."
Bree tucked himself deep into Rose's coat, and she seized the Doctor in a fierce embrace. "Well, we've got a heart each, so don't you give up," she said into the fabric of his jumper. Jack still stood a bit apart. "Oh, come here, you." Rose took him by the wrist and pulled him in too.
"The whole of reality's too high a price." Jack smiled into Rose's hair. "Besides, I like reality. Don't you?"
Chapter 9: Epiphany
Lyra's house was much cozier than her father's. The Doctor, Jack, and Rose were seated for dinner at a rough-hewn wooden table in front of the fireplace. For the first time since they arrived in the Omega Tau universe, Rose and Jack were stripped down to their T-shirts. Nonetheless, it was difficult for them to relax. Despite their repeated attempts that evening to coax the Doctor into telling them what was troubling him, he kept retreating into solitary niches and dark spaces. It had taken a great concerted effort just to get him to sit down for dinner. The Doctor barely touched his food; he didn't seem to see or hear anything in the room.
“Thanks for making us dinner,” Rose said gamely, trying to break through the heaviness the Doctor's melancholy seemed to weigh upon the air.
“I ought to thank you,” said Lyra. “The Magisterium's always tried to undo everything I've worked for. If they had it their way, the dead would be trapped in that world forever, and there'd be no Dust left in all the worlds.”
“Dust,” the Doctor murmured, though his mind still seemed to be someplace far away. At Rose's guess, it was over the next hill, where the TARDIS stood on a cliff by the sea, or back on the island where the portal had shown him something momentous enough to spark a change of heart. “You mentioned it before. Why is it so important?”
Lyra looked surprised. “I'm sorry. I assumed you knew about it, since you're so clever and all. I can tell you, if you're interested.”
The Doctor scowled a little at the implication that his knowledge wasn't up to standard, but nodded. “You said they were fundamental particles drawn to sentience.”
“Sort of,” said Lyra. “I don't fully understand it either. Dust is created when matter becomes aware of itself, or so I've been told. But if all the Dust in the world disappeared, sentient life wouldn't be possible. In fact, that's almost what happened.”
“Dust almost disappeared? Why?” Jack prompted.
“The Magisterium built a weapon to kill me. It was a bomb – a terribly powerful one. Even they didn't know its true strength. It created a void between the universes. As far as I can tell, the force of the bomb made it go forwards and backwards in time, so that the void has always been and always will be there.” Lyra frowned. “That shouldn't have happened.”
“No, it shouldn't have,” the Doctor murmured, “but it does explain a lot. Normally, my people would have corrected that sort of anomaly. But now…”
“So that's why interdimensional travel is impossible,” said Jack. “The Magisterium created the Void, without the Time Lords to stop them.”
“I'm still a bit confused,” Rose said.
“So am I,” Lyra admitted. “There are so many things I saw in my travels that still don't make sense. I'm always trying to find out more. What I do know is that people didn't understand what terrible harm the abyss could do. That included me and my friend Will. We kept on tearing holes between the universes, and every time we did, a little bit of Dust would leak into the void. Not much, but it added up. Dust was being destroyed at a faster rate than it could be created. It was all leaking away.”
“We must have done it too,” said Rose, feeling a little queasy. “When we fell into this universe. Some Dust must have disappeared.”
“I'm sure you'll more than make it up,” Lyra reassured her. “The way you three live, I'm sure you make loads of Dust all the time. It isn't just living that makes Dust. It's doing the things that make you human, or Time Lord, or whatever: building, fixing, creating, dreaming. I can tell you do a lot of that.”
Jack was having a hard time coming to terms with these ideas. He'd learned a good deal about physics; he'd go so far as to say he was an expert in it, though it was hard to maintain an ego about that with the Doctor around. It was hard to fit into his worldview, much as it had been expanded by his travels through time and space. “Is there any way to detect it? Can we see it?”
Lyra nodded. “There's a special emulsion you can use to take photograms of Dust. It's hard to come by, but I've got a photogram of my own.” She stood and took a framed photograph down from atop her bookshelf, then set it on the table. Like many things in the Omega Tau universe, it looked like it was from the 19th century on their Earth. In the background of the photograph was a forest. It might have been the one where the witch's council was held, but it was hard to tell, since the lighting was so dim. In the foreground stood Lyra with Pan coiled around her neck as usual, and Iorek Byrnison, clad in a barbaric yet magnificent suit of armor. What was unusual about the photograph was that Lyra and Iorek were bathed in a golden light that seemed to descend from above. It was particularly dense around Lyra's dæmon and Iorek's armor. The trees and snow around them were devoid of the golden glow. “You can see that we're the only things in the photogram covered in Dust. Small children and animals don't attract it either. It's drawn to higher sentience.”
The photograph reminded Jack of something that he couldn't place, but he was sure it was important. He peered at the photo and frowned a little. He heard Rose say, “So how did you and Will fix it?”
