Actions

Work Header

Just the Bits In Between

Work Text:

When Rose woke up the next morning, naked and wrapped in the Doctor’s arms, she thought she was dreaming for a few seconds. He soon proved, very thoroughly, that her memories of the previous night were absolutely not the product of an overactive imagination, and she happily accepted the change in their relationship.

Lying beside him in the afterglow, she could feel the contentment he exuded. She traced her fingers over his ribs, delighting both in the way he sucked in a breath when she reached a ticklish spot, and in the quiet glow of happiness that welled up inside him.

“This could be addictive,” she murmured. “Feeling you like this…” She pressed a kiss to his chest. “I love how connected we are.”

The Doctor ran his hand through her hair and hummed his agreement. “And if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve gone nearly twenty hours without eating anything, I’d suggest we just stay here forever.”

Rose chuckled and rolled out of bed. “All right, let’s get breakfast. And then… let’s go someplace.”

The Doctor’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I know just the place,” he promised.

The perfect place turned out to be an uninhabited planet with a waterfall hidden away in a gorge. After a two hour hike through a gorgeous forest, Rose took advantage of the lack of prying eyes and peeled off her clothes to dive into the crystal clear water. When she surfaced, the Doctor’s gaping mouth and glazed eyes made her laugh.

“Come join me.”

That was all the invitation he needed.

After a week of trips to leisure planets and shopping districts and one very memorable trip to Christmas in Naples, 1860, Rose studied the Doctor over the breakfast table one morning.

“What?”

“We’ve gone a whole week without running for our lives, or saving a planet from a natural disaster, or stopping an insurrection. Are you purposely taking us to safe places?”

“You’re acting like I go looking for trouble,” he protested. “Trouble is just the bits in between, Rose.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Hmmm… If you say so.”

“But… if you’re up for an adventure, we could always let the TARDIS choose our next destination.”

The Doctor shook his head when she grinned and nodded enthusiastically. Sometimes it was hard to believe how perfectly Rose fit into his life. “Well, come on then.” He held out his hand and led her to the console room when she took it.

The TARDIS hummed gleefully when he set the coordinates to random, and he knew she’d been waiting for a chance to send them on an adventure. Rose laughed as the ship rocked slightly in flight and grabbed the console with one hand, and his hand with her other.

They landed with a definitive thud, and he nodded at the door. “After you, love.”

There was a bounce in Rose’s step as she exited the TARDIS, and he grinned giddily as he followed her. “Oh, a spaceship!” she said immediately. “I can feel the engines going.” She glanced around, then frowned up at him. “It looks kind of abandoned. Anyone on board?”

He scratched his neck. “Yeah, that’s a bit odd. Come on, let’s do a quick scan, see if we can figure out where everyone is, and why the TARDIS brought us here.”

They stepped around the bits of debris lying in the middle of the deck until they reached the main console, which was already turned on. The Doctor quickly tapped in the command to start a scan, then turned a knob on the console.

The skylight in the ceiling slowly opened, revealing a nebula dancing across the sky in front of them, casting blue and pink light into the ship. Rose gasped and the Doctor wrapped his arms around her waist. “Welcome to the Dagmar Cluster, Rose Tyler,” he whispered in her ear.

“What’s the date?” she asked, matching his quiet tone.

“About three thousand years into your future, give or take. Fifty-first century.”

The console dinged, and he reluctantly stepped away from Rose to check the reports. As he did, he noticed more ship parts lying around. “Got a ton of repair work going on,” he muttered, a niggling sense in the back of his mind telling him that was connected to the reason the TARDIS had brought them here.

He looked down at the monitor, and immediately spotted something else unusual. “Now that’s odd.” Rose came around beside him, and he pointed at the screen. “Look at that. All the warp engines are going. Full capacity.”

Rose nodded. “I felt them when we left the TARDIS, remember?”

“Yeah, but…” He looked up at the view, just to make sure his senses were accurate. “There’s enough power running through this ship to punch a hole in the universe, but we’re not moving. So where’s all that power going?”

Rose shook her head. “Where’d all the crew go? That’s why you ran the scans, remember?”

He nodded. “No life readings on board.”

“Well, we’re in deep space. They didn’t just nip out for a quick fag.”

The Doctor shook his head. “No, I’ve checked all the smoking pods.” A hint of something hit his nose. “Can you smell that?”

Rose sniffed. “Yeah, someone’s cooking.”

“Let’s see what this does,” the Doctor said as he pushed another button on the console, similar to the one that had opened the skylight.

They turned around when they heard hydraulics behind them and walked slowly towards the ornately decorated room that the door had revealed. In the middle of the wall, a fire burned cheerily in a fireplace.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see in your average spaceship,” the Doctor muttered as he approached it. “Eighteenth century. French. Nice mantel.” He scanned it quickly with the sonic screwdriver and frowned at the results. “Not a hologram. It’s not even a reproduction. This actually is an eighteenth century French fireplace. Double sided. There’s another room through there.”

Rose looked at the fireplace, then walked over to the porthole only a few feet from the fireplace. “There can’t be. That’s the outer hull of the ship. Look.”

The Doctor didn’t answer, and when she looked back at him, he was crouching in front of the fireplace. “Hello.”

Rose left the porthole and knelt down beside him, her eyes widening when she saw a young girl dressed for bed.

“Hello,” the child replied.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Rose asked.

The girl’s attention shifted to her, and her shoulders relaxed slightly. “Reinette.”

The Doctor took a breath, but Rose tapped his knee and he stayed quiet. Girls were taught from a young age not to speak to strange men; it would be best if she did the talking for once.

“What a pretty name!” Rose leaned forward a bit and tried to look into the room. “Where are you right now, Reinette?”

The girl wrinkled her nose. “In my bedroom.”

Rose brushed a hand over her mouth to hide her laughter. “Of course you are, all dressed for bed. But where do you live?”

“Paris, of course.”

“Oh, that’s lovely.”

Reinette shook her head. “Madame, what are you doing in my fireplace?”

Rose looked over at the Doctor. “Oh, we’re just…”

He smiled. “Just a routine fire check,” he said, only stumbling a little over the explanation. “Can you tell me what year it is?”

Reinette scoffed. “Of course I can. Seventeen hundred and thirty-two.”

The Doctor nodded. “Right, lovely. One of my favourites.” He pressed his tongue to the back of his teeth. “August is rubbish though. Stay indoors. Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks for your help. Hope you enjoy the rest of the fire. Night, night.”

“Goodnight Monsieur.”

They stood up, and Rose shook her head. “But we’re on a starship in the fifty-first century.” Her eyes widened. “Wait. You said this ship was generating enough power to punch a hole in the universe.”

The Doctor nodded. “Exactly, Rose. I think we just found the hole. Must be a spatio-temporal hyperlink.”

Rose raised an eyebrow. “What’s that when it’s at home, then?”

He winked at her. “No idea. Just made it up. Didn’t want to say magic door.”

“And on the other side of the magic door”—Rose grinned at him, letting her tongue peak out in the way she knew drove him mad—“is France in 1732?” She giggled when the Doctor tugged her close and pressed a quick kiss to her lips.

He tapped her nose when he pulled back. “Well, she was speaking French. Right period French, too. I wonder…” He took his coat off and tossed it into the corner of the room before walking back to the fireplace.

“Hang on,” Rose said as he ran his hand down the edge of the fireplace. “You can tell what language they’re actually speaking?”

He nodded, then held his hand out. “I’ll tell you about that later. What do you say—side trip to the city of lovers?”

She laughed and took his hand, gasping when the fireplace rotated on a base, like ones in old mysteries, depositing them in Reinette’s room. The girl was asleep in the bed, and the Doctor led Rose silently to the window. Snow was falling on Paris, and on the street below, a horse neighed.

The sound woke Reinette up, and she gasped when she realised she wasn’t alone in her room. Rose quickly stepped forward, her hands held out in front of her. “It’s all right,” she said softly. “It’s us, remember? The fireplace inspectors.” Reinette didn’t look reassured, and she added, “We were talking just a moment ago.”

The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to light a candle on Reinette’s bedside table. “Remember us now?”

Reinette pushed herself up and shook her head. “Madame, monsieur, that was weeks ago. That was months.”

Rose narrowed her eyes at the Doctor, but he just rubbed at the back of his neck. “Really? Oh.” He walked back to the fireplace and knocked on the mantel. “Must be a loose connection. Need to get a man in.”

“Who are you?” Reinette demanded. “And what are you doing here?”

But Rose ignored the girl’s question, because she recognised the stiff lines of his back as he stared at something on the mantel. Whatever he saw, it frightened him.

“What is it, Doctor?” she asked quietly as she moved to stand next to him. When she spotted what he was staring at, she was surprised for a moment—a broken clock didn’t seem that alarming. But then she heard it. “Okay, that’s scary,” she agreed, her voice shaky.

“You’re scared of a broken clock?” Reinette asked, a little derisively.

Rose took a deep breath and turned to look at the child. “Well, yeah, a little bit,” she said. “Because your clock’s broken, but something’s still ticking.”

Real fear crossed Reinette’s face as she listened to the tick-tock they could all hear.

“And that’s not a clock,” the Doctor added. “You can tell by the resonance. Too big.”

Reinette’s face was ashen, and Rose moved to sit down beside her, but the Doctor grabbed her hand and shook his head. Instead, they walked slowly towards the wall, listening to the ticking to see if they could pinpoint the location.

“Six feet, I’d say,” the Doctor continued. “The size of a man.”

“What is it?” Reinette whimpered.

“It’s all right, Reinette,” Rose said soothingly. “Whatever it is, the Doctor will find it.”

The Doctor peeked behind the curtains, then looked back at them. “If you were a thing that ticked and you were hiding in someone’s bedroom, first thing you do, break the clock.”

Rose nodded. “Camouflage. Because one thing ticking, you just think it’s the clock, but two… you’d notice that.”

“Exactly.” The Doctor looked at her. “Stand back here for me, Rose,” he requested, and she moved to the spot he’d designated. He looked at Reinette as he slowly crouched down beside the bed. “Stay on the bed. Right in the middle. Don’t put your hands or feet over the edge.”

The little girl wrapped her arms around her legs protectively and bit her lip.

Rose watched as the Doctor tried to scan under the bed, but suddenly something shot out and swiped his hand away. Rose sucked in a breath when a large caricature of a man dressed in period clothing appeared on the opposite side of the bed.

“Reinette,” the Doctor whispered as he stood up, “don’t look round.”

The fear on Reinette’s face made the Doctor’s anger boil. A little girl of what, ten years old, and some creature was sneaking into her bedroom at night?

“You, stay exactly where you are,” he ordered.

The droid didn’t look away from Reinette, and there was something about its gaze that was unnerving.

The Doctor frowned and bent down beside the bed. “Hold still, let me look,” he said, reaching out to touch Reinette’s face.

She shied away from his touch, and Rose came around to take her hand. “It’s all right, Reinette. I promise, you can trust the Doctor.”

Reinette bit her lip again and tears trembled on her eyelashes, but she nodded. The Doctor pressed his hands as gently as he could to her temples, not going into her mind but just checking to see if his supposition was correct.

A moment later, he stood up and glared at the droid. “You’ve been scanning her brain,” he accused. “What, you’ve crossed two galaxies and thousands of years just to scan a child’s brain? What could there be in a little girl’s mind worth blowing a hole in the universe?”

“I don’t understand,” Reinette said, a tremor in her voice. “It wants me?” She turned around to face the droid. “You want me?”

The droid tilted its head to look down at Reinette. “Not yet. You are incomplete.”

“What do you mean, she’s incomplete?” Rose snarled. The droid didn’t answer, and Rose took a step towards it, until the Doctor put his hand on her shoulder to hold her back. “You answered her, so you can bloody well answer me. What do you mean, incomplete?”