Lyra seemed to drift away, behind her eyes, as the Doctor had done before the meal began. “Will's from your universe, but when we traveled together, he found his dæmon along the way, like you did. When your dæmons appeared, it reminded me of how he felt when he was with Kirjava.” Pan's whiskers were curved in what could almost be a smile, if a pine marten could be said to have such an expression. “We didn't know about any of it, back then. We were just children, wandering across dimensions. Serafina Pekkala says that we couldn't have done it if we'd known what we were doing. All we did was love each other, quietly. We just didn't know what we had until we met a woman named Mary. She helped us realize what we really felt for each other.”
“After meeting Mary, I couldn't look at Will the same way again. We didn't know why we did it, or what it meant, but there was this moment, when we were sitting alone on the grass of another world. We reached out and touched each other's dæmons.” Jack was gripped with a sensation in his mind: the feel of another person's dæmon under his palm. He couldn't imagine what it would mean, to feel everything that someone else knows and believes and is.
“At that moment, we knew each other, completely. We were totally conscious of each other. We could each see the world as the other saw it. Dust gathered all around us – I wish I could have seen it, but we couldn't know. There was so much Dust around us that we were like a rock in a stream, changing the flow around us. It didn't ebb away into the dark spaces between the worlds anymore. But they had to be closed, to be sure that nothing like this could ever happen again. It meant that Will and I could never be together. He didn't belong in my universe, nor I in his. There could only be one portal left, just one, or there wouldn't be enough Dust created to balance what was lost. The portal had to be the one from the realm of the dead. It's far more important than either of us, or what we wanted. I couldn't accept that, at first. I thought I might let all the walls crumble down, just so we could have each other. I know better now.” Jack looked away, then; Lyra seemed like the kind of person who didn't want anyone to watch her cry. Pan would be there for her, in a way that none of them could be.
A rasping noise interrupted the muffled sound of Lyra's tears as a chair scraped against the wooden floor. The Doctor had gotten up, facing pointedly away from Jack and Rose. “I'm going back to the TARDIS. I've got to – ” He let out a slow, rattling breath. “There are…procedures. For when this happens.” When he left, he didn't look back.
“The TARDIS. That's the blue box, yeah?” said Lyra, staring after the Doctor as if she could see some trail he'd left in the air behind him.
“She's not a blue box,” said Rose, her voice shaky with passion. “She's his oldest friend. She's our home.” Suddenly, she looked much older than her two decades. “I'm so tired. Is – is there someplace I can lie down for a mo'?”
Lyra pointed down a dim corridor. “You can kip in my bed if you like. I won't sleep for a while yet.”
Jack took a step toward Rose. “Do you need me? For anything?” Alizairi peered up at Rose with soulful brown eyes, making it clear that this wasn't one of his usual come-ons.
“Yes, I do. I need you to come with me to the TARDIS, later. But first I've got to rest.” She gave a half-hearted smile. “Not all of us can be aliens or from the future.”
“And we wouldn't want you any other way,” said Jack fondly, watching her shuffle down the corridor to Lyra's bedroom. When she was gone, he found himself staring into the fire. He thought about the golden glow in the photograph, how it seemed to reach out and envelop Lyra and Iorek like a living presence.
Jack looked up. “Lyra, your photograph reminded me of something. I think I've seen Dust before.” Lyra finished wiping her cheeks with a handkerchief, tucked it in her pocket, and peered at him. “I just didn't know what it was when it happened. Rose was right about the TARDIS. She's alive, and she has a heart. I've seen it, and it looks just like the golden light in the photo. I think her heart is made of Dust.”
Lyra didn't seem surprised, but then, she did have a truth-teller in her pocket, and there was so much she hadn't said. “The alethiometer had two symbols to represent you, Jack. One of them was the serpent,” she said, her voice carefully even. “I trust you understand what you've got to do.”
“So I get to be the serpent. Just like Mary was for you and Will.” Jack smiled wistfully and stroked Alizairi's fur. “I guess I always was a master of temptation.”
Chapter 10: Trinity
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
- Ecclesiastes 4:12
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rose knocked on the TARDIS door, feeling a little out of place. She couldn't remember ever having to knock before – but things were different now. Without Jack's hand in hers, she might not have even dared. She pressed her face to the hairline crack between the doors. “Can we come in?”
The door swung inward of its own accord, the hinges groaning in a way they never had when the TARDIS was alive. The darkness inside looked like it could swallow them whole, but Rose didn't hesitate. She stepped across the threshold, her footsteps thumping flatly along the floor. Behind her, Jack drew the door shut, cutting off the cold wind from outside. Without the influx of icy air, the TARDIS seemed too thick with grief to think or breathe. Was the Doctor even here, or had he retreated into the cavernous depths, where they could search for hours and never find him?