With jerky motions, the droid started walking around the bed. The Doctor held up the sonic screwdriver with one a hand and positioned himself between the droid and Rose, a move he was grateful for when a blade flashed out of the droid’s arm and sliced under his nose.

“Monsieur, be careful!” Reinette cried out, drowning out Rose’s soft curse.

The Doctor looked at the girl, clutching her bedspread tightly in her fingers. “Just a nightmare, Reinette,” he reassured her. “Don’t worry about it. Everyone has nightmares.”

He glanced back at Rose and indicated at the fireplace with a jerk of his chin, and she nodded. When the android slashed out at them, they dodged in the direction of the magic door that had led them here from the ship.

“Even monsters from under the bed have nightmares, don’t you, monster?”

The droid attacked again with its blade hand, and the Doctor jumped aside. As he’d hoped, the knife sank in the soft wood of the mantel, effectively trapping the droid.

Some of Reinette’s fear had faded into confusion. “What do monsters have nightmares about?”

Rose pulled the lever, and the fireplace started turning slowly away from France. The Doctor took her hand, then grinned at Reinette.

“Us!” he declared victoriously as they returned to the ship.

When they’d been in this room earlier, he’d noticed the rack of fire extinguishers on the wall. He ran over to it now, grabbed the one on top, and fired it at the droid, freezing its gears in place.

Rose sighed with relief when the droid stopped moving. “Where did that thing come from?” she asked, accepting the Doctor’s weapon when he handed it to her.

“Here,” the Doctor said. “But it’s been on a field trip to France, which explains the outfit. Some kind of basic camouflage protocol. Nice needlework—shame about the face.”

He pulled the mask off, and the wig came with it, revealing the clockwork they’d heard in Reinette’s room. He took half a step back, and Rose pursed her lips to hide a smile as his enthusiasm bubbled over.

“Oh, you are beautiful! No, really, you are,” he insisted as he put on his glasses. “You’re gorgeous!”

Rose couldn’t help a soft sigh when he spun around to look at her—this was one of her favourite Doctors, giddy and excited and wearing his specs.

The Doctor was oblivious to the reaction he was getting from her. “Look at that,” he enthused, nodding towards the droid. “Space age clockwork—I love it. I’ve got chills!” He addressed the droid directly. “Listen, seriously, I mean this from the heart—and by the way, count both”—he pointed to his hearts—“it would be a crime, it would be an act of vandalism to disassemble you.” Suddenly all his smiles disappeared and he held up the sonic screwdriver. “But that won’t stop me.”

But the ice melted and the droid disappeared before he could make good on his threat. The Doctor sighed and slid the sonic back into his pocket. “Short range teleport. Can’t have got far. Could still be on board.”

Rose frowned when he moved towards the fireplace instead of deeper into the ship. “Aren’t we going to follow it?”

The Doctor took the weapon from her and set it down, before tugging her towards the fireplace. “Come on. I want to check on Reinette before we go looking for the android. Time passes on that side of the fireplace, but it doesn’t seem to on this side. We can spare a few minutes.”

Rose blinked when they reached the Paris side of the fireplace. Unlike the last two times they’d encountered Reinette, they’d arrived during the day. Sunlight streamed in through the tall windows, shimmering on the gold tones of the floor and furniture. She narrowed her eyes as they stepped down the two steps that separated the area around the hearth from the rest of the room. This… this didn’t look anything like the room they’d been in before.

The Doctor squeezed her hand, and Rose cleared her throat. “Reinette? Is everything all right?” she asked, while he ran his other hand over the strings of the harp.

A moment later, a young woman about Rose’s age entered the room. Rose glanced around the room quickly, taking in the changes since the last time they’d been here, and then smiled hesitantly at the woman. “Reinette?” The Doctor’s hand twitched, and she glanced up at him, enjoying the surprise on his face.

Her guess was confirmed a moment later when they heard a woman’s voice from another part of the house call for Reinette by name. The now grown-up Reinette looked over her shoulder and called back, “Go to the carriage, Mother. I will join you there.”

Then she looked at the Doctor and Rose again. “When I was a girl, I believed you to be my guardian angels,” she confessed. “Then when you never returned, I decided I had imagined you entirely. And yet here you are again.”

Staring at the elegantly coiffed woman, Rose felt frumpy and disheveled in her jeans and t-shirt. Then the Doctor brushed his thumb over hers in a gesture she knew was more automatic than anything else, but it was enough to remind her that he didn’t expect her to dress in posh clothes all the time. Plus, it would be kind of hard to save the universe wearing a skirt like that, she acknowledged.

Brief attack of insecurity dismissed, she smiled at Reinette. “Wow, we knew time would have passed for you, but we didn’t realise it would be this long!”

The other woman tilted her head and examined them both carefully. “And you do not appear to have aged a single day. I believe I must return to my original thought that you are angels.”

Rose laughed. “That’s a close to the truth as anything, I guess.” She glanced up at the Doctor, and he nodded slightly. “Look, we just wanted to make sure you were fine before we went looking for the clockwork monster. Since the last time, one was hiding in your room…”

Reinette shuddered, and Rose felt bad for bringing up the memory. “I appreciate your concern, but I have not seen any more of those creatures since that day.”

The Doctor backed up to the fireplace, and Rose followed him. “We’d better get back then,” he said as he reached for the lever.

“Wait!” Reinette begged. “Please, will I ever see you again?” The corners of her mouth quirked up in a smile. “My guardian angels, who are so much a couple that they must share a charge?”

The Doctor tugged on his ear. After three visits to Reinette now, it seemed almost impossible that they wouldn’t meet her again. “Oh, I expect so,” he said vaguely. “What kind of guardian angels would we be if we just abandoned you entirely?”

He pulled the lever, and they returned to the spaceship. “Well, that was unexpected.” He picked up the fire extinguisher and handed it back to Rose.

Rose chuckled. “I’ll say. I’d expected we might meet a stroppy teenager, pouting because strangers kept coming into her bedroom. I did not expect a posh lady.”

The Doctor hummed in agreement. “But if she’s going to be caught up in this, I’d rather she were an adult than a child.” He turned to the wall and pulled the other fire extinguisher off the rack, then grinned at Rose.

To his surprise, she grabbed his tie and pulled him down so she could press her lips to his. It took him a second to catch on, but when he did, he wrapped his free arm around her waist and held her close while she snogged him breathless.

“Wha-what was that for?” he asked when she finally ended the kiss with a loud pop.

Rose smiled impishly. “Because I can, for one,” she said, making him laugh. “And… bloody hell, Doctor, your glasses drive me spare.”

The Doctor swallowed hard. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied, his voice definitely not squeaking. He adjusted his tie, then smirked down at her. “Are you ready to do some exploring, Rose Tyler?”

“Always, Doctor,” Rose said, her eyes sparkling.

She looked down at the fire extinguisher, then back up at him.

“What is this thing, Doctor?”

“Oh, didn’t I say?” She shook her head. “It’s a fire extinguisher. But, since it freezes as it puts out the flames, it works in a pinch as a weapon against clockwork droids.” He spun around quickly, then pointed to one of the three corridors branching off from the room. “Let’s go this way.”

Rose’s gaze constantly swept the corridor as they walked, on the lookout for any clockwork droids that might pop out of nowhere. The Doctor babbled the whole time, and she listened with half an ear.

“The thing I don’t understand,” he said as they turned a corner, “is why they’re so interested in her. Why is this ship fascinated with a girl from the eighteenth century? It makes no sense.”

Something caught Rose’s eye, and she shifted her hold on the fire extinguisher and took a closer look at the camera. As she watched, the camera came towards her, and she realised why she’d noticed it. An eye was where the lens should have been.

“Uh, Doctor?” she said, pointing at it.

He stopped talking in mid-sentence and peered at the camera. “Well, hello. That’s rather unique, isn’t it?”

Rose snorted. “I kinda hope so. If you tell me that in the fifty-first century, people donate their eyes to camera makers, I might just become sick.”

The Doctor looked pointedly over her shoulder, and Rose grimaced. “You’re kidding me.”

“Well… Not that exactly, but you can donate your face to become a courtesy node. It’s all very modern and scientific, I promise.” A faint, rhythmic sound reached them, and he reached out and opened a hatch while Rose tried to grasp the notion of donating your face.

“Oh… well… that is not typical, even in the fifty-first century.”

Knowing she’d regret it, Rose leaned forward to look into the hatch. A red muscle was wired into the ship, pumping some substance through the systems.

Hold on. Pumping. “It’s a human heart,” she said, her voice faint.

“Yep. Like I said, that’s not something you see every day.” He put his hand on her back and gently pushed her to walk away from their grotesque findings. “Shall we?”

Rose sighed and tried to erase the macabre image from her mind. “I’m a little afraid to know what we’ll find next,” she said as they turned a corner.

The Doctor laughed. “Oh, Rose,” he said as he held out his hand for the pure white horse standing in the middle of the corridor. “You should really know better than to say things like that.”

The horse nickered softly, then nuzzled into his pocket. The Doctor pulled out an apple and fed it to the animal, who rewarded him by gently lipping his fingers when the fruit was gone.

“Doctor…”

He looked up at Rose. “Arthur likes apples.”

She shook her head, and her lips were pressed into a thin line to hide a smile. “You’re not keeping the horse, love.”

He sighed, but acknowledged that it wouldn’t really be practical to have an animal who required such a time investment. Arthur bumped his shoulder with his head, and the Doctor reached up to pat him.

“Well, maybe we’ll find where he came from.”

They started walking again, both of them a little less vigilant in how they held their weapons now that they’d met a horse. It was just hard to believe a place was truly dangerous when you found random farm animals roaming the corridors.

“I bet it came from France,” Rose commented. “Like Reinette. I mean… makes sense that a lady from the eighteenth century would own a horse. Wasn’t riding one of the things all accomplished women were supposed to be able to do?”

The Doctor stopped stock-still in the middle of the corridor. Reinette. An accomplished lady from eighteenth century France.

“Oh, I am thick!” he moaned, smacking his forehead. “So thick!”

Rose turned and frowned up at him. She recognised the look on his face; he’d just figured out something, and he thought he should have gotten it much earlier. “Yeah? Why’s that then?”

Arthur nudged him, and they started walking again, but Rose kept her gaze fixed on the Doctor, waiting for him to reply.

“How old would you say Reinette was when we met her the first time?”

Rose blinked; that wasn’t what she’d expected him to say. “I don’t know. About ten maybe?” she guessed.

He nodded quickly. “That adds up then,” he mumbled under his breath. “Born in December of 1721, she would have been ten in 1732.”

“Who was born in 1721, Doctor?”

“Jeanne Antoinette Poisson,” he said, pronouncing her name carefully. “When she was nine, a fortune teller predicted she would become the mistress of Louis XV, and her family and friends gave her the nickname Reinette, which means ‘little queen.’”

Rose blinked. She remembered a few things from her history courses, and from the readings in her French textbooks. “But that’s… Madame de Pompadour?”

The Doctor nodded. “Apparently.”

The regular hull plating of the ship gave way to a pair of wooden French doors. Arthur whinnied softly, and after exchanging a look, the Doctor and Rose shrugged and opened the doors.

Rose’s eyes had adjusted to the dimly lit corridors, and she held her hand up to shield them against the sunlight coming in from outside. Arthur shifted by them, clearly having found someplace he recognised as home or close to it.

“A door to a garden on a spaceship,” Rose mumbled as they closed the doors. She shivered; wherever those doors led to, it was cold there. “That’s just… this is mental, even for us.”