Rose lurched forward a little, and finally she saw him, a barely distinguishable silhouette against the console. Next to him, from the deepest shadow, peered two golden eyes.
All at once, Rose forgot the dank closeness of the air, the eerie dimness of the room, even the warmth of Jack's hand in hers. All she could see was gold, too blinding to bear, but too mesmerizing to resist. There was mystery, and the certainty that she could never fully understand, but also the knowledge that it didn't matter.
The world returned to her. Rose looked into those golden eyes, and she knew. Alizairi curled up on the floor next to the shape, and there could be no doubt that Jack knew too. She opened her mouth to ask, but then she heard the sound of a match being struck. Light flared from Jack's hand, and the shadows parted.
She was a grey dog – though truly, Jack thought, she deserved a word all her own. Her coat was silky grey dappled with silver, like moonlight glimpsed through a fog. Jack could hear the voice of the dog breeder who'd lived next door back on the Boe whisper in his mind: Weimaraner. Also called the Grey Ghost.
They sat across from him, forming a triangle. The only sound was their breath and the rustle of fabric as they folded their legs. Bree lay between Alizairi's forepaws, his whiskers just touching her fur, but otherwise there was no contact between them. The absence of the TARDIS' presence formed a negative space that none of them could breach.
To speak, to even dare to move, seemed blasphemous. Here they were, intruding on the one event in the Doctor's life which most deserved privacy. Yet this was also his last chance before they lost him to despair. Jack thought of what Lyra had told him. How could he convince Rose and the Doctor to open up to each other, as she and Will had? Rose didn't seem to have so much to hide, but he suspected her past had some demons of its own. The Doctor's armor was too fearsome even to touch, let alone tear down.
Well, if he wanted his friends to open up to each other, he would have to offer a part of himself first.
There was some sort of floodgate within him that held everything back, something that he'd built long ago. He hesitated, but then Alizairi's voice was warm in his heart, murmuring, Nothing you say can destroy what you have. You can only strengthen it. Something unlocked. He blew out the match and started to speak. Once he did, he wasn't sure if he would ever be able to stop.
“The last time I was sitting like this, in a cold, dark place on a metal floor, I was a prisoner of war in the Esfelar Conflict of 5053. We'd been captured crossing the border into enemy territory. Our captors – the Morthen – wanted an exchange of prisoners, but our side didn't have any. We were bluffing. We'd just killed them all. I was captain of a platoon, and I knew we didn't have the prisoners. My lieutenants were in the cell with me too. We all knew, so we just sat in that cell, waiting to die. Cameron was sitting next to me. He was my best friend; he only enlisted because I told him it'd be exciting. An adventure. God, he was so young. We were all so young.
“We were sitting in that cell, just waiting to die. Even I'd lost hope, and it was my job to hold it together. I was their captain, and I didn't have enough in me just to keep my own head above water, let alone everyone else. I thought it was all over, and to be honest, I was … glad.
“Then Cam just started talking, telling stories I don't think he'd ever told anyone. We grew up together, and I never knew any of the things he said that night. That got us all talking. We heard each other's last confessions, I guess.” He buried his hand in Alizairi's fur. “In the morning, the Morthen took my lieutenants and tortured them to death, one by one. Made me watch. Cam was last. He was just a kid. Weak. Didn't take long to break him. At least was quick.” For the first time in his rapid-fire confession, he paused. “They let me go. Just me. I never understood why. Didn't make any sense. Cam could've been a great artist one day. Sorcha had a sweetheart back at home. Arvo had an offer from the culinary institute on Carinus Mons. Me? I had nothing back home. I was nothing. But I lived, and they all died.”
“I survived,” said the Doctor, before even a beat of silence could pass after Jack's monologue. He spoke in a monotone, lips barely moving. He might have seemed dead to the world if it weren't for the inextinguishable glow of his dæmon's eyes. “Must have been the universe's twisted joke that I lived. Leela and Andred lived together, loved together, died together. Drax gave his life to protect the last of the TARDISes. Romana was Lady President of Gallifrey, before the end. Before my people went mad. She was the greatest President we ever had. She was brave when the rest of us had lost all hope. She'd chant old poems as planets burned. When Arcadia fell, she recited 'In Memoriam A.H.H.' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
“Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown'd,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,
Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
'Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.'
“Never thought - ” His throat worked. “Never thought I'd see her again.” That was when the knowledge crept up on Jack like old despair: he had seen the ghost of Romana in the portal. That was why the Doctor decided to keep the portal open. It was his last chance to absolve himself, if only a little, for what happened on Gallifrey. He could see the same realization darken across Rose's face.
“My granddaughter Susan was there at the end, in the Panopticon with Romana and the Rani and the rest. I killed her, along with every innocent child, every plodding scholar, every blind fool.” Suddenly, he returned to himself, his eyes blazing pale like twin moons. “Is that what you wanted, Captain? Did you want to see my worst side? There it is. You're not the con man, Jack. I am. Somehow, I convinced you I'm a hero.”