The Doctor nodded and took her hand. “But at least we’re starting to figure out a little bit of what’s going on,” he offered as they started walking again. “Because if someone is meddling in the life of Madame de Pompadour, that’s enough of interference with important timelines that the TARDIS would send us here to set it right.”

They reached another window, this one looking into a room at Versailles. Ornate candelabras cast warm, flickering light on the Baroque furnishings and tapestries. King Louis XV of France stood in the middle of the room, and Reinette circled him, murmuring to him as she went, trying to convince him she should be his next mistress.

“And here she is,” Rose murmured.

The Doctor nodded. “I think this is the night she and the king met,” he said, noticing the way the two interacted, sparring like partners who were still testing each other’s strengths. “The night of the Yew Tree ball. In no time at flat, she’ll get herself established as his official mistress, with her own rooms at the palace. Even her own title: Madame de Pompadour.”

The king turned and strode away from Reinette. At the door, he paused and said something to her, then left after hearing her response. His words were clearly what she’d hoped to hear, judging by the glint of excitement in her eyes when she sashayed over to the mirror until she was face to face with Rose and the Doctor.

“So all of these doorways to France,” Rose said, starting to get a grasp of what was happening, “they all lead to her life.”

“Yep! Time windows deliberately arranged along the life of one particular woman. A spaceship from the fifty-first century stalking a woman from the eighteenth. Why?”

Reinette spun around, and the Doctor stiffened when he realised she’d seen an unwanted presence in the room. When the clockwork droid turned around, he pushed open the mirror and stormed into France.

“Hello, Reinette. Hasn’t time flown?”

“My guardian angels!” Reinette’s mouth hung open in a way that was not at all polite in aristocratic circles.

Rose moved to stand slightly behind the Doctor on his right as he sprayed the droid with the flame retardant. Her fire extinguisher was up, should it be needed.

When a layer of ice coated the droid’s burgundy satin gown, the Doctor stepped back beside Rose and set the fire extinguisher down on the floor. Rose held her breath, and a moment later, she heard gears grinding.

“Doctor…” She stared at the android. “That sounds like it’s turning back on.”

“Yeah…”

The droid’s hand shot out, and Rose and the Doctor scooted backwards until Rose was standing next to Reinette.

The Doctor blew out a loud breath. “That’s the thing about ice; it’s not permanent.”

Rose watched the droid carefully, her fire extinguisher still held at the ready. Even if it only gave them a few seconds, that would be long enough to get away.

The Doctor rocked back on his heels. “Who are you?” he demanded. “Identify yourself.” The droid remained silent, only tilting its head in that creepy way they had, and the Doctor sighed and looked at Reinette. “Order it to answer me.”

“Why should it listen to me?”

Rose shifted her weapon to one hand and put her other hand on Reinette’s shoulder. “Remember, it did when you were a girl. Maybe there’s something about you,” she suggested.

Reinette straightened her spine and rested her clasped hands lightly on her stomach. “Answer his question. Answer any and all questions put to you.”

Steam from the melting ice was wafting off the droid as it lowered its arm with a ratcheting sound. “I am repair droid seven.”

Rose blinked; that ship didn’t look like it had been repaired in months.

“What happened to the ship, then?” the Doctor asked, clearly thinking the same thing. “There was a lot of damage.”

“Ion storm,” the droid answered robotically. “Eighty-two percent systems failure.”

He shook his head. “That ship hasn’t moved in over a year. What’s taken you so long?”

“We did not have the parts.”

“What about the people?” Rose interjected. “The crew, what happened to them?”

“We did not have the parts,” the droid repeated.

The Doctor shook his head. “There should have been over fifty people on your ship. Where did they go?”

“We did not have the parts.”

The Doctor tipped his head back and groaned, and Rose put a calming hand on his back. “Fifty people don’t just disappear. Where…” He stopped, and she could feel the muscles in his back stiffen. “Oh. You didn’t have the parts, so you used the crew,” he said in a low voice.

Nausea swept over Rose, and she swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat. “The camera with the eye, and the heart.”

The Doctor nodded slowly, several pieces falling into place now. “It was just doing what it was programmed to. Repairing the ship any way it can, with whatever it could find. No one told it the crew weren’t on the menu. What did you say the flight deck smelt of?” he asked, glancing down at Rose.

She licked her lips, and he could tell how much the conversation disturbed her, but she kept her composure. “Someone cooking.”

On the other side of Rose, Reinette quietly gagged, raising a delicate hand to cover her mouth. The Doctor cut off the rest of what he’d planned to say—obviously, both women had followed where he was going.

Instead, he focused on the droid again. “But what are you doing here? You’ve opened up time windows. That takes colossal energy.” This was the part that still didn’t make any sense to him. “Why come here? You could have gone to your repair yard. Instead you come to eighteenth century France? Why?”

“One more part is required.” The droid tilted its head in the opposite direction and its creepy stare shifted to Reinette.

“Well, if she’s what you need, why haven’t you just taken her?” Rose challenged, and the Doctor watched her shift slightly to stand in between the droid and Reinette. “You’ve been poking around her life since she was a little girl.”

“She is incomplete,” the droid said, just like the one they’d met in Reinette’s bedroom.

“What, so, that’s the plan, then?” The Doctor scoffed. It was a ridiculous notion. “Just keep opening up more and more time windows, scanning her brain, checking to see if she’s done yet?”

“Why her?” A note of command echoed in Rose’s voice, and the Doctor didn’t doubt that the droid would answer her question. “You’ve got all of history to choose from. Why specifically her?”

The Doctor nodded, a soft smile on his face. Rose’s ability to see things he didn’t and ask questions that would never occur to him was one of the very first things that had drawn him to her. He looked back at the droid, waiting for the answer.

“We are the same.”

“We are not the same,” Reinette countered stridently. “We are in no sense the same.”

“We are the same,” the droid repeated.

“Get out of here.” Fear and fury sparked in Reinette’s eyes. “Get out of here this instant!”

“Reinette, no,” the Doctor said, but it was too late. As always, the droid did exactly what Reinette told it to.

The Doctor sighed after the droid teleported away. That left only one way for him to get the information he needed, and he’d really hoped it wouldn’t come down to this.

Rose took his hand and rubbed soothing circles over it with her thumb, watching the frustration ease out of him. “What’s wrong?” she asked softly.

He squeezed her hand gently in thanks. “Without the droid here, there’s only one other way for me to find out what exactly they’re looking for. I try to avoid using telepathy unless it’s absolutely necessary, but this time…”

Rose filed that fact away. She loved the way it felt to be in his head, and she’d been toying with maybe asking him if it was something they could share outside of bed. Listening to him now, she could easily understand how it might make him feel too exposed, and she set that notion aside.

“Well, go on,” she said, stepping aside and gesturing to Reinette.

The Doctor’s hands twitched when he turned to Reinette, who was still breathing heavily after her close encounter with the droid. “Reinette, you’re going to have to trust me. I need to find out what they’re looking for. There’s only one way I can do that. It won’t hurt a bit—I’ll just take a quick peek at your mind, get the information I need, and then leave.”

Reinette took a step back. “You are my guardian angels, and I trust you with my life. But it does not seem fair to ask to enter my mind without even telling me your names.”

Rose flushed; she hadn’t even realised they’d gone this long without introducing themselves. “Blimey, I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess that was a bit rude of us, wasn’t it? I’m Rose, and this is the Doctor.”

Reinette relaxed slightly, then looked between the two of them. “And has the Doctor ever been in your mind the way he is suggesting, Rose?”

Rose nearly choked. The last time the Doctor had been in her head had been nothing like what he was suggesting to Reinette. The courtesan tilted her head and looked at Rose with a surprisingly piercing gaze, then a smile curved her lips.

“Ah. Well, I would not assume the Doctor would be in my mind in that way,” she said drolly.

The Doctor coughed, and the tips of his ears turned red. “Nope. Not at all. This is more like… like a simple exam from a physician,” he suggested.

Finally, Reinette nodded. “Very well. If this is the best way to regain control of my life from these creatures, I will allow it.”

The Doctor lifted his hands slowly, then pressed his fingers to her temples. The first thing he noticed was that her mind was just as much a mess as the main flight deck of the ship. A lifetime of clockwork droids appearing and scanning her had left scar tissue and wounds.

If they’d discussed the possibility before, he would have gone to the effort to heal some of the damage. Instead, he gave them the telepathic equivalent of a quick swipe with an antiseptic so they could begin to heal themselves.

“That should help the headaches,” he murmured. “Because you’ve been getting headaches, haven’t you?”

She nodded. “All my life.”

“Well, hopefully they’ll be better now.” He pressed on, following the trail of damage left behind by the marauding droids.

Along the way, the associated memories of those encounters stirred, and Reinette gasped. “You are in my memories, Doctor. You walk among them.”

“If there’s anything you don’t want me to see, just imagine a door and close it,” the Doctor instructed, wincing when he realised he really should have mentioned that before he began. A door appeared almost instantly, and he nodded. “I won’t look,” he promised.

“Thank you.”

The Doctor paused in his mental examination; he’d finally found the information the droids had wanted. “What age are you?”

“Twenty-three. Why?”

The Doctor slowly disengaged the telepathic contact, then frowned down at the young woman. “That’s what they want to know,” he explained. “For some reason, twenty-three isn’t old enough for whatever they want.”

Rose made a quiet sound of realisation, and the Doctor looked up at her. “Remember when she was a girl,” she started, “and that droid said she was not complete?”

The Doctor pressed his lips into a thin line. “Oh, yes.”

“At what age will I become complete?” Reinette asked, her voice completely calm.

The Doctor ran his hand through his hair. “Thirty-seven. They’ll keep opening windows until they find you at thirty-seven, and then… they’ll take whatever it is they want from you.”

The French aristocrat blanched, but did not swoon. “Then I have fourteen years,” she said, not a hint of emotion in her voice. “I will trust that you, my guardian angels, will find a way to save me before that day comes.” Her gaze shifted to the broken clock on the mantel. “And I will know it is upon me when I find another broken clock.”

Rose took the Doctor’s hand; she recognised a dismissal when she heard one. “We will be back on that day,” she promised Reinette. “And you know they won’t hurt you between now and then, because they believe they need you at age thirty-seven.”

Reinette smiled wryly. “That is only the barest comfort, I am afraid, but you are correct, Rose. I can hang onto the fact that they will not kill me now because they need to kill me later.”

Rose backed up and pushed open the door to the spaceship. “Until next time,” she said, pulling the Doctor along with her.

As soon as the door shut, she turned to him. “All right, tell me,” she ordered, her voice more firm than it usually would be. “It’s not just that they want her to be thirty-seven, is it? What do they want with her when she’s thirty-seven?”

The Doctor shook his head and started jogging towards the TARDIS, Rose’s hand clasped firmly in his. “I’ll explain in a bit,” he said. “First I need to find a better weapon to use against those droids than ice that they have become adept at melting.”

Thirty minutes later, after digging through the storage below the console, he finally crowed in triumph. “Got it!” he said, popping back out onto the grating. “Come on, Rose Tyler. Let’s stop a few droids from causing any more problems.”

She followed him back out onto the ship, but now that he had the weapon he’d been looking for, she went back to her earlier question. “You said you’d explain why they need her to be thirty-seven,” she reminded him.

They reached the main flight deck, and three droids were guarding the console. The Doctor glared at them, anger burning in his hearts. “Because this ship is thirty-seven years old, and they think that when Reinette is thirty-seven, when she’s complete, then her brain will be compatible,” he explained, a snap in his voice. “Because that’s what you’re missing, isn’t it?” he asked the droids. “Command circuit. Your computer. Your ship needs a brain. And for some reason, God knows what, only the brain of Madame de Pompadour will do.”