“You think I've never seen you at your worst, Doctor?” said Rose. “You pointed a gun at me, once. You were going to kill me for the sake of revenge, for something that happened – how long ago?” Her voice faltered. Then she said, “And I loved you even then. Even when I thought you were about to kill me, about to give up everything you stand for, I still loved you.”
A thin thread of hope insinuated itself up Jack's spine. “When you were on that ship, pointing the portal manipulator at the sky, about to tear everything apart, even then, I – ” He didn't have the courage to say what Rose had been brave enough to speak aloud, so he used different words, safer words. “Never doubted you. I never doubted you'd do the right thing. Never will.”
“Same goes for me,” Rose added stubbornly.
“I'm an old man, Rose. Old and bitter and full of pain. You're only nineteen. You deserve better.” The Doctor looked away, down through the grating, into the hollow spaces below.
“So you think I'm too young to know what I want? Is that it?” Rose leaned toward him, closing off escape. “You think I'm too young to feel pain? Think I've never done something I regret? That I've never lost hope? Life isn't easy in the council estates. I've lived. Listen to me. I'll tell you what it was like.” When the Doctor looked up from the floor, she knew that he was with them again, that he wasn't yet lost.
“The school I used to go to was awful. I dunno which was worse – the teachers or the kids. The teachers had been in the system so long that they lost hope that we could come to anything. The kids didn't care because the teachers didn't. Hardly anyone went for their A-levels. I didn't care about any of it either, except for history class. The history teacher was different from the others.” She gave a tentative smile. “Her name was Ms. Danforth. She was just out of university. She was so excited about history that I couldn't help but get excited too. I worked really hard for her class, 'cause she was so proud when I did well. Sometimes I'd stay after class just to talk. I felt like I could tell her anything. I promised her I'd take my A-levels and study history at uni. She made me believe I could. But all of it changed when I met Jimmy Stone.
“Jimmy was older than me. He was a musician with naff hair and a bass guitar. I thought he was the most fascinating person I'd ever met. I loved his songs and how he looked when he sang them, like nothing mattered but the story he was trying to tell. I couldn't believe my luck when he asked me out. It made me feel so grown-up, the way he treated me. He told me he was going to be famous, and I believed it. I would have believed anything he told me. My mum hated him, but I didn't care. He told me I didn't need to get my A-levels, because none of it would matter when he became a rock star. We'd travel all over the world with his band, and finally get out of the estates.”
Rose swallowed back a lump in her throat. “I'll never forget the look on Ms. Danforth's face when I told her I wouldn't go for my A-levels. It was like she'd looked at me and seen something brilliant, then had to watch it die. I almost changed my mind. I told Jimmy I wanted to stay in school, but he told me he needed me to work to support us until he got his big break. So I did.” Rose wiped her eyes on the back of her hand, then dried it on Bree's fur. “I think I knew, in the back of my mind, that he didn't spend all the money on food, rent, and music. There was never enough money, and he never told me what he did while I was at work.
“Turned out he wasn't writing songs or practicing. He just drank all day. I only found out when he was caught stealing money from a petrol station to buy more booze. Only then did I finally realize what he was. I'd thrown my life away, my future, all for nothing.” Rose's face was streaked with tears and mascara. “By the time you came, Doctor, I'd given up hope that I'd ever be more than a shop girl.”
The Doctor reached out and squeezed Rose's hand. “'S all right. Did poorly in school myself. Maybe if I'd studied harder, we wouldn't be trapped here. Might have known what to do.” He broke eye contact with her. “There's so much I could have shown you, Rose. There are worlds out there – ” He seemed to choke on his own words, unable to continue.
Rose brought one hand to the Doctor's chin, tilting his face toward hers. Her other hand clasped his. It seemed as if her eyes could encompass galaxies. Slowly, at both the edge and the brightest point of awareness, she guided the Doctor's hand toward Bree. “You could still show me,” she said, never once looking away.
The Doctor hesitated, but only for a moment. There was nothing he could have denied her when she was looking at him that way, with that warmth in her eyes and the softness of her breath on his face. This time, he couldn't hold himself back.
Besides, he knew it was what the TARDIS would have wanted.
One day, many years on, Jack would float through some distant nebula where stars were born, and watch planets fall together as they blazed forth strange new fires at their joining. He would look out upon the scene and think that it was not half so beautiful as this moment.
Jack watched, scarcely able to blink or draw breath. The Doctor's head was thrown back against the console, his throat long and white and exposed. His dæmon gave a little whine of some feeling beyond intimacy, beyond pleasure. His free hand clutched at empty air, but there was nothing to hold onto but Bree; they were falling, falling. The Doctor's eyes were glassy and staring, not into empty space, but into everything that mattered.