“The brain is compatible,” one of the droids said.

The Doctor shook his head. “Compatible? If you believe that, then you’re probably too thick to see this coming.” He pulled the mask off the closest droid and pulled the contents of the beaker over the head. The droid immediately slumped, as if someone had pulled the plug.

“Multi-grade anti-oil,” he explained to Rose. “If it moves, it doesn’t.”

“Ah, Doctor?” Rose moved closer to him when the other droids stepped towards them menacingly.

“Right.” He reached around her and smacked a button on the console, and all of the droids went limp. “Now, it’s time we got the rest of the ship turned off,” he said and bent over the computer terminal. “All the time windows are controlled from here,” he explained, speaking in his rapid-fire lecture voice.

Rose watched his fingers fly over the keyboard as he talked. “Why didn’t they just open a time window to when she was thirty-seven?” she asked.

The Doctor shook his head. “With the amount of damage to these circuits, they did well to hit the right century. Trial and error after that.” He leaned back in the chair and frowned at the monitor. “The windows aren’t closing. Why won’t they close?”

Rose looked up at the ceiling when a bell chimed. “What’s that?”

“I don’t know.” The Doctor ran his hand through his hair, spiking it up. “Incoming message?”

Rose glanced at the droids, then back at the Doctor. “You mean one of them is still in France with Reinette?” she guessed.

“Yep! That’s why I can’t close the windows. There’s an override.”

The droid the Doctor had poured the anti-oil on suddenly excreted the liquid through its finger and straightened up. The Doctor and Rose jumped and reached for each other’s hands.

“Well, that was a bit clever,” the Doctor muttered.

On the console, the switch controlling the droids switched from off to on, and he stood up and pointed the sonic screwdriver at one of the droids.

“Right. Many things about this are not good,” he muttered to Rose, sotto voce. Then he raised his voice and added a goading tone to speak to the droids. “Message from one of your little friends? Anything interesting?”

“She is complete. It begins.” As soon as the words were out of its mouth, all three of the droids teleported out.

Rose stared at the recently vacated space in front of her. “Doctor, does that mean what I think it means?”

He twirled the sonic screwdriver and went to the back side of the console, messing around with the wires and connecting bits on the computer terminal. “One of them must have found the right time window,” he said. “Now it’s time to send in the troops. And this time they’re bringing back her head.”

Rose watched him work frantically with the sonic, and when he pumped his fist and shouted, “Oh yes!” she grinned.

That grin disappeared a moment later when the ship’s hull slid open to reveal a large plate glass window that led to a fancy ballroom. Frantic screams echoed through the flight deck as clockwork droids herded the French aristocracy into the corners of the room.

Rose took a step towards the window. “How did they get through there? Because we were standing right here and I didn’t see them go through.”

“They teleported,” the Doctor said, his voice terse. “That’s how they use the windows—as a focal point that brings France and this ship close enough to use their short-range teleport.”

Rose nodded; now that she thought of it, the only droid she’d ever seen go through one of the windows the way she and the Doctor did was the one they’d brought through the fireplace with them.

“Ahhh!” the Doctor growled and slapped the console.

Rose looked away from the window and back at him. “What is it, Doctor?”

He glanced up at her. “Well, we found the right window, obviously,” he said, nodding at the chaos unfolding before them, “but they knew we were coming. They blocked it off.”

Rose took a deep breath. No windows, and they didn’t have teleports. The answer occurred to her a second later, and she sighed in relief. “We can take the TARDIS, though.”

The Doctor shook his head and raked his hand through his hair. “We can’t. We’re part of events… if we took the TARDIS, we would be able to look back through the window from that side and see ourselves looking down from here.”

The TARDIS sang in protest, and surprised, the Doctor turned to look at her. “Although…” He tapped his chin. “I don’t often fly her like that, but it is possible…” He grinned at Rose. “Into the TARDIS, love!” he crowed.

Rose ran into their ship ahead of the Doctor and watched breathlessly as he pulled levers she’d never seen him use before. “What are we doing?” she asked.

He turned a dial. “That mirror is almost impossible to get through,” he explained, speaking rapidly. “Hyperplex this side, plate glass on the other. You’d need a truck to get through it.”

A grin stretched across Rose’s face. “A truck or a large blue box?” she suggested.

“Exactly!” He grabbed a handle, then gestured at the railing. “Hang on tight, Rose.”

She wrapped her hands around the railing, and a moment later felt the TARDIS leave the ground.

“And this solves the other problem of going through the window,” he told her, raising his voice to be heard over the louder than usual wheeze of the TARDIS engines. “Because once we break that glass, it’ll break the connection to the ship. We’d be stuck there”—

“Except that we’re taking our own transport with us,” Rose concluded. “Not a bad plan overall,” she approved.

He winked at her. “It was your idea, really. ‘Let’s take the TARDIS,’ you said. You just didn’t know all the details.”

Rose heard glass shatter, then a moment later, they skidded to a halt. She took a shaky breath and brushed herself off, then accepted the Doctor’s hand.

“Let’s go discharge our final duty as guardian angels,” he suggested.

The eyes of the entire crowd were on the TARDIS when the Doctor poked his head out of the ballroom. “Oh, hello!” He waved cheerily, then stepped out of the time ship with his hand firmly grasping Rose’s. “Don’t mind us—we saw there was a party and thought we’d stop by.”

“Hello, Reinette,” Rose added. “Looks like we got here just in time.”

The French woman shook her head severely, though a hint of a smile played with the corners of her lips. “For guardian angels, you do not seem concerned with arriving early.”

The king stared at them all, his lips pulled back from his mouth and sharp lines on his forehead. “What the hell is going on? Who are you?”

Rose huffed, and the Doctor pressed his lips together to hide his laughter. Her exasperation was so familiar.

“Well, she just told you, didn’t she?” Rose asked, her voice sharp. “We’re her guardian angels, and we’re here to save her life.” Obviously lingered in the air, unspoken.