Bree was boneless with rapture on the ground, his back arching up into the Doctor's hand, as if it were the only thing connecting him to life. Rose's face gleamed with tears or sweat or perhaps some inner light heretofore unknown. Her eyes were half-lidded, but what was visible was dark with completion and need, and something else that Jack couldn't name. Her hand parted from the Doctor's, and the dark, cool nose of his dæmon slid into her palm. Rose made a tiny noise in her chest, and Jack realized with a start that she was remembering to breathe again.
The Doctor's throat worked, silently, and Jack suddenly longed to spread his hand along the other man's collarbone, to hold the Doctor's life in his, and know that it would always be safe. But did he have the right?
Golden eyes met Jack's, and suddenly the icy air felt warm and syrupy. He couldn't move – or rather, he could, but he couldn't think of any place he wanted to go. Slowly, deliberately, the dog dæmon lay her paw on Alizairi's flank. Two knowing gazes transfixed Jack. Adam and Eve and the serpent make three, he thought.
With a trembling hand, Jack reached out for the dog dæmon's fur, like smoke made solid. He felt like he was slowly drowning, forgetting the surface, the feel of air in his lungs. The space between his hand her fur was a yawning chasm, unbreachable – then at last, they made contact, and he fell into the storm.
Jack couldn't remember much beyond that moment, except for snatches of light and sensation: a hand stroking Alizairi's ear, breath falling heavy on the inside of his ribcage, a cord pulling him by the heart into a world of pink and yellow, black and gray, each shade containing rainbows within rainbows. Golden rivers circled around them as they fell into a new orbit: three worlds, each with its own hidden geography, fused into the heart of something greater.
As a visual aid, I present to you this picture of a Weimaraner's eye that I found on Flickr. That's exactly how I envisioned the Doctor's dæmon.
Chapter 11: Resurrection
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin'
Like the stillness in the wind
'Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in
- from "When The Ship Comes In" by Bob Dylan
“It worked,” said Pan, resting his paw against the blue box that wore otherness like an extra layer of paint.
“Yeah,” said Lyra, tilting her head a little. “It's like I can feel it, somehow. It's awake. It's alive.”
“Can you imagine what it'd be like inside, Lyra? A ship with a heart made of Dust?” Pan peered at the windows longingly, as if he might be able to catch a glimpse within.
“It's like you said, Pan. That's not our life anymore. It's theirs.” She stroked his neck with a gloved finger. “It's like…like those sharks that can't ever stop swimming, 'cause if they're still for even a moment, they can't breathe. That was us, once.”
“We're better off,” Pan murmured. “It's nice, sometimes. Having a place. That Doctor – he hasn't got a place, not in all the universe.”
Lyra wished she could see the Dust swarming golden around the TARDIS, the marriage of the flame and the moth. Once upon a time, she could have asked it anything. She could have wondered to it, spilled out every question in her heart, and it would have answered. But now that she had found all the right questions, it only whispered hazy truths at the edge of hearing. The alethiometer burned cold against her skin through layers of fabric, and for a moment she was seized by the urge to dash it against the ground, to crush it under her bootheel, and put an end to long nights of guessing and wondering, interpreting and re-interpreting.
“You won't do it,” said Pan dispassionately. “Better to glimpse at the truth than close your eyes and try to forget. You'll keep at that alethiometer 'til you're grey.”
Lyra smiled a little, at the corners of her mouth. “Suppose I will.” She looked up at the TARDIS doors again. “Should I knock?”
“No. Once you cross that door, you'll never want to come back. Nothing for it but to wait.”
From the corner of her eye, Lyra saw a dark shape descend from the clear morning sky, then dismount from her pine branch, a shadow blotting the snow. She knew instinctively that the visitor was not Serafina. A splash of scarlet gave her away: it was Signe Nordahl and her tanager dæmon. Lyra did not acknowledge her beyond arching an eyebrow. Pan withdrew his paw from the TARDIS and bared a few teeth at Sielulintu.
Signe held her pine branch before her solemnly, like a soldier keeping vigil with a ceremonial weapon. “I've come to pay my respects.”
“And what gives you the right?” Lyra snarled.
“I made the prophecy. Now I see it fulfilled.” Signe's measured gaze passed from Lyra to the TARDIS.
“You almost sabotaged your own prophecy, and now you want the credit. Your son was right. You are a fool.” Lyra's fists clenched, and her petite frame notwithstanding, she looked like she might spit fire. “You were spying on us. I'm not going to kiss and make up just because you've come to say goodbye. Who wouldn't? They're wonderful and brave, and anyone who's come to know them at all would want to say goodbye. I'm not going to forgive you, and neither is Serafina Pekkala.”
“You overreach yourself, Lyra,” came Serafina's voice from behind, and Lyra started. After all these years, she thought that witches couldn't sneak up on her anymore, but she'd been distracted, and Serafina was so very quiet. “When you live as long as witches do, you always end up doing something you regret. I am no exception. The clan convened last night to pardon Signe Nordahl for her espionage. It was done out of love, however misguided.”