“That’s right,” the Doctor agreed. “It seems our services are needed yet again.” He nodded at the droids holding Reinette on her knees.

“She is complete,” one said.

“Well…” the Doctor drawled. “Maybe she is, but that’s not going to do you any good, is it?”

He nodded to the broken mirror above the fireplace, and the droids froze when they followed his line of vision and saw only brick behind the mirror. They frantically hit the teleport on their wrists, but nothing happened.

The Doctor smirked at their distress. “The link with the ship is broken. No way back. You don’t have the parts,” he taunted as he walked to the closest droid. “How many ticks left in that clockwork heart, huh?” he asked. “A day? An hour? It’s over. Accept it. I’m not winding you up.”

He could hear the gears in the droid’s head slow down as it accepted its fate. Around the ballroom, the other androids also shut down, and a collective sigh of relief filled the room.

Once it was safe, Rose offered a hand to Reinette and pulled her to her feet. “You all right?”

The other woman nodded, without looking away from the inert body of the clockwork droid sprawled on the floor in front of her. “What’s happened to them?”

“They’ve stopped,” the Doctor promised. “They have no purpose now.”

Rose took the courtesan’s hands and looked at her earnestly. “I’m sorry we couldn’t stop them before this,” she told Reinette. “I mean… You should have had a normal life, without these things popping in every few years to bother you.”

Reinette tilted her head back, and to Rose’s surprise, there was a smile on her face. “I have had a good life,” she said firmly. “These monsters were only troublesome interludes, dealt with soon enough. Even with their presence, I have known so much joy… Why should I focus on the negative?”

Rose felt the Doctor’s hand on her back. “See, Reinette gets it,” he said. “Trouble is just the bits in between.”

Reinette pulled back and looked at them both. “I think, Doctor, that you encounter more trouble in your lives than I am accustomed to.”

The Doctor scratched his neck. “Maybe,” he allowed. “But it’s never more than we can handle together,” he added.

She nodded, then pointed to the TARDIS. “And now, I think, our acquaintance is at an end.”

Impulsively, Rose darted forward and brushed kisses against Reinette’s cheeks. “Take care of yourself, now that we won’t be guarding you any longer.” She still felt protective of the little girl Reinette had been only an hour before, in her timeline.

Reinette’s eyes were bright when Rose pulled back, and she nodded once. “I will, of course. Thank you.”

Rose took the Doctor’s hand and walked back into the TARDIS with him. She leaned against a strut while he set the coordinates. When he dropped into the jump seat, she immediately took the spot beside him, and they watched the time rotor move up and down as the ship sent them through time and space.

“Where are we going?” Rose asked.

“Back to the ship.”

Rose shifted to look up at him; they didn’t usually linger after the end of an adventure. “Is there something else we need to take care of?”

He nodded. “The time windows. The TARDIS can close them down now the droids are gone.”

“Ah… good idea,” Rose said.

“I thought so,” the Doctor agreed as they landed on the spaceship. He jumped up and tapped a command into the TARDIS terminal, then moved around the console and adjusted the navigation dials to the familiar “take us into the Vortex” settings.

Rose smiled when he offered her his hand, and let him pull her to her feet. By unspoken agreement, they went to the library, where two mugs of tea were waiting for them.

“I love the adventures,” Rose said as she curled up next to the Doctor, “but this is my favourite part—relaxing with you when it’s all over.”

He hummed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and a moment later, she felt his lips brush against her temple.

“What happens to Reinette?” she asked after a quiet moment. “Did she get to live a happy life after we left?”

The Doctor sighed. “For another five years,” he told her. “Reinette Poisson died of tuberculosis at just forty-two.”

“Oh.” Sorrow washed over Rose, but at the same time, it was muted by the awareness that this end was hardly unusual for the time. “But she was happy?” she pressed. “The king seemed devoted to her.”

“Until she breathed her last.”

Something in his voice sounded off. The conversation was upsetting him somehow, and it only took a moment for Rose to figure out why.

Oh, Doctor.

She rested her hand on his knee. “They had almost twenty years together,” she said, keeping her voice casual. “That’s more than a lot of people get.”

“The longer you have with the love of your lives, the more it hurts to lose them in the end.”

Rose didn’t think he’d realised his slip, but she had. Without another thought, she climbed into his lap, unsurprised when his arms immediately held her tight.

Safe in his arms, she pressed her hand to his face. It was on the tip of her tongue to promise that she would never leave him, but she bit the words back. Someday she’d tell him that, but not today, when he’d been reminded of how impossible it was.

“But think about all the happiness they shared in their life,” she said instead. “Both in the regular parts of life, and in the trouble that’s just the bits in between.”

The Doctor shook his head slightly. He’d only been a few moments away from falling into despondent fear over losing Rose, but her words pulled him back. Her thumb brushed over his cheekbone, and he leaned into her caress.

“Rose Tyler.” He turned his head and kissed her palm.

“Yes, Doctor?” Her hand slid to the back of his neck.

He pulled her closer and bent his head to kiss her softly. “I love you,” he whispered against her lips in between kisses. “I love you and I am so grateful for our life together.” He nuzzled into her neck and took a deep breath, taking comfort in all the scents he associated with Rose.

“I love you, too, Doctor,” Rose murmured in his ear. “No matter how long we have together, they’ll be the happiest years of my life.” She kissed his jaw. “What about you?”

The Doctor took a shuddering breath. “I’ve lived more than a thousand years,” he said, his voice hoarse. “And I’ve never been this happy.”

When Rose pulled back, her smile was radiant. The Doctor couldn’t resist pressing his lips to hers in a quick kiss that became a series of kisses that became a heated snog. As they slowly moved until they were stretched out together on the couch, their telepathic connection flared, and the brilliance of her joy took his breath way.

The Doctor purposely pushed all thoughts of trouble out of his mind as he made love to Rose. Loving her and being loved by her—this was his life. Everything else was just the bits in between.