“I hope you didn't make it easy,” said Lyra, her gaze fixed on Signe, all sparks and steel. “The forgiveness. I hope you made her fight for every inch of it.”
“Oh,” said Serafina softly, “we did.”
Lyra saw the truth of it, in Signe's eyes, in the way her dæmon danced about as if every surface were made of hot coals. “Good.”
Invisible against the snow but for his black eyes and nose, Iorek loped toward them from further down the cliff's edge. Lyra squinted her eyes against the brightness of the morning sun reflecting off the ice, and peered out at the space beyond the cliff. It no longer looked like the endless chasm it had seemed to be when the TARDIS first arrived. The sky beyond was slate-grey and blank. It might have been a canvas just beyond the cliff's edge, or a monotone infinity.
The four of them stood before the blue box, and the waiting stretched on, grey and flat as the horizon. Lyra didn't even twitch when the door finally swung open; it seemed only a natural consequence of what had happened, and what was to come.
The three travelers stood just inside the doorway, the Doctor in the center, Jack at his left, Rose at his right. The humans had changed clothes. Rose had a fuzzy pink sweater on, and her hair was up in two braids; she looked very young, but in an eldritch sort of way. Her eyes were dark and liquid as her dæmon's. Jack wore a tight-fitting T-shirt the color of his eyes and a leather vest, but it was the peaceful way he held his dæmon's tawny cheek in his palm that made him achingly beautiful. The Doctor was clothed the same as before, but it was as if he wore a new skin underneath, one that fit, and he was able to breathe again.
Rose looked out at Lyra, her gaze so intense she felt her mouth go dry. She would never see this brave, kind woman again. I hate that universe, Pan. I hate it. It takes everything away.
It's also what gave them to you in the first place. Pan watched Rose, unblinking. She turned to the Doctor, a question in her eyes.
“Go on,” he said kindly. “The TARDIS'll protect you from the cold, as long as you stay close.”
The snow crunched under Rose's shoe as she stepped out, and finally she seemed like a real person, not some faerie queen. Bree shuffled along behind her, dark and sleek against the snow. Lyra's hand flexed inside her coat pocket, crumpling the letter inside it a little. She took out the letter and held it out to Rose, her fingers trembling. Her voice came out in a rasp. “This is for Will. There's a seal on it with a lock of his hair in it, so you can track him down.”
Rose swallowed hard as she took the letter, her eyes huge and solemn. “We'll get it to him. I promise.” She drew Lyra into a hug. Her tears were hot against Lyra's neck. “He's lucky to have someone who loves him so much.”
Lyra peered at the Doctor and Jack over Rose's shoulder, and whispered in her ear, “So are they.”
As Rose pulled away, the Doctor loomed large in the TARDIS doorway. He looked like a painting come to life, each line of his face a brushstroke. “Thank you all,” he said quietly. “For everything.” He turned his stormy gaze to Signe Nordahl. “I don't blame you.”
Jack's hand was at the Doctor's arm, a steadying presence. “We'd better go,” he said, shooting a glance inside the TARDIS. “She can't stay here much longer.”
The Doctor nodded. Rose gave Lyra one last tearful goodbye as the blue doors closed around her. The TARDIS glowed from within, and for a moment Lyra could imagine she was seeing the Dust shining through. The universe around them seemed to groan as the blue box was torn out of it and catapulted home across the dimensions. The backdraft whipped Lyra's hair up across her face, so she couldn't see the last of it disappear. By the time the wind passed on, so had the three travelers.
Rose held on to one of the coral struts, with Bree clinging to her leg, as the TARDIS bucked and swayed, as if it were trying to shake off this universe where it didn't belong. Even if the TARDIS hadn't been moving at all, she probably would have needed the support all the same. Everything was different now. She felt like a layer had been peeled away between herself and the world, and she could see into the true nature of things more than she ever had before. She felt it most of all when she looked at the Doctor and Jack. She had seen all their layers peeled back, reached into their farthest depths, and never once shrank away. Now all the layers were back, but she couldn't forget what it had been like. It was the strangest thing in the world, yet it wasn't strange at all.
And I found you, she thought to Bree. Even as the Omega Tau universe dissolved around them, she could still feel his claws digging into the leg of her jeans. He hadn't gone away.
Of course I haven't, he reassured her. Now that you know me, I'll never be gone, even if you can't see me or feel me. I'm still there, inside. Bree looked up at Jack and the Doctor. They'll have their dæmons too. None of us will ever be lonely again.
The Doctor looked up from the controls. She couldn't see the grey dog at his heels, but somewhere in the darkness below the console, she thought she saw a flash of golden eyes. “Are you alright, Rose?” he said.
Rose glanced at Jack. He looked back, grinning lazily as he turned dials and flicked switches with easy grace. Yes, there was something of the lioness in him. There always would be. Her tear-dampened face creased into a smile. “Yeah. I am.”
Chapter 12: Ascension
Thus concludes the saga. Thanks to studyofrunning, Malathyne, and rutsky for beta reading, to laurab1 for the lovely banner, and to The Dæmon Page for, well, everything.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
I hope this letter finds you well. Be sure to thank the Doctor and his friends for delivering it. We owe them a great debt; without them, everything we fought for would have been lost. They haven't yet saved the multiverse like we did, but I suspect that one day they might. They believe in what we stand for. Most of all, I believe in them.
Rose felt like her mouth was filled with ashes, filled with the dust that was all that remained of the people the Anne-Droid just disintegrated. She'd voted for Fitch, and now she was atoms floating on the breeze. She'd been partly responsible. Her heart was pounding fit to burst – bile rose in her throat –
Then she felt a reassuring warmth at the corners of her mind, could almost feel fur and whiskers beneath her palm as a rough bass voice murmured silently: it wasn't your fault, you couldn't have known.
Rose stilled. Bree? Is that you?
Of course. You need me, so I'm here. I always am. A calm strength curled up her spine. They'll come for you, Rose. I know they will.
They'll come. Rose had faith now; it would deliver her through this nightmare. And then we'll close this awful place for good.
The red light lanced toward Rose as she ran toward the Doctor. For a moment, Jack thought they'd made it in time, that she'd be in the Doctor's arms and then everything would be all right. Then the red light struck her in the back – there was a scream –
There was no gravity, no light, no movement, no updownleftrightforwardback, no world. There was only a swirl of dust in the air. It was all that remained of not just one, but three lives.
He couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think. The dust settled in his mind, in the corners of his soul. Then there was a stirring, a warm breath ghosting, and the face of a lioness appeared dimly in the dust. I know it hurts, Jack, she said, her voice closer than his own heartbeat. Worse than anything. But the Doctor needs you.
The chains of despair were broken, the veil cast away from Jack's senses, and he could see people closing in on the Doctor from every direction. Alizairi was right. The Time Lord needed to be alone with his grief.
I'm the only thing he's got left, Jack thought. “BACK OFF!” he bellowed. Then he brandished his gun and rushed forward to scatter the wardens of this place of death.
Of course I should know better. Of course I should know that I can't build my life around you. That would wrong myself and wrong you, because I know you expect more of me than that. That's when Pantalaimon steps in, and reminds me that I'm worth it. He reminds me that I'm more than what I've seen, more than whatever heroism I've done, more than just a lost soul pining for you. Those things are all a part of me, but I'm something greater. I'm Lyra. I try not to lose sight of that.
The Doctor leaned his head against the door, hearing the cries of “EXTERMINATE” filter through and permeate the console room like foul smoke. The words he'd just exchanged with the Emperor Dalek stuck in his throat after he'd spoken them, until he thought he might choke on his own desperation.
How did you survive the Time War?
Falling through time, crippled but alive
The prisoners, the refugees, the dispossessed – they all came to us
The stink of humanity
Doesn't it just burn when you face me?
you hate your own existence
you hate your own existence
At the edge of sight, the Doctor could see a hint of gold amid the dim orange-green light of the console room: the eyes of his dæmon. You are so right and so wrong at the same time. Her whisper-soft voice trailed along the corners of his mind like the hem of a silver curtain. You rebuilt yourself from humanity after the Time War, just as surely as they did. That is true. But they corrupted and perverted all that is human until only their monstrous flesh was left. You reach into the heart of humanity and bring out what is best. That is what saves you, in the end. Look at them.
He shifted his head slightly against the door, and he could see them, his beloved friends, their faces alive with worry and hope. They wouldn't love you if there weren't something worth loving. They believe in you. Now go give them something to believe in.
The Captain was already in position by the console, preparing for dematerialization. The Doctor could see the place where he should be standing to start the sequence, like a visible emptiness in the air. As if from a great distance, he perceived himself turning away from the door, from the sounds of death, towards the heart of the timeship. “Rose? Captain?” he said, then leaped into position in a dark blur of motion. “Let's go.”
The hologram flickered into being before Rose's eyes. Her knees wobbled a little at the sight of the Doctor, and when she noticed the grey dog beside him peering at her with great gold eyes, she very nearly fell back against a coral strut. It was an apparition, nothing more, yet the hologram was more substantial than the glimpses of Bree she caught at the corners of her perception, his brown eyes liquid with sorrow. On some level she refused to acknowledge, the sight of the Doctor's dæmon gave her the knowledge that it was all over.
His dæmon had that look that a dog gets when its companion is suffering, but there is nothing it can do to assuage the pain, because it's only a dog. Of course, she wasn't really a dog, but she was just as powerless in the face of what was happening.
Rose could feel Bree's claws biting into her shoulder until it hurt; the pain was the only thing that seemed real. This pale shadow of the man could only be a horrible dream.
The hologram of the Doctor and his dæmon turned to face her, as if drawn by some unknowable sense. “Have a fantastic life,” the Doctor said.
The dog's eyes said, He couldn't have one without you.
The Doctor was hyper-aware of the the timelines that crackled around him, arcing through the higher dimensions like arcane lightning. He tried to push the sensation aside. Of all the possible outcomes this most dire hour could have, most of them depressed him, while the rest just broke his heart. He needed to concentrate on the delta wave, but it was so hard to think over the dull whisper of timelines curling into nothingness all around him as the defenders of the satellite gave their last.
“Doctor, you've got twenty seconds maximum!”
Connect the wires, dash to the left, pick up another lead, run back, anything to distract him from that final golden thread that was thinning, thinning as the possibility of survival narrowed to zero. Never doubted him, never will –
Say something! His dæmon appears at the corner of his mind's eye, her eyes blazing like twin flames in the dimness of the satellite. He's about to die. Why can't you tell him –
“I kinda figured that.”
A gossamer web of possibility, gleaming bright across the higher dimensions, shriveled and died away. The ashes of what might have been ran cold between the Doctor's fingers. Why didn't I tell him that I never doubted him either? Why didn't I –
But then he pulled on a lever, and stopped and stared. No time for regrets now.
“Then prove yourself, Doctor. What are you – coward, or killer?”
His dæmon appeared before him, grey as the ghosts at the back of his mind chanting killer, killer, killer!
Coward or killer? she asked, summoning the feel of cold steel in his hands, of a Dalek splayed grotesquely open, and of the woman who stood in his way.
Killer! he cried, silently. I was the predator. The Dalek was my prey. She was just an obstacle. She was nothing. I didn't care.
Wrong answer, she said, and he remembered the point of the gun falling, and every drop of anger draining away until he just felt old and tired. Coward or killer? she asked, and he relived the horror of that blinding flash, and the fall of his last defender, loyal to the end.
Killer! he replied. I should never have sent him to die. He could have – he could have been –
Wrong answer. He chose to die for you, but you chose not to say goodbye. Her nose was inches from his, her eyes boring into him. Coward or killer?
His hands shook on the lever. Ka Faraq Gatri, the Oncoming Storm, Destroyer of Worlds. That's what the legends call me. That's what I am.
If that's how the story goes, she said, then let's write a new one. Coward or killer?
Somewhere across the Void, in one among a million million universes, a golden needle swung around a dial. It paused at a finely painted symbol of an owl seventeen times as it swept around the circle. In this world, there were perhaps a dozen people who had the skill to interpret this sequence to mean “coward.”
Vortex energy streamed from the Doctor's mouth, leaving a taste on his tongue like hot iron, gold dust, and the particular kind of tea brewed by the ethereal sentients of A'i'eloza in the embers of their dying star.
Beneath it all lingered the taste of ashes in his mouth.
He gathered Rose in his arms, took a step toward the TARDIS, and staggered. His time senses reeled. The flicker and swirl of probabilities was imploding, a million possible futures collapsing into a single, impossible Fact.
The Doctor ran. He lifted Rose as if she were nothing more than a bundle of straw, but he lowered her onto the floor of the TARDIS as if she were spun glass. He stroked the side of her face with his thumb, then looked back over his shoulder.
The TARDIS doors didn't close.
Standing just outside was his dæmon. The dust that was all that remained of the Daleks lay undisturbed beneath her paws. She watched him steadily.
The Doctor's mouth went dry. He knew he could reach up for a switch on the console and close the doors. She wasn't actually standing there; she was a projection of a facet of his mind.
The dog that was not a dog stared at him with eyes unblinking, eyes full of hot iron and gold dust. He's not a Fact.
The Doctor could feel it still, burning beneath his skin worse than the fires that would soon consume his body from the inside out. Timelines wavered sickeningly around the abhorrent singularity.
He's not a Fact. She played across the strands of memory like a harp, showing him all the possibilities he'd seen blossoming around the humans. He saw Rose teaching a child how to read. He saw Jack building a starship out of a few spare parts and a dream. He saw futures of heroism and sacrifice, of dignity and despair, of wandering and adventure. The further his senses raced along a timeline, the more possibilities exploded forth in infinite color and breadth.
In some of the futures, he saw himself. In many of those futures, the three of them were happy. They knew danger, and fear, but they also knew joy – even peace.
He's not a Fact. He's more than that. He's Captain Jack Harkness, and he belongs with us.
The Doctor and his dæmon stared at each other for a long moment. Neither of them knew for sure who'd thought it. In the end, it didn't matter.
Even as golden fire raced along his nerves, exploding all his senses into the impossible brightness of new life, the Doctor felt the sleek fur of an otter in his right hand, and the elegant whiskers of a lioness in his right.
Sincerely and forever yours